Plot: Act 1

The events of your story.

It is through these events, that you will express all the ideas you’ve crafted in your other cubbies. These events serve as a kind of delivery system for the other cubbies. They give you an opportunity to express and dramatize everything else.

You’ve got 25 basic steps

All structured around the 4 acts.

  • Act 1 has five steps.
  • Act 2 has five steps.
  • Act 3 has five steps.
  • Act 4 has ten steps.

Act 1

The five steps are:

  • Set Up
  • Inciting Incident
  • Raise the Dramatic Question
  • Debate and Decision
  • Turning Point 1

Set Up:

This is the very beginning of your story.

All the information you need to tell your audience before the story gets going.

Introduce your characters, your world, your desire lines, as much information as you like.

Inciting Incident:

Something happens that really starts off the story.

Your main characters face a problem, or an opportunity, that kicks them into action. Something has to happen.

Raise the Dramatic Question:

You put a question in the audience’s mind that needs to be answered by the end of the story.

Usually tied to the desire line. Will he/she achieve their goal or not? Your story will be steadily building towards a climax, and this question establishes that trajectory at the start. It’s important.

Debate and Decision:

Your main characters expresses their fears or reservations about moving forward.

They weigh the pros and cons, and make a decision. As the writer, this is your opportunity to highlight the stakes of the story. How much the main character stands to lose, or gain, – as they decide whether or not to set out on their journey.

Turning Point 1:

This is the end of act 1. How do we know? Because there is…

A major change, or turn, in the story.

Turning point 1 usually sees our main character fully setting out on their journey. Leaving the shire, taking that new job, accepting that invitation to a secret new world. Anything that directly pushes the story into new territory – that’s turning point 1.

Let’s put all of this together into a basic plot line:

ACT 1:

  • Set Up
  • Inciting Incident
  • Raise the Dramatic Question
  • Debate and Decision
  • Turning Point 1

Say: Your main character needs money for an operation.

The inciting incident is when he’s met with an opportunity to make the money he needs. He learns of an underground poker game. Or an old friend recruits him to rob a bank.

Let’s go with the bank robbing.

Okay, so now we have our main character who needs money, and he’s been recruited to rob a bank with his friend.

Alright.

Now how do we make sure to raise the dramatic question?
Well, in this scenario, it’s already heavily implied. As soon as our main character agreed to rob the bank, we’re now thinking to ourselves… “Will he get the money for his operation?” Will he succeed?

That is the dramatic question that will drive the story. Good job.

Next is debate and decision.
Here our main character takes a moment to weigh the pros and cons of going through with this. He’s already agreed to help his friend rob the bank… but he’s now considering the full ramifications of this. Then he makes a choice. A decision. For the sake of the story, he’s going to decide to do it. Of course he is.

Then we’ve got turning point 1.
Our main character packs a bag and leaves town with his buddy, determined to go rob this bank.

That’s the end of act 1.

To review:

  • We set up our main character and his health problem.
  • He’s got no money or insurance (no easy solutions).
  • His friend comes to him with a plan to rob a bank.
  • He weighs the pros and cons and decides that he’s in.
  • He hops on a plane to join his buddy. Flying straight into act 2…


Style: The Voice of Your Story

The unique voice that you bring to your story.

It’s your specific way of expressing this story, your version of it.

What’s that look like in practice?

Well, style is a fairly loose, fluid, concept. But essentially, it breaks down to…

How you execute the other cubbies.

Those “how” choices dictate and express your story’s unique identity.

You have all this stuff you want to do in your story and your style is the way in which you do it.

For example: as part of your seed, you have a hook.
Your hook is the specific appeal and entertainment value of your story. That special something that grabs people.

This hook, is a direct expression of your style. You contribute to the style of your story by executing a solid hook in an original way. A way that is unique to you as a storyteller. As a creator. The originality you show here, is a large part of your style.

The style of your story is its cool factor.

Your unique expression that differentiates this story from all others.

The list of ways in which you can give your story its own style – is endless.

An interesting way to establish a style is to use the fill in the blank method.

Your story is a ________.

Say your story is a: drug trip.
The telling of your story will then exemplify the traits of a drug trip. You build that idea into the experience of the story. We see this in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Or your story is a: philosophical treatise.
Then the telling of your story will harken to the conventions of a philosophical essay. Perhaps characters are dry and presented very logically. Emotional moments are surrounded by philosophical concerns and debates. The moments of the story transpire as if they were to take place in a metaphorical debate class, rather than the messy half-truths of real life.

That’s what having a style is all about, you give your story specific and identifiable modes of expression. A way of being, that makes it feel unique in the world.

What kind of traits could you give your story? What kind of unique specifics? What kind of particular expressions?

What styles?

The list is potentially endless, but let’s take a look at a few:

  • intimate
  • spectacle
  • offensive
  • irreverent
  • humble
  • sarcastic
  • parody
  • commentary
  • meditative
  • straight-forward
  • hyper
  • languishing
  • self aware or self referential
  • witty
  • exaggerated or over the top

This theme, this style, should pervade every aspect of your story.

It could be impressionistic like the stillness in Brokeback Mountain. Or it could be contextual – like a style that relies on pop culture references and sex jokes. Kevin Smith’s films for example.

Whatever the theme is, it’s expressed continuously throughout the story. Lean into it more or less at times, at your own discretion – but it’s always there. Expressing your style.



Narrative Part 2: Storytellers

A “storyteller” is a character in a story who is actively participating in the telling of that story.

You’ve heard of a few – a “narrator,” for instance.

If you’ve decided to utilize a storyteller, there are a few things to consider. Questions you need to answer:

Narrator? Or internal monologue?

What’s the diff?

A “narrator” is a character speaking over the events of a story.

Usually divorced from the normal flow of time. We see narrator examples in Fight Club and The Shawshank Redemption.

An “internal monologue” is when the audience can hear the thoughts of a character, as they happen, in real time.

We see internal monologue examples in Adaptation and Dexter.

If your storyteller is a narrator…

Are they speaking in first, second, or third person?

First person – a character talking about his or herself.
“I have a pervasive fear of weddings. But when offered free booze, my ailment becomes manageable.”

Second person – a character talking to a “you.”
“You never seem to remember which kid is which. But you always seem to get it together when Kelly’s in town.”

Third person – a character talking about someone they’re indirectly involved with.
“That big guy over there is Johnny Macaroni, named after his love of elbow shaped pasta smothered in cheese.”

Establish if your narrator is inside or outside of the story.

Are they an active character in the story? Like what we see in Interview with the Vampire?
Or are they outside of the story as an omniscient voice? Like what we see in Vicky Cristina Barcelona?

Is the narration justified or unjustified?

“Justified” would mean there is a reason within the story that the narrator is saying what they’re saying. They’re writing a memoir, pouring their heart out in a diary, or telling their life story to someone on a park bench. We see these types of narrators in Stand by Me and Forrest Gump.

“Unjustified” would be when there is no justification for the narrator speaking, they just are. Like in Spider-Man or Savages.

When deciding between the two, justified always seems a bit better.

Is the narrator speaking in the past tense? Or the present tense?

It’s a small difference, but it communicates to the audience whether the story is over and done with – or if it’s happening right now.

Does the narrator acknowledge the audience directly or indirectly?

Directly acknowledging the audience, would be like what we see in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. He’s speaking straight into the camera, talking directly to the audience.

Indirectly acknowledging the audience, would be like what we see in American Psycho. He isn’t directly speaking to the audience, but he is speaking as though someone is listening. He’s not talking to himself.

Is it verbal or text?

Most narrators are verbal – we hear them speaking to whoever their intended audience is. But some narrators can come in the form of text. Especially prologues and epilogues.

A classic example would be the opening text crawl in Star Wars.

Whatever form your storyteller takes, they can be a very important and necessary part of your story.

Any story with a large sprawling scope, that spans a great deal of time, usually needs a storyteller to tie it all together.

Or, if you’re looking to create a particularly intimate connection between a character and your audience – utilizing that character as a storyteller themselves is a great way to go.

Just keep in mind that storytellers can be tricky. It’s real easy to screw it up. The storyteller device is most often utilized in novels. So when bringing it to screenwriting, you’ve got to have a subtle hand to pull it off.



Narrative Part 1: Traits & Timeline

How a story is organized and communicated to an audience.

Storytellers have a whole range of tools to use in designing how their story is specifically communicated.

First up! You’ve gotchur plots.

A Plot:

The main plot of your story.

It follows the general events of the story and the path of your main character.

B Plot:

Typically follows a supporting character and is related directly, or indirectly, to the main character and the main “A” plot.

It’s a smaller side story.

The best “B” plots are typically a smaller version of the “A” plot in some way. For instance, the main character in your “B” plot could be pursuing the same goal as the main character in your “A” plot. They have the same desire line. But maybe we see that the “B” plot character fails, while the “A” plot character succeeds. The “B” plot then stands in stark contrast. Demonstrating just how things could have gone for your story’s main character.

C and D Plots:

These are even smaller side plots that run through the story.

What else do we need to worry about when crafting our narrative?

A few key traits:

  • Perspective
  • Scope
  • Stakes

Perspective:

How the story is presented to the audience.

Is the story from the perspective of the main character? Or is it experienced from the point of view of several different people? This makes it possible for the audience to know more than the main character. It also makes it possible for them to know less.

Scope:

How wide-reaching are the events of the story?

Does it have a really wide scope with global ramifications? Or does it have a really narrow scope – two guys talking in a bar?

Stakes:

How important is the story to the characters involved?

Are they fighting to save their very lives? Or are they trying to get a date to prom?

Outside of these concerns, we’ve got to take a look at our:

Timeline:

Most stories are linear with a beginning, middle, and end, in that order. But not always.

Some stories employ a non-linear structure.

And there are many tools we can use to pull this off.

Flashbacks:

You know what these are.
The story was progressing forward in time. But then it shows you something that happened before the beginning. Reaching back to show you events you’ve never seen.

Flashforwards:

This is when the story is moving along and then shifts to a point in time far in the future. A kind of counterpoint to the “flashback.”

Anchors:

An “anchor” is a stable point in the story’s timeline that acts as the primary focus. The “present” of the story’s timeline. It gives the audience something to hold on to in their minds. Storytellers are great for establishing an anchor. We see this device used in Forrest Gump, among others.

Montage:

This is primarily a way of compressing time. You show bits and pieces of a larger period of time – conveying the gist.

Co-Current Timelines:

This is when you have two timelines going at once.
Both are considered the “present” by the audience. And at some point you connect them both up. We see this in The Notebook. You have the older versions of the characters. And the younger versions. Two timelines that eventually intersect.

To Be Continued…