No personal blog crapola.
Just one guy's quest to unlock the mysterious art of storytelling on screen.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Structure is King

You are using the sequencing method as I understand it to plot out your scripts first? Can you let people know what the sequence method is for those who have never worked with it? And can you talk about how it helps you plan what to write?

Sequencing is gold. I hesitate to even talk about it, lest all of your readers go out and become overnight successes and put me out of work. I jest, but this approach really is that good. And there’s no magic to it, it’s just good, common sense. That’s what’s so brilliant about it.

Essentially, you want to look at your script as eight 12–15 page sequences. Act 1 and Act 3 each get 2 sequences and Act 2 gets 4. Each sequence should have a mini-goal for the protagonist (some more defined than others) and a beginning, middle and end just like your script does. That way, you end up with a sequenced script that builds on itself and creates those wonderful "peaks and valleys" that create tension/release, tension/release all throughout your story. Each sequence has a goal—what is or isn’t accomplished at the end of it—and a first, second and third act just like your script. The first act of the sequence is the setup (2 or 3 pages), then the main body is the conflict (5–9 pages) and then the resolution (1–3 pages). Each sequence has to do with the greater goal of your story, each one building on the last and raising the stakes and conflict until the story and conflict is eventually resolved at the end of the script.

The best feature of sequencing is that it makes your script digestible. Especially the second act. When you go in to outline your script, instead of having 120 pages of scary infinity, you have 8 clear sequences you need to design and create that fill out this larger structure.

It’s simple brilliance and something every writer should be doing. Beyond having a killer concept, structure is king. Sequencing will eventually lead you to bullet-proof structure. And structure will get you respect and structure will win you jobs in the room, just like I have. Bad structure means bad screenplays, even if you have great dialogue and characters (which you should also have, of course—like I said, this shit is competitive!)

This is an excerpt from a Done Deal interview with Ryan Condal. Ryan broke into the industry this year with his Galahad spec and has gone on to ink writing deals with Spyglass and Warners.

You'll see Ryan's 'eight sequences' inherent in The Four-Act Story Diamond. Ryan divides these Acts in half to create eight sequences, but for me it makes sense to divide each Act into four sections that mirror the overall build and flow of the overarching story. This gives a total of 16 sequences of about seven to eight pages each.

How daunting is it to write an eight-page sequence of your story, with its own beginning, middle, and end? Not very. That's roughly two pages for the beginning, four for the middle, and two for the end. Probably a day or two's work if you've outlined the sequence in advance. Do this sixteen times and you've written your screenplay.

Whether you break down the sequencing into Ryan's eight sections or my sixteen sections, the important thing is working in manageable story slices (mini stories).

Listen to Ryan. He knows exactly how he earned his seat at the table.

Structure is King, and Sequencing is Gold.