In memory of a much respected compadre Blake Snyder, let’s take a look at some of his work and his colorful take on the story structure paradigm. Visit the tools section of his website and download your own copy of his beat sheet. Make sure to read his bestseller “Save The Cat”. Meow! It’s one of the must haves of every screenwriters’ library.
1. The Opening Image (page 1)
Every film should open with a powerhouse opening scene to hook the audience, stop them eating popcorn for a while and settle them in their seats. Think of that killer oufit the guest of honor is wearing as she (or he) enters the ballroom. Every one takes notice. For action movies, this is usually a set piece. It sets the tone, genre and main characters up of the film. It depicts a world of normality which will soon be disrupted as they begin their journey. Fasten your seat belts, the aircraft is taking off.
2. Theme stated (page 5)
It tells the audience what the movie was about. It poses an argument or a conflict, usually by the main character. Life isn’t fair. What if I could be king for a day? I wish I was big. I want that girl (or guy). Some paradigms call this the inciting incident. The cabin staff are explaining your flight and aircraft safety features and wishing you a pleasant journey.
3. Set-up (pages 1-10)
The first ten pages of a screenplay should be self contained to perform the function of it’s namesake. At this point we need to have an idea of the conflict set up that will guide us through the film. That is why many readers won’t proceed after page 10, if there is no clear protagonist, antagonist, theme and conflict set up.
4. Catalyst (page 12)
This is the wake up call. Something that shakes our hero and compels him (or her) to take action. This point is often called the inciting incident in traditional 3 act story structure.
5. Debate (page 12-25)
A period of the reflection, self doubt and reluctance, when the hero doesn’t know what to do. If he (or she) doesn’t make a decision to act, they are forced to do so.
6. Break in Two (page 25)
The hero is moved to act and is beyond the point of return. The old world is left behind and the journey begins, This is the first turning point and the end of Act 1. How exciting.
7. B Story (page 30)
The secondary story begins here. It may rotate around the central story spine and theme, but it’s often a love story.
8. Fun and Games (page 30-55)
This is the bulk of Act 2, where the conflict and action is escalated. The hero experiences setbacks along the way. The aircraft has leveled out and dodges clouds, meteorites and space junk along the way.
9. Midpoint (page 55)
A key point since this is where many screenplays sag. The stakes are raised, the hero is squeezed and it looks like the hero may not make it through. It divides the script into halves, The first half is the setup, while the second half is the resolution. The midpoint is the apex, the highest point of the aircraft. From here it gradually begins it’s descent to the destination airport.
10. Bad Guys Close in (page 55-75)
The hero is in real trouble both internally and externally. The aircraft has hit real turbulence and is in a tailspin.
11. All is Lost (page 75)
The hero is at his (or her) lowest point. It’s a period of metaphorical death where something must die to make space of rebirth. How biblical! The aircraft looks like it’s going to crash.
12. Dark Night of The Soul (page 75-85)
The pilot has lost control of the aircraft as it finally hits the bottom of the air pocket. The hero has lost all hope and is crushed. This point is often called second turning point.
13. Break into Three (page 85)
The hero has a new plan thanks to his buddy, confidante or love interest. A final push. The pilots hit the thrusters and the aircraft rises again.
14. Finale (page 85 – 110)
The hero emerges into the new world with new knowledge, a new attitude or something more tangible. More importantly, a transformation has occurred in the hero. The aircraft is circling the destination airport and begins it’s decent.
15. Final Image (page 110)
A scene that juxtaposes the difference between new and old worlds. Often it’s the same scene flipped by 180 degrees.