There’s a method of structuring stories — typically used for screenplays — that I’ve come to adopt for both screenplays and novels.
I’ve even built a Scrivener Template for it. Right Click here, save to a folder of your choice (one that you will remember) and when you open the new file in Scrivener, find it and open it. If you click on the link above you’ll ge a page full of xml that you probably won’t be able to use for anything.
When you start a new project, click on “Options” on the bottom left of the Project Templates screen and “Import Templates…”. Navigate to the location where you’ve saved the MiniMovie Template and open it there.
Edit: I’ve had some kind of brain fart and can’t recall how, exactly, to save a file as a template and then upload it to a server for your use. Instead, that link is for the actual project file used to create the profile. Once saved in a location of your choice, “Open an Existing File…” (bottom of the screen)
The Mini Movie method breaks a story into eight roughly equal sections. I talked a bit about it in this post.
There are still three acts, the primary and secondary plot points, turns and character arcs still exist. All it really does is break the story into bitier-sized pieces.
I mentioned in that earlier post that this is like a blueprint for a story, but that’s not a great analogy. It’s a good one, but not a great one. If you can write a couple of hundred words for each mini-movie section you’ll be able to find your way through our story. But it’s not written in stone. I find that my initial plan for Act 3 bears very little resemblance to the actual Act 3 that gets published. But with something to aim for, the story will flow better.
A little more detail (a lot of this is take from the template I linked above):
MM1: The first half of Act 1 – set up the main characters, introduce their basic weakness and set them up in the world that is their status quo. The “first dimension” character traits, the hook and a general sense of who the protagonist is happens here.
End this section with a “call to action” – an event that involves the protagonist, but one that they don’t respond to. In fact, it’s good at this point if your hero is decidedly un-heroic and rejects the call.
This is what I call the inciting incident. It’s the event that happens in the protagonists story that directly leads to the first plot point – the event that will come later – that pushes the protagonist out of their comfortable world.
MM2: The second part of Act 1 has the protagonist/hero reluctant to respond to the “call to action” presented to him (literally, figuratively or metaphorically) at the end of mini-movie 1 (henceforth shortened as MM1, MM2, etc.). All the usual excuses of reluctance can be used, or just one. Whatever it takes for the protagonist to firmly shut down any idea of her taking part.
Then we end MM2 with something forcing the hero to be a hero, reluctant or not. Something locks them in. This is the First Plot Point of your story.
Some excellent examples:
- The terrorists take the plane in “Air Force One”,
- Woody jumps out of the window to save Buzz,
- Samuel points out the bad cop to Book in “Witness”, forcing Book to acknowledge the killer is someone he knows.
MM3: We’re now into the “story”. The hero needs to satisfy the viewer’s questions at this point (seriously). Ever watch a movie and yell at the screen “Why don’t you just look behind the door!” Look behind the door. Do all the obvious things up front and get them out of the way.
Obviously these “things” done by your hero will fail, but that’s the point. Put them on the list of things to do so your hero can crossed them off.
If your hero isn’t a cop and he or she is investigating a murder, the first thing the audience will think/yell is “why haven’t you gone to the police?”
The answer can be as easy as the hero saying he doesn’t trust the police (with a good reason) or you can have the hero go to the police and be shot down.
Whatever, get the rote responses out of the way here.
I like to end MM3 with a reminder of how dastardly the opposition is. At least the reader should see this, to keep the stakes high. If the hero also shows this, it needs to be organic to the story.
MM4: Now for a more grandiose plan. MM3 got rid of the expected, have the hero do the unexpected.
And meet with a failure large enough to set everything on its ass – show the antagonist is stronger than both the hero and the reader expected.
End MM4 (and the first half of Act 2) with what is variously called “The Turn”, the “This Changes Everything Moment” – the midpoint. It’s a curtain reveal, letting the hero know the story he thought he was in is actually something completely different.
Some excellent midpoints:
- If we take the final Harry Potter movies as a single movie (since it came from a single book), the midpoint is the end of the first movie – Voldemort acquires Dumbledore’s wand. Changes every damned thing.
- In Limitless Eddie calls the names in his drug supplier’s little black book and “three of the names were dead and the rest were sick”. The magic pills have a nasty side-effect.
- In True Lies (it’s not Arnie’s story here, it’s his wife’s), Helen Tasker morphs from scorned wife to agent, running a fake op to satisfy Harry’s perverse curiosity/pride/whatever.
MM5: From a character point of view, your hero accepts the change and realises that it’s necessary for them to change to get to the finish line.
From a story point of view they now attack, knowing, essentially, what the objectives really are (the shift in focus happening at the end of MM4) and look out anyone who gets in their way.
I like to end MM5 with a reminder to the reader the lengths the hero will go to achieve their objectives. Think of it as a polar opposites to the scene ending MM3.
MM6: Mini Movie 6 is the end of Act 2. A lot happens both story and character-wise at this point in your story. MM6 needs to lead to a massive backfire in plans that almost destroy’s the hero. For the backfire to be massive, the plan must be audacious.
Sometimes this is presented as a false ending. It seems like things are wrapping up then WHAM (not the George Michaels band) the rug gets pulled out from under the hero and she’s back on her ass.
Nearing the end of MM6, is the “all is lost moment”, the flat on your ass, antagonist stronger than ever. This is the end of Act 2. Poltergeist has one of the best “end of Act 2″s out there.
Then while flat on your ass, death (or worse) inevitable, you …
MM7: Open Act 3 with that last clue. The piece of the puzzle that lets the hero know what is needed to finish the story — to win. The hero is now in martyr mode. He knows what needs to be done and is willing to die trying. (Doesn’t have to die, especially if you have a sequel in mind.)
The character development is near completion. The battle is enormous. A “Two men enter, one leaves” kinda battle.
The hero prevails at the end of MM7, of course, but there’s always a twist.
MM8: And now is the dénouement. There’s one wild swing back to fear (“Oh, no, he’s not dead after all!”). Think of the ending of Scream and how well they parodied that.
RANDY: This is moment when the supposedly dead killer comes back to life, for one last scare.
Billy starts to rise.
SIDNEY PRESCOTT (shoots Billy): Not in my movie.
If there are romantic overtones, this is the HEA (Happy Ever After) and maybe a tease for the sequel.