Use structure responsibly
Structure is a wonderful tool for helping you lay down your story. It can provide a framework for what otherwise is a sprawling list of stuff that happens and things people say. For me, it provides clear targets to hit and that helps me get going in a story. And it helps when I get stuck too – what if I try to lead to a big moment here? What is that big moment going to be? I ended the last section on a downer, how about the next section ends on a high? And so on.
When plotting features, I let scenes play out in my head without guides or limits but, when it comes to arranging them, I use the most basic film structure as a template so I know where to put them. Without structure, I feel the stories would be like playing Pin The Tail On The Donkey only without a Donkey.
Once you’ve written something, a sense of structure needs can also be a great troubleshooting tool. Is a section sagging? Have a look at where beats land in a very traditional structure and see if yours are way off that. By the way, just a little thought here – the thing I hear most often is that a story drags in the second act. In my view, that’s because the story structure that is actually described in most books or templates is actually a four act structure, not a three act one. Dividing what people call a second act into two and treating each half as an act in itself may help avoid what is usually called a second act lull.
So, structure is a fantastic tool and a great place to start.
BUT… be careful not to get too hung up on it. A story should be engaging, fun or emotional. We should want to turn the page or keep watching. We should want to be immersed in that world and should believe that world. If we do, then it’s job done. Is it enjoyable? Do people love this story?Those are the things you need to look for when your story is laid down.
If you’re using structure as a way to show why a story or movie that everybody loves is actually rubbish, you’re doing it wrong. It is simply a helpful tool to help craft a great story. Don’t use it to break stories if they’re actually working as is.