Script Magazine has just published my new article where I discuss the issue of “formulaic” writing, and the use of story structure paradigms to help guide the process of crafting a screenplay.
It begins thusly:
Writers often rebel against the idea that a screenplay should follow a specific dramatic structure – especially one with prescribed pages where certain story “beats” should occur. The most popular current “story template” is the “Beat Sheet” from Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat books. The author’s cheeky insistence that, for instance, the story “Catalyst” should happen on page 12 of a 110-page screenplay (not page 11, or page 13) rubs some people the wrong way – and might appear to the casual reader to suggest that a screenplay is a mechanical creation where one inserts Tab A into Slot B, and, voila!, a compelling finished product emerges.
Some professional readers of scripts might also complain that they can spot a script that relies too much on such a “formula” – that they seem cookie-cutter and uninspired. Some would even blame Save the Cat forcausing Hollywood to create formulaic movies. It’s also not uncommon to hear professional screenwriters pronounce such a tool as a crutch, or even snake oil – and a detriment to creating something compelling and original. They might argue that THEY don’t need such “how-to” guides, and also point to certain great movies which don’t seem to follow these “beats”. They might view with great suspicion relying on any “system” for understanding how a screenplay is “supposed” to work.
As you might guess from my title, I disagree with all this.
Actually, it’s more complicated than that. I actually kind of AGREE with all of it, on one level, while also disagreeing with it, on another. Allow me to explain…
I also recommend my "Ten Key Principles Successful Writers Understand", and my series of audio downloads. And if you'd like me to read something you're working on, check out my consulting page.