Thursday, August 28, 2008

Story Structure: What In The World Is It?

Let me first start by saying, I’m no teacher.

Wait a minute, I am. I mean, that little piece of paper they gave me upon completing my Master’s degree, as well as taking a bunch of NY State Certified exams, clearly gives me the right to screw up a bunch of young people’s lives.

So, I think it’s only fair that I share the wealth, and what better venue than this bloggy thing?

There are so many things I’ve learned over the years and so few of it I’ve retained. It’s taken me a while to warmly embrace the fact that I’m the living incarnation of “in one ear and out the other”.

So, I’ve recently began revision work, yet again, on a script of mine. A script that has been reworked so many times, I’ve started taking up residence and paying taxes in that world.

I’ve read almost every book on
screenwriting, attended a number of classes, seminars and courses, and even set up an appointment with the devil to discuss the market value of my soul. While I nodded at each pertinent piece of information put forth to me, I don’t think I really got half the babble. The more information I hoarded, the more it read like hieroglyphics.


Because I’m simple.

I hate when easy is made hard just to give it more credence - to make it sound more important and harder to achieve. And this is what I find rampant when it comes to the gurus... but that’s another post for another day. Hell, that’s three or four posts.

But anyway. One of the recent “ahhhh moments”, in terms of story structure, is that I had no freaking clue what the “experts” were talking about. Way too many high-falutent terms and “must-do” or peril. What is story structure? I’ll take a shot at it.

For me, it’s the way in which you tell your story from its beginning to end. I like analogies, so here’s one. Structure to me is like conceiving a child, giving birth and raising it until it’s ready to go out into the world - and even then, your job is not done. Every parent has their own set of values and “structure”. Of course, there are some basic rules that must be adhered to, like feeding, bathing and making sure not to drop it on its head too many times.

Story structure is what it is, and like raising a child, it’s up to the individual writer to figure out what works best for all involved. And with a script, there will be a whole lot of people involved.

First, what is it that you want? Now, going back to the analogy, some babies weren’t exactly planned, they just sorta happened - like cellulite. Does that make it less important, worthy or valuable? It’s going to leave its mark on you whether you want it to or not. It is what it is, and you begin work by rolling up your sleeves and saying, where do I go from here?

Planning is a tricky little sucker. What’s that saying about the best laid plans?

No, really? What’s the saying? I can never remember it.

Each baby is different; while some are easy going, allowing you to just pick up and travel the world, there are those little munchkins that need so much preparation, you’ll be bogged down for years. How do you KNOW what baby you’ll spawn? Like with most parents, trial and error, and with each new baby, things get a bit smoother (never really easier).

Planning is inevitable. You have to plan for those doctor visits, then you plan the first birthday party, then the first babysitter, then the first day of school, then another birthday party and more milestones, over and and over again. There’s an inherent “structure” to every child. First and foremost, they don’t skip years - they don’t have built-in time machines. A year goes by, then another one, and so-forth. Now, each baby ages - or what doctors label develops - differently. Some will require methods, treatments and special attention throughout their life that others will have no need for.

While every child is just that, a child, no two are alike. Okay, don’t throw that identical twin thing at me. Even identical children are not identical below the surface of it all. Each one of these mini-yous will require a few set parameters, or what superparents like to call boundaries. And every single child will test these boundaries at one point or another throughout their development. The parent who fares better is the one who realizes the real lesson is learned in failing - or stumbling through these moments.

If you’re anything like me, ADD has kicked in and all this analogy crap is getting you nowhere.

What is structure?

It’s like raising a child.

Aww, crap... here we go again.

No, no, it’s like the steps used to help guide your chid to its most fully realized potential. It takes hard work and determination. It takes sleepless hours and mistake after mistake. It takes a steady hand, but a strong voice. It takes patience and understanding. But, most of all, it takes love.

I’ve come to understand that every page of my script must be filled with love. No, not some lovey-dovey scene between characters, but a love that I have for the nature of it. I must love the work as a whole, flaws and all. Even when I’m frustrated and have sent it away for months, maybe even years, I must be able to pick it up and love it with every inch of my being. Because, with the strong foundation of love, everything is possible.

Structure is a strong foundation built on love. How do you get there? You find YOUR way, but most importantly, you follow your heart. If this doesn’t work, spend hours, days, months reading all the guru books, attending classes and plain becoming frustrated until it finally clicks for YOU. That’s how I learn.

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