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SimplyScripts Screenwriting Discussion Board    Screenwriting Discussion    Screenwriting Class  ›  > Story Constraints: Building a Three Act Story Moderators: George Willson
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RayW
Posted: August 1st, 2011, 11:34am Report to Moderator
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LOL!
In researching THE MATRIX as monomyth, nominated for AFI's top 10 SciFi list, I also ran across GROUNDHOG DAY on their top 10 "Fantasy" list, #8.
http://www.afi.com/10top10/category.aspx?cat=6

You could be researching worse, Kev!




Hey, Goerge

Quoted from George Willson
The three act structure you all fret about isn't about storytelling. You'll have a 3 act story by default if you have a beginning, middle, and end.

I think this guy is calling you out for saying all stories are the same, although certainly not monomyths which I agree - they ain't!
http://storyfanatic.com/articles/story-theory/not-everything-is-a-heros-journey
"From error-ridden snarky videos to lightweight analysis of plot elements, the Internet teems with those who think every story is the same and that this similarity can be attributed to man's need for mythic transformation."




Interesting article on two types of character arcs:
http://kfmonkey.blogspot.com/2009/05/star-trek-and-breaking-rules-spoilers.html



Another interesting article:
http://dramatica.com/theory/articles/Dram-differences.htm

BTW, I find it simply amazing that in my quest to create proper stories to watch in <2hrs to avoid reading the same stories in >5hr books (laugh at me, I read slow) that I'm ending up reading a sh!tload of cr@p from all over the planet by babbling foo... folks.  Just sayin'.)




After some (quite a bit, actually) more reading it has occurred to me that there are at least two primary story writer approaches:
1. Goal Oriented Writers fabricate story, plot, theme, tone, structure, characters, MacGuffins and whatnot to specifically arrive at some point. They are destination or goal oriented.
2. Journey Oriented Writers begin with a kernel concept, work it backwards, if need be, and forwards to a non-predetermined ending along a course they feel is natural or organic, free of conventional constraints. The outcome is there, you just have to find it. The creative journey process is key.

The two vantage points seem to be at barely respective odds at one another.
- The Goal Oriented Writers largely dismiss the Journey Oriented Writers as being chaotic (to be polite, and "immature" to be blunt).
- The Journey Oriented Writers routinely decry the unwholesomeness of the Goal Oriented Writers pounding stories into neat/ugly little boxes.

Philosophies:
- Goal Oriented Writers (Engineers) - Without structure there is no order.
- Journey Oriented Writers (Artists) - Beauty is in seeing the story as it occurs naturally.





WTF izzup with GROUNDHOG DAY?!
Why are so many people analyzing THAT, of all the movies in the universe, for anything?
It's almost two decades old and only fairly decent or representational of anything.
Post #33: http://www.dvxuser.com/V6/showthread.php?215320-Hero-s-journey-It-ain-t-for-everyone/page4




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RayW  -  August 1st, 2011, 10:37pm
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Lon
Posted: August 1st, 2011, 7:55pm Report to Moderator
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Groundhog Day deserves to be analyzed, because it all but ignores the three act structure in favor of a structure more akin (though not identical to) the five steps of grieving, documenting the journey of Phil Connor's from a self-centered, insensitive egotist to a good, caring, selfless man.

Step 1: Phil's denial and confusion over what's happening to him.

Step 2: Phil's anger (when he purposely sabotages his segment, shoves Ned away, etc.)

Step 3: This isn't so much the "bargaining" phase as it is the "hey, I can get away with murder" stage.  He doesn't bargain, here; he goes about his days acting on every impulse, knowing nothing negative will happen to him.

Step 4: Depression.  He keeps trying to bed Andie McDowell and repeatedly meets with failure.  As such, he grows despondent and repeatedly attempts at suicide.

Step 5: Finally, Phil accepts that this is his life now, and he may as well make the best of it.  In doing so, he becomes the person fate/destiny/karma/what-have-you wants him to be, and his reward is two-fold: he no longer has to live the same day over and over, and he wins the love of a good woman.

Groundhog Day is a great movie, with more going on than its comedic surface would have you think.  That's why it's still being analyzed almost twenty years later.

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leitskev
Posted: August 1st, 2011, 8:54pm Report to Moderator
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When I was in the fifth grade, the public school I attended burned down, and as the next option was across the city, my parents sent me to a parochial school, which was closer. There was a whole lotta talking about God. And I had a whole lotta questions. Drove the poor nuns crazy. Just how I am.

Now I attend Simply Scripts University. And my questions drive folks here crazy! But it's just how I learn.

As I continue to listen and learn, these are my current thoughts on structure:

1) Every story has a beginning, an intro period. This is when tone is established, the basic world laid out, and the characters introduced. It's part of every tale in every form. And it has to have a clear, distinct end, a transition into the body of the story.

Also, you only have a limited amount of time to accomplish this. If you're telling a story to guys in a bar, you better get to the point quick. If you're telling camp fire stories out in the woods, you get a little more time to lay the ground work.

In film, you might get a little more time if it's sci fi. Sci fi fans will be a lot more patient in letting you establish the world you've created. Also, if you there are things happening in your intro that are particularly attention grabbing, like in Stars Wars, you might have the luxury of a longer intro.

An ensemble is another interesting case. There may be more than one protag you are introducing, so you might have a little more grace. Again, there should be attention grabbing stuff going on.

But the intro definitely should have a well defined end, generally. As an audience, we expect this even if we don't think about it. If it's missing, our attention wonders, and we feel something's wrong, that the story lacks a trajectory.

2) Fields and Blake provide great models for building a story. But the models should be just that...models. They should guide a story, not force it. Groundhog Day is a finely structured movie, as structured as a movie can be. And it's clearly 5 act. There are 5 key sections, all the same length, none more important than the other.

3) unfortunately there seems to be a language of Hollywood now where everyone needs to be able to explain their story in terms of 3 act, and even more specifically in terms of STC. So even though Groundhog is 5 act, to market it, one would have to be able to describe it in 3 Act. So we need to be able to do that with our work.

4) pacing: I think, using Groundhog once again, the key is to have critical plot points come at balanced intervals. In Ground that seems to be every 17 minutes. Not sure if this is reflected in the script, however. They certainly seemed aware of it in the film. They use filler stuff when needed.

5) I like Ray's distinction between Journey orientated writers vs Goal. I think maybe the best result is mixing chocolate with peanut butter. If you are naturally a journey writer, try to be more structured. If you love to engineer films with precision, maybe try to write a little more freestyle, see if your work becomes more imaginative.

6) I like Lon's stages of grief comparison. The idea is that a character develops in stages which are more emotional than intellectual, though the intellect plays a role. And there doesn't need to be 5 stages. There could be less, or more. Depends on the situation. As long as your character is changing, positive or negative.

Maybe  more later! Back to a script read.
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Dreamscale
Posted: August 1st, 2011, 9:33pm Report to Moderator
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Exactly.  Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. If that's what this 3 act structure is all about, it's basically the same as "theme"...it's in there, as long as you know how to tell a frickin' story.

No reason to get all caught up about where breaks need to be or worry about character arc, blah, blah, blah.  Doesn't matter.  A good story is a god story.  A good ride is a god ride, adn a good movie is a good fucking movie...Period.

I mean, seriously guys and gals.  It ain't rocket science, but the more you worry about it, the more forced and show horned it becomes.

And you know what?  The really funny thing is this...

A film's Box Office and financial success is not based in how well it matches any structure, plot points, or Guru's way.  It doesn't even come down to whether or not it's a well made, good film.

It's how many buts sit down and plop down their $7-$15.  It's how well the trailer is put together. It's about marketing and word of mouth.  It's about star power, both onscreen and behind the scenes.

At some point, this is going to become clear to those with the power and those in control.  Well, hopefully, at least.  We'll see.


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leitskev
Posted: August 1st, 2011, 10:18pm Report to Moderator
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Jeff, I'm not sure we have the same position. I think learning structure is hugely helpful. Are there people that are natural story tellers and do it without really being conscious of it? Probably. But I think most people will benefit from learning structure. I think Ray's analysis and his graph is very helpful in that effort.

My only problem, and no one in this thread has done this, is when people take the STC approach, and treat it like a mathematical formula, as Snyder himself does. I mean, he tells you what your plot points should be and on exactly what page. And it seems that notion has eaten Hollywood alive. And it becomes even comical sometimes. A script like Groundhog Day, if an industry type looked at it, would throw it out because it does not conform to STC structure. But what's even funnier is this: now that the movie is made and is successful, all these Snyder people will find creative ways to say it was really STC structure after all!
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Dreamscale
Posted: August 1st, 2011, 10:23pm Report to Moderator
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And just look at Blake Snyder's resume of scripts to film and I think my point becomes a bit clearer...

You're listening to a guy who as far as I can see, never had a remotely successful script turned into a movie.  In fact, critically, it's a fucking joke.

As I say again and again, if you feel you need to adhere to such a rigid structure and it actually helps you in the writing process, go for it...by all means go for it.  But when it's all said and done, it does not come into play in terms of what's god or what works.

It's basically Screenwriting 101, and that ain't gonna get you too far, IMO.


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Scar Tissue Films
Posted: August 2nd, 2011, 8:14am Report to Moderator
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Your Structure should essentially reflect your story.

If you're telling an Epic tale with supernatural elements...the Heroes Journey is a great model. You can deviate from it, but knowing why it's been universally popular can only help.

If you're telling a meandering tale about someone trying to find themselves and they go on a long journey, it makes sense if the structure is looser.

It's also thematic...if you're telling a story about memory loss (Memento) it makes sense that the story is non-linear/fragmented like memory itself.

Same with Usual Suspetcs. It's a Post-Modern story (turns out everything you see is a lie), so it makes sense that the structure is more Post-Modern.

The Snyder model is useful for "movies"....low brow  comedies for instance. I think sticking to a formula model for those type of things can have its benefits IF it allows you to concentrate on more important matters like the comedic situations, jokes and characters.
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leitskev
Posted: August 2nd, 2011, 9:06am Report to Moderator
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I'm curious what you think about Inglorious Bastards? Obviously he likes to chuck the bird at Hollywood structure people. But it tends to support Jeff's theory of just make it interesting.

The opening scene is almost comparable to a prologue in a novel. Then the next scene, with the Bastards being formed, is like the intro. Except even that doesn't quite work as a comparison, because the prologue ends up being 20 minutes, a huge chunk of the movie.

The bottom line is kept people entertained.

Which leads me to another consideration I am interested to here people's thoughts on. It seems to me that the intro part of a movie is ripe with potential, and great movies exploit that. And how you exploit that can affect what you do with structure.

With a good film or novel, often the most interesting part is the intro, when the characters and the premise are first revealed. That's what grabs us. In fact, sometimes stories have a hard time living up to the potential created by the intro.

The reason I say this that it seems if you have really interesting scenes to introduce your characters, and the world or premise, you will need to push back the end of "act one". I suspect that the notion that act one has to end at a certain prescribed point might be inhibiting films, because it limits the intro period.

Of course, a film that has an intro that drags on can lose its audience, so one should be aware of that. I'm just saying that if the industry is too adamant about things, the intro, which is filled with potential, might be suffering.
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RayW
Posted: August 2nd, 2011, 9:08am Report to Moderator
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Rick -
That's EXACTLY what my thesis for this project was to question: to explore for suspected patterns, apply them appropriately if confirmed, once more than comfortable with them consider deviating from them with purpose from experience.


Monomyth/Hero's Journey for epics and high brow.
Sid Field/Blake Syder for mostly comedies and blue collar diet.

To me these structures are just tools.

Sometimes the best tool to use is a crescent wrench.
Sometimes it's the loop-end of a monkey wrench.
Sometimes it's an adjustable wrench.
Sometimes it's a ratchet.
Sometimes it's even pliers.

Structures are just tools.

Knowing when to use what's best, that they all even exist, to be comfortable utilizing any one of them, and become adaptable to interchangeably utilize any of them seems a sensible goal way beyond some laughable "just do it" approach.



Good morning, Kevin! -
Ah, well.... It's QT after all. Ain't no telling what bunny ran up his squirrely arse.
I think he's a fan of making a non-linear, mish-mash of incomplete short stories.
Frankly, I don't see any wide release director or film product that does model off of him, so it's not worth the the brain power to emulate... whatever the h3ll the man does.

I always note when studios, distributors, editors or directors open with a scene XX minutes into a linear story just because the actual beginning is so lame the crack addicted audience won't sit long enough to endure it.
I don't care for it, but I understand it.
I'm divided between calling it pragmatic editing by recognizing the audience's limitations (likely as a result of pre-release focus group reviews) or just plain lame story creation.
I think the former is probably MORE valid and audience acceptance seems to confirm an exciting non-linear intro as a preference to a boring linear intro.

Businesses make products to serve the customers.
The customers dictate the product they want, not the other way around.


Quoted from leitskev
3) unfortunately there seems to be a language of Hollywood now where everyone needs to be able to explain their story in terms of 3 act, and even more specifically in terms of STC. So even though Groundhog is 5 act, to market it, one would have to be able to describe it in 3 Act. So we need to be able to do that with our work.

I think this is going to be one of my key take-aways from this project.

Whatever the h3ll is going on in our minds is one thing, but what distributor purchasing agents and producers want to hear may very well be something different, and as a good businessperson we, as writers, need to be able to cakewalk dance/communicate on command between both demands.

I've noticed the structural fabric of some films can be draped over both a three act and monomyth simultaneously, successfully fulfilling both requirements in some if not most capacities.

Monkey see...




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RayW  -  August 2nd, 2011, 9:39am
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ajr
Posted: August 2nd, 2011, 9:08am Report to Moderator
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I'd like to take minor issue with the statement that theme organically appears if you have a story with a beginning, middle and end. Stories with a beginning, middle and end have a plot but don't always have themes. Unless you count "good vs. evil" or "greed" as themes in your run-of-the-mill bad guy steals money and good guy tracks him down films...

Here's the difference, for me, between writing with a theme in mind vs. writing with a plot in mind: if you say to yourself "I have an idea for a movie", chances are you have a story you want to tell and therefore you have a plot, and you then add characters, dialogue, etc.

Conversely, if you say to yourself "what do I want to say in this piece as an artist?" then you have theme, and you construct a plot around it that illustrates your theme.

I will always write for theme, which is why I only have one feature and a few short scripts done. Each of them say something that I want to say as an artist and do not merely exist for plot constructs.


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leitskev
Posted: August 2nd, 2011, 9:47am Report to Moderator
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It takes a special talent to be able to develop a story around a theme, starting with the theme and then building plot and characters. I respect those that can do it.

I've researched it quite a bit recently, and watched many clips if interviews with directors. One thing that is absolutely clear to me is that the way Anthony is suggesting is the exception, not the rule. Even with great directors, or novel writers for that matter. In fact, in all the interviews I watched or read, theme was never mentioned. Tarantino discusses it without using that word when considering Pulp Fiction, in which redemption is the theme, and also the theme of "choices" between right and wrong. But even these were not his prime motivating factors in creating the story. He wanted to take a closer look at stereotypical characters like hitmen, and follow them throughout their day.

Many famous writers, some quoted in the thread here on theme, have said that theme emerges after the writing process has begun, often after the first draft is complete. So at best, it seems to be subconscious at the start of the process, for most writers anyway.

But I think it's possible for really skilled writers, like Anthony, to start with theme. I just doesn't seem to be the usual way in film.

Hey Ray

You are no doubt correct that no one should model after QT. I think it might help to look at the reason behind what he does, though. I don't think he's just randomly writing scenes. He's establishing the key components to his story, and he's doing it in a way that keeps our attention. This was the case in Pulp too. One the one hand, we can analyze it to say he's telling that story in non linear for a reason that serves the story. And while that is true, it's important to keep in mind the simple idea of wanting to start with things that grab the audience's attention. Sometimes you have to break the natural story chronology to do that.

I think you're definitely on the right track exploring these patterns, Ray, thanks for sharing.
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RayW
Posted: August 2nd, 2011, 9:49am Report to Moderator
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Good morning, Anthony!

I'll comfortably support your issue with essentially "just do it/build it and the theme will emerge... " approach.

I don't really comprehend the derisiveness toward working with purposefulness.
No one's dictating any "Thou shalt have archetype character A engage in X activity at point T" and so forth.

Um... we're all pretty cool with being rather fluid with our approaches. So...

For me, it's tone I like to hammer out before beginning, as that dictates a lot of humor which is about impossible to overwrite into thought process of a pre-written story.

Maybe I'm just aware of the thematic flavor that runs through the story and I'll naturally adhere to it during the writing.

Different folks, different strokes. Ha!



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George Willson
Posted: August 2nd, 2011, 11:52am Report to Moderator
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It can hardly be said that I said every story is the same. I simply said they all have a beginning, middle, and end. In my opinion, a story should tell itself, and though you, as the author, guide the plot and theme, you allow the characters the freedom to do whatever it is they do as they step through the story. Basically, it's a matter of watching your people react to the hell you put them through.

I've talked about this one before, but it's worthwhile here. Of my first 2 Fempiror stories, they were written in vastly different ways. The first was meticulously laid out bit by bit doing outlines and characters and everything else over a course of probably six years before I finally wrote it. It turned out well.

The second was written in two weeks. In that one, I had a basic idea of what the plot needed to do, but I needed a big story to carry that essential plot element. For the most part, I just sat down and started writing letting the characters carry the story to wherever it would end up next. I just kept asking myself what I would do next without any idea of where it would end up if I did that, just like you would be in life. You take the best option at the moment and deal with the consequences. As a result, that story feels extremely spontaneous, but it works really well. Strangely, it also conforms to a basic structure with solid turning points. Only one of those turning points was planned beforehand.

If you can tell a good story, you don't need to do much beforehand. Sure some planning will help, but if you try to pigeonhole the story into a firm frame, then you'll only stifle the real story since you're likely to rush one element and drag out the next in that effort to make the story fit the frame.

All stories are different. They don't need to follow the same structure or anything. Sure, there are elements that audiences expect in certain types of stories, but let the stories tell themselves. You don't have to always be in control. If you write yourself into a corner, figure a way to get out of it. There's always some creative solution to every problem.

When faced with the departure of their lead actor, William Hartnell, from their very popular Doctor Who series in 1966, the producers needed to find a way to keep the series going without him. Talk about a major problem. Then someone had a genius revelation: regeneration. Worked so well, it's now the longest running sci-fi tv series in history.

Be creative. Live in your world. Let your characters guide your story while you guide the plot. It works well.


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Dreamscale
Posted: August 2nd, 2011, 12:18pm Report to Moderator
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George - Well put.  I agree with you for the most part about letting your characters live, act, and react in the world/story/plot you created.  I think that's the best way to get a reality based feeling for both action and character.


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Scar Tissue Films
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Quoted from leitskev
I'm curious what you think about Inglorious Bastards? Obviously he likes to chuck the bird at Hollywood structure people. But it tends to support Jeff's theory of just make it interesting.

The opening scene is almost comparable to a prologue in a novel. Then the next scene, with the Bastards being formed, is like the intro. Except even that doesn't quite work as a comparison, because the prologue ends up being 20 minutes, a huge chunk of the movie.

The bottom line is kept people entertained.

Which leads me to another consideration I am interested to here people's thoughts on. It seems to me that the intro part of a movie is ripe with potential, and great movies exploit that. And how you exploit that can affect what you do with structure.

With a good film or novel, often the most interesting part is the intro, when the characters and the premise are first revealed. That's what grabs us. In fact, sometimes stories have a hard time living up to the potential created by the intro.

The reason I say this that it seems if you have really interesting scenes to introduce your characters, and the world or premise, you will need to push back the end of "act one". I suspect that the notion that act one has to end at a certain prescribed point might be inhibiting films, because it limits the intro period.

Of course, a film that has an intro that drags on can lose its audience, so one should be aware of that. I'm just saying that if the industry is too adamant about things, the intro, which is filled with potential, might be suffering.


Jeff's right in that if it works, it works.

You can break any "rule" you want, as long as it works in the confines of that particular story.

Structure will rarely be the reason something is good. Two films can be structured in the same way, and one is great with interesting characters, action etc and the other is drab and boring.

However, it seems commonly to be the case that when something is clearly NOT working...it's down to the structure, to a lesser or greater extent. Too long spent in certain points where it's not needed, something missing here, not cohesive enough or coherent enough there.

You can often see where it's lacking compared to traditional strcuture.

It all comes down to what you're trying to accomplish.

The three act structure is designed to provide the greatest possible EMOTIONAL response in an audience.  Emotion is something Hollywood does well. Positive emotion particularly...it sells. As simple as that. Films that end happily do much better in BO terms than ones that end on a downer. (I know that's not a specific structural concern, but I think it's a critical point).

If you look at how popular Shawshank Redemption is you see this point. Imagine if instead of the theme of Hope, and getting on with living that Andy instead eventually succumbs to his mistreatment and kills himself. Artistically there's nothing wrong with it. Maybe it's more realisitc. But the film would have died at the BO (as it did) and stayed dead in monetary terms, instead of having that incredible word of mouth resurgence.

The traditional Hollywood story is an underdog story (little guy vs big guy) told in a linear way, with a happy ending. That's the standard model of story and it works in the way it was intended to.  

The problem with those structures is from an artistic (and political) point of view...they are more predictable and tend to be less useful if your message is more philosophical/political/intellectual. The three act structure tends to introduce a problem that is then solved and neatly wrapped up and requires no action from the audience.

The real world is often more complicated, which is why many independent and European/ROW films tend to deviate from that structure. They may be more interested in other things than just escapist entertainment.

It's possible to create as much emotion, but it takes more and more skill to do so. It's possible to keep the story moving at a similar pace, but again it's more difficult to do so...you've got to find novel ways of keeping the audience interested and the energy moving and often this doesn't happen.

Essentiallly what I'm saying is that you just need to make sure that the structure you're using helps you achieve your goal. Whatever that goal is is the concern of the individual author.

Mistakes are made when people adopt a structure that's succesful for another film, and use it for a different kind of film that doesn't really need or suit it.

The "slow" start to Rocky really works because the film is about a guy who is trying to gain self-respect and respect from his peers...he wants to be a somebody...it makes sense that we see his life, see his morality and his circumstances...it all adds to the story.

Take that same structure and stick it on Star Wars, and it's a mistake. Look at how quickly the characters are established in that film: Darth Vader storms into the Rebel Vessel, kills someone with immense strength. We understand straight away his power and his nature. Princess Lea is brought before fim and is defiant and courageous...clearly living for an ideal that's bigger than her own life.

Imagine another writer spending twenty/thirty minutes getting all that info. across with Stormtroopers discussing things in the canteen, and whole scenes showing Lea on her home planet...

There's also the danger of imitation...Tarantino is the perfect example of that. There was a time it seemed everyone was trying to imitate his style...long meandering passages of dialogue etc. Unfortunately they all seemed to miss what made his dialogue so involving.

It's the difference between being an artist or an artisan, I suppose.

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