12 Powerful Principles You Can Use for Film Story Structure

The content of a movie script plays crucial role in determining how successful the movie will be. If you really want to produce a very good movie then look for top quality screen play writers. They know how to structure a good story line to wow the audience members who would watch the movie. This is why one of the most lucrative jobs in the movie industry is script writing or screen play writing. That is where the foundation of a powerful movie begins.

Having a good story structure is one of the determinants of successful script writing. What really makes the movie interesting is the story structure. If you want to know how to write very powerful movie scripts then you need to learn how to apply the principles of a story structure in developing your script.

What is a story structure?

A story structure refers to how the story line of a movie is arranged to captivate the audience throughout the duration of the movie. It is like the skeleton which you add flesh to in order develop the story line. Just like an artist uses outline to first sketch a drawing before darkening the lines, then shading or painting the image, the script writer uses a specific structure to determine how to engage the characters in a movie. The story structure deals with how the story is organized. This refers to the framework of the story that shows how you will arrange the elements of the story to make sense and excite the audience members. You can look at structure as the outline of the story or the map of its construction. It provides a guide on how to make your story line interesting and captivating.

Script writers always start writing stories with a framework. The framework contains the plot, setting, characters and theme. The framework arranges the elements so that the writer can hang the story on them. You need to know how to develop a story structure to make it easy for you to build a good story line. The best way is to learn from the master himself. Michael Hauge is a story expert, author and lecturer with international pedigree in script writing and film making. He works with writers and filmmakers both in Hollywood and around the world. He provided 12 powerful principles recognized worldwide very good framework for structuring a story. Take a look at these principles put forward by Hauge posted on Creative Screen Writing and learn how to apply them.

12 Powerful Principles of Story Structure

The plot structure involves employing as many structural principles, tools and devices as you can throughout your script. They are used in every scene to maximize the emotional experience in a movie. Here are 12 basic principles suggested by Michael Hauge you can apply in developing the story structure of a successful movie.

1. Every scene, event and character must contribute to the hero’s outer motivations.

Every scene should either move the hero closer to his goal or create a stumbling block to achieving that goal. It could be to protect his desire to achieve specific goals or creating obstacles to those goals.

2. Make each hurdle and obstacle your hero faces greater than the previous ones.

This will naturally keep the audience glued to their seats always expecting something interesting to happen. The conflict in your story must buildbecoming greater and greater as you drive the reader toward the climax.

3. Accelerate the pace of the story.

The tempo of suspense and expectations should keep moving up. For instance, the story could grow from normal discussions and activities to big battle sequence, with moments of conflict facing the hero in rapid succession.

Some script writers skillfully present all necessary information required to build the background of the plot in the first act of the film, before the pace gets accelerated and the conflict shifted into high gear. Emotion is also amplified by creating some conflict (and the anticipation of conflict) in each scene. This also depends on the genre of the movie. It has to be skillfully applied to make the plot captivating. You don’t continue with dry narration for a long while. The tempo has to rise at some point.

 

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4. Create peaks and valleys to the emotion.

The big action sequences in the plot should be interspersed with quieter scenes. These moments make room for the audience to catch its breath and to begin anticipating the next big conflict. They also prevent the movie from becoming one monotonous action sequence. You can’t have high tempo action from the beginning to the end of the movie. It could become monotonous and make the audiences lose interest.

5. Create anticipation.

This is another way of keeping the audience enticed to remain glued to their screen throughout the movie. Audiences and readers want to try to guess what’s going to happen next — they just don’t want to be right all the time. And while surprises and confrontations are often brief, anticipation can be prolonged almost indefinitely.

Numerous scenes could be used to create anticipation of the ultimate conflict to come in the movie. You could make the hero face resistance from time to time which creates anticipation of what he will have to do to prove his abilities and worthiness. Early dialogue about the need for something (for instance a breathing mask) could be used to create anticipation of the later scenes where the hero needs that thing to survive.

6. Give the audience superior position.

You have to find a way to keep the audience ahead of the characters in the movie. Provide the reader and audience with information that some of the characters don’t have yet. Instances of superior position create anticipation of the conflict that will result when the information the audience members have is revealed to the characters in the movie.

7. Surprise the reader.

This is a good way to refresh their interest in the movie from time to time. Audiences don’t want to anticipate everything that happens in your screenplay. According to Hauge, sometimes you have to jump out and go “boo!” to keep them alert and involved. Most television series survive on this element. People keep watching them one episode after the other largely due to the element of surprise. This principle is even more important in a comedy, thriller or horror film, where reversals create humor, shock and fear.

8. Create curiosity.

You don’t have to explain everything in your script as soon as it happens. Give the audience opportunity to figure out what is happening by themselves. Readers and audiences love puzzles, and relish trying to figure out who committed the murder, how the hero plans to overcome the conflict, or what a character’s true motives are.

9. Foreshadow your characters’ actions and abilities.

Foreshadowing is a term Hauge uses to describe how you can add credibility to your story. Foreshadowing is used to reveal information before it seems important, which prevents your story from seeming contrived or illogical.

For instance, in the 2009 movie, Avatar, very early in the movie, the audiences see or hear that Jake (the hero) is a marine with combat experience, that avatars are big, strong, fast and nimble, and that Na’vi warriors are big, strong, smart, courageous, skilled flyers and great hunters. In some other movies you hear early in the movie that the protagonist is a marine with experience in Vietnam or Gulf war. When this protagonist confronts danger later in the movie the audience members won’t be surprised to see him exhibit high level of combat skills to defend himself. Such information is introduced well before it becomes critical to the story. And they all add credibility to the characters’ later actions.

10. Echo situations, objects or dialogue to illustrate character growth and change.

Repetition allows the audience to compare where the hero is at any given moment in your screenplay to where he was the last time we encountered that particular item or phrase. A character could be made to do something repeatedly and each time he is seen again in a particular scene to repeat that action, he has improved somehow to show he is progressing in whatever he was doing. If for instance, you want to show the process of building a house you could keep returning a character to the scene and each time he comes back the audiences will see progress in the building construction.

11. Pose a threat to one of the characters.

This principle applies to all films, not just adventures and thrillers. Always force your characters to put everything on the line in the face of losing whatever is important to them, whether it’s money, a job, a loved one, dignity, acceptance or their own destiny. In some action films, everyone is made to face danger at some point.

12. Compress time.

The shorter the time span of your story, the easier it is to keep the audience involved. In your movie you could have a character tell the hero that he has three months to get to a destination or retrieve something otherwise the entire city will face some kind of danger, may be an attack by an army of mercenaries. This condenses the time for the story, it announces how long the story will last, and it creates a ticking clock that greatly increases the conflict for the hero.

Finally!

Whether you want to be a script writer in Bollywood, Hollywood, Nollywood or any other movie industry, these principles suggested by Hauge will help you develop a captivating script if you apply them correctly. With each successive draft of your screenplay, review each scene and employ as many of these 12 powerful principles wherever you can. This is the best way to get your audiences emotionally involved in your storyline.

(With reports from Michael Hauge’s article posted on Creative Screen Writing. Michael Hauge is a story expert, author and lecturer, who works with writers and filmmakers both in Hollywood and around the world.)

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a communication researcher with several years of lecturing experience in Nigerian universities.

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