Posted by Scott McConnell

Structure is one of the most discussed and important words in fiction writing. In scriptwriting, there are many theories of what exactly structure is. Screenwriting texts and experts, for example, often declare that structure is the proper placement of plot points or the use of sequences and acts. These organizing principles are essential to a script but they relate, I believe, not to structure - but to form.

Form is the external shape of a script, of how its content--its events and scenes--are moulded. Form is not the content of a story. Actual structure, I believe, is the content. And content is always king.

First Create a Central Conflict

To create a story, a writer must first devise the central conflict. That is, its key situation or problem and the leading characters' main goal and conflict. Then, the writer develops this central conflict into a series of logically connected events with a beginning, middle, and end. That is, with a set-up, conflict development, and climax.


Plot is Structure

The plot grown from a central conflict is the structure. As a simple example, consider the original Die Hard film. Its premise or central conflict is this: A tough and resourceful New York City policeman flies to Los Angeles for Christmas to win back his estranged wife, but just as he meets her, she and her co-workers are kidnapped by terrorists and held hostage in their locked down skyscraper. The policeman must evade the terrorists hunting him to rescue his wife and the other hostages. Alone.

The plot of Die Hard is the events developed from this central conflict. That is, all the murders, fights, escapes, counterattacks and relationships in the film, all the escalating complications, all the back and for conflicts, are applications or expansions of the central conflict. A central conflict is the seed that grows into a plot tree. The plot itself, the series of logically connected complications, is the structure.


When Writing Focus on the PLOT Not the PointsA Plot Grows from a Seed into a Tree.

 

Plot vs. Form

Where you place an inciting incident, plot points, act breaks and how you use sequences--the external frame or shape of your story--is only the form of your script. Form is the exterior shape of your story, structure is its interior content. You must form content before you can mold it.

(This analysis leaves out how a writer can (and should) also organize his/her plot using important dramatic techniques such as mystery and suspense, dramatic irony, surprise and deception. But, again, to be able to use such essential dramatic techniques, a writer must first know much of his/her basic story conflicts and content.)

 

Plot Before Form

When creating a story, content must be king: plot comes before form. That is, a writer (generally) creates the main character conflicts and the logically connected plot events before he/she solidifies these into acts and sequences.

Consider the issue this way: What is more important to a good story? Intriguing, original characters and exciting conflicts organized into a logical, escalating series of events? Or ordinary characters and clichéd events perfectly organized into sequences and acts?

As I hope you agree, the former, the creation of the characters, conflicts and plot are the most important.

Consequently, I believe that it is best to create the major content/events first, and then worry about how to best shape the form of these. (That is not to say that a writer can’t go back and forth between content and form but content must come first creatively. The what before the how. It can, for example, help your plotting when you know you have to have a major decision or twist in a turning point or act climax. But the choice of that turning point or decision comes out of your plot premise and content.)

 

The Place of Plot Points

Please note that I am not stating that form is not important. It is. But today there is way too much discussion of how to properly shape a story (plot points, blah, blah...) and not enough on how to create original characters and dramatic plots. There are many current movies or TV shows that are well “structured” (plot points in the perfect places), but the content of the films is awful. Creativity before form.


When Writing Focus on the PLOT Not the PointsStructure is Plot. Plot is Structure.

 

Focus on Your Plot First

The two hardest parts of writing a good story are creating an original and integrated central conflict and then developing this into an exciting series of logically connected, escalating and climaxed events. A writer can better focus on these two very difficult story telling fundamentals when he or she clearly understands that content must come before form. Then the writer has a better chance to become the king who can create good content.

 

When Writing Focus on the PLOT Not the Points

Scott McConnell is a former producer and showrunner turned writer and script consultant currently living in Melbourne, Australia. Learn more about Scott and his work https://www.linkedin.com/in/scottamcconnell/

 


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