The Myth About Screenplay Story Structure by Larry Wilson

Watch the video interview on Youtube here

Film Courage:  Let’s talk about some faulty rules of writing, some old adages on writing that really don’t apply today.

Larry Wilson, Screenwriter: Yeah, let’s…you start.

Film Courage: Well okay, you talked about Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey and it’s still…to hear him speak in these Youtube videos is a magical experience, it’s not to knock him at all.

I’m just wondering as a teacher if there are classes that your students have taken previously that drum into you [the student] certain adages that really don’t apply? I mean we know ‘Writing Is Rewriting,’ that seems pretty legit.

Larry: Yeah.

Film Courage: That seems like it’s true. So something similar to that and I’m not sure what.

Larry: There is a huge business (maybe an overly-huge business) in teaching screenplay structure, a three-act structure, a five-act structure. And I know a fair share of screenwriting gurus who are at each other’s throats all the time about which structure is The Structure.

And I’m not saying there is not a structure. I would be in big trouble if I said there wasn’t a structure and that a story didn’t have a beginning, middle and an end. But this reliance, this absolute need to follow any structure map that is out there and if you don’t have a Turning Point on page 30, you haven’t done it right. Or if you are on Step 5 of 22 Steps and you’re on the the wrong step, you haven’t done it right or any of this stuff, it’s not true.

This structure business, it’s a business and you need a diagram to teach structure and you sell a diagram and it’s very hard to say I have the best diagram unless you have a diagram, right? I mean you need a diagram to sell a diagram.

I’ve told you earlier about my diagram that ends on Page 60 with someone mad at themselves. It’s an emotional diagram. It goes like this, it’s Page 1 “Oh God, I can do this. This is going to be great, this is going to be the best story ever.”

Page 10 “Oh, my God. I can really do this. Everyone was wrong about me. My parents can go “F” themselves! I’m a writer! On and on emotional and then like about Page 20 you go “This is really getting hard.” And then the graph starts going down and down and then again you get to Page 60 and “I’ll never finish this” and you hurt yourself. It’s my structure okay, it’s an emotional structure, it’s an emotional diagram but…


“The real point of it is to have characters that you believe in and you believe that you can write them, that they are in some sense writing you, coming out of a place of truth for you.”



Film Courage: Oh, wait…sorry to interrupt but what happens after the hanging man diagram?

Larry: Oh well, you go into despair for awhile. You put yourself to bed and then you wake up and you start again and it has a happy ending.

Film Courage: Oh good.

Larry: And at the ending there’s big bags of money, all the romance you’ve ever wanted, power…you win! But it’s obviously tongue-in-check and to make a point.

But the real point of it is to have characters that you believe in and you believe that you can write them and that they are in some sense writing you and coming out of a place of truth for you.

Put them in the tightest most impossible situation you can imagine and get them out of it and know that you have probably have need to do it if you’re writing a screenplay in a hundred to one hundred and twenty minutes. And let the story flow and there will be natural points within you doing that where you will feel that the story needs to go faster, needs to go slower, that there needs to be more drama, that there needs to be a moment of rest, all of these things that structure teaches you.

Again, I’m not saying there isn’t a structure. But those structure diagrams they can assist you or they can be a cage, they can be an absolute cage and they can trap you.

If you believe that you’re a writer, you have a natural storytelling gift that you need to honor, that you need to respect or don’t be a writer. I mean don’t think that you can tell a story, don’t feel that you have a natural storytelling gift and you can’t tell when things are going too slowly or things are going too fast and just let it flow and then go back and see if it’s structured right.

But this is another thing that will stop people dead in their tracks over and over again, is your first…(Watch the video interview on Youtube here).

Watch the full video interview here on Youtube

Ins and Outs Of A Screenwriting Career In Hollywood





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