How Writers Can See The Shape Of Their Story by Dr. Ken Atchity

Watch the video interview on Youtube here

Film Courage: Can we go back to the graph for a moment and see the intensity?

Dr. Ken Atchity, Producer/Author:  Sure [holds up the graph] this shows you what you’re doing. You’re writing little short sentences and you’re putting hyphens and then you’re putting a line connecting them all.

But then when you put it on the side you can see the shape of your story and you can see where it needs some attention. There are all these peaks here but no real valleys but it would be much more dramatic if you removed some of the intensity or you removed or you added less intense scenes in here so that the rises would be greater. And it could be that everything is just fine when you do this and it looks really perfect but most of the time you’ll discover that it’s not a roller coaster ride which you want your reader to go on. You want them to be screaming all the time basically.

Film Courage: And then toward the end you see the highest peak and then it levels down.

Ken: Yes, it levels down and in today’s storytelling world maybe this is not the right way to end a story. It might be better to end on a higher peak.

Film Courage: That is JAWS?

Ken: No, this is just a made up story that we use as an example. That’s just like Clyde Millie outlined the GRAPES OF WRATH, you sit down with a movie like JAWS or THE MEG that’s coming out in August from Warner Brothers and chart it and you’ll see how conscious the story is of these ups and downs. People, they know what they’re doing. Directors are known for their ability to do that. 

If you want a crazy all-out-screaming ride, go see LAURA CROFT or one of the JAMES BOND movies and you’ll see that this is what they try and deliver to you.

And if you want a more tempered ride where you can get deeper into the story because you have a moment to rest between peaks, then you’ll see another kind of story.

Film Courage: You were saying that today’s peaks might end a little higher? Would that be because there might be a possibility of a sequel or…

Ken: Yes, usually it’s that and it’s also because ever since the moment that STAR WARS hit the screens, I’ll never forget that moment because when I watched that movie I thought This is a watershed in the history of movies. We will never look at movies the same way again, because the scenes were the shortest scenes I’ve ever seen.

Scenes before that probably averaged two to three minutes but in STAR WARS the scenes seemed like they lasted 6 seconds. For 10 seconds and you could not see everything in the scene which made you instantly fall in love with the movie because you wouldn’t believe in the world because it was so chocked full of stuff you couldn’t see it all, you just have to see it again. And I thought This is brilliant. And it was a foreshadowing of the attention span that we are now fully living with.

We weren’t quite there yet when it came out. It was a little bit ahead of its time. But it totally predicted the world we live in now where our attention span is just minute because we’re being bombarded by so many pieces of information from so many directions. We are distracted all the time and…the text is ringing…the phone is ringing…the email is ringing…our head is ringing…our eyes are buzzing. Somebody said Americans look at 52,000 commercials every day in a normal day and I think that’s true. I mean assuming you commute to work and you’re looking at everything out there, busses going by, billboards, etc.

So I think there is another example of a filmmaker who understood the audience psychology and who directly addressed it. That is what he’s all about grabbing your psychology and playing with it and you love it because nobody has done that to you before. Nobody was making movies that you had to immediately go see again because you had to see what that little Gizmo was in the far corner that you didn’t happen to focus on and now the scene is over and you’re onto another scene and you missed that, so you’ve got to go back to train your eye to watch for that corner and…you know how that is you’re always thinking Next time I watch it I’m going to watch this corner or this corner because I know I don’t have the chance to see it all. And that is really screwing with the psychology of the audience…love that.

Watch the video interview on Youtube here


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