Home > Writing Tips > Striving for Structure – Story Structure, That Is…

Striving for Structure – Story Structure, That Is…

Finally! My Script!

What’s the first thing you learn in primary school English? Probably ‘subjects’ and ‘predicates.’ They are the building blocks of sentences, and thus the framework of paragraphs and the foundations of written works. They are the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of writing. All writing. Even sentence fragments, truth be told…

Film scripts depend on subjects and predicates for their structure, too. In the case of a screenplay, the ‘subject’ is usually represented by the characters (or concepts) that define the film; in Charles Kaufman’s fanciful script “Adaptation,” the subject is two-fold. On the surface, the ‘subject’ of the screenplay is main character/screenwriter Charles Kaufman (as well as his invented  doppelganger ‘Donald’ Kaufman), but the ‘subject’ of “Adaptation” is also the actual process of adaptation, which Charles himself undergoes as the story progresses. At the same time, the ‘predicate’ is Charles’ attempt to adapt the book “The Orchid Thief” into a feature film. But this competes with the screenplay’s other predicate, which is (and this is where Kaufman’s  genius comes into play) the adaptation his main character(s) undergo during the course of the story.

If the story structure of director Spike Jonze’s “Adaptation” sounds like a “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” (to quote Winston Churchill), it’s because Charles Kaufman intended it to be that way. Kaufman succeeds so brilliantly in “Adaptation” when he has his twin-brother protagonists discuss (and has Charles attend) the “Story Structure” seminar offered by real-life “Story” author and script guru Robert McKee (www.mckeestory.com). As the script lays out, Charles is dead-set against the story structure precepts mandated by McKee: the protagonist must undergo a transformation, conflict must be resolved, characters must adapt and grow, the plot must unfold… Yet, as Kaufman’s script reveals, EVERY ONE of these ‘dreaded’ developments occurs – just as McKee insists by story fiat. Far from being an indictment of McKee’s ‘cookie cutter’ story rules, Kaufman goes to great lengths (as his story devolves into a drug-caper/love story) to show that McKee’s “Story” does identify certain immutable film truths – even if everyone who’s ever written a script has chafed at them…

Script Guru Robert McKee

On a personal note, I attended Robert McKee’s “Story Structure” seminar years ago, and would urge anyone who’s serious about screenwriting to do the same. When I attended, I ran into writing neophytes as well as established screenwriters, and many of them had attended the costly seminar before (back in the day, it was $500 for 3 days; now it’s $645 – with a ‘Writer’s Special’ built-in for $745 that includes a copy of “Final Draft” software; but, as before, ‘repeaters’ can take the course for less). I even ran into an actor, William Devane, who confided that he was taking the course as a ‘repeater;’ it was fun to quiz Devane about his experience on Alfred Hitchcock’s last film “Family Plot,” but Devane was far less forthcoming than McKee, who told interesting (and frequently comic) tales of his years of Hollywood illuminating.

So how’s YOUR structure? Remember the basic facts: beginning, middle and end. Characters change. Conflicts arise, solutions must be created. And the writer, hopefully along with the audience, should feel better once it’s over.

Categories: Writing Tips Tags:
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.