My manager reps me because of my strong grasp of dialogue, and not because of my not-so-strong grasp of structure. However, I have been working hard on my structure, and am glad to say that I’ve got a good grasp on it today. Many people scoff at the “Hollywood structure” or “Hollywood formula”, but if you watch most movies (yes, even the artsy indies) almost all of them follow a similar structure. Here’s a breakdown, which can vary somewhat, and these percentages are a general estimate:

  1. Set-up (0%-%10): Your hero and the world they live before the story really gets going
  2. The Opportunity (10%): Your hero will be presented with a new opportunity
  3. New Situation (10%-25%): Your hero’s adjusts to their new opportunity
  4. Change of plans (25%): Your hero’s trajectory is changed by some obstacle or opportunity
  5. Progress (25%-50%): Your hero moves forward with the change of plans
  6. The Point of No Return (50%): Exactly how it sounds
  7. Higher Stakes and Worse Complications (50%-80%): Your hero has crossed the point of no return and things get worse.
  8. The Major Set-Back (80%): Your hero seems to have lost it all
  9. The Final Push (80%-95%): Your hero makes their last ditch effort to obtain their goal
  10. The Climax (95%-98%): The moment of truth
  11. The Aftermath (98%-100%): Your hero has either won or lost, and this is the new world they’re living in. Not all movies have a complete “aftermath” scene. It may just be a moment.

For example, let’s take a typical Hollywood movie, for example, oh, I don’t know, something with Drew Barrymore in it.

Never Been Kissed

  1. Set-up: We learn that Josie is a copy editor and has never been kissed
  2. The Opportunity: Josie is told she will be enrolling in high school
  3. New Situation: Josie asks for a friend’s support and her brother’s help
  4. Change of Plans: Josie gets to school and it’s much harder than she imagined
  5. Progress: Josie stumbles through the social ladder of high school
  6. The Point of No Return: Josie is rumored to have dated Rob and she had the prom theme idea. She’s in.
  7. Higher Stakes and Worse Complications: Josie gets more and more involved in her popularity
  8. The Major Set-back: Josie tells everyone the truth at prom
  9. The Final Push: Josie writes the article in the paper
  10. The Climax: Josie waits on the pitcher’s mound for her man
  11. The Aftermath: After her man arrives and they kiss, they have a sweet moment, and we can tell their relationship is destined for greatness

If you’re doing a paper for film school where you’re supposed to break down the Hollywood formula using a typical Hollywood movie, please do yourself a favor and don’t plagiarize my breakdown of Never Been Kissed. I did my best here, but there’s a reason I don’t teach screenwriting.

When I finally started implementing true Hollywood structure into my scripts, they became more like a story and less like a lot of belabored (though awesome!) dialogue that never went anywhere until it suddenly did.

My husband thought I was tying my hands when I started following the formula, but in fact, it seemed to give me a lot more freedom. Sure, we’re totally dependent on electricity… but doesn’t it make your life easier?

(This is not to say, of course, that slavery made the slaves more free. Let’s not get carried away here.)

Today’s goal: As I am still trying to turn my one-act play into a full length, so I can submit it to theater companies (most of which want full lengths, and not one-acts) I need to spend today fucking figuring out how to add another 15 minutes onto my play without making it a bunch of never-ending, extraneous dialogue.

Happy Cyber Monday!