What do 8 screenplay gurus say about Screenplay Structure?
As part of my empirical doctoral research study on screenplay and film story, I was required to undertake a comparison of the 8 major `Story and Screenplay syntagms’ (often mistakenly referred to as screenplay story “paradigms”, and, see my previous post, here, for more on that):
Although there are now over 2500 texts on `screenwriting’ listed on Amazon.com – various noted (and frequently academically cited) feature film screenplay story structural templates appear in:
Screenplay, (Field 1979: passim)
Making A Good Script Great, (Seger 1987: passim)
Writing Screenplays That Sell, (Hauge 1988: passim)
The Anatomy Of Story, (Truby 2007: passim)
The Writer’s Journey, (Vogler 1992: passim)
Dramatica, (Phillips and Huntley 1994: passim)
Story (McKee 1997: passim),
Save The Cat!, (Snyder 2005: passim).
If we view the feature film screenwriting domain as a system, we can also examine which books are most influential in shaping the Domain of feature film screenwriting (i.e which books the members of the Screenwriting Field regard as: `the screenwriting convention’) – and we can take a Citation Count (how many times these texts were cited in other scholarly works, as recorded by the Google Scholar citations database.)
This table above is not simply `the top 8 screenwriting manuals by citation counts’ – it also factors in, the popularity of the manuals. The table includes the following columns: # of scholarly publications that cite the text; # of libraries in Australia (including both public, secondary school and university/tertiary education libraries – noting that there are approximately 2000 total libraries in Australia) the book is held in (according to Trove/NLA); the number of Editions of the text; and the year of first publication of the text.
For example (reading across the top row of data) – McKee’s Story is the most academically cited, with 630 citations worldwide (according to Google Scholar, as at February 2013); copies of the text (across various editions) are held in 115 libraries in Australia; there have been 4 editions of the text; and the first year of publication was 1997. (It also makes sense that 0 copies of Dramatica are held in Australian libraries, since it is licensed software.)
So – I firstly recommend any screenwriter buy – and absorb – all the information in these books.
(And in fact probably also look at all the 100+ texts in this summary of the screenwriting convention.)
Because the current `screenwriting convention’ demands it; these are the most popular and academically cited screenwriting texts.
i.e. – Gotta know the rules, before you can break any of them.
(But – are these texts based on empirical and scientific studies of successful films? Please check this, for yourself. The answer is: No.)
Notably also – Aristotle never said “3 Acts” in Poetics (Aristotle et al. 1997), but instead prescribed 2 “parts” – or alternately, 12 parts – for the “correct” structure of a 5-episode ancient Greek play. (See this post for more on that.)
These prescribed film (or in Aristotle’s case, ancient Greek tragedy play) structures can be compared and contrasted, as below:
Figure 1 – Comparison of 8 major screenplay “paradigms” and `2-part structure’ from Aristotle’s `Poetics’
Analysis: JT Velikovsky
It can be seen from the above ancient Greek play – and suggested film screenplay structures – that there is major disparity between these prescribed film structural story syntagms.
So – Which (if any of the above) is “correct”?
Which one is the most likely to result in a story/screenplay/film that reaches the widest film audience?
This is very difficult to empirically verify and test comparatively, as it would actually require the `same’/similar feature film story to be made 8 times, with the same actors and creative team, (i.e. “all things being equal”) and yet – using the 8 different recommended story structures, in each case.
Notably, the monomyth (aka `The Hero’s Journey’ story structure) is the closest to an `empirical’ analysis of mythical story structure (Vogler, derived from Campbell’s study of popular international myths) however Campbell’s study sample data-set was also not empirically verifiable with regard to feature film success. (By this I mean, has anyone done a study of all the films that used the monomyth, and shown that they always make money?)
These story templates are therefore problematic for the filmmaker/writer/storyteller who wishes to reach the widest audience – for the least film production budget.
Instead – it is a recommended methodology that: an empirical and scientific study of the Top 20 ROI Films be undertaken, and the common unifying story structure in all of them be identified.
This `Top 20 ROI story pattern’ should also be compared and contrasted with the Bottom 20 ROI films.
This will indicate what the most `viral’ film story structure in fact has empirically been, for the past 70 years of cinema.
…Thoughts, Comments, always welcome.
High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher
The above is (mostly) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”. It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers. For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky
JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild. For more see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/
Aristotle, Baxter, J, Atherton, P, Whalley, G & ebrary Inc. 1997, Aristotle’s Poetics, McGill-Queen’s University Press, <http://ezproxy.uws.edu.au/login?url=http://site.ebrary.com/lib/sydney/Doc?id=10141479 Ebrary Academic Complete>.
Field, Syd (1979), Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting (A Delta book; New York: Dell Pub. Co.) 212 p.
Hauge, Michael (1988), Writing Screenplays That Sell (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co.) xxii, 314 p.
McKee, Robert (1997), Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting (1st edn.; New York: Regan Books) 466 p.
Phillips, Melanie Anne and Huntley, Chris (1994), ‘Dramatica’, (Burbank: Screenplay Systems Incorporated).
Seger, Linda (1987), Making A Good Script Great (1st edn.; New York: Dodd, Mead) xvi, 204 p.
Snyder, Blake (2005), Save The Cat!: The Last Book On Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need (Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions) xvi, 195 p.
Truby, John (2007), The Anatomy of Story : 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller (1st edn.; New York: Faber and Faber) 445 p.
Vogler, Christopher (1992), The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structures for Storytellers and Screenwriters (Studio City, CA: M. Wiese Productions) viii, 289 p.