Lessons Learned #6

Today no grammar lesson! Instead I want to share with you what I’ve learned during my first week of the ‘Introduction to screenwriting’ course via Future Learn.

The Five-Finger Pitch

The first thing we learned was that we should set up the ideas of the story before we even begin writing. They called it the five-finger pitch (as you can write them on your five digits):

  1. Genre
  2. Main protagonist(s)
  3. Goal
  4. Obstacle
  5. What’s important (why do you think your story is different!)

In the course we learned that David Mamet, the playwright and filmmaker, once remarked that, “Stories happen because somebody wants something and has trouble getting it.” That is basically the bottom line to all stories. Think about a story you like and an apply it. It works for most!

Of course I applied it to my first novel:

  1. Drama/Comedy/Action/Horror (still not sure, but I suppose Drama is the most prevailing genre)
  2. Kate, a recently graduated science teacher
  3. To find her true love and not get infected with the Succedaneum virus
  4. Alternative love interests; blood-sucking, infected humans everywhere; humans out for revenge; distance
  5. I had to think about why I thought my story was different. First thing that came to mind was ‘because I’ve written it!,’ but that means nothing to readers of course. Then I thought about it a bit more and I guess it’s because it combines drama with humour; whatever your circumstances ‘always look on the bright side of life!’

The Three-Act Structure

Next we were discussing the three-act structure of a story, which is the most basic and fundamental story structure since the times of Aristotle. It comprises, as implied, three acts:

  • the setup
  • the confrontation
  • the resolution

Generally the first act takes up about 25%, the second act 50% and the third act again 25% of the story in total.

It is a basis for most stories.There are many others, but this is a tried method and, as is obvious from the fact that it is still used in movies, it works.

As an exercise in the course we had to pick a story and find out where the acts change. Of course I took my own novel as an example again:

  • Kate’s world is explained, her friends introduced
  • Kate falls in love; loses love; doesn’t know where to find her love; gets confronted with alternative love interests; nearly gets lynched; gets infected
  • Kate finds her true love

And that’s where I knew I went wrong: Kate actually finds her true love near the end of Act 2, not at the end of Act 3.

So, what was wrong with my story? Did I use a different story structure? Did my story not work?

I really had to think hard and then it hit me: I got my Goal wrong! Kate was not out to ‘find her true love…’ The story starts with her being happy in her newly acquired life as a teacher. She didn’t seek love, it just happened to her, it sort of was one of the obstacles she encountered. What she found at the end of Act 3 was happiness. All the time her goal was to be happy!

I don’t know if, now I know this, I would write the story differently. The information we received in the course so far states that the audience needs to be aware of the goal at the same time as, or even prior to, the moment the protagonist finds out. But as the writer I actually realised it months after finishing the story…

Realising this I start to ponder about the majority of people. Do they, living their daily lives, realise what their goal in life is? Do they know that, instead of money, love or power, they are actually in search of happiness? I don’t know. I know I do… and that I’ve found it in my writing!

Have a Wonderful (Writing) Weekend!

Websites used in this text:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-act_structure
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dramatic_structure

Do tell me what you think about this article :)