This is a lesson I have yet to apply to novel writing myself, but I thought I’d pass on a few tips I was given when I attended a screen writing workshop recently. Successful Hollywood films, apparently, all conform to a fairly strict formula. And it is a formula that has been used by some of the most commercially successful writers, like Sophie Kinsella or Dick Francis. Once you know the formula, you will probably be able to other best-selling authors whose work follows a similar pattern. And, if you are so inclined, you will be able to irritate friends and family, as you settle down on the sofa with your pop-corn and cola, by pointing out the key components of the formula in the DVD of the latest blockbuster.
Essentials ingredients of a Hollywood movie:
- A film must have a hero (or heroine, of course)
- The hero must be ‘on a mission,’ be it to kill a dragon, or get married.
- The hero has to have an antagonist
- Each film will have a three act structure
- Act One: Introduces the premise of the film (novel): the hero, their world, a trigger (often negative) incident, and a big event about 12 pages in. Act one also introduces the antagonist and shows us the hero’s fears and flaws. Also in Act one (the next 20 or so pages) you get an exposition as the viewer / reader needs to know what the film /story is about. You also need an incident to set up the plot, you need to set up the love interest, and a big moment to end the first act of the film / first third of the novel. I.e. by this point we have met the hero, the antagonist, the love interest, and have a petty good idea about the story-line.
- Act two is the longest. The hero faces problems and obstacles. Things get desperate, hero faces – and faces down – his fears. Hero will ‘grow’ during the act. Act two will include the film’s / story’s ‘big moment.’ This is a critical scene that will be literally at the half way point, to keep the viewer’s / reader’s attention. Act two will end on a high point or a low point. If the film / story is to end happily it will be a low point, and vice-versa.
- Act Three will be short and sharp – sometimes referred to as ‘the race to the end.’ Hero and antagonist are still pitted against each other as equals till the final showdown. Hero’s ‘arc’ is continuing to develop The end of Act three must be emotionally satisfying for the viewer/ reader.
- A blockbuster ‘ bestseller will usually end with an element of mystery that offers a potential story-line for another film / book.
Now I think about it, it’s not just modern ‘airport’ books that fit this formula – Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice pretty much follows this pattern, even including ‘sequels’ written by modern writers! But then, no doubt if she were alive today, she would be writing for Hollywood or TV.
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