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Taking a shortcut

A few months ago I read a good writing book called Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. In it, Bell advocates going through six books and writing a note card for every scene to describe its POV, location, type of scene, and purpose. Then when you're done (six months later), you periodically pull out the cards and flip through them, lay them out to see the flow, and so on.

The idea is that eventually an understanding of good story structure will bubble up from your subconscious. I don't doubt the efficacy of this exercise. Nor am I one to shirk a little homework. But in this case, I made it through about half a book before I gave up. Maybe if I'm having trouble sleeping sometime, I'll try again.

In the meantime, I'm going to try Larry Brooks' suggestion to do something very similar, but using movies. Good movies are built around the same structure principles as a well-written novel. So, it makes sense that we should be able to accomplish a similar exercise with a movie, and in much less time. Maybe three hours.

So, my plan next week is to analyze at least one movie. I'm putting it here to hold myself accountable. I'll post my results for discussion in a future installment.

If you're up to it after you read Larry's post, I'd love to hear how it went for you too. (No, the comma is not required before “too”.) 😉

Have a great weekend. Write on!

Tell your friends!


  1. Reply

    Thanks for your post. Mr. Bell. An inductive thinker for sure.
    A few things that collected in my foggy brain after I read your post.

    1. We are all so time conscious. i.e. in a hurry. Reminds me of a writing workshop. A guy was grousing about how long it took to write a Novel. ” Do you know how old I’ll be when I get this thing finished?” The nice lady leading the group responded quick as a whip. ” The same age you will be if you don’t write it.” Time. I guess, the only thing we know to do with it now is swig it.

    2. If we are really in a hurry to get through Larry’s story structure process pick his earlier post. . Yeah, 2 minutes.

    3. #2 gave me, I think, an insight into synopsis. That’s what a movie preview is– a synopsis. So, why not write a synopsis of the story before we write the whole thing. If we touch all the structure points in two, maybe three lines each who knows ,we might have enough parts and pieces of the actually content of the story two write the thing from the synopsis.

    4. If you want to see story structure at it’s most literal and obvious watch Kitchen Nightmare. I’ve seen it twice. I don’t know, maybe I went brain dead. After reading Larry’s story structure it slapped me in the face as I watched that show. It is a hoot. The writers of the show have used commercials as part of the script. They of all things are the rest points/scenes between the action/drama.

    5. Be careful learning Mr. Brooks story structure. You will be dismantling everything including the bed time stories you tell your kids.

    • Reply

      Love the story in #1. Thanks for sharing Larry’s post on trailers. That was great, and made me think back to what I was talking about with using the structure to write the synopsis.

      And, in #3, I see you agree. 😉 And I balked at the idea of writing my synopsis first, but if I’m going to base it on the story structure, and now I have the structure all (or mostly) figured out in advance, then it should be a piece of cake, right?

      No doubt about dismantling everything you read/watch, but that appeals to my analytical brain anyway. Thanks for such a thoughtful comment, Curtis!

  2. Reply

    You are kind. And,kind to provided a blog that allows for the offering up of responses. I appreciate that.

    And, yes Ma’am I agree. Your synopsis should be a piece of cake and a lot of fun. If you have the parts and pieces ( mostly) of your story in mind and see how they fit the story structure—- let’er rip. Have fun with it and I bet you get it written. What have you got to loose? Sometimes I think we make this way to hard. Like it is supposed to be work or something. I feel bad sometime when I feel so good writing. I mean it should be toil right. 🙂 Like when I dug ditches and stuff as a kid. I mean honest work. Let’er rip.

    I’ve basically lived with Mr Brook’s Story Structure since I downloaded it. I got over grousing around about the price plus printing cost plus the binder it is in when I realized it was a work book not a bed time reader. Though it has shown up there too.

    Clearly, at least in my mind, Mr Brook’s is trying to do with Story Structure what the computer did for left brain right brain issues. He succeeds better than anyone I have found to date.

    It is time to ruin my diet. My bride and I are having some cheese cake.

  3. Christine


    I’ve got Plot and Structure on my shelf–still need to read it. Must get Mr. Brook’s book on Story Structure. But first, I am reading for sheer pleasure during my spring break with my darling daughter.

    I’m looking forward to reading your movie analysis!

  4. Reply

    oooh I love doing that with movies, I automatically find myself doing that as I watch it. I sometimes do that with books–but to do notecards would drive me mad!!

    Granted, I have to really work on my POV….:-) That is my next step.

    • Reply

      I’ve definitely been doing it more now. Yeah, the notecard thing was too much. What I do now is just try to identify the major structural elements of a book I’ve read, usually after I’m done.

      Good luck with the POV! I think characterization can be the hardest part.

  5. Reply

    POV…sigh, love it and hate it.

    So, what movies are you thinking about really looking at? Would you watch say…Clash of the Titans…first for fun and then rewatch to really look for the elements? I’m curious because sometimes I wish my brain would shut off…..LOL

    • Reply

      I’d love to see the new Clash of the Titans. I used to watch the old one on cable, like, weekly. For analyzing, I’ll probably try to find a romantic suspense, or suspense with romantic elements, so I can compare to my own writing. It depends on what Netflix has for instant play, or I might move my queue around.

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