- January 30, 2014
The Difference Between Plot and Structure
By Jacob KruegerThe words plot and structure are often used interchangeably by writers and screenwriting teachers alike. But the truth is, there’s a profound difference between plot and structure, and confusing the two can be devastating for your writing. No matter how brilliantly it may be executed, plot, on it’s own, is almost always boring. If you want to prove it to yourself, just go to imdb.com, read the synopsis of your favorite movie, and notice how incredibly boring it all sounds when boiled down to plot alone. It’s not the plot, but the structure, that makes these movies so compelling. So what’s the difference between plot and structure? And how can you make your writing more compelling by shifting your focus from one to the other? Find out in this new video. Or read the transcription below. VIDEO TRANSCRIPTION It’s important to understand that events in themselves are not structural. The crap that happens to your characters is not structure. The events in themselves don’t matter. They are not exciting. The only thing that’s exciting is the choices the character makes in relation to those events. One of my favorite recent fight sequences is from a really silly movie called The World’s End by Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright. It’s about a guy, and the only thing he wants to do is to have a drink at 10 bars with his old friends. There’s a fabulous fight sequence, and the thing that makes it great that the only thing he’s trying to do during this crazy fight sequence is finish the pint. And this whole fight sequences is going on, but the fight sequence is just the event that’s happening. Just the plot. The choice he’s making is to keep trying to drink the beer, as opposed to actually engaging in the fight or trying to escape. Because the thing that he wants… the holdfast ego… the thing that he wants more than anything is this: He started this 10 bar run with his friends, and he’s going to finish it if it costs him his life. It’s not the event of the fight, who hit who, that makes the scene good. That’s kind of boring no matter how you write it. It’s the choice the character makes in relation to the event that makes it exciting. Because it’s those choices that allow us to change. So if structure is built around change, it’s not the events that are our structure. It’s the choices we make in relation to those events.
- January 4, 2014
What the heck is an archetype?
By Jacob KruegerJust about every screenwriting teacher since Joseph Campbell has talked about the vital importance of creating archetypal characters in a screenplay. So why is it that writers attempting to capture these archetypal characters so often end up inadvertently creating paper thin stereotypes again? Much of the confusion comes from the way these archetypes are taught. From the intellectual musings of James Bonnett’s Stealing Fire From The Gods to the uber-commercial formulas of Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat, everyone writing on the subject seems to have their own contradictory approach to naming and categorizing these archetypes, and their own formula for how these archetypes should come together to shape your character’s “hero’s journey.” So what exactly is an archetype? And how are you supposed to make sense of all these conflicting theories, so you can get the most out of the archetypal characters in your story? In this new video, Award Winning Screenwriter Jacob Krueger tracks the concept of archetypes back to their psychological source: Jung’s theory of the Collective Unconscious. You’ll learn how to get beyond the confusing intellectual theories of archetypes, and connect to the archetypal characters in your own story in a visceral, emotional way. Rather than focusing on naming and categorizing archetypes, or rigid formulas for building an archetypal journey, you’ll discover an approach to connect to the compelling archetypes in yourself, and bring them to the page in the way that only you could write them.
- December 18, 2013
Does Your Character Actually Arc?
By Jacob KruegerAnyone who’s ever taken a class or read a book about how to write a screenplay has heard more than their fair share about the importance of a character’s arc. There’s only one problem: in the best movies a character’s journey rarely looks like an arc at all. In this new video, we’ll take a closer look at the myth of a character’s arc, and discuss a groundbreaking new way of thinking about and constructing your character’s journey.
- December 11, 2013
All writers, at some point in their careers, have found themselves feeling disconnected from their characters.
- November 13, 2013
Are You REWRITING From The Right Part of Your Brain? By Jacob Krueger We all know rewriting can be...
- October 17, 2012
What’s The Itch Your Character Can’t Scratch?
By Jacob KruegerIn his recent TED talk (above) Andrew Stanton, Academy Award winning screenwriter of WALL-E, TOY STORY and countless other Pixar movies, spoke about the powerful forces that make us care about a character. Stanton describes this as the character’s spine, a singular subconscious need—an itch they can’t scratch—which drives every action they take in the story: Michael Corleone’s need to please his father in The Godfather. Woody’s need to do the right thing for his child in Toy Story. Wall-E’s need to find the beauty in Wall-E. When you understand the itch your character can’t scratch, you understand the real root of all structure. You know how to make choices about your screenplay, to make the moments of your plot connect and take on meaning, to make things matter, and to make us care.
So how do you discover that spine of your character? That itch your character can’t scratch?The great acting teacher, Konstantin Stanislavski, called this spine the character’s Superobjective: that single, unifying drive that propels a character forward through every moment of the story. Stanislavki’s goal, like ours as writers, was to create characters that an audience could truly believe in. That meant that performance had to be more than simply presentation, skill, and style. It had to grow from something real in the actor. Otherwise it was going to feel as fake as it actually was, no matter how great the actor’s talent in performing it. Stanislavski forced his actors forget about the audience, and instead to draw their focus inwards, building their characters from real memories and real needs that drove them in their daily lives. To stop presenting their characters for the audience’s benefit, and start actually living them in the scene. The Method, which grew from Stanislavski’s teaching, gave rise to some of the most memorable characters in history: performances by great actors like Meryl Streep, Robert Deniro, Al Pacino and Daniel Day Lewis. And understanding how it relates to you as a writer can be the difference between writing characters we can care about as if they lived and breathed, and those who seem as thin as the paper that they’re written on.
Just as actors must draw from something real in themselves to create believable characters in performance, so too must writers reach into their own emotions, to find the spine of their characters and bring them to life on the page.And just as actors must learn to differentiate between the tools of stagecraft, and the art of creating a character, so too must writers learn to differentiate between the art of creating a character and a story you can believe in, and the tools of craft used to translate that story to the audience. Your characters, and the stories you need to tell, grow from something deep, real, and powerful in you: an inescapable emotional need that drives you at every moment of every day. Connect to that need, and you’ll not only discover a spine for your character, but for the entire structure of your screenplay. Ignore it, and you’ll find yourself lost in the wilderness, faking your way through your story, rather than really writing it.
And the results will feel something like Keanu Reeves playing Hamlet. No matter how much craft you apply to it.In my screenwriting classes, we learn to write characters we can believe in, by connecting their Superobjectives with our own Emotional Needs— the itch we can’t scratch that we share with our character, that forces us to the page, and carries us through the writing of our screenplays. This process starts by letting go of our need to “perform” for the audience, and releasing ourselves, just for a moment, from the formulas, plot devices, and countless external elements of craft that allow us to fake our way through our scripts, rather than actually writing them. Having let all that go (and knowing we can return to it later), we learn to draw our attention inward, to identify the Emotional Needs that are in priority for us, and to share them with our characters.
We seek the itches we can’t scratch, and the itches our characters can’t scratch.Sometimes we can name these Emotional Needs with words, and sometimes we can just feel them. But once we make that connection, and figure out that one thing that truly drives the character, structure starts to grow naturally. We know now where to attack the character, how to build the shape of her journey, the movements she’ll need to go through, and the things she truly values. We’ll know how to hurt her deeply, or reward her greatly. Because we are building from an Emotional Need we feel so deeply in ourselves, we can depend on it keep us rooted to the truth of our story, to keep us going when we don’t know what happens next, or we don’t want write, and to be the North Star by which we can navigate when we’re lost deep in our structure, and need to figure out what truly matters in our story. At this point, we can begin to apply the craft we need to tell our story in the most compelling way possible for our audience, without worrying about getting confounded by our own smoke and mirrors, or getting lost in the thousands of choices we need to make on every page. Your character’s Emotional Need is your Need, and the spine of her journey is your journey—a journey told in fiction, but rooted in truth. And when you’re telling the truth, you can’t get lost.
- June 5, 2012
If Hollywood is a giant shark tank, then what does that make your script? In this video, Award Winning…
- March 19, 2011
As a writer, it’s easy to get tough on yourself for the things that don’t work in your script….
- October 29, 2010
John Cleese On Creativity By Jacob Krueger Here’s a guy who really understands how to get in touch with...