06 February 2005

so many gurus, so few high-velocity rifle rounds...

My raindance newsletter arrived in my inbox this morning, featuring a nice concise article by John Truby, a film writerly-type person, on why the three-act structure is a big pile of shite. I've always been suspicious of the three-act structure, and any other screenwriting-guru type bullshit, perhaps because I've been writing since I was foetus but have only recently turned my attension to screenwriting. I mean, I'm kinda reading Story by everybody's favourite guru Robert Mckee (who had a part in adaptation) but I'm not taking it very seriously. It's more a case of "hyperbole... yankee wankeree... that looks useful..." The book is full of handy stuff on charactersation, plot and story, but it feels like I'm being brainwashed by the scientologists. Nooch.

By John Truby

Part 1

It has been estimated that at least 50,000 scripts are written
every year. Yet only a few hundred are bought and made. Why do
so many writers fail?

Clearly, there is a limit to how many scripts the business can
support. But in the vast majority of cases, scripts do not
sell because the writer has not written a good script.

I have taught and worked with literally thousands of writers.
Every one of those writers was an intelligent, dedicated and
determined person. Those who failed did not lack brains, heart
or will. In every case, failure was due to the lack of
training and professional technique.

Most writers have had no training at all when they try to
write a script that will sell. Great screenwriting is more
difficult than brain surgery, yet most people think that they
can write a great script because they watch a lot of movies or
they did well in school.

When they do decide to get a little knowledge, most writers go
out and buy a couple of books on screenwriting. And what do
they learn? Almost invariably, these books tell them about the
so-called 3-act structure. These writers have just killed any
chance they had of writing a script that will sell.

The so-called 3-act structure is the biggest, most destructive
myth ever foisted on writers. I would like to call it
obsolete. But that implies that it worked in the first place.
It didn't. Let me explain why.

The 3-act structure exists for one reason and one reason only:
a story analyst declared it into existence. He found that
something important seemed to happen in some successful
scripts on page 27 and on page 87. He called them plot points,
said that based on these plot points every screenplay had
three acts, and incredibly, everyone bought it.

Such has been the sad state of screenwriting training and the
desperation of screenwriters themselves that no one noticed
that the emperor was in fact naked. Instead, a lot of people
who should know better joined in the chorus and wrote
screenwriting books (over 100 to date) agreeing with this
silly idea.

Some have gone so far as to say there are three acts in all
fiction - there aren't - and insist that it was Aristotle who
first "discovered" this "fact." In fact...

Part Two coming at somepoint, although it may be in the raindance tips archive.