The Nuts and Bolts of Story Structure II

This is the second and final installment of The Nuts and Bolts of Story Structure.

Must-Have Scenes
Must-Have Scenes
Second Pinch

As mentioned previously, pinches are scenes located within act II that remind us of the major concerns of the story. Their main propose is to keep the story on track. If the first pinch in The Matrix has Neo fail to leap successfully to the adjacent building, the second has him reel in a helicopter via an attached cable. The second pinch is related to the first, then, in that it revisits and develops the concerns posed by the first.

The Second Turning Point

As with the first turning point, this structural device turns the story around in an unexpected way. Up to now, the Hero has accepted a challenge or opportunity, acquired a goal, grown through moral insight, and pressed forward towards achieving that goal, despite mounting obstacles. Now, a new situation arises – usually prompted by antagonistic forces – that ups the stakes, forcing a reassessment of, and adjustment to, the original goal. The second turning point in Unforgiven occurs when William Munny learns that Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), his best friend, has died at the hands of the sheriff; Munny, who has already fulfilled his contract, has no choice but to expand his goal and seek revenge on all those who participated in Ned’s death.

The Climactic Scene

This scene, also known as the must-have confrontational scene, pits the Hero and antagonist against each other in a fight to the finish (either literally, or metaphorically). Its outcome establishes the theme of the story – for example, that good triumphs over evil. In The Matrix Neo is resurrected through the power of love and faith, symbolised by a kiss.

The Resolution or Denouement Scene

In a typical conventional story with an up-ending, the Denouement Scene ties up loose ends, answers earlier questions, and unites the Hero with his community and love-interest. In a down-ending, the Hero is defeated in some important way – he may, for example, win the battle but lose the war, lose some moral or spiritual aspect of himself, fail to win the girl, leave questions unanswered and issues unresolved. Here, the theme may well be that evil triumphs over good, or that good guys finish last.

The Realisation Scene

I’ve left the mention of the Realisation Scene (see past post) till last, not because it necessarily occurs at the end of the story, but because it is a scene that injects new information about the plot – it allows the Hero to get at the truth. Most typically, the Realisation Scene (and its decision/action consequences) occurs at the first turning point, or the midpoint, or even as late as the second turning point, although this is less common, since it places the engaging and dynamic realisation-decision-action cluster towards the end of the story.

Summary

Story structure comprises of certain must-have, or master scenes, which form the undercarriage of the entire tale. Additionally, linking and transitional scenes abound. Other important scenes include the realisation-decision-action cluster, which can occupy any one of several points in the story, depending on the individual needs of the story itself.

Invitation

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Stavros Halvatzis

I'm a writer, teacher, and story consultant.

6 thoughts on “The Nuts and Bolts of Story Structure II”

  1. Am currently working on a 8 page short (length non-negotiable for funding purposes).

    Am having a really tough time getting all of these in there. Was able to come up with a present/flashback intercutting sequence to set it up and get my inciting incident on page 2/3, but don’t want to use this device again. My two questions are:

    Can I cut the pinches? (though might be able to include mini pinches such as seeing a photo etc)

    Can I have my inciting incident and 1st turning point in the same scene (ie unexpected mixup, followed by a threat of death)

    Can I have my second turning point, climax and resolution all happen in the same sequence? (ie trying to get girl to get in car and go on the run, conflict in the car, and then the resolution.)

    I swear I never had any such issues when writing features….

    1. Thanks for the question. The point about short films is that you can’t import all the structural deapth from long form film into them. Each short film varies according to length and subject matter and for this reason it is difficult to ascribe a specific structure to it as we might do in the Hollywood feature film. In this case, then, it is best to use the structural components gleaned from the traditional Holywood screenplay as a guide. Without having studied your short film it is hard to give you a specific answer to your question, other than to say that it is not necessary to force your story into an infrastructure meant for longer films. Providing your film has a begining, middle, and end, (although this might also vary in more artisitic or experimental films (subject matter is an important determinant) with sufficient twists, turns, and surprises, your structure should be in good health.

  2. You must have once been a professor! You clearly know too much about the art of storycrafting=)

    Thanks for being so willing to share your knowledge Stavros. I wish I could put it in my pocket and pull it out like a piece of string when needed.

  3. I have been waiting patiently for this diagram. Thank you, Stavros. 🙂 Once again, you have provided. It’s all wonderful stuff.

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