Gerald Hanks Filmography

Sunday, November 23, 2014

John Truby on the Importance of Screenplay Structure

When it comes to story structure, no one has a better grasp on the concept than legendary screenwriting teacher John Truby. His best-selling book, The Anatomy of Story, is one of the essential books in any aspiring screenwriter's library. Truby has worked as a script consultant on hundreds of projects and his screenwriting classes routinely sell out.

In a recent teleconference sponsored by the International Screenwriters' Association, Truby shared some of his ideas on story structure and how its uses can benefit writers without confining their creativity.

Premise vs. Story
Truby remarked that one of the habits of rookie writers is their tendency to go straight from dreaming up their premise to writing up script pages. After the initial surge of inspiration wears off, these writers find themselves stuck with a few pages, but no coherent story.

“They get 15 to 20 pages into their script, then they hit a brick wall,” Truby said. “This is largely because they didn't do their structure homework. In order to tell a story that can last for 90 to 100 minutes, you must have a strong structural foundation.”

Dancing to the Beats
While most newbie screenwriters have read about the classic “three-act structure”, this format often does not provide the writer with enough guidance to see the story through from beginning to end. Professional screenwriters are also acutely aware of story “beats”. A story beat defines the turning points that occur in most narratives.

Some screenplay structures, such as Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet and Jacob Kruger's Seven-Act Structure, offer one-size-fits-all approaches to developing story beats. Truby's lessons not only provide a useful structure for all types of stories, but he also delves into the story beats unique to specific genres.

Doing the Twist
At this point, you may ask, “If every story uses the same structure, how do I make my story stand out?” As with any creative endeavor, you must first learn the rules before you can understand the most effective way to break them. The difference lies in your ability to adapt the story beats to your own purposes.

“Professional writers,” Truby remarked, “find that good structure shows you which creative leaps work and which ones are outside the scope of the story.”

Know Your Outcome
How many times have you left the house, turned on your car, and started driving down the road, with absolutely no idea where you were going or how you would get there? For your sake (and mine and everyone else's on the road), the answer should be, “Never!”

How many times have you sat at your computer, opened your screenwriting software and started writing down words, with absolutely no idea where your story was going or how you would finish it? For many rookie writers, the answer is, “All the time!”

“You can't hit the target unless you see the bull's eye,” Truby said in his recent Q&A session. “You have to know your ending first. All events in that script must lead to that ending.”

For more information on John Truby's classes, visit the John Truby Master Class site. You can also pick up The Anatomy of Story at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and The Writers Store.

While Truby's classes are among the best in the industry, many writers benefit more from a more individualized approach. Story Into Screenplay offers one-on-one consulting, either in person at our Houston location or through online sessions.

We can work with you in developing your story structure and finding the unique facets that can turn your idea into a script that grabs the attention of agents, producers and directors. Contact us at StoryIntoScreenplayBlog [at] gmail [dot] com for more information. You can also check out out us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and watch videos on our YouTube channel.