Lesson 7 Story-shaping And Visualisation
What Is A Story?

First, the story. Well, storytellers since Aristotle agree that every story has three main stages – a Beginning, Middle and End. Screenwriters call it a three-act formula: Set-up, Conflict and Resolution.

In the Set-up we are introduced to the Hero or the Protagonist. We see enough of him, his life and his surroundings to like him – to care what happens to him (or her). He wants something – even if it's only to carry on being happy.

Then he meets the Problem. This involves, or is, the antagonist – the baddie. He is a well-known character in films. Immediately we have Conflict. This is the longest act, with the hero solving an immediate problem, then finding another one in his path – in many cases it's the previous solution that causes the next stumbling block.

Eventually, though, he wins through. At least in Hollywood he does. We have resolution, and the protagonist achieves his goal.

That was an amazingly simple version of the three-act structure. But think about the last film you saw – chances are a hundred to one that it followed the formula. Here's another one:


That is the basis of good filmic storytelling. Conflict, conflict, and more conflict. The skill is to keep focus on the protagonist and to build conflict so the journey of the protagonist moves into more dangerous and challenging territory, leading to the final confrontation and resolution.

But let's get simpler than a Hollywood length feature and think about a non-fiction story. Well… non-fiction-ish! If you start photographing reality you usually find extreme boredom. So create fiction to represent reality. I think it was Sam Goldwyn who said, "Drama is life with the boring bits cut out."

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A Simple Plot

A man has been given the afternoon off work unexpectedly. He arrives home, opens the door and calls out. No answer.

However, he notices a frilly blouse at the foot of the stairs. He looks up further, and there's a skirt and a brassiere. Shock! horror!

He climbs the stairs and sees a pair of stocking (or pair of tights if you prefer), and, just outside a door, a pair of knickers.

He grits his teeth and shoves open the door. To find: Six year old daughter with more of mummy's clothing, high heels and lipstick.

That was very simple – the three parts are (I hope) obvious:

  • Set-up: He's happy – going home early. Looking forward to seeing family.
  • Conflict: Is the happy family not so very happy?
  • Resolution: It was just a bit of dressing-up. Happiness again.

Nearly all films have three acts. Of course, on a longer feature film the conflict section usually has many smaller three-act sub-structures within it, one leading on to the next.

But what if you want to do a non-fiction piece? The same structure works for that as well.
Here's an example.

Go Lesson 7a

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