Sunday, September 11, 2011

"A" Story - "B" Story - Running Gags

How do you get more ZIP out of your story? Many early writers fall into the trap of writing single plot stories. They follow on group of characters throughout an entire adventure. But life isn't like that - people and events that affect your life come and go. If you can build that element (let's call it the "B" Story) into your story, it'll make for a better script.

Let's get started. You might recognize the diagram below as Syd Field's famous Hollywood screenwriting paradigm. The vast majority of movies and TV shows follow (consciously or unconsciously) this model.

From my own experience, I've found that when a story works - it's on model. If a story isn't working - the first thing I do is check it against this template.

For more information about SYD FIELD, the PARADIGM and all that other good stuff, please visit or buy his books THE SCREENPLAY or THE SCREENWRITER'S PROBLEM SOLVER. These books are essential reading. If you haven't read them yet - RUN TO YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE AND BUY THEM.

And now, on to MY paradigm... Which I've scribbled over top of Syd's. Hope he doesn't mind...
You'll see that I've scribbled some lines in pink and green marker. Sorry, they're all that I had available. The Pink lines represent that "A" Story and the Green lines represent the "B" Story (or the secondary characters).

I'm going to use a gross simplification for demonstration purposes. In the FIRST ACT - the main and secondary characters are going about their business together. There's even a GAG or short joke about their situation.

At the PLOT POINT which begins the SECOND ACT - the Primary Characters (A Story) and Secondary Characters (B Story) separate and go about their businesses. Throughout the Second Act, we cut back and forth between the two groups of characters, to keep up with what they're doing.

Likewise, there are situational GAGS - called RUNNING GAGS that mirror the "A" and "B" stories. There's an "A" Story Running Gag and a "B" Story Running Gag.

The "A" and "B" Stories should MEET at the SECOND PLOT POINT or CLIMAX of your story. Then in the resolution or THIRD ACT - if you're very good (and lucky) you get to write a climax for your RUNNING GAGS.

This structure works for a simple short 11 or 22-minute adventure. If you were to write a longer piece, you would add more Stories - "C", "D", etc.

And no - I don't sit in movies counting the number of stories going on. But next time you watch your favorite sitcom, check it out.