Learning to Tell Stories, Part 4: Toward Mastery

Making Storytelling Easier

Whether you like story templates or don’t, this is my last thought on what I think is their first problem: they give students the illusion that they will make story-crafting easy, or fast, or less messy. On paper, the recipe looks simple. In the kitchen, things get complicated. Even for seasoned professionals, suffering is part of the process. Some of the best admit it.

Paddy Chayefsky (1923-81)
Paddy Chayefsky,
Three-Time Oscar Winning Screenwriter

Paddy Chayefsky, the revered television and screenwriter of the 20th century, warned about times when a writer “cannot pull himself out of a fruitless line of thought for hours, even days, sometimes never, and the script has to be abandoned in the middle.”[1. Television Plays, by Paddy Chayefsky, 1955, pp. 86-87 of Printer’s Measure: A Construction. I’m posting Paddy’s paragraph-long quote here if you want to read more.] This is a pro, and he’s not alone. Joseph Heller said “Every writer I know has trouble writing,”[3. Peeking at Pillars by Steven R. Lundin (quotes on quotes on writing), 2012, p113.] and Gene Fowler said “Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at the blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood

Read moreLearning to Tell Stories, Part 4: Toward Mastery

Learning to Tell Stories, Part 3: Recipes

PlotGenieSRTemplates & Formulas

Story templates are not new to the 21st century. In the 1930’s, The Plot Genie helped writers assemble a plot with a spinning wheel and lists of situations.[1. It is back in print, and if you use it and like it, please let me know.] I tried it decades ago, but couldn’t bring myself to care about my story because it wasn’t mine. It felt like putting a frozen dinner in the microwave and claiming I cooked it.

There are many templates, matrixes, grids, and formulas. The classic three-part “Setup, Conflict & Resolution” is so universal and general that it’s hardly a template, but “22 building blocks” is definitely a template.

Some people love templates. They feel comforted having the sections laid out in advance. Some people hate templates. They feel bound by formula as if in a straitjacket. But straitjackets are

Read moreLearning to Tell Stories, Part 3: Recipes

Learning to Tell Stories, Part 2: Books

TooManyBooksSRA Glut of Knowledge

When screenwriting books became popular in the 1980’s, I was ready for them. Here is a recollection.

I started with Syd Field’s Screenplay, which I read cover to cover twice. He taught that a story has a predictable structure based on three acts. In that first edition, he even made a big deal about act reversals happening on particular page numbers. The page-number thing put me off a little.

Read moreLearning to Tell Stories, Part 2: Books

Build a Pet Cube

Here’s a template to build a cube for Perspective lessons. You can build it out of poster board, or thin illustration board.

  • The outlines are where you cut it out cleanly.
  • The inner red lines are where you score it lightly so it will fold neatly.
  • The most important thing is not to cut your fingers violently.
  • The flaps are where you put glue.

Besides the explicit “be careful not to cut your fingers” warning and the implied “do it accurately”

Read moreBuild a Pet Cube