It's trendy lately among writers to dismiss plot structure and writing craft as 'formulaic' and to attempt to up-end it. And it's true insofar as some stories are too rigidly structured, too predictable, and prone to taking structural concepts like Blake Snyder's '15 beats' or Joseph Campbell's 'Hero with a Thousand Faces' a bit too literally and in really obvious unoriginal ways.

But to dismiss structural concepts entirely would be an error; writing with zero structure can result in a directionless, meandering 'episodic' storyline with no evident direction or purpose. Like the concepts described in the section describing hand-drawn art composition, there's a value to varying quantities a bit off-kilter; not totally symmetrical nor heavily lopsided or asymmetrical but somewhere in between, structured in a way that is recognizable as focused narrative, yet not utterly formulaic.

So how do we do that? How do we learn formula and then tilt it in directions the audience doesn't expect? Often the key is in the details, the rich tapestry of your story. Most of the formulas offered are incredibly open-ended in terms of detailing and what exactly will fit into them. There are more detailed outlines proposed by various screenwriting gurus, but we'll go with a looser, more basic one, the three act structure. You can see the three act structure everywhere. The first act establishes characters, usually with one main character who is relatable to the audience in some way, and faces the character(s) with a problem. The second act consists of a series of responses to the problem, often with stakes rising, and the problem either escalating or becoming more complicated. The third act forces the character to learn, to change, or to grow in some way in order to overcome the problem, often with something lost or sacrificed in the process, leading into a resolution of the problem and a new equilibrium or 'state of things' by the end of the story.

In most stories, the ending is positive, and the character is improved through the 'trial by fire' but there are also bittersweet or potentially ironic stories (the character wins but in the process the loss or damage sustained is substantial - maybe the character utterly fails at the goal they thought they were aiming for initially, but find that in the end they care more about something or someone else, thus shifting what they believe is really important.) And in a tragedy, the main character (protagonist) will learn the lesson all too late, or not at all, and lose everything in the process.

A story does not need to be a morality tale. In some cases the lesson learned is a negative one, and the change in the character can be a negative one. The character may, through their experiences, become bitter, damaged, evil. The message espoused by the story's character arcs, need not be a happy or positive one, the theme or premise of the story can be a brutal one. But it should at the very least be believable and an honest reflection of how the writer believes the world is.

You've probably heard the phrase 'show, don't tell' and what that means is that time in a story should not be wasted, reiterating a message in the form of character dialogue. Most of your thematic material is better expressed by the outcomes of characters' actions. A person DOES something, and as a logical result of that ACTION a REACTION or outcome occurs. People learn more about who someone is from what they do, not what they say in life anyway, and by embedding the theme in the events of the storyline, it can avoid being preachy and won't feel to the audience that they are being bludgeoned with a message.

There's also much logic in an audiovisual medium in having things *happen* physically, as in location changes, people moving around, doing things, not standing for hours talking. When characters do talk for a good chunk of time, at least try to vary the staging a bit. Many directors will have a character making/getting a drink, drinking it, pacing back and forth, fidgeting, gesturing, walking while talking, doing something in motion so the visual side of it is not so tedious!

That does not apply to written text as a medium - in text you can focus on ideas and thoughts - but in video, the actions matter.

Aside from all of this I'd caution that actions, reactions, and events in a story must be credible and in keeping with the setting, and the characters. When a character suddenly leaps from being or doing one thing to another that is inverse, without any credible reason for the change in behavior, that's not drama, that's melodrama. Ideally, the character's transformation will be achieved in a string of small, logical steps and reactions, often beginning with a reluctance to change. Most people will approach a problem the way they're used to approaching it, and so should your character early on - doing the same thing they always do in a situation for which that is not a valid solution to the problem at hand. Your hero/protagonist needs to start off doing the wrong thing, have that fail, and then recognize and adapt to, the situation at hand, finally tackling it in a new or novel way, often succeeding in the process. This is a basic formula for character development, and there may be more stages or increments than this, baby steps where, for example, the hero can't change their approach all at once or there are multiple things that they need to address to overcome the obstacles they face.

Let's see, what else? Character vs. Plot is a nonsensical argument; characters drive the plot. A plot is little more than characters doing things, interacting, acting, reacting. So a plot will not work without a character of some kind to cause events to move forward, and a character who does nothing, causes nothing to happen, and thus does not propel any plot forward, is boring and cannot qualify as a story. Therefore character and plot are BOTH essential to any good narrative.

As for the unexpected, that's great for defying formula. A richly textured, interesting setting with some surprising elements in it, fascinating characters with odd and unexpected traits and quirks, and events that turn out differently than anyone in the audience anticipated. All these bits of imagination can elevate an otherwise bland story, from formula to brilliance, without completely ditching the core of written structure. It's the specifics filled in, that make your story yours and not a generic one that just anyone could've written.

Then there are the twists, turns, secrets, and other plot elements. A twist is when audiences are, early on, led into a core assumption about what is going on with the characters, setting, events, etc, in the story, but there's a credible alternate and less obvious explanation for the events, which is revealed to be the actual situation later on as the story progresses. The central keys of a twist are that it needs to retroactively make sense given prior information, but it also needs to be less-than-obvious as an interpretation of such events, before the truth is revealed.

Turns are those shifts in a conflict, where the balance of power pivots back and forth between the hero and the challenge they're confronting. And secrets, often are tied in with twists, they are things that are known to a character or characters but not the audience or known to the audience but not to all of the characters, etc. Then there's the bigger issue of suspense, or nervous anticipation of something that could occur later in the story. An explosion happening is action. A explosion you know is going to be set off by a bad guy, and the hero has to stop it before it goes off? Suspense. Sometimes suspense is timed, as in a countdown to something we know will occur at a particular time, and sometimes it's not, for example, when an investigator is searching a crime scene for the critical piece of evidence hidden there that the criminal is desperately hoping won't be noticed. Well, that item might be recognized at any moment, but we're not sure how long that will take, or even if it'll be seen at all. Will the killer get away with it? Suspense.

Basically there are many different things you can do with any story that take it in different directions.
One of the best things about being indie is that you've got that freedom to experiment and try things that in a studio system would get shot down as too weird or not commercial or mainstream enough. So as long as you're able to self-finance a project you have creative control, and that can be pretty important.

It lets you push things in ways that Hollywood just... wouldn't.
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