Structure and the 2015 BlueCat Screenplay Competition

The 2015 BlueCat Screenplay Competition Semi-Finalists were announced earlier this week and SAWBUCK is among the chosen scripts. It’s a tremendous honor to make it this far in such a prestigious screenwriting contest (top 2% out of 4,494 feature-length entries).

A key ingredient of the excitement is something so simple I don’t always see it: people sat down, opened to page #1 and joined a 10-year-old boy on his hunt for a bizarre serial killer to save a missing child — and they enjoyed the journey!

While this announcement is only a step toward the goal of getting SAWBUCK produced, the following excerpts from the contest reader notes reminded me of my early struggle to embrace story structure:

“It’s the thoughtful and thoroughly justified weaving of these various story-lines that prompts such a decisive, deliberate build in the story structure. Even if the motives and desires of these characters are less than morally sound, their traits are precise and justifiable.”

“There’s an intricacy to the various motivations – and thereby frictions – that pass between the supporting characters.

“The epilogue proving <The Hero>‘s complete transformation — which began when he pointed the water gun at… <snip> — resolves all last subplots, and gives him the opportunity to conclusively solve the central dilemma of the script.”

And to think… I wanted nothing to do with story structure when I started writing.

Like some new writers, I looked at story structure as training wheels. So I just dismissed it and wrote.
After creating bloated, one-dimensional, meandering stories and finding myself trapped by plot dead ends, I grudgingly accepted structure as a necessary evil — Fine. I’ll use it. Whatever… I guess I’ll pack my unique ideas inside your stupid little structure boxes and watch my creative brilliance suffocate a cookie-cutter death. Then it happened…

I saw the light!

Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! was my first exposure to beats and structure. My understanding grew through Robert McKee’s Story and many other books and blogs that showed me that story structure is not just for films and books, but is how humans have assimilated story for thousands of years.

One of my favorite moments of clarity was when one author likened story structure to musical notes explaining how a seemingly infinite amount of music is created from just 12 musical notes.

Today, I find building a story’s structure to be as creative as any other part of the screenwriting process; it’s the wire frame to sculpt a story around rather than a constricting necessity I once thought it was.

Congratulations and good luck to all of my fellow Semi-Finalist Writers!

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