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ALIEN, AVATAR, coincidence, GROUNDHOG'S DAY, set-up, STAR WARS, structure -

In story development there is a term: gimme. A gimme is a story beat that’s built on a coincidence. There are big gimmes and small gimmes. Typically, a well-constructed story has room for one big gimme. Even then, the big gimme is usually found in the set-up, i.e. the coincidence that either creates the set-up, or gets our protagonist into the set-up. For example, in AVATAR our gimme is that Sully’s brother was fitted for a Na’vi avatar, so he’s the only person who can also inhabit it. In ALIEN our gimme is that Ripley’s ship the Nostromo just-so-happens to...

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A FISH CALLED WANDA, incident-driven, punching into a scene, punching out of a scene, structure -

I have read a lot of scripts that might be described as “incident-driven.” Rather than crafting a cohesive narrative, the storytelling is comprised of a bunch of semi- or un-connected beats and scenes. It’s this happens, then that happens, then this other thing happens, and so on. A bunch of stuff happens, the end. Scripts of this nature are often a slog to read, as they lack both momentum, and are less-satisfying in terms of emotional pay-off. We don’t crescendo to a finale; the story just kind of sputters to a stop, everyone shrugs and goes home. There are two...

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Aristotle, denouement, density, focus, length, POETICS, structure, unity -

A script should be a fast and easy read. There are several ways to accomplish this. Length. The standard length of screenplay used to be 120-ppg. It’s been a long time since that has been the case, especially when it comes to spec scripts. In fact, a script that’s exactly 120-ppg tends to send up an additional red flag, as it implies that the script is making artificial storytelling choices in order to pad itself to this old-fashioned length. Generally, it’s better to aim for a sweet spot between 90-105-ppg, with some genres (action, horror, comedy) tending toward the shorter...

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