Screenwriting Blueprint: How to Create a Bulletproof Screenplay Structure
Screenplay Structure is something that every agent, editor, publisher, Hollywood executive, public speaker, marketer and storyteller talks about, to the point that it can seem complicated, intricate, mysterious and hard to master. So legendary script consultant Michael Hauge (writer of Writing Screenplays That Sell) wanted to give you a starting point for properly structuring your novel, screenplay or presentation without overwhelming you with rules and details and jargon.
Why You Need to Understand Structure First
In the video below he covers:
- Outer Journey vs. Inner Journey
- Putting the visible story first
- The biggest mistake in developing the Inner Journey
Key Elements of Story
In the video below he covers:
- The primary goal of all great stories
- Conflict: the source of Emotion
- The Three Key Elements of Any Story
- The Hero’s Two Journeys
- The four primary goals for the heroes of most Hollywood movies
These videos on screenplay structure are from his best selling online course: Story and Screenwriting Blueprint – The Hero’s Two Journeys.
In more than 4½ hours of lecture, discussion and Q&A, Michael Hauge, author of Writing Screenplays That Sell and Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds: The Guaranteed Way to Get Your Screenplay or Novel Read; and Christopher Vogler, story analyst and author of The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers, unite to reveal the essential principles of plot structure, character arc, myth and transformation.
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BONUS: Some of the BEST Online Screenwriting Courses & Books available:
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- Jim Uhls’ (Writer of Fight Club) The Screenwriters Toolkit
- Paul Castro’s The MILLION DOLLAR BUSINESS OF SCREEN WRITING
- Paul Castro’s The Million Dollar Screenplay
- Stephan Palmer’s Good in a Room – FREE AUDIO BOOK VERSION
- Michael Hauge’s & Chris Vogler’s Screenwriting & Story Blueprint: The Hero’s Two Journeys
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If you liked Screenwriting Blueprint: How to Create a Bulletproof Screenplay Structure?, then you’ll love:
How to Write Screenplays That Sell with Michael Hauge
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– We’re now gonna begin my favorite part of this whole journey or this process. In fact, the very reason that Chris and I wanted to do this, because it’s to get into this deeper level, what we’re referring to as the hero’s inner journey. It’s to go underneath the level of plot and structure and story in a certain sense, at least visible story, to get to not only deeper levels of character, but also the deeper levels of meaning, the richness of the screenplay or the story or the movie that you’re creating. Now, I have to begin, though, by giving you a really strong whatever it is, admonition, and that is this. Stories exist first and foremost on the level of plot. Yes, we are gonna go deeper. Yes, we are gonna get into what is known as the character’s arc and the theme of the story and the meaning of the story, but none of that can happen unless you have this visible journey in place. The deeper levels grow out of that visible level. This is what first and foremost is going to elicit the emotion. This is what’s gonna draw the audience in. This is what’s gonna draw the reader in. And this is a very, very difficult thing to internalize, to accept, and the reason it’s difficult is because this is not why we go to the movies, most of the time, and it’s most of the time not the reason you want to write movies. See, I know why you’re here. You are here because you wanna write movies that not only touch people but touch them deeply, that say something about the human condition that reveal something about you, that allow you to get to that universal level, to get to the level that Chris will refer to or Carl Jung or Joseph Campell as the collective unconscious. When you go see a movie, you don’t come out “of the theater saying, “Oh, I loved that movie “because I love that an ogre wanted to rescue a princess,” or, “I love watching them survive the Titanic,” or certainly in something that gets even deeper or richer than that. You talk about the characters, you talk about the originality, you talk about the depth, and since that’s what we talk about leaving the theater and that’s what we strive for as writers and filmmakers, the difficulty is to avoid going there first, meaning to think that you can skip over this level of plot and structure and just get into character richness, and it does not work, it does not work. I say that as an absolute. Certainly there would be exceptions to that, but by and large and certainly if you’re pursuing Hollywood movies, you gotta get ’em in the seats before you can change their lives, and before you can get ’em in the seats, you gotta get your movie made and you gotta get ’em to read and buy and produce your script, and this is what’s going to do that. Then, once you’ve got this in place you can go deeper and get to that level of richness and meaning that is what you strive to do and that is going to increase the emotional experience and increase your connection to the audience or to the reader of your screenplay or novel. And that’s what I’m gonna talk about now. Not just some alternative way of looking at a movie, but the parallel journey, and show you how that intertwines with the structure that I already gave you. Now, before I can do that, I need to start by just defining what I mean by this inner journey again. See, the outer journey, or what I call for instance the plot or the outer motivation of your movie, is this simple. It is a story about a hero who wants to accomplish a clearly defined visible goal, to cross a clearly defined visible finish line. It is a journey of achievement, I would call it. It is a journey that is designed usually to establish some kind of hierarchy, to be able to say, “I won, I did what nobody else could do. “I’m the gladiator who killed the emperor. “I am the industrialist who saved the Jews “in Schindler’s List,” because for all its meaning and depth and resonance and historical fulfillment you might say, Schindler’s List is a very simple movie. It’s a story about Schindler, a guy who wants to rescue the Jews that work in his factory. That’s it, that’s the visible finish line, and everything is built around whether he’ll accomplish that goal. But the inner journey, the one that’s underneath that is what I call a journey of fulfillment. It is the character arc from, you might say from protection to courage, from fear to courage. It is from being unevolved to being evolved, to being fully realized. I like to Jungian term to be fully individuated, meaning fully defining yourself as an individual, as opposed to being defined by others. The heroes of movies are very often at the beginning defined by other people or by a situation, by their parents, by their job, by the beliefs they’ve always carried about themselves. In the end of the movie, they stand up and say, “No, this is who I am. “It’s not what you said I was. “It’s not who I’ve always thought myself to be. “I define myself. “I am complete and unique as an individual,” and that’s what that character arc is, and it runs underneath that. Now, the conflict in the visible journey, the obstacles that seem impossible to overcome, are visible obstacles, okay? They’re a moat of lava. It’s a fire-breathing dragon. It is Lord Farquaad who wants to stop him from taking the princess away in the end of the movie. It is the very essence of the journey. It’s at the beginning, the obstacle is just those fairy tale creatures who are swarming around infesting his swamp, in his opinion. They’re visible things. It’s the villain, it’s the bad guy, it’s the iceberg, it’s the alien invasion, it’s the magical powers of the Lost Ark itself that’s gonna keep them from retrieving it. It’s all a visible obstacle, but on the inner journey of the character, the one that runs underneath that visible level, the conflict and the obstacles come from within the hero. I’m gonna explain all this in more detail in just a second, but one other reason I love this part of it is because it should become so clear, and I want you to think always on these two levels as I’m discussing this that I’m also talking about real life. I will often use the word, “We do this,” or, “You do this,” because the characters in movies are mirroring what we all do in terms of the own obstacles we face or create for ourselves and what keeps us from achieving our own destiny, our own fulfillment, our own individuation.
Key elements of story
– To me, no matter what kind of storyteller you are, whether you’re a screenwriter, or you’re directing or producing a film, or writing a novel, you have one primary objective. You are really here to learn only one thing, and that is how to elicit emotion. People go to the movies, they read novels, they see plays so they can feel something, not simply so they can think. You can get them to think, but to get them to think, you have to get them to feel, and what we’re going to be talking about, and this is, in my opinion, Chris will contradict in anything that he disagrees with, but in my opinion, what we are here to teach you to do is to elicit emotion in the mass audience for your product. Now, when it comes to storytelling, my belief is that, at their core, stories are very simple, and certainly, Hollywood movies are very simple. They are built on a foundation of only three elements, and that is character, desire, and conflict. Every good story is about a captivating or emotionally-involving character who is pursuing some compelling desire, and who faces seemingly insurmountable obstacles in achieving it. And that’s it. In essence, if you’ve got those three things, and they work, you got a good story. What we’re here to show you how to do is make it work better. Now, when it comes to Hollywood movies, which is almost entirely the arena I work in, Chris works more with novelists than I do, and my experience and my flow has been probably more mainstream than alternative kinds of film, and so on. But the principals still apply, by and large. But when it comes to Hollywood movies, all Hollywood movies must work on a visible level in those three areas. So, for any Hollywood movie to work, there must be the element of character, is what I term, or what we’re both terming today, the hero. There must be a main character that we are rooting for, that we identify with, and that character is pursuing some visible desire and facing some visible obstacles. Now, that’s a lot right there, because it’s not just enough to throw a character on the page, or on the screen, and say here’s my hero, run with this guy. You must create that necessary identification. Identification simply means empathy. It means that the audience or the reader becomes that character as they participate emotionally in the story. The reason Titanic made three kazillion dollars, or whatever it made worldwide, is not because it is interesting to watch a shipwreck. It is because it is emotional to become a character who’s in a shipwreck. We become Rose, we identify with her, and we experience the emotion, we experience that story through her. We are Belle in Beauty and the Beast, we are Aladdin, we are Rose, we become that hero, and the way you create that identification very quickly is, number one, you make that character sympathetic. You get us to feel sorry for that character by making her the victim of some undeserved misfortune. So, in a movie like Titanic, for example, part of our identification is we just feel sorry for her, ’cause she’s trapped with this jerky multimillionaire that she feels obligated to marry, and she can’t escape. The next way you create identification, or an additional way is, you put that character in jeopardy, because we identify with people we worry about. Well, as soon as you see her get onboard the Titanic, we know what’s gonna happen to that ship. She’s in danger. Now, it doesn’t have to be physical danger, it could be danger of loss of anything of vital importance to that character. So, for example, he’s about to lose his business in Rain Man, because the EPA is holding up those cars, or in Working Girl, she could lose her job. Another way you create identification is to make your character likable. A kind, goodhearted person. Someone we care about, someone who is well-liked by other people in the movie. Almost any Tom Hanks movie uses that device. His career is built on playing those kinds of characters. We just basically like them. Another way to create identification is to make the character funny, because we like to hang out with people who make us laugh, and we like to become people who have the courage to say funny things that we may not have the courage to say. And finally, another means of identification is to make the character powerful, very good at what they do. Could be a superhero, could be an Arnold Schwarzenegger-type character, an Indiana Jones-type, or it could simply be someone like, the character in Rain Man is so slick, so good at spinning all those plates and rescuing his business from falling apart, that we are attracted to that. A very skilled lawyer, a very skilled computer geek in War Games, something like that. So, you must employ at least two or more of those five elements when you introduce your character. The next thing, that hero must pursue some visible goal. This is the foundation of, basically, my entire career. If there’s one core element to everything I’ve written about, talked about, and coached about, it’s that the foundation of a Hollywood movie is a hero pursuing a visible goal that has a finish line that we can imagine. So, in Titanic, it’s really not a story about surviving a shipwreck, that’s an obstacle. It’s about getting to America and winning the love of Jack, or in the movie The Truman Show, it’s about escaping, or in Gladiator, it’s about killing the emperor who murdered his family. So, you must have a visible goal with that clearly defined end point. And then, in pursuing that goal, there must be insurmountable or seemingly insurmountable obstacles. If it doesn’t seem impossible for your hero to get what they want, we don’t care. That’s why you don’t see many movies about somebody whose goal is to drive to work. Now, you could. You could do that only if you could build a whole movie, and there probably has been one about all the obstacles someone encountered as they tried to drive to work, but unless they encounter bombs, and kidnappers, and mysterious women who may or may not be trying to kill them, it’s not going to be an interesting movie. It must seem impossible. That’s why the movie is called Titanic, and you notice they didn’t make the Queen Mary, because that ship didn’t sink. It’s just dry-docked there, nothing exciting about that. And the reason you must have that conflict is because, remember your primary goal. It is to elicit emotion, and emotion grows out of conflict. It is the obstacles that we either anticipate or see the hero encounter that create the emotion of your story. The goal is necessary to drive the story forward and give us something to root for. So that, in a nutshell, is a lesson on the foundation of screenplays, or story. Now, there is another level to everything I just said, however. It’s what Chris referred to and what we’re gonna talk about this afternoon, which is the inner journey. The outer journey is what I consider a journey of achievement, accomplishment. You wanna go out there and get something. In fact, Hollywood movies are so basically simple, that does not mean easy, does not mean simplistic, although they could be, but they’re so basically simple at their core that there are really only about four goals that the heroes of movies pursue. They either want to win, or escape, or stop, or retrieve. In other words, they want to win a competition, Rocky, Karate Kid, Chariots of Fire, or they want to win the love of another character, in any romantic comedy or love story, or they want to stop some bad thing from happening. A meteor form hitting the earth, or Buffalo Bill from killing that woman in Silence of the Lambs. Or they want to retrieve something, they want to go out and get something and bring it back, a Holy Grail, a buried treasure, a bank robbery, Raiders of the Lost Ark would be that kind of film. Or they want to, what was the other one, escape. The Truman Show, The Great Escape, whatever. They want to get out of some situation. Someone is pursing them, and they want to get away from that person. So, those are the basic visible goals, but underneath that level is another level, what I think of as a level of fulfillment, of achieving one’s destiny. Where the goal is invisible, and that’s what we’re gonna be talking about this afternoon.