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“The ‘rules’ of structure ensure that a huge reversal happens every 30 minutes, a big one every 15 minutes or so and some sort of smaller one every single scene.”
Writer/director Rian Johnson (Looper)

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I pulled the following excerpt from an article by Rian Johnson that I found in a stack of articles I wanted to included on my blog someday. Here it is— just five years after it was published:

“As a writer I understand the instinct to bristle at ‘S’ word. Structure seems antithetical to the free-wheeling creative process we associate with creating fresh art. But it’s essential to understand structure. You don’t need to learn it as a rote set of rules or a diagram of blanks to fill in with your ideas, but to simply understand it, and to wrap your head around why a three-act structure works. 

My own bottle of snake oil, for what it’s worth? Traditional screenplay structure is a tried and true method of keeping you, as a writer, lashed to the mast of the one and only hard and fast rule in all of screenwriting: Do not be boring….As a writer, the rules of a good script, keep you honest.

Can you write a good script without following a structure? Yes. In fact, some of my favorite scripts have nothing at all resembling three acts. Can you write a good one without following the principles that drive a traditional structure? Maybe, sure. But I have yet to read one.”
Rian Johnson
MovieMaker/Complete Guide to Making Movies 2011

P.S. Back when that was first published Johnson was best known for his indie film Brick (2005), now he’s best known for writing and directing a film that won’t be released until next year—Star Wars: Episode VIII (2017). Does that give a little more gravitas to the above quote?

 

Related post:
Screenwriting’s One Unbreakable Rule
There are No Rules, But…
Screenwriting & Structure
Analytical vs. Intuitive Writing
What’s Changed (Tip #102)
Screenwriting with Brilliant Simplicity

Scott W. Smith

 

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