Tag Archives: plot structure

Plot break down: Good Will Hunting

In my ongoing quest to understand film script plot structure, I’ve broken down the plot of Good Will Hunting. My notes are my interpretation of the story. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck surely didn’t break it down exactly as I did, but my version will still give you a functional understanding of film structure. If you look at my break downs of Avatar or Back to the Future, you’ll notice the formats are slightly different. This is partly because I’m experimenting to find the best way to break movies down, but it’s also because there is no one right way to approach structuring a plot. The trick is to find a method that works for you.

For example, Good Will Hunting has 83 beats. Avatar has 101 beats, and Back to the Future has 39. I define a “beat” as an action sequence where a character engages in a conflict or opportunity. The sequence always includes a setup, catalyst, response and outcome. The conflict is usually between two characters, but as my break down of the first episode of the Twilight Zone shows, the conflict can be between the hero and the absence of other characters.

One thing that is consistent in all three of these movies is that about every 10 beats there’s a major conflict that changes the course of the plot. I refer to these 10-block chunks as Acts. Using this formula, Good Will Hunting has 8 Acts, Avatar has 10, and Back to the Future has 5. I refer to the final beat of an Act as the “threshold beat,” because once the hero crosses the threshold, there’s no going back.

In my breakdown of Back to the Future, I divided the storylines using the traditional “A-story, B-story and C-story” method. In my analysis of Good Will Hunting, I divided the beats into “quest chains” instead. I define quest chains as a series of beats in which a character is trying to accomplish a goal. Using this formula, Good Will Hunting has 11 quest chains. For your convenience, I’ve included a summary of the Acts, quest chains, and main characters at the beginning of my break down.

I only pasted my notes on the first two Acts of Good Will Hunting to this web page, because the whole document is 40 pages long, but you can download a Word document of the entire break down by clicking the link below. If you use the “find and replace” function in Word, you can change the names and tweak the story to make it your own to practice story structure.

View the original script on IMSDB.com

Download a complete Word document of the Good Will Hunting break down

Download a complete PDF document of the Good Will Hunting break down

CHARACTERS

Hero: Will

Hero’s signature strength: Genius

Hero’s signature flaw: Won’t leave his comfort zone

Hero’s life goal #1: Stay in a state of arrested development

Hero’s life goal #2: Be genius

 

Hero’s antagonist: Lambeau

Hero’s mentor: Sean

Hero’s best Friend: Chuckie

Hero’s love interest: Skylar

One-off bad guys:

Clark: An opponent who thinks he has more of the hero’s signature strength than the hero does, but the hero proves his mastery of their signature strengths is greater.

Judge: An authority figure who has the power to punish the hero for his signature flaw and is in a position to be swayed by the Antagonist.

Bobby Champa: An opponent the hero wants to fight, who is tailor made to receive the wrath of the hero’s flaw.

 

QUEST CHAINS

Quest chain 1: Will wants to stay in a state of arrested development. (61 beats)

Quest chain 2 : Lambeau wants to find the next big genius (14 beats)

Quest chain 3: Will and Chuckie want to be best friends (25 beats)

Quest chain 4: Will and Skylar want to fall in love (31 beats)

Quest chain 5: Sean wants to stay in a state of arrested development(19 beats)

Quest chain 6: Will wants to stay out of jail. (30 beats)

Quest chain 7: Will wants to use his genius (10 beats)

Quest chain 8: Will wants to meet with Lambeau for math mentoring (8 beats)

Quest chain 9: Will wants to meet with a therapist for life mentoring (20 beats)

Quest chain 10: Lambeau wants to exploit Will (9 beats)

Quest chain 11: Will needs a real job. (18 beats)

 

ACTS

Act 1: Beats 1-12

Introduce all the main characters and give them each a strength, flaw and goal.

Act 2: Beats 13-22

The antagonist hunts for the hero while the hero meets his love interest.

Act 3: Beats 23-30

The antagonist traps the hero, and the hero fights back.

Act 4: Beats 31-39

The antagonist recruits a mentor for the hero, whom the hero rejects while getting closer to his love interest.

Act 5: Beats 40-51

The hero pulls away from the quest he should be on, but he’s no longer satisfied with his old life.

Act 6: Beats 52-59

The hero applies himself to his quest but pulls away again when he starts to make progress.

Act 7: Beats 60-73

With pressure mounting, the hero rides the fence and is even less satisfied with his old life. His allies finally help him overcome his signature flaw.

Act 8: Beats 74-83

Denouement

 

BEAT 1

Summary:

Will and his friends sit at a bar telling jokes and laughing.

 

Beat Functions:

Prologue

Introduce the hero

Introduce the hero’s goal

Introduce the hero’s flaw

Introduce the setting

Introduce the hero’s allies

Demonstration of character

Metaphor for the hero’s life

Begin Quest chain 1.

 

Quest chain 1: Will wants to stay in a state of arrested development.

Step 1: Introduction

 

BEAT 2

Summary:

Will is reading books at home while waiting to get picked up for work by Chuckie.        .

 

Beat Functions:

Introduce hero’s signature strength (Genius)

Introduce hero’s signature weakness (Won’t leave his comfort zone.)

Introduce hero’s home

Introduce here’s life goal #1 (Stay in a state of arrested development.)

Introduce hero’s life goal #2 (Be genius.)

 

Quest chain 1: Will wants to stay in a state of arrested development.

Step 2: Demonstrate how the hero is accomplishing his goals (Self-study and working a menial job)

Quest chain 3: Will and Chuckie want to be best friends

Step 1: Introduce Will and Chuckie’s routine

Quest chain 7: Will wants to use his genius

Step 1: Prologue

 

BEAT 3

Summary:

Lambeau challenges his students to solve an advanced math problem.

 

Beat Functions:

Introduce the antagonist

Backstory/setup of Quest Chain #1’s  inciting incident

Begin Quest chain 2.

 

Quest chain 2 : Lambeau wants to find the next big genius

Step 1: Introduction

Quest chain 7: Will wants to use his genius

Step 2: Antagonist creates an opportunity for the hero

 

BEAT 4

Summary:

Will and Chuckie goof around at their favorite hangout spot and make plans to go to a Harvard bar.

 

Beat Functions:

Begin Quest Chain 4.

Character development

 

Quest chain 1: Will wants to stay in a state of arrested development.

Step 3: Will’s normal life

Quest chain 3: Will and Chuckie want to be best friends

Step 2: Will’s normal life

Quest chain 4: Will and Skylar want to fall in love

Step 1: Prologue/setup to meeting Skylar

 

BEAT 5

Summary:

Sean sits on his roof looking morose, avoiding going to his college reunion.

 

Beat Functions:

Introduce the mentor

Establish mentor and antagonist as foils of each other

Begin Quest chain 5.

 

Quest chain 5: Sean wants to stay in a state of arrested development

Step 1: Introduction

 

BEAT 6

Summary:

At his class reunion, Lambeau’s students tell him someone has solved his math challenge.

 

Beat Functions:

Progress Quest chain 2

 

Quest chain 2 : Lambeau wants to find the next big genius

Step 2: Setup Lambeau discovering Will

Quest chain 7: Will wants to use his genius

Step 3: Will has used his genius secretly

 

BEAT 7

Summary:

Will and his team goof off and see Bobby Champa, a person who beat up Will in the past. (metaphor for Will’s father)

 

Beat Functions:

Setup to Will’s arrest

Demonstrate Will’s flaw (misplaced anger)

Introduce a little of Will’s backstory of abuse

 

Quest chain 1: Will wants to stay in a state of arrested development.

Step 4: Show will’s flaw holding him back

Quest chain 3: Will and Chuckie want to be best friends

Step 3: More of Will’s normal life

 

BEAT 8

Summary:

Lambeau tries and fails to find out who solved his math challenge by searching among his students in the hallway of MIT. Then he issues a new challenge.

 

Beat Functions:

Antagonist fails to achieve his goal. (find the next big genius)

Antagonist creates a new, escalated challenge.

 

Quest chain 2 : Lambeau wants to find the next big genius

Step 3: Fail first attempt. Begin second attempt.

Quest chain 7: Will wants to use his genius

Step 4: Antagonist creates a new challenge for Will.

 

BEAT 9

Summary:

Will, Chuckie, Morgan and Billy ride in Chuckie’s Cadillac talking about first world poor people’s problems.

 

Beat Functions:

Setup Will getting arrested

Character development

 

Quest chain 1: Will wants to stay in a state of arrested development.

Step 5: Show will’s flaw holding him back

Quest chain 3: Will and Chuckie want to be best friends

Step 4: More of Will’s normal life

 

BEAT 10

Summary:

Chuckie convinces Morgan to backup Will in a fight.

 

Beat Functions:

Character development

 

Quest chain 3: Will and Chuckie want to be best friends

Step 5: Chuckie demonstrates he’ll do anything for Will.

 

BEAT 11

Summary:

Will, Chuckie, Billy and Morgan fight Bobby Champa and his crew, ending with Will being arrested

 

Beat Functions:

Fight scene

Act 1 threshold

 

Quest chain 1: Will wants to stay in a state of arrested development.

Step 6: Will demonstrates he can’t control his flaw , and it is destroying his life.

Quest chain 3: Will and Chuckie want to be best friends

Step 6: Chuckie continues to demonstrates he’ll do anything for Will.

 

BEAT 12

Summary:

Sean sits morose on his roof having skipped his class reunion.

 

Beat Functions:

Demonstrate mentor’s flaw (arrested development)

 

Quest chain 5: Sean wants to stay in a state of arrested development

Step 2: Sean fails to confront the past, which is holding him back.

 

BEAT 13

Summary:

Chuckie picks up Will from the courthouse after being arrested.

 

Beat Functions:

Begin Quest chain 6

 

Quest chain 1: Will wants to stay in a state of arrested development.

Step 7: Will suffers the consequences of his failure at the end of Act 1.

Quest chain 3: Will and Chuckie want to be best friends

Step 7: Chuckie helps Will while enabling his self-destructive behavior.

Quest chain 6: Will wants to stay out of jail.

Step 1: Introduction

 

BEAT 14

Summary:

Lambeau and his students gather in class to learn who solved the second math challenge. They fail to achieve their goal. Lambeau creates a new goal for Will.

 

Beat Functions:

Antagonist fails his second attempt.

Antagonist begins new, escalated attempt.

 

Quest chain 2 : Lambeau wants to find the next big genius

Step 4: Fail second attempt. Begin third attempt.

Quest chain 7: Will wants to use his genius

Step 5: Will has used his genius in secret again, and the antagonist creates a new challenge for him.

 

BEAT 15

Summary:

Lambeau catches Will solving the third math challenge, but Will runs away.

 

Beat Functions:

Hero’s refusal of the call

Antagonist makes progress in Quest chain 2

Antagonist and hero meet for the first time

Hero’s flaw negatively impacts his life again (Will feels the need to quit his job.)

 

Quest chain 1: Will wants to stay in a state of arrested development.

Step 8: Refusal of the call

Quest chain 2 : Lambeau wants to find the next big genius

Step 5: Lambeau succeeds at finding his genius, but it’s a false victory as Will runs away.

Quest chain 7: Will wants to use his genius

Step 6: Refusal of the call

 

BEAT 16

Summary:

Will, Chuckie, Billy and Morgan go to Casey’s bar as discussed in Beat 4. Will says he lost his job and Chuckie says he can get him a new job.

 

Beat Functions:

Progress in all Quest chains present

 

Quest chain 1: Will wants to stay in a state of arrested development.

Step 9: Will suffers the consequences of his refusal of the call

Quest chain 3: Will and Chuckie want to be best friends

Step 8: Chuckie helps Will while enabling his self-destructive behavior again.

Quest chain 2 : Lambeau wants to find the next big genius

Step 6: Will makes it harder for Lambeau to find him by quitting his job.

Quest chain 4: Will and Skylar want to fall in love

Step 2: Travel to where the hero will meet his Skylar

 

BEAT 17

Summary:

Chuckie hits on Skylar and Lydia at a Harvard bar.

 

Beat Functions:

Introduce Skylar

Setup for Will helping Chuckie like Chuckie has been helping Will.

 

Quest chain 3: Will and Chuckie want to be best friends

Step 9: Chuckie sets himself up for trouble in a way that Will is perfectly suited to save him.

Quest chain 4: Will and Skylar want to fall in love

Step 3: Introduce the Skylar

 

BEAT 18

Summary:

Chuckie gets humiliated intellectually by Clark.

 

Beat Functions:

Introduce a conflict for Will to demonstrate his strength and impress his Skylar

 

Quest chain 3: Will and Chuckie want to be best friends

Step 10: Chuckie’s flaw (ignorance) gets in trouble.

Quest chain 4: Will and Skylar want to fall in love

Step 4: Clark creates an opportunity for Will to impress Skylar.

 

BEAT 19

Summary:

Will saves Chuckie by humiliating Clark intellectually.

 

Beat Functions:

Demonstration of hero’s signature strength (genius)

State the stakes (Staying in arrested development leads to perpetual poverty.)

Fight scene

Act 2 threshold

 

Quest chain 1: Will wants to stay in a state of arrested development.

Step 10: Will glorifies his poverty and is reminded of the consequences

Quest chain 3: Will and Chuckie want to be best friends

Step 11: Will saves Chuckie.

Quest chain 4: Will and Skylar want to fall in love

Step 5: Will impresses Skylar

Quest chain 7: Will wants to use his genius

Step 7: Will uses his genius successfully

 

BEAT 20

Summary:

Skylar gives Will his prize for beating Act 2 threshold beat-antagonist (Clark)

 

Beat Functions:

Act 2 prize  (Skylar’s number)

Progress Will and Skylar want to fall in love

 

Quest chain 4: Will and Skylar want to fall in love

Step 6: Skylar gives Will her phone number.

 

BEAT 21

Summary:

Will taunts Clark with Skylar’s phone number.

 

Beat Functions:

Victory dance

 

Quest chain 4: Will and Skylar want to fall in love

Step 7: Will demonstrates that he’s kept Skylar’s phone number.

 

BEAT 22

Summary:

Chuckie takes Will home from the bar.

 

Beat Functions:

Transit/transition

Demonstrate the quality of Will’s life

 

Quest chain 1: Will wants to stay in a state of arrested development.

Step 11: Will returns from Harvard to his poverty stricken neighborhood

Quest chain 3: Will and Chuckie want to be best friends

Step 12: Chuckie helps Will by taking him home.

If you liked this plot break down, you may like these other break downs:


Plot break down of “The Twilight Zone,” Season 1, Episode 1 Where is Everybody

512px-thetwilightzone-logo-svg

This is a break down of the first episode of The Twilight Zone. For the past year I’ve been experimenting with different ways of breaking down movies and sitcoms, and I’ve found the easiest way to do it is to paste a set of prompts in between each beat of the script. Then, I fill out the prompts and add headings that break the beat itself into its components. The prompts and headings are self-explanatory. The one confusing things about this script is that the antagonist of each beat isn’t a character, it’s the absence of life.

The script was written by Rod Serling and copyrighted by CBS. This break down is obviously for educational purposes. So I hope it falls under fair use. All of my original analysis is free domain. Enjoy.

Click here to download a Word document of this break down

Click here to download a PDF document of this break down

BEAT: 1

SUMMARY:

Mike walks to a diner but doesn’t know if he has any money. He checks his pocket and is delightfully surprised to find some. Then he goes in the diner.

BEAT PURPOSES:

Introduce the hero

Setup main conflict

Mystery

Teaser

QUEST CHAIN:

1: Hero’s introduction

Step 1: Introduce the hero

 

ACT ONE
ESTABLISHING SHOT

The camera has begun to pan down until it passes the
horizon and is flush on the opening shot (each week the
opening shot of the play). We are now looking down the
small two-lane asphalt highway. It is dawn, the road is
deserted save for a small diner on the left hand side. A
broken neon light flashes on and off over the front door.
From inside the sound of a rock-‘n’-roll record lends a
strange, raucous dissonance to the early morning silence.

SETUP
Then the camera sweeps right for a
LONG SHOT MIKE FERRIS
Who suddenly appears, walking down the road. His step is
tentative, unsure. He’s a tall man in his thirties. His
dress is nondescript, his only identifiable garment being
army pants. There’s an indecisiveness, a puzzlement, in his
features as he comes closer to the camera, sees the diner,
stops, rubs his knuckles over the side of his face and
feels his beard’s stubble.

OPPORTUNITY

He pats in his pocket, unsure,
reaches in and pulls out a couple of dollar bills.

OUTCOME

For some
reason this buoys him up. He looks a little more resolved
as he walks up the steps and into the diner.

 

BEAT: 2

SUMMARY:

Narrator gives his opening speech, stating the quirk in the universe, Mike inexplicably has no memory.

BEAT PURPOSES:

Narrator’s prologue

State the problem

Teaser

QUEST CHAIN:

1: Hero’s introduction

Step 2: Narrator’s prologue

 

SETUP

NARRATOR’S VOICE
We are looking at a male Caucasian,
age approximately thirty-one, height
approximately 5’11”.

CONFLICT

As to his name,
where he is, and what he’s doing
there — this even he doesn’t know.

OUTCOME
For the journey that this man will
take is an excursion into the shadows,
and all of you are invited to go
along.
DISSOLVE TO:

 

BEAT: 3

SUMMARY:

Mike sees signs of life in the diner but no life.

BEAT PURPOSES:

Show the hero’s problem

Hero investigates

Escalation

Mystery

QUEST CHAIN:

2: Find where everyone is

Step 1: Investigate the diner

Step 1: Setup

3: Find out who Mike is

Step 1: Investigate American money

 

ESTABLISHING SHOT
INT. DINER
It is a small, nondescript, typical eatery with a row of
small booths along the outside window, a counter, and a
kitchen beyond. The room is empty.

SETUP
PAN SHOT MIKE
As he walks over to a stool and sits down at the counter,
reaches over, takes a menu, studies it for a moment, then
turns and looks over toward the juke box.
MED. CLOSE SHOT JUKEBOX
Garish, multicolored, still blaring out the music.
MED. SHOT ROOM
He turns on his stool to look toward the opening to the
kitchen.
CLOSE SHOT AN OVEN INSIDE KITCHEN
Through the glass we can see a row of six or seven pies
baking and almost fully browned.

CONFLICT
MED. SHOT ROOM
Mike calls out.
MIKE
(sardonically calling out)
Is this thing loud enough for you out here?
I mean, can you hear it all right?
He grins wryly, waits momentarily for an answer that never
comes, turns and looks again at the juke box. He rises,
gets off his stool, goes over the juke box, looks all
around it, pushes it away from the wall a few inches,
reaches back, fiddles with a knob. The music goes much
lower. Then, satisfied, he pushes the machine back against
the wall and goes back over to the counter.
MIKE
Kind of early for that kind of music, isn’t
it?
Still, silence.
MIKE
I noticed there’s a town just up the road.
What’s the name of it?
Again, silence. Mike puts the menu down, peers through the
little opening to the kitchen.

A small room with a couple of stoves, et cetera. He goes
over to the stove, turns down the oven, and looks around
the room. He goes over to a back door, tries it and it
swings open. He steps back as it creaks open and reveals
the diner’s backyard.

HERO’S RESPONSE
MIKE
(calls out)
Hey? You got a customer out front! Hey!
Customer here!

ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE
Still no answer. Mike turns, retraces his steps to the
lunch counter.

HERO’S RESPONSE
MED. SHOT ROOM
Mike still shows no real emotion beyond a puzzlement. He’s
neither frightened nor concerned as yet. Again he picks up
the menu and studies it. He talks out loud, now.
MIKE
I think ham and eggs. Eggs up and soft.
Hash browns. Coffee. Black.
(looks up, calls out again)
Customer! Got a customer out front!
(he rises from the stool
again — sticks his head in
the kitchen)
Ham and eggs. Hash browns. Coffee black.
He stands there by the open, swinging door staring into the
empty kitchen. His eyes dart about now and for the first
time we see something beyond puzzlement on his features.
What supplants it is irritation, not acute, but definitely
there. He reaches into his shirt pocket and takes out a
crumpled pack of cigarettes, goes back to the lunch
counter. Now he scratches his head, sits down on the stool
for a long moment.

ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE

Suddenly the music on the juke box
stops. The sudden cessation of noise brings with it a
silence even more obvious.

HERO’S RESPONSE

Mike turns to stare at the juke
box. He looks up at the clock.

CLOSE SHOT CLOCK
It is on the counter near the coffee urn, its face turned
sideways so that Mike can’t see it.
MED. CLOSE SHOT MIKE
As he goes over to the clock to turn it around and stare at
it.
CLOSE SHOT CLOCK
It reads a quarter to six.
MED. SHOT MIKE
Mike turns away from it, but in doing so brushes against it
and knocks it to the floor.
CLOSE SHOT CLOCK
On the floor as Mike bends over and picks it up. The face
of it is broken. He puts it back on the counter, then goes
back over to his seat.
MED. CLOSE SHOT MIKE
His fingers tap a nervous staccato on the counter top. The
silence now begins to be oppressive and nerve-racking.
Suddenly, as if an afterthought, he reaches into his pocket
and pulls out the money, looks at it in his hand, then
reaches into all his other pockets. He finds nothing. He
rubs at his face again.

ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE

Mike speaks aloud but obviously to
no one in an attempt to make noise or sound or just to end
the stillness.

HERO’S RESPONSE
MIKE
Cash customer here. Hungry cash customer.
(he rubs his face again)
I got two dollars and eighty-five cents.
(he looks at the money very
thoughtfully, almost
questioningly)
Two dollars and eighty-five cents, American
money.

OUTCOME
(then he stops and looks off
in obvious puzzlement)
American money.
(he throws it out into the
air as if to reassure
himself as to the meaning of
the phrase)
Sure, American money.

 

BEAT: 4

SUMMARY:

Mike admits he doesn’t know who he is or anything about himself. He discovers he’s American because he has American money.

BEAT PURPOSES:

Escalation

Catalyst

State the problem

Mystery

Discover a clue

QUEST CHAIN:

2: Find where everyone is

Step 1: Investigate the diner

Step 2: Shout for help

3: Find out who Mike is

Step 2: State the problem

SETUP

He looks at the clock again, and into the opening to the
kitchen and the swinging doors, at the silent juke box, and
back at the money in his hand.

OPPORTUNITY
MIKE
Well, we got this much settled. I’m an
American.
(he raises his voice a
little now as if to wake
someone in the next room)
There’s a little question about my
identity. Let me put it to you this way —
I’m not sure who I am.

HERO’S RESPONSE
(he holds up the money)
But I’ve got two dollars and eighty- five
cents and I’m hungry.
This much is established!
He gets up off the stool and suddenly slams both palms down
hard on the counter, making all the salt shakers and catsup
bottles quiver and rattle.
MIKE
(shouts)
I got two dollars and eighty-five cents and
I’m hungry!

ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE
He stops dead now, listening to the silence that enfolds
and surrounds him.

HERO’S RESPONSE

Then he looks around. Again the sense of
irritation.

OUTCOME

He takes a drag on his cigarette, then butts it
out, rises, goes to the front door and stares out.

 

BEAT: 4

SUMMARY:

Mike looks outside the diner for signs of life.

BEAT PURPOSES:

Escalation

Mystery

Character development

Investigation

QUEST CHAIN:

2: Find where everyone is

Step 1: Investigate the diner

Step 2: Look outside

 

ESTABLISHING SHOT
EXT. LUNCH ROOM
The long road that leads away from the lunch counter
without a sign of traffic, people, or anything.

SETUP

He whirls
around to look back into the lunchroom.
MIKE
(aloud)
I’m gonna wake up in a minute. I know I’m
gonna wake up.

CONFLICT

I wish… I wish there’d be
a noise or something to wake me up.

HERO’S RESPONSE
He suddenly sticks two fingers in his mouth and whistles,
listens for a moment, then he whistles again, kind of
grinning to himself.
MIKE
A little noise, please!
(now he sings at the top of
his voice)

HERO’S ESCALATION
“Yes sir, that’s my baby. No sir, don’t
mean maybe. Yes sir, that’s my baby now!”
He laughs a little sheepishly,

ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE

listens for a moment to the
silence,

OUTCOME

then he turns and goes back to the lunch counter.

 

BEAT: 5

SUMMARY:

Mike gives up looking for clues in the diner.

BEAT PURPOSES:

Failure

Escalation

Mystery

QUEST CHAIN:

2: Find where everyone is

Step 1: Investigate the diner

Step 3: Fail quest chain 2.1 (Investigate the diner)

 

SETUP
INT. LUNCH ROOM
Mike sits down, buries his face in his hands, rubbing his
eyes, massaging his temples as if trying to force out with
his fingers some connective link… some reassurance of
existence… some knowledge of where he is and what he’s
doing. Once again he looks around the room.

CONFLICT
PAN SHOT WITH HIS EYES
Taking in the shots of the coffee urn, the menus, the salt
and pepper shakers, all the simple, commonplace, terribly
normal adjuncts to what should be a normal scene but
somehow isn’t.

OUTCOME

He rises now, looks around again, then walks
to the door.
CLOSE SHOT THE ‘OPEN’ SIGN ON THE DOOR
CLOSE SHOT MIKE
As he slowly reaches down and turns the sign over to read
CLOSED. Then he walks out.

DISSOLVE TO:

 

BEAT: 6

SUMMARY:

Mike finds no life outside and starts to crack up a little.

BEAT PURPOSES:

Escalation

Mystery

Investigation

Restate the problem

Character development

QUEST CHAIN:

2: Find where everyone is

Step 2: Investigate outside

Step 1: Look at the stores

 

ESTABLISHING SHOT

EXT. TOWN STREET MIKE’S P.O.V.
It’s still early morning, and what we’re looking at is the
main drag of a small town, flanked by stores, a courthouse,
a post office, et al. The most singularly overwhelming
feature of this is the complete absence of motion and all
noise.

SETUP
LONG SHOT MIKE FERRIS
As he walks down the sidewalk looking from one side of the
street to the other.

CONFLICT
TRACK SHOT
Past stores as Mike goes by them. Drugstore, grocery, soda
bar. Most of the doors are open and there are lights on
inside, but there are no people. There’s an odd,
indefinable feeling that permeates the scene, a sense of
activity and yet coming with no players, and no people, as
if it was a place full of motion and movement suddenly
stripped of the people performing it.

OUTCOME
LONG SHOT DOWN THE STREET
From Mike’s point of view. It is devoid of any kind of
movement whatsoever. It is absolutely quiet. Over this
tableau we superimpose the title, “Where Is Everybody?”
along with major credits.

 

BEAT: 7

SUMMARY:

Mike thinks he sees a person, but it turns out to be a mannequin.

BEAT PURPOSES:

Mystery

Escalation

State the problem

False hope

Failure

QUEST CHAIN:

2: Find where everyone is

Step 2: Investigate outside

Step 2: Investigate the woman

3: Find out who Mike is

Step 3: State the problem

 

SETUP

CLOSE SHOT MIKE
As he stops and looks around. He is suddenly startled by
the sound of chimes.

He whirls around and looks up.
LONG SHOT CHURCH STEEPLE BELL
As it rings.
CLOSE SHOT MIKE
He shades his eyes to search out the church and then, in
turning away from it, he stops abruptly, staring at
something across the street.

OPPORTUNITY
LONG SHOT ACROSS THE STREET
A little clothing store and alongside of it an alley where
a large delivery truck is parked. In the cab, in the
passenger- seat, a human figure can be seen.

HERO’S RESPONSE
LONG ANGLE SHOT
Looking down as Mike goes to the curb, cranes his neck to
look over to the truck.
MIKE
Hey, miss? Miss?
(he makes a gesture that is
part a wave, part an attempt
at reassurance)
Over here, miss. Look, I wonder if you
could do me a favor? I don’t want you to
think I’m nuts or anything. I mean, it’s
nothing like that. It’s just that —
(again he grins a little)
I don’t seem to remember who I am. It’s the
craziest thing. I’ve looked all around and
I haven’t seen anybody around. I guess it’s
just early or something. Literally there
hasn’t been a soul.
(he takes a step off the
curb, looks again toward the
cab of the truck, a little
puzzled. He smiles again.)
You know, it’s a real oddball thing but…
well, I woke up this morning…
(he stops and rubs his jaw)
I didn’t exactly wake up. I just sort of
found myself on the road walking.
(and then suddenly)

HERO’S ESCALATION
Amnesia, that’s what they call it, isn’t
it? Amnesia? Well that must be what I’ve
got. I just don’t remember a thing… I
can’t find anybody to ask…
TRACKING SHOT
As he starts to walk across the street.
MIKE
(as he walks)
You’re the first person I’ve seen. Look, I
really don’t want you to be frightened or
anything, but I was wondering if you could
just tell me if maybe there’s a doctor or
something.

CLOSE SHOT MIKE
As he stops dead in his tracks. He’s about ten feet from
the truck.

ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE
MED. LONG SHOT THE TRUCK
The female figure is outlined in the passenger seat but
very much in the shadows.

HERO’S RESPONSE
MOVING SHOT MIKE
As he gets close to the cab.

ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE
CLOSE SHOT PROFILE FEMALE HEAD

HERO’S RESPONSE
FLASH CLOSE SHOT MIKE’S EYES
As they suddenly narrow in reaction.
CLOSE SHOT MIKE’S HANDS
On the door handle as he suddenly yanks the door open.

ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE
MED. CLOSE SHOT INSIDE THE CAB
The female figure suddenly slumps down in the seat, her
head sticking out of the open door, the hair cascading
down. The camera pans slowly across her body until it stops
at what should be arms. There are no arms. Mike reaches
over, grabs at the hair of the figure and pulls it up and
around, to stare into the wooden face of a mannequin. He
very slowly lets loose and the mannequin tumbles back onto
the seat and then down to the floor of the cab.
CLOSE SHOT FLOOR
he mannequin staring up with glassy, manufactured eyes.

HERO’S RESPONSE
MED. SHOT MIKE
As he slowly backs away, then turns to read the lettering
printed on the side of the truck.
CLOSE SHOT LETTERING
It reads, RESNICK’S STORE MANNEQUINS.
CLOSE SHOT MIKE
As his lips form the words that he’s read. Then he turns to
look through the window of the cab at the figure of the
mannequin, He takes a few steps over to her and then very
gently picks her up and sets her back on the seat.
MIKE
I’m very sorry, Madame. I can assure you
that at no time did I mean to be so
upsetting. As a matter of fact I’ve always
had a kind of secret yen for quiet women.
(then he grins)
You get what I mean, Babe?
(he kisses his fingertips
and then plants them on the
mannequin’s nose)
Now don’t take any wooden boy friends.

OUTCOME
Then he looks at her again for a more pensive moment as if
unspoken now were his earnest wish that this creature was
alive and could be talked to. He turns away and walks back
across the street.
LONG SHOT MIKE
As he walks.

 

BEAT: 8

SUMMARY:

Mike uses a payphone to ask the operator what’s going on.

BEAT PURPOSES:

Mystery

Escalation

QUEST CHAIN:

2: Find where everyone is

Step 2: Investigate outside

Step 3: Investigate the phone booth

Step 1: Make a call

 

ESTABLISHING SHOT

SERIES OF SHOTS MIKE WALKING
In different sections and on different streets. The last
scene ends with him stopping abruptly to stare at something
down the street.
LONG SHOT GAS STATION
Out in front is a glass-enclosed public phone booth.

SETUP
LONG ANGLE SHOT LOOKING DOWN AT MIKE
As he walks toward the gas station and goes into the phone
booth.

CONFLICT
MIKE
Look, I wonder if anyone there could tell
me —
He stops abruptly, grins, shakes his head, slaps at the
side of his head with an open palm, fishes in his pocket
and takes out a coin, deposits it in the phone, then dials
the operator. He listens to the dial tone that comes on and
off with dull regularity. He jiggles the receiver
impatiently.
MIKE
Operator. Operator. Will you listen to me?
He pounds on the phone and then just indiscriminately dials
a bunch of numbers. He’s about to throw down the phone in
disgust when suddenly at the other end of the line he hears
a dial tone ringing. He very slowly and very gratefully
picks up the phone now and hears a voice filtered at the
other end.

ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE
VOICE
(filtered)
This is the Special Operator.
(MORE)
VOICE (CONT’D)
The number you have reached is not a
working number. Please make sure you have
the right number and are dialing it
correctly.

HERO’S RESPONSE
Mike starts to shout into the phone.
MIKE
Is everybody asleep over there? What kind
of operation do you people run?

ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE
Then she repeats all she’s just said as Mike listens to
her, excited beyond words that he has found someone alive.
When she finishes repeating the message he grabs the phone
and is about to speak when suddenly he hears the Operator’s
voice again.
VOICE
This is a recording.
There is a certain suggestion of tenseness that suddenly
shows on Mike’s face.
VOICE
(filtered)
This is the Special Operator. The number
you have reached is not a working number.
Please make sure you have the right number
and are dialing it correctly.

OUTCOME
MIKE
A recording?
(he pounds on the receiver
hook and shouts)
Operator! Look, all I want to know is where
I am. I just want to know the name of this
place.

 

BEAT: 9

SUMMARY:

Mike looks in a phone book for answers

BEAT PURPOSES:

Mystery

Escalation

QUEST CHAIN:

2: Find where everyone is

Step 2: Investigate outside

Step 3: Investigate the phone booth

Step 2: Escape the phone booth

 

4: Who’s watching Mike?

Step 1: Evidence on the street

SETUP

Then he slowly lets the receiver loose and it hangs down
from the phone box.

Mike’s hand touches and then grasps a
telephone book, a thin one that he grabs and looks at
hungrily.
CLOSE SHOT TELEPHONE COVER
On it is written OAKWOOD.
MED. SHOT MIKE
He rips open the cover, looks down at the first page.
MIKE
A. Abel. Ackerman. Adams. Allenby. Arnold.
All right, boys, where are you?
(his voice is a little
edgier now)
Where do you all live? Just in this book
here?
(he rips the page open)
Baker. Beldon. Biltmore. Botsford. Well,
look, gang — who’s watching the store?
He suddenly turns to look out at the street.
FULL SHOT THE STREET MIKE’S P.O.V.
MED. CLOSE SHOT MIKE
MIKE
Who’s watching any of the stores?
He lets loose of the phone book now, lets it fall to the
floor, and stands there motionless for a moment, deep in
thought. Then he automatically reaches for the door handle,
turns it, and pushes.

CONFLICT

Nothing happens. He tries again and
it remains locked.

HERO’S RESPONSE

He waits a moment, then puts all his
weight against it.

ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE

It does not yield.

HERO’S RESPONSE

It is more than
irritation that we see on Mike’s face now. There’s the
first suggestion of a real concern. He looks around his
strange, glass prison.
MIKE
All right. Who’s the wise guy? Who locked
the door?
(he tries the door once
again)
It’s a great gag.
He pounds again and then suddenly stops and looks all
around.
PAN SHOT FROM MIKE’S P.O.V.
From inside the phone booth. The camera moves all the way
around the glass, almost in a three hundred and sixtydegree pan.
MED. CLOSE SHOT MIKE
He laughs softly, shakes his head.
MIKE
Trapped in a phone booth! Trapped in a
glass phone booth, like a goldfish.
(then he suddenly calls out)
Well, here I am! You got me! Everybody come
see! I’m right here on display!
LONG ANGLE SHOT LOOKING DOWN AT MIKE
In the phone booth, as once again he starts to pound on the
glass.
MIKE
How about a hand, somebody? A little
assistance — how about it? This is an
absolutely hysterical town, and I’m growing
very fond of it, but I’d appreciate it if
ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE
He stops abruptly.
CLOSE SHOT MIKE’S FACE
As he stares at something through the glass.
CLOSE SHOT A CIGAR
Half-smoked and still burning, lying on the sidewalk just
outside the booth.

HERO’S RESPONSE
ANGLE SHOT
Looking into Mike’s face through the glass. For the very
first time there’s a look of incipient fear.
MIKE
Look. Whoever’s out there. This isn’t funny
any more. You understand? I don’t like this
jazz. It’s getting dull.
(he looks around again)
(MORE)
MIKE (CONT’D)
Look, I know I can be heard. I know… I
know somebody’s watching me.
Immediately after he’s said this he realizes he has
suddenly given voice to his fear. He’s labeled what is
beginning to bother him. Simply a sense of being watched.

OUTCOME:
He suddenly bends down, picks up the phone book, flings it
against the glass of the door. The glass disintegrates.
Mike sticks his hand through, opens the door from the
outside, then kicks at it with his foot. It springs open
and halfway off its hinges as he goes out onto the street.
Then he looks down at his hand. It’s cut; a rivulet of
blood runs down through the fingers. He feels for a
handkerchief, takes it and wraps it around the hand. He
squeezes it a couple of times, trying to get more blood to
flow. Then he starts down the street again.

 

BEAT: 10

SUMMARY:

Mike investigates the police station.

BEAT PURPOSES:

Mystery

Escalation

QUEST CHAIN:

2: Find where everyone is

Step 2: Investigate outside

Step 3: Investigate the police station

 

4: Who’s watching Mike?

Step 2: Paranoia escalates

 

ESTABLISHING SHOT
LONG SHOT STREET MIKE’S P.O.V.
Once again the sense of emptiness and loneliness and that
bizarre quality of activity with no actors.

SETUP
TRACK SHOT WITH MIKE AS HE CONTINUES DOWN THE STREET
He pauses in front of a building and looks up.
CLOSE SHOT SIGN
Which reads, POLICE STATION.
TRACK SHOT
He walks up the steps and into the building.
INT. POLICE STATION
There’s a small anteroom, and then an open, barred door
which leads to a corridor lined with cells.
MED. CLOSE SHOT MIKE
As he enters and looks around. There is a police sergeant’s
desk, files, pictures of wanted men on the wall. A teletype
machine hums in the corner. Mike goes to look at it. The
light over it is on, but nothing is being written. He
whirls around and stares toward the sergeant’s desk, goes
behind it, picks up a microphone, fingers it for a moment,
then talks into it.
MIKE
Calling all cars. Calling all cars. Unknown
man walking around the police station.
Suspicious looking character. Probably
wanted by the FBI —
Then he stops, looks at the mike, chuckles softly for a
moment and then stops abruptly, the smile gone. He flings
the microphone away from him and looks slowly around the
room.

CONFLICT
MIKE
I wish I could shake that feeling…
(he looks around again)
That crazy feeling of being watched…
listened to…

HERO’S RESPONSE
He stares toward the cell doors then begins to walk slowly
toward them.
CLOSE SHOT MIKE
As he stands in the middle of the next room, looking from
empty cell to empty cell. Then he whirls around at a
bubbling sound. There, on a hot plate, is a pot of coffee
perking. Behind him we see the barred door leading to the
anteroom begin to close.

ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE

Mike’s eyes look wild, as if
subconsciously he realizes he’s in danger.

He whirls around
to see the cell door closing and then,

HERO’S RESPONSE

with a shout, throws
himself against it, pushing it away before it locks. He
seems to hang on it now, breathing deeply.

OUTCOME
MIKE
All right, time to wake up! Time to wake up
now!
He whirls around, his face distorted, close up against the
camera. He shouts.
MIKE
Time to wake up!
He stumbles through the anteroom and then back to the
street.

HERO’S ESCALATION
EXT. STREET LONG ANGLE SHOT
Looking down at Mike as he stands in the middle of the
empty street, the stores around him, the quiet. He suddenly
screams.
MIKE
Where is everybody? Where is everybody!?
FADE TO BLACK:

 

BEAT: 11

SUMMARY:

Mike tries to take advantage of his alone-ness by stealing cigars, but it doesn’t make him feel better.

BEAT PURPOSES:

Escalation

Mystery

State the problem

QUEST CHAIN:

2: Find where everyone is

Step 3: Exploit the situation

Step 1: Investigate the drugstore

Step 1: Enjoy a free cigar

 

ACT TWO

ESTABLISHING SHOT
FADE ON:
FILM CLIP A HOT AND HIGH AFTERNOON SUN
Shimmering in a sea of heatwaves. The camera sweeps down
until it is level with the street.

SETUP

Note: This segment could be considered its own beat.)
LONG SHOT MIKE FERRIS
As he sits on a curb, staring dully and numbly across at
nothing. The church steeple clock sounds two. He looks up,
listens to it, but is no longer shocked by it. He just lets
the sound of the chimes play along the edges of his
consciousness without really being aware of them. Now he
rises and walks slowly, methodically, without much apparent
purpose across the street. He looks up to see a sign
reading DRUGSTORE. He enters.
INT. DRUGSTORE
It is light and cheerful inside. On the left hand side is
the soda bar with a big mirror behind it full of stickers
advertising various concoctions — soft drinks, ice cream,
sandwiches.

OPPORTUNITY

Mike, as he enters, pauses by the cigarette and
candy counter.

HERO’S RESPONSE

He looks through the glass for a long
moment, then reaches behind and takes out a couple of
cigars. He unwraps one, sticks it in his mouth, lights it,
takes a couple of draws, butts it out, reaches in another
box, takes one of those, then looks in the box.
MIKE
Two for a dollar. Now that’s more like it.
I always like an expensive cigar.
Then he turns with a smile and says to nobody.
MIKE
How about you guys — any of you want a
cigar?

HERO’S ESCALATION
SERIES OF SHOTS OF EMPTY BOOTHS
MED. CLOSE SHOT MIKE
As he gets up on a stool.
MIKE
I’ll take a chocolate soda with chocolate
ice cream.
He starts to laugh, but the laugh is checked almost
immediately as he sees his reflection in the mirror behind
the counter. His fingers run exploringly across his face,
taking in the beard stubble, the hollowness beneath the
eyes, the strange, haunted, frightened look that is obvious
there. He looks at himself again for a long moment.
MIKE

HERO’S RESPONSE
You’ll forgive me, old pal, but I don’t
recollect the name. The face seems vaguely
familiar… but it’s the name that escapes
me.
(a pause)
I’ll tell you what my problem is. I’m in
the middle of a nightmare that I can’t wake
up from.
(he points to the
reflection)
You’re part of it. You and the ice cream
and the cigar. That police station and the
phone booth. That little mannequin. This
whole bloody town, wherever it is.
(a pause)

OUTCOME
Whatever it is. I just remembered
something. Scrooge said it. You remember
Scrooge, old buddy? Ebenezer Scrooge? It’s
what he said to the ghost, Jacob Marley. he
said, “You may be an undigested bit of
beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese,
a fragment of an undone potato. There’s
more of gravy than of grave about you.” You
see? That’s what you all are. You’re what I
had for dinner last night. You must be. But
now I’d like to wake up. I’ve had it… I’d
like to wake up now. And if I can’t wake
up, at least I’d like… I’d like to find
somebody to talk to.

 

BEAT: 12

SUMMARY:

Mike tries to enjoy an icecream soda, but it doesn’t make him feel better, and he sees a comic titled “The Last Man on Earth” that freaks him ou.t

BEAT PURPOSES:

Escalation

Mystery

Misdirection

QUEST CHAIN:

2: Find where everyone is

Step 3: Exploit the situation

Step 1: Investigate the drugstore

Step 1: Enjoy a free soda

 

SETUP

He rises now and goes behind the counter. He starts to fix
himself a chocolate soda, experimenting with some of the
cupboards until he finds the right ingredients, the ice
cream, the milk, et cetera. Then he mixes himself a soda,
tall, frosty, delicious.

He starts to sip it with a straw
as he walks around the drugstore.

OPPORTUNITY

He stops by a poster of a
high school football schedule.
CLOSE SHOT CARDBOARD SIGN
IT READS, OAKWOOD HIGH SCHOOL, 1958 SCHEDULE. A LIST OF
TEAMS AND DATES TO BE PLAYED APPEARS BELOW.

HERO’S RESPONSE
MED. CLOSE SHOT MIKE
As he takes it in one hand and reads it as he sips the
soda. But the normality of it suddenly points out the
incongruity of what he’s living through. He puts the poster
back on the counter, shaking his head, staring at it.
MIKE
I must be a very imaginative guy. Very
imaginative. Nobody in the whole world can
have a dream as… as complete as mine.
Right down to the last detail.
(he taps the poster)
Right down to the last detail.

OUTCOME
He turns, stares across at a big magazine rack near the
front window of the store. He crosses over to it, stares
down at some of the magazines, then kneels down,
interested. He begins to trace the dates on each one of the
magazines. The majority of them say October 1958 and his
mouth forms that phrase, “October 1958.”
Then he bites his lips, shakes his head again, rises, looks
down at the group of comic books, each with a lurid title
having to do with horror themes, Spook themes, et cetera.
Then suddenly he stops and looks down at one, the cover of
which is peeping out from behind the others and whose title
is visible. He reaches down and pulls it out just a few
inches farther so that he can read the entire title.
TIGHT CLOSE SHOT COVER
The title: The Last Man on Earth.
MED. SHOT MIKE
He picks it up and stares at the cover, then flings it down
on the floor. He turns rapidly away and heads back to the
counter where he puts the soda down. He is suddenly gripped
by another spasm of such utter loneliness that it forces
him out onto the street.

 

BEAT: 13

SUMMARY:

Mike tries to take advantage of his aloneness by stealing money from a bank, but it doesn’t make him feel better.

BEAT PURPOSES:

Mystery

Escalation

QUEST CHAIN:

2: Find where everyone is

Step 3: Exploit the situation

Step 2: Investigate the bank

Step 1: Enjoy some free money

3: Find out who Mike is

Step 4: State the problem

 

SETUP
EXT. STREET
Camera follows him out of the store. As he gets out on the
street he suddenly shouts, shrilly, illogically.
MIKE
(shouting)
Hey! Hey, anybody! Anybody hear me? Anybody
hear me?
He almost lurches to the other side of the street where he
buries his face against the window of a building. When his
head goes back he sees the letters U.S. POST OFFICE and he
starts to laugh again.
MIKE
Any mail for me? Anybody write me a letter?
I don’t know what my name is, but maybe you
can tell me in there, huh? Will you tell me
what my name is?
He pounds his fist against the glass and then suddenly has
to stifle what obviously is a sob as he begins to give in
to the loneliness and to the unknown and to the pulsating,
gnawing fear that envelops him. Then he turns away from the
window, struggling for composure.
CLOSE SHOT MIKE
He looks at something across the street. Camera sweeps wide
until it stops on —
LONG SHOT BUILDING

OPPORTUNITY
With a sign reading CITY BANK.

HERO’S RESPONSE
LONG SHOT MIKE
As he gets up off the bench, walks across the street, and
into the bank.
INT. BANK
TRACK SHOT MIKE
As he walks past all the tellers’ cages. He stops at the
end of the line, presses his face against the bars.
CLOSE SHOT ROW AFTER ROW OF STACKED BILLS
MED. SHOT MIKE
MIKE
I’d like to borrow about eight hundred
thousand dollars. How about it?
(then he nods and grins)
Thanks. I think that’s generous of you. I
think that’s really generous.
He pulls the bars up, reaches in and takes two packages of
money. Then he starts to retrace his steps toward the front
door. He’s about to leave when he looks toward the first
teller’s window.
MED. SHOT ROWS OF COINS ON TOP OF THE COUNTER
MED. SHOT MIKE
He takes some of the bills that he’s crammed into his shirt
pocket, throws them away.

OUTCOME
MIKE
Gotta make room for some silver.
He goes behind the teller’s window and starts to cram rolls
of coins into his pockets. Then suddenly his eyes look wild
again as he looks up, his eyes scanning the room. And
again, illogically, the same mixture of wisdom and
paranoia.

 

BEAT: 14

SUMMARY:

Mike almost gets locked in the bank.

BEAT PURPOSES:

Mystery

Escalation

False victory

QUEST CHAIN:

2: Find where everyone is

Step 3: Exploit the situation

Step 2: Investigate the bank

Step 2: Danger in the bank

4: Who’s watching Mike?

Step 3: Paranoia escalates

 

SETUP
MIKE
Somebody watching me?
He goes out in front of the teller’s cage again and looks
around.
MIKE
Somebody watching me?
He looks up toward the ceiling and around as if expecting
to see someone.
MIKE
Crazy feeling. Crazy, odd-ball feeling.
Like… like I knew someone was watching
me.
And then his eyes narrow again in an awareness of danger.
MIKE
Watching me… and trying to button me up
someplace. Trying to trap me.
He looks around wildly again.

CONFLICT

CLOSE SHOT HIS LEGS
As he starts to run toward the door. He trips over some
sort of a lever close to the teller’s cage.

ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE
FLASH SHOT ALARM BELL
On the wall as it begins to ring.

HERO’S RESPONSE
LONG ANGLE SHOT LOOKING DOWN AT MIKE
As he stops by the front door and whirls around as the
loud, dissonant clanging pierces the quiet. Then he whirls
around and tries the front door again.

ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE

It’s locked.

HERO’S RESPONSE
SERIES OF FLASH SHOTS
Bell. Teller’s cage. Locked door. Mike’s hand. Mike’s face.

TRACK SHOT MIKE
As he races toward the alarm on the wall. He grabs the
wires that extend from it and suddenly yanks on them,
pulling them apart. The bell abruptly stops. Then he whirls
around and stares at the front door.

OUTCOME
CLOSE SHOT DOOR
It is now ajar.

 

BEAT: 15

SUMMARY:

Mike tries lighting a cigar with money but it doesn’t make him feel better.

BEAT PURPOSES:

Mystery

Escalation

QUEST CHAIN:

2: Find where everyone is

Step 3: Exploit the situation

Step 2: Investigate the bank

Step 3: False victory

 

SETUP

MED. SHOT MIKE
As he goes back toward the teller’s cage, grabs the coins
and bills, crams them back into his pocket. He walks toward
the open door, then out onto the street again, leaving a
trail of silver and bills behind him.

OPPORTUNITY

He sits down on the
curb, unwraps the handkerchief from around his hand, wipes
his face with it. He reaches into his pocket, takes out a
crumpled fistful of bills, takes one out, grins at it,
takes out the remnants of a cigar, sticks the cigar in his
mouth, takes the bill, lights it.

HERO’S RESPONSE
MIKE
Here’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
Always wanted to do this.
He takes the lit bill and lights a cigar with it, then he
lets loose of the burning bill and watches it flutter to
the ground and disappear in ashes. Mike watches it burn,
and then slowly his face looks tired, hopeless.

OUTCOME
MIKE
Big deal. So what? Big deal.
He lets his head hang a moment.
DISSOLVE TO:

 

BEAT: 16

SUMMARY:

While investigating a movie theater, Mike sees a poster in a window that makes him realize he’s in the Air Force.

BEAT PURPOSES:

Mystery

Escalation

Find a clue

QUEST CHAIN:

2: Find where everyone is

Step 4: Investigate the movie theater

Step 1: Investigate the ticket booth

3: Find out who Mike is

Step 5: Find a clue

 

ESTABLISHING SHOT
EXT. TOWN SQUARE [NIGHT]
TIGHT CLOSE SHOT STREET LAMP
As it suddenly goes on. Camera then pans down for a
SHOT OF MIKE

SETUP
On a bench looking up toward the light. Then he turns to
look toward the street flanking the square. The lights have
gone on in front of all the stores and in the windows.
CLOSE SHOT MIKE
Reacting.
MED. LONG SHOT THEATER MARQUEE
As the lights go on around it.
TRACK SHOT MIKE
He walks across the street, stops by the ticket window, and
then, almost dreamlike, speaks.

OPPORTUNITY
MIKE
I’d like one tick —
Then he stops, shakes his head, closes his eyes, realizing
how ludicrous this is. He is about to go in when he
suddenly stops and stares at a poster advertising the
movie.
CLOSE SHOT POSTER
Which shows an air force pilot in his coveralls advertising
the movie.

HERO’S RESPONSE
MED. CLOSE SHOT MIKE
As he suddenly feels his own outfit and gradually makes the
connection that the uniform of the man in the picture is
similar to that which he wears.
MIKE
Air force. Air force.
(then he whirls around,
looks up toward the sky)
Air force. I’m air force.
(he once again looks down at
his coveralls and feels
them, grabs at them)
Air force. I’m in the air force.

OUTCOME
TRACK SHOT MIKE
As he walks from the outside of the theater, through the
lobby, on into the interior.
MIKE
(shouting)
Hey, everybody. I’m in the air force. I
remember that much. I’m in the air force.
Does anybody hear me? I’m in the air force.
And then once again he rubs his eyes, runs a hand wildly
across his face and then suddenly surveys the theater.
CUT TO:

 

BEAT: 17

SUMMARY:

Mike Ferris investigates the inside of the movie theater, fails to find anyone and really starts to crack up.

BEAT PURPOSES:

Mystery

Escalation

QUEST CHAIN:

2: Find where everyone is

Step 4: Investigate the movie theater

Step 2: Investigate inside the theater

3: Find out who Mike is

Step 6: Analyze the clue

 

SETUP
FULL SHOT THE THEATER
There are enough lights on to cast a soft orange glow
through the room. He looks around at the absolute, vast
emptiness of the place. Then he sits down, checks his
watch, looks up at the big white screen with nothing on it.
He looks at his watch again and then settles down in the
chair, his eyes closed, and he starts to succumb to the
fatigue that sweeps over him.
MIKE
Air force. What does that mean? Was there a
bomb or something? Is that what happened?
That must have been it, a bomb.

But if
there was a bomb —
(he looks around the empty
theater now)
It would have destroyed everything. And
nothing is destroyed.

CONFLICT
Suddenly he is aware of the lights lowering. He starts and
his eyes open wide in time to see the last of the lights go
down. A long beam of white light shines from the projection
booth and suddenly on the screen appears a big introductory
title, Cartoon Parade, with appropriate march music. Mike
leaps to his feet, looks from the projection booth down to
the screen. He suddenly starts to run down the aisle,
shouting.

HERO’S RESPONSE
MIKE
Hey! Hey, somebody up there?
He stops in front of the projectionist’s light so that we
get an almost — nightmarish picture of the cartoons
partially showing on his face and body as he screams.
MIKE
Hey, somebody up there? Who’s running the
pictures? Can you see me? Can you see me up
there? Hey!
Then he races back up the aisle, arriving at the rear of
the theater. He looks wildly around, then he sees a door
with a glass window, steps visible on the other side.
LONG ANGLE SHOT STAIRS
As he races up them.
INT. PROJECTION BOOTH
As he bursts inside. The picture is running from one of the
two projectors,

ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE

but the room is absolutely empty.

HERO’S RESPONSE

Mike
races over to the machine, bends down and peers at it as
the film goes through and he hears the sound of the cartoon
music and voices. This is too much for him. He throws
himself against the wall, peering out of the small,
circular hole that the picture shoots through.
LONG ANGLE SHOT THROUGH THE HOLE
Of the vast, empty theater.

HERO’S ESCALATION
INT. PROJECTION BOOTH
He turns away, goes out the door, stumbling down the steps.
ANGLE SHOT DOWN STAIRS
He continues down the steps and out into the lobby again.

ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE
INT. LOBBY
He stops for a moment and looks across the lobby.
MED. LONG SHOT POPCORN MACHINE
That is at this moment making popcorn.

OUTCOME
CLOSE SHOT MIKE
As he closes his eyes, shakes his head. Then he opens them.
His eyes go wide. He starts to run toward the camera,
coming up very close and almost at the point of impact we
CUT AWAY TO:
TIGHT TWO SHOT
Of Mike and a mirror as he smashes his face and hands
against it and then recoils from the reflection, backs off
a few feet, and then looks at the mirror on the opposite
side of the room. The combination throws off reflections
almost to infinity. He looks from left to right staring at
the hundreds of Mike Ferrises who ape him in his every
movement. Then he stops and looks across at the refreshment
stand where the popcorn continues to pop in the big
container. This, too, is more than he can stand. His face
screws up like a small child about to cry, and then he
shouts.
MIKE
Oh my God. Oh my dear God!
He stumbles through the lobby and out into the street.

 

BEAT: 18

SUMMARY:

Mike leaves the movie theater and cracks up on the street.

BEAT PURPOSES:

Mystery

Escalation

Climax

QUEST CHAIN:

2: Find where everyone is

Step 5: Climax

Step 2: Approach the climactic threshold

 

SETUP
EXT. STREET
He stumbles down the street aimlessly now, intent only on
moving, not finding. His footsteps start to drag and
finally he stops, sits down on the curb, buries his face in
his hands, rubs his eyes. Then he looks up to once again
find himself looking through the drugstore window, the
magazine that he’d been reading lies on the floor face up.

CONFLICT
HIGH ANGLE SHOT
Looking down through the window, distorting the cover of
the magazine in such a manner as to make the lettering
appear big and irregular. Once again the title slaps at him
across the face. The Last Man on Earth.

HERO’S RESPONSE

He rises slowly,
backing away from the window, shaking his head. He turns
and races across the street. Suddenly, then, he stops
abruptly as the light on the corner changes to red and he
instinctively comes to a halt. And then he stops dead,
realizing once again the ludicrousness of it. He begins to
laugh — the laughter becomes convulsive, wild. All the way
across the street he continues it.
ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE

TRACK SHOT
As he goes by all the stores that we’ve been introduced to.
As he goes by each one a sound emanates from it, a sound
way out of proportion to what it actually should be. When
he passes the pool hall we hear the mammoth bowling alley
sound echoing from it. From in front of the theater comes a
cacophony of music and laughter. From the drug store there
is a fizzling, bubbling sound of drinks. From the record
store, the dissonant, blaring sound of music. As each noise
joins in it becomes mumbled and part of a big morass of
noise.

HERO’S RESPONSE
Gradually the very dimension of it so frightens and shocks
Mike that he begins to back away from each store as he
passes — it as if being assaulted on all sides. He
stumbles against a street post, whirls around, frightened,
stares at it, and then suddenly, almost supplicatingly,
throws his arms around it, buries his face against it. He
starts to sob.
MIKE
Won’t somebody help me? Won’t somebody
please help me?

OUTCOME
Then his sobs subside and he stands there, breathing
deeply. His eyes slowly open. Sweat stands out on his
features. He looks haggard, desperate, close to cracking.
The noise somehow, for no apparent reason, suddenly stops
and there’s a deep, dead, all-pervading silence again.
Mike’s eyes travel up the post, stare up toward the sky. He
squints against the sun.

 

BEAT: 19

SUMMARY:

Mike gives up his quest and begs for release.

BEAT PURPOSES:

Escalation

Mystery

QUEST CHAIN:

2: Find where everyone is

Step 5: Climax

Step 2: Finishing move

 

4: Who’s watching Mike?

Step 4: Paranoia escalates

 

SETUP
MIKE
Who’s watching me? Who’s looking at me?
(screaming)
Who’s looking at me?
He looks down toward the street.

CONFLICT
LONG SHOT THE STREET
He moves to the middle of the road again, still looking up
toward the sky, and then as if suddenly seeing an
adversary,

HERO’S RESPONSE

begins to run.
CLOSE SHOT STORE WINDOW
As Mike backs into it, trying to get inside, reaching for
the door and missing, and then slamming his face against
the front pane.

ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE
CLOSE SHOT MIKE’S FACE AND EYES
Looking from inside the store outside toward him. His eyes
go wide and he starts to scream.
CLOSE SHOT OVER MIKE’S SHOULDER
At a huge eye looking at him.

HERO’S RESPONSE
MED. SHOT MIKE
As he starts to run away from the store again.

ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE

The camera takes in a shot of an optometrist’s sign with a huge eye that Mike had seen.

OUTCOME
TRACK SHOT MIKE
As he runs back toward the post. He grabs it and holds on
tight, then he looks down. His hands have touched a button
and he looks down at it.
TIGHT CLOSE SHOT A BUTTON
With a sign over it: PUSH TO TURN GREEN.
MED. SHOT MIKE
As he looks away toward the light.
CLOSE SHOT THE LIGHT
MED. SHOT
And then suddenly Mike slams the palm of his hand against
the button and punches it over and over again.
MIKE
Somebody help me. Help me. Help me.
CLOSE SHOT THE LIGHT
As if flashes from red to green, from green to red, from
red to green, over and over again.
CLOSE SHOT MIKE’S HAND
As he keeps pushing the button. His voice, sobbing,
screeching, plaintive, frightened.
MIKE
Somebody help me. Please. Please, help me

 

BEAT: 20

SUMMARY:

It is revealed that Mike has been in a military-run isolation experiment.

BEAT PURPOSES:

Answer the mystery

Backstory

QUEST CHAIN:

2: Find where everyone is

Step 6: Denouement

Step 1: Reveal the answer

3: Who is Mike?

Step 7: Reveal the answer

4: Who’s watching Mike?

Step 5: Reveal the answer

 

ESTABLISHING SHOT
DISSOLVE TO:
OUT OF FOCUS ON HIS HAND
CLOSE SHOT IN FOCUS HIS HAND
Pushing a button on an instrument panel. The camera dollies
away until both the back of the panel and Mike’s face are
on a small television screen.

SETUP
LONG ANGLE SHOT
Down a line of officers in a viewing room as they intently
watch the screen. We hear Mike’s voice as it coincides with
a red light that flashes brilliantly on and off over the
viewing screen.

CONFLICT
MIKE’S VOICE
Please. Please help me. Help me.

BEAT PROTAGONIST’S RESPONSE
A general, obviously in command, turns to his aide on his
right.
GENERAL
Clock him!
(and then turning to his
left says to the officer
alongside)
Get him out of there, quick!
Officer two reaches over for a hand mike. Pushes the
button.
OFFICER TWO
Release the subject! On the double!

BEAT ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE
INT. LARGE HANGARLIKE ROOM
In the center of it, illuminated by a couple of spots in an
otherwise dark room, is a small, hermetically sealed metal
box about six by five feet and about five feet high. A
sliding panel is pushed back. Several air force men reach
down and start unstrapping Mike and then carefully lift him
through the hole. A white-clad medical officer begins to
remove electrodes that have been taped to his body at
various points. By this time Mike has stopped speaking. His
eyes are half closed. He breathes deeply and irregularly,
slumps forward in his seat.
CLOSE SHOT HIS RIGHT FIST
Smashed against the instrument panel.
EXTREMELY TIGHT CLOSE UP HIS FIST
And the broken glass covering a clock on the panel which
reads six fifteen.
MED. GROUP SHOT THE AIR FORCE MEN
As they remove him.
AIR FORCE MAN ONE
Be careful. He’s cut his hand on that clock
glass there —
LONG SHOT GENERAL AND STAFF
As they hurriedly approach the scene, their footsteps
ringing hollowly on the concrete floor.

OUTCOME
MEDICAL OFFICER
He’s all right, sir. Delusions of some
sort. I guess that’s it. He’s coming out of
it now.
GENERAL
(nods)
Fine. You get all your data recorded?
MEDICAL OFFICER
Yes, sir. Every bit of it.
GENERAL
(to Officer One who comes up
from behind)
Did you get him clocked?
OFFICER ONE
Yes, sir. Four hundred and eighty four
hours, thirty-six minutes.
GENERAL
Good. I’d like to get a look at all the
data when they’re compiled. I’d like the
reaction chart on him, too.

 

BEAT: 21

SUMMARY:

A general explains the experiment to a report.

BEAT PURPOSES:

Explanation

Backstory

QUEST CHAIN:

2: Find where everyone is

Step 6: Denouement

Step 2: Reveal the backstory

 

SETUP
OFFICER TWO
(sotto)
The press, sir?
He points toward the opposite side of the room.
LONG SHOT THREE OR FOUR MEMBERS OF THE PRESS
As they stand waiting expectantly.
GROUP SHOT GENERAL AND THE OTHERS
GENERAL
On the run, if they don’t mind. I want to
talk to Ferris.
OFFICER TWO
Yes, sir.
He motions toward the press, and beckons them over as the
General, the medical officers, and the others start walking
in the opposite direction toward Mike Ferris, who lies on a
stretcher at the very far and opposite side of the room.
TRACK SHOT WITH THE GENERAL AND THE REPORTERS
As they join him and start to walk across the room toward
Ferris.

CONFLICT

REPORTER ONE
You consider it a success, sir?

BEAT PROTAGONIST’S RESPONSE
GENERAL
Very much so. He’s been alone in that box
for something in the neighborhood of four
hundred and eighty four hours, which is
roughly equivalent to a trip to the moon,
several orbits, and then back.

BEAT ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE
REPORTER ONE
And this then was a simulated trip to the
moon? Is that right, General?

BEAT PROTAGONIST’S RESPONSE
GENERAL
(nods)
For all intent and purpose.

BEAT ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE
REPORTER TWO
What about the wires attached to him?

BEAT PROTAGONIST’S RESPONSE
GENERAL
Electrodes. All of his reactions have been
charted and graphed. Respiration, heart
action, blood pressure.
At this moment they reach a point some ten feet away from
where Mike Ferris lies on a stretcher attended by a couple
of medics. Their voices become low.

BEAT ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE
REPORTER THREE
What happened to him toward the end? Just
before he pushed that button or whatever it
is.

OUTCOME
GENERAL
What happened to him was that he cracked.
We assume delusions of some sort, but I’ll
tell you something, gentlemen — you spend
two and a half weeks all by your lonesome
in a five foot square box without ever
being able to hear a human voice other than
your own… I’ll give you especially good
odds that your imagination would run away
with you too, just as his obviously did.

 

BEAT: 22

SUMMARY:

Mike is debriefed by the general.

BEAT PURPOSES:

State the moral

Backstory

Repercussion

QUEST CHAIN:

2: Find where everyone is

Step 6: Denouement

Step 3: State the moral

 

SETUP
One of the medics looks up, motions the general over. The
general takes a few steps until he’s very close to Mike.

CONFLICT
GENERAL
How do you feel, son?

HERO’S RESPONSE
MIKE
(his voice is weak but he’s
obviously much improved now)
I feel much better, sir. I’m sorry about…
toward the end.

ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE
MEDICAL OFFICER
(close by)
What was it like, Ferris? Where did you
think you were?

HERO’S RESPONSE
MIKE
(looks from one to the
other, wets his lips)
Some place I don’t want to visit again. A
town… a town without people. Without
anybody.

ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE
MEDICAL OFFICER
And you had to get out of that town, didn’t
you?

HERO’S RESPONSE
MIKE
(nods)
I sure did.
(then he looks up toward the
medical officer)
What was the matter with me? Just off my
rocker, huh?

OUTCOME
MEDICAL OFFICER
Just a kind of nightmare, Ferris, that your
mind manufactured for you.
The reporters lean forward straining to overhear this
conversation.
MEDICAL OFFICER
You see, Ferris, we can feed stomachs with
concentrates. We can supply microfilm for
recreation, reading, even movies of a sort.
We can pump oxygen in, waste material out.
The camera now moves around so that it is shooting just
over the heads of all the men assembled and is looking at
the box in the background which is on the periphery of the
light.
MEDICAL OFFICER
But there’s one thing we can’t simulate.
That’s a pretty basic need — man’s hunger
for companionship, the barrier of
loneliness. That’s one we haven’t licked
yet.

 

BEAT: 23

SUMMARY:

We find out Mike’s future, which is to go to the moon alone.

BEAT PURPOSES:

Sunset

QUEST CHAIN:

2: Find where everyone is

Step 6: Denouement

Step 4: Sunset

 

SETUP

At this moment the medics help Ferris to his feet. He
stands there motionless for a moment as if testing newfound
legs, and then he looks out toward the open hangar door at
the night sky.

CONFLICT
MIKE
Next time though… it won’t be just a box
and a hangar, will it?

ANTAGONIST’S RESPONSE
GENERAL
(going to his side and
looking out toward the sky
with him)
No, Mike. Next time you’ll really be alone.

HERO’S RESPONSE
There’s a long, thoughtful silence as Mike takes a few
steps toward the hangar door. He pauses for a moment near
the box. A side has been removed so that he’s staring
directly into the control panel where the broken clock can
be seen still reading six fifteen.
CLOSE SHOT MIKE
As he reacts.
CLOSE SHOT COCKPIT
As the camera pans over the broken clock, a microphone
which hangs by the cord, a small microfilm apparatus, et
cetera.

OUTCOME
MED. CLOSE SHOT MIKE
As he looks away and then continues to walk over to the
hangar door. He slowly looks up toward the sky and the
camera sweeps up for a long shot of the moon hanging bright
and lustrous in the sky.
MIKE
(grins thoughtfully, stares
up toward the silver orb,
and then quietly)
Don’t go away up there. Next time… next
time it won’t be a nightmare or a dream.
Next time it’ll be real. So don’t go
away… We’ll be there in a little while.
Then he starts to walk out in the night followed by the
others. The camera begins a slow pan back into the room
until it is shooting on the box, squatting empty and
impassive in the empty room.
BEAT: 24

SUMMARY:

Narrator gives an epilogue speech.

BEAT PURPOSES:

Epilogue

Narrator’s closing speech

QUEST CHAIN:

2: Find where everyone is

Step 6: Denouement

Step 1: Narrator’s epilogue

 

SETUP

NARRATOR’S VOICE
The barrier of loneliness. The palpable,
desperate need of the human animal to be
with his fellow man.

CONFLICT
LAP DISSOLVE TO:
NIGHT SKY
The moon and the stars.

NARRATOR’S VOICE
Up there… up there is the vastness of
space, in the void that is sky… up there
is an enemy known as isolation. It sits
there in the stars waiting… waiting with
the patience of eons… forever waiting…

OUTCOME
in the Twilight Zone.
FADE TO BLACK:
THE END

If you liked this post, you may like these:

Plot break downs

Formula Plot Tempates

Tips on being a writer

 


Plot Breakdown: Back to the Future

back_to_the_future

This is a breakdown of the plot to Back To The Future. It divides the plot into 38 beats and the time they occur, rounded to the nearest minute. The beats are color-coded to show which quest chain is active at that time, and the beats are broken down into 6 sub-beats. Instances of foreshadowing are mapped to the beat they influence and are color coded according to their purpose.

Click the picture below to enlarge the image. Click here to download an Excel spreadsheet of the plot breakdown.

Back to the future Plot Picture

 

 

If you liked this post, you may like these: 

Formula Plot Tempates

Tips on being a writer


8 simple formula plot templates


ACTION STORY TEMPLATE

ACT 1

SEGMENT 1

The story begins by introducing the protagonist in a way that reveals his defining characteristics, strengths, weaknesses, life circumstances, motives, and goals. SEGMENT 1 also establishes the setting and tone.

SEGMENT 2

Something happens to the protagonist that is out of the ordinary (for the protagonist, not for you). The event should be as apocalyptic as possible. This event throws the protagonist out of his comfort zone. The more disastrous it is for the protagonist the higher the stakes are. The higher the stakes are the more interesting the story will be.

SEGMENT 3

The protagonist weighs his options. He decides he can not ignore the event that has thrown his life off track. There is either too much at stake or the event has irrevocably closed the door on his previous life until he confronts the issue.

ACT 2

SEGMENT 4

The protagonist makes a plan of action to address the source of the conflict. The event that threw him off course has given him 1 clue as to where to start finding answers or he knows the first obstacle standing between him and the resolution of his conflict.

The protagonist executes his plan and succeeds, closing the door on the antagonist’s original plan. Not only does the antagonist not achieve his goal he was hoping for, but the exact opposite of what he intended happened and the door he was trying to go through is now closed. The protagonist learns more about the antagonist, himself and the antagonist’s motives/goals. Based on this new information the protagonist makes a new plan to get closer to the antagonist.

SEGMENT 5

The protagonist, enabled by his previous success, sets in motion the second part of his plan to accomplish his goal.

SEGMENT 6

The antagonist has to adapt to the new circumstances created by the protagonist’s success and devises a new plan.

SEGMENT 7

The protagonist executes his new plan and fails. Not only does he not achieve the goal he was hoping for, but the exact opposite of what he intended happened.  The door he was trying to go through is now closed.

SEGMENT 8

Despite the protagonist’s failure he has learned something new about the antagonist. He uses that information to create a new plan to approach the conflict from a different angle.

SEGMENT 9

The protagonist executes his new plan and succeeds.

Note: You can repeat SEGMENTS 4-9 as many times as logically needed to fully develop the characters and the conflict.

Also

There’s no set rule for how early or how late you should reveal the antagonist. It just needs to be logical and provide maximum tension.

SEGMENT 10

The protagonist’s success places him in a position to confront the antagonist directly, which he does. This is the Battle of the Bulge. The protagonist has made it to/into the gates of the antagonist’s lair and must directly battle all of the antagonist’s signature strengths with his own signature strengths.

SEGMENT 11

The antagonist has the protagonist cornered. The protagonist is at his weakest point and all hope is lost. The antagonist is one step away from accomplishing all of his goals and defeating the protagonist.

SEGMENT 12

The protagonist uses his signature strength and attacks the antagonist’s signature weakness to defeat him.

ACT 3

SEGMENT 13

Having defeated the antagonist the protagonist finally takes possession of the object of his quest.

SEGMENT 14

After the protagonist takes possession of the object of his quest he must do what he planned to do with it.

SEGMENT 15

The protagonist, having accomplished all of his goals must choose what to do next or with the rest of his life.

SEGMENT 16

The denouement tells what lies in store for the protagonist, any supporting characters or the world in general.

A VERY COMMON SITCOM TEMPLATE: THE TRAGIC OPPORTUNITY

SEGMENT 1

A sitcom episode does not need to begin by introducing the protagonist at length since his character has already been established in previous episodes. However, the first segment of an episode should begin by revealing the protagonist’s primary motive/goal for that particular episode. In a sitcom Segments 1 and 2 can be combined often within a single sentence of dialogue.

SEGMENT 2

The protagonist finds (or is presented with) an unusual (for him, not for the audience) opportunity to attain whatever it is he values (usually money, fame, sex, love, freedom, leisure, etc.).

SEGMENT 3

The protagonist pursues the opportunity and becomes involved with it.

SEGMENT 4

The opportunity turns south. Not only does it not help the protagonist achieve his goal, but it actually prevents him from achieving it and results in him attaining the thing he was trying to avoid.

SEGMENT 5

The protagonist tries to free himself of the situation he’s gotten himself into but fails.

SEGMENT 6

The opportunity, being faulty, ends up destroying itself and spitting the protagonist either right back where he started, farther behind, or miraculously ahead in some unexpected way.

SEGMENT 7

The protagonist learns a valuable lesson.

SEGMENT 8

In the final scene it is explained how the resolution of the conflict will affect the character’s life in the future.

THE SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY TEMPLATE

SEGMENT 1

Introduce the detective. Arthur Conan Doyle usually just showed Sherlock Holmes in his home office and said, “This is Sherlock Holmes. He’s a genius detective.” Just to prove the point he would sometimes have Sherlock Holmes make genius deductions about his sidekick based on his appearance.

SEGMENT 2

Introduce the harbinger. Someone walks through the door and tells the detective they have a case they need solved. Then the detective agrees to hear the case. If you want to rub in what a genius the detective is then you can have him make deductions about the harbinger based on their appearance.

SEGMENT 3

The harbinger explains the case as they understand it. They leave out the critical details necessary to solve the plot. However, they give the detective all the clues he needs to solve the case. These clues are laid out in plain sight, but they’re presented along side heaps of superfluous details so that it’s impossible for the reader to guess which details are the true clues.

Note:

If the crime was murder then the harbinger must be someone who has a close connection with the murder victim, and the harbinger will tell the victim’s story. If the crime was theft, blackmail or manipulation then the harbinger can be the victim, and then they will tell the story of their own victimization.

The harbinger will relate their story to the detective in this general order:

  • Give a general description of all the characters involved in the crime. The harbinger explains who the characters are, where they came from, what they do, what their greatest hopes and fears are (to establish their motives). For example: “My father was a gold hunter in Australia, and he retired in England with his partner who was a bastard.”
  • The harbinger relates the significant events that happened to the victim leading up to the day of their victimization that set the stage for the crime committed against them. For example: My father started receiving strange letters that freaked him out.”
  • Next the harbinger relates the specific details of the crime as they happened on the day of the crime. This part reads like a police report. (Studying how to actually write a real police report will help you write detective fiction.) For example: “My father was last seen by the lake arguing with his business partner’s son.”

SEGMENT 4

The detective identifies the vital clues in the harbinger’s story and asks the harbinger to elaborate on them.

SEGMENT 5

The detective leaves his office and finds the proof necessary to validate his theory.

SEGMENT 6

The detective catches the antagonist and explains how he solved the mystery.

NOTE

The key to plotting a mystery is to understand that a mystery story is really three stories: The story of how/why the antagonist committed his crime, the story of how/why the crime affected the harbinger and the story of how/why the detective solved the case. The easiest way to weave these together is to write them in this order and then splice them together in the format explained above.

So the first thing you need to do is to write a dark crime story starring the antagonist, which you do like this:

SEGMENT 1

Introduce the antagonist.

SEGMENT 2

The antagonist has an opportunity to attain or defend what he wants most in life (usually a lot of money or a lover)…at the expense of someone else.

Segment 3

The antagonist finds a way to attain/defend what he wants in a way that nobody else can trace the crime back to him.

Segment 4

The antagonist commits the crime but unknowingly leaves one or more vital clues that can trace the crime back to him.

Segment 5

The antagonist goes on about his life hiding his secret.

Once you’ve written this relatively simple, strait-forward crime story then creating a mystery out of it is just a matter or plugging the details into the detective formula.

FABLE TEMPLATE

SEGMENT 1

The story begins by introducing the protagonist in a way that reveals his defining characteristics, strengths, weaknesses, life circumstances, motives, and goals. SEGMENT 1 also reveals the setting and tone.

SEGMENT 2

The antagonist appears and poses a moral quandary to the protagonist.

SEGMENT 3

The protagonist chooses a course of action he believes is most desirable based on his values.

SEGMENT 4

Protagonist executes his decision, and the antagonist reacts accordingly.

SEGMENT 5

If the protagonist chose wisely it has positive consequences for him and negative consequences for the antagonist. If the protagonist chose unwisely it has negative consequences for him and positive consequences for the antagonist.

SEGMENT 6

The lesson to be learned from the protagonist’s decision is explained.

GROUP JOURNEY TEMPLATE (FOR CHILDREN’S STORIES)

SEGMENT 1

Introduce the protagonist, describe the protagonist, explain the protagonist’s back story.

SEGMENT 2

Something terrible happens to the protagonist, and he has to embark on a journey to get something that will fix the problem. 

SEGMENT 3

The protagonist sets out on his journey and runs into his travel companions who each have personalities, values and/or skills relevant to the quest. Explain each supporting characters’ back story and their incentive to join the protagonist. 

SEGMENT 4

Explain the first obstacle the characters must surmount to resolve their conflict. The characters must draw on their combined resources (mental and physical) to overcome the obstacle.

SEGMENT 5

Explain the second obstacle the characters must surmount to resolve their conflict. This one must be more difficult than the first, and the characters must overcome it or work around it.

Note: You can have as many obstacles as are logical, but they must keep getting progressively more difficult.

SEGMENT 6

After surmounting all the obstacles between the characters and their goal they (or just the protagonist) face the antagonist head on. Describe the antagonist, Explain the antagonist’s back story. Explain the antagonist’s motivation to oppose the protagonist. The protagonist (possibly aided by his/her friends) defeat the physically superior antagonist by outwitting him/her.

SEGMENT 7

Denouement

THE SEINFELD/SNATCH TEMPLATE

This template uses 4 main characters, but the template is easily adjustable to use more or less main characters.

SEGMENT 1

Introduce all 4 characters in one location. “Seinfeld” uses a diner. “Friends” uses a cafe. “The IT Crowd” uses a work office. “The Big Bang Theory” uses communal living space. “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” uses an Irish pub. You get the idea.

In the introduction segment each character expresses some goal they want to achieve. Reverse engineer what goal each character would most likely want to accomplish based on their distinctive personality. Prime time television leans towards using petty, idiosyncratic, common, day-to-day goals like trying to get a bowl of soup from a mean chef. Or you can go the “Snatch” route and have them trying to get something extraordinary…like a gigantic diamond.

SEGMENT 2

The characters go their seperate ways, and each of them either encounters a problem that prevents them from achieving their goal or an opportunity opens up that allows them the chance to attain their goal given that they complete a task relevant to the goal.

SEGMENT 3

Each character does something that commits them to accepting the challenge before them. They could simply declare that they’re going to achieve their goal like making a vow to get laid on prom night or they can do something they can’t back out of like making a deal with a mobster.

SEGMENT 4

Each character steps up to the plate and takes their first swing at their problem. They go on the date. They go to the job interview. They steal the beer. They steal the diamond. Remember that they engage their challenge in a way that reflects their distinctive personalities and values.

SEGMENT 5

Up until this point it doesn’t matter if each character’s story line intersects or affects any other characters’ story line. Whether or not that happens up to this point just depends on what moves your particular story along. Having reached this point though, the story lines have to start weaving together. Here’s one way to do that:

Character #1 will succeed or fail at his goal as is typical for his character. His success or failure will directly influence the situation Character #2 is in when he takes his final stab at achieving his goal. Character #2’s success or failure will then affect character #3, and character #3’s success or failure will affect character #4. This is a simple domino progression that looks simple in outline form, but when your story is fully fleshed out it’ll look genius.

The big question is how each character’s story line affects the next character’s. You can psych yourself out by trying to preplan this, but you don’t need to. Simply get each character to the second to last step of their journey and then reverse engineer a way to connect the dots from there. Your characters may end up miles apart with no obvious way to connect them, but this just means you’re going to have to do something absurd and nonsensical to connect them. This may seem like a cheap deus ex machina trick when you look at your outline, but when your story is fully fleshed out your reader will be amazed at how creatively you managed to connect 4 seemingly unrelated events.

SEGMENT 6

After each character succeeds or fails they end up back where they first met in SEGMENT 1 and lick their wounds and/or celebrate their victory.

THE “HERO YOU WANT TO BE” TEMPLATE

Answer the following questions and you’ll have written a complete story. Your outline will “tell” what happens. Based on that outline write a story that “shows” what happens.

ACT 1

Chapter 1. Name your 3 favorite characters from your favorite books or movies. Note: They don’t have to be from your favorite stories. They just have to be your favorite characters. Now combine yourself and those characters into one person. That’s who your protagonist is.

Next, name your three favorite stories. Now combine the setting/environment in those 3 movies into one place.  That’s where the protagonist lives. Write a short narrative about what that protagonist’s daily routine is like. Have him engage a conflict that is typical of his life, and have his succeed or fail as would be typical for that character.

Chapter 2. What is the one thing you want most in the universe? Who/what is the most likely agent in the the story setting you just created to have the power and the motive to take that away from you?  What is the most logical obstacle that would prevent you from stopping this agent of loss from taking away the most valuable thing in the universe from you? That agent takes your thing away and you fail to stop it from happening.

Chapter 3. What’s the first thing that would go through your mind after the traumatic loss? How do you react to the loss?

ACT 2

Chapter 4. What would it take to get your very important thing back? What would be first logical thing you would do to get back your very important thing given the strengths/weaknesses of your protagonist and the specific nature of the agent that took it?

Chapter 5. What’s the most logical reason why that wouldn’t work? Because it didn’t work, and that’s why. So where does that leave you now?

Chapter 6. What would be the most logical way for you to get your very important thing back from the agent of loss now? You do that, and it almost doesn’t work, but you do it a little more and it finally works perfectly. (Or fails miserably if you want your story to be a tragedy.)

Act 3

Chapter 7. What’s the first thing you would do after getting your very important thing back?

Chapter 8. And what would that accomplish? What’s the biggest effect that would have on your life and/or the world?

Chapter 9. Once that happens what does the future hold for your character and/or the characters left behind in the story environment you created?

 THE “IT’S LIKE THE AUTHOR UNDERSTANDS ME” TEMPLATE

Answer the following questions and you’ll have written a complete story. Then go back and change enough details to hide the characters’ true identities and make the story flow. Remember, critics say good art reflects life, and good artists say the key to creativity is hiding your sources. Mark Twain said, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

Act 1

Chapter 1. Who are you? What is your day to day life like?

Chapter 2. What was the biggest personal problem or tragedy you had to overcome in your life?

Act 2

Chapter 3. How did you figure out the solution you ultimately used to solve (or at least cope with) the problem?

Chapter 4. What steps did you take to solve/cope with the problem.

Chapter 5. How did the final events that brought closure to the issue play out?

Act 3

Chapter 6. How did the initial recovery period after that go? What was it like adjusting to life after having gone through what you went through?

Chapter 7. Where are you now? What are doing with yourself these days? How is life going for you? Have the old wounds healed?

Chapter 8. What are your plans for the future, or are you just living for the moment right now?

If you liked this post you may like these:


How to write a story

For years now I’ve been interested in writing stories. The only problem is I didn’t know how to write them. So for years now I’ve been studying the art of story writing. I’ve read dozens of “how t”o books and analyzed hundreds of movies. However, all the research I’ve done has felt too vague and haphazard. So I’ve been trying to condense everything I’ve learned into one consice, step-by-step instruction manual. I haven’t finished writing that manual, but I’ve finished a very useful rough draft that I’d like to share with any other writing enthusiests out there. Some of this is probably plagarized, but I’ve read so many books and never keep bibliographies that I couldn’t site the sources if I want to. So I’m not claiming this is all original, and I’m not making any money off of it. So it doesn’t matter. At any rate, anything said in this guide you could probably find in 15 different guides anyway. Well, without further ado, here’s what I’ve got so far.

PICKING A STORY

The first step to writing a story is to decide what you’re going to write about. The difficulty in this isn’t trying to think of enough ideas. The difficulty is narrowing down one good idea out of an infinite number of possible ideas. This pool becomes smaller and more manageable when you take the position that there are only limited number of topics you should write about.

So what should you write about? To answer this question you need to take a step back and look at life in its entirety from a philosophical position. Human life is infinitely valuable. Human life is finitely short. Humans exist for a purpose. It’s infinitely important to fulfill that purpose in the limited amount of time we have here. If we accept these assumptions then we can immediately divide all writing into two groups: the kind that helps people achieve their potential (either directly or indirectly) and the kind that distracts/misleads people from fulfilling their potential.

Writing something that distracts/misleads people, no matter how eloquent, technically proficient, or entertaining it may be, defeats the purpose of existing in the first place. Thus, it defeats the purpose of writing. In other words, it’s a waste of time (infinitely valuable time). You can argue this point, but this writing guide will assume this is true.

So in order to decide what you should write you only need to ask yourself what the most important insight into life you have is. This approach immediately serves three purposes. It validates your work. It helps people fulfill their potential. It becomes more relevant and meaningful than all the vacuous entertainment out there (which includes 99% of the literature written). It gives you a framework with which to wrap your story around, which immediately starts taking the guess work out of writing your story. Your protagonist, antagonist, setting, tone, conflict, and plot will be defined by the message of the story.

A quick note before going on. Just because your story is meaningful it doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, the more important your message is, the more important it is that your story is entertaining. That way more people will be attracted to it and learn what insight you have to offer them.

Since we’ve established that your story must reflect/support your message we don’t even need to discuss tone or setting other than to mention that they have to logically reflect/support the message of the story.

What’s left is plot and character. This becomes even more simplified when you understand that the protagonist is determined by the message, and the plot is determined by the protagonist. Actually, your plot is the protagonist. Every plot point revolves around the protagonist’s journey to illuminate the message of your story. So when you’re planning your story, all you have to worry about is getting the protagonist from point A to point B. If you can do that everything else will fall in place.

This is even further simplified when you realize that the 1st and 3rd acts of any good story are always the same.

ACT 1

Act 1 always begins with a scene that introduces the protagonist and tells us the defining characteristics of his personality type, values, (signature) strengths/weaknesses, and above all, motivation. The protagonist’s personality type should be as true to real life as possible.

Almost all of the work of fleshing out the character’s personality type has already been done. Psychologists have identified 16 personality types that reflect every kind of person in the world (or close enough) using the Myers-Briggs personality inventory. Go to a site like http://www.personalitypage.com/high-level.html and pick a personality for your character. Then simply plagiarize those character traits and your readers will be amazed at how realistic your characters are.

Again, the values, strengths, weaknesses, and motivation will all support his role in illuminating the message of your story.

Once you’ve established who the protagonist is, where he’s at in life, and where he’s going in life the next thing you need to do is knock him off course. Something dramatic (the more dramatic and entertaining the better) happens to him that upsets the course of his life. At this point he needs to make a decision whether or not to take action to remedy this situation. In order for the character to make the decision and the reader to understand the decision you have to establish the stakes. What does the protagonist have to gain/lose by ignoring the problem or addressing it. The higher these stakes the more dramatic and thus the more entertaining the conflict will be. This is why so many are written so that if the character doesn’t risk everything he’ll die, or his loved one/s will die, or the world will be destroyed, or even the entire galaxy or universe. So there should only be one logical course of action. The protagonist must address the conflict. If he could just as well stay home then the reader could just as well put down the book.

Act 1 ends with the protagonist making his decision effectively stepping through a door and past the point of no return. Ultimately, that’s all there is to Act 1. You can have the protagonist waffle in his decision (creating tension) until something happens that forces him to decide to cross the point of no return.

You’re going to want to put other embellishments into Act 1, but now is not the time in the writing process to decide what that’s going to consist of. You need to finish building the entire skeleton of the protagonist’s plot first. Then, once that’s finished you can go back and wrap other characters and events around it. But until you’ve finished the protagonist’s plot skeleton you won’t know where those supporting characters and subplots are going to fit into the whole scheme of things.

ACT 3

That’s right. We’re skipping Act 2 for now and going straight to Act 3. There are two reasons for this. First, Act 3 is the same in every good story. So we can cover that right away and eliminate another 1/3 of your fear of managing a story. More importantly though, in the same way establishing the message of your story gave you a context for your story to fit into, finishing the story gives you context for Act 2 to fit into. This prevents you from getting halfway through the story and wondering where to go next. This way you know where to go next. And because you know where everything is going you can design everything to tie together efficiently without having to rewrite massive chunks of your story.

Act 3 begins with the climax of the story. This is when the protagonist confronts the true source of the conflict and overcomes it. He uses his signature strength to defeat the signature weakness of the antagonist. After that we get a brief glimpse into what the future holds for the protagonist. And without going into distracting details, that’s really all there is to Act 3.

ACT 2

Act 2 is the most difficult part of a story to write. Though, by following the rules stated previously in this guide and not just making it up as you go along Act 2 will be significantly easier to write. Ironically, Act 2 is the longest part of your story but also the least important. You could write a complete story with just Acts 1 and 3. The purpose of Act 2 is just to flesh out your characters, explore the intricacies of your message, build tension and make the story more entertaining.

Like Acts 1 and 3, Act 2 also follows a predictable pattern. Act 1 ended with the protagonist’s life being upset by the antagonist and the protagonist deciding to take action to overcome the conflict that is now present in his life lest he suffer the horrible consequences of inaction.

The protagonist starts off Act 2 at a disadvantage. The antagonist is already strong enough and established enough to be a problem for the protagonist, but more importantly, the antagonist already has a goal and a plan to accomplish that goal. The protagonist needs to figure out what/who the protagonist is and what can be done to stop it/him.

So the first thing the protagonist needs to do is try to get closer to the source of the conflict. He needs to kick ass and take names, and he does. He finds the closest source of the conflict to him (like henchmen) and kicks their ass and takes their names. The reader gets to see the protagonist in action and succeeding. The reader is rooting for the protagonist at this point and celebrating his victory and is intrigued by where the protagonist gets/what the protagonist learns. Seriously. Watch any movie, and this is always what happens.

Once the protagonist gets a leg up on the situation he uses the leverage he’s gained or the information he’s learned to take another step towards getting closer to the source of the conflict. However, now it’s time for the antagonist to score some points. The antagonist reacts to the protagonist’s advancement and deals a blow to him that sets him back. However, the protagonist uses his signature strength to overcome the antagonist’s signature weakness and make up the lost ground and take a little more.

You can repeat this back and forth trade off as many times as is logical for the protagonist to work his way into the antagonist’s lair. The story should progress as such: Act. React. Act. React. Act. React.

Act 2 always ends with the protagonist in the antagonist’s lair and beat down to his lowest point and one strike away from death. Act 3 begins with the hero using his signature strength to escape the clutches of death and deal the fatal blow to the antagonist.

All throughout Act 2, figuring out what the protagonist does and how he gets set back aren’t matters of pure magical, creative genius. These plot twists are mechanical and logical. They all stem from what you’ve established to be your protagonist’s and antagonist’s strengths, weaknesses, values, and motives. They’re also determined by what message you’re trying to illuminate via your story. The more you define these variables before even writing Act 1 the easier it’ll be to write the plot points in Act 2. The more you establish tone and setting the more you’ll narrow down the scope of potential plot points as well.

The key word to remember from beginning to end of your story is, “logical.” When writing Act 2, ask yourself what kind of conflicts your protagonist would logically have to go through to get from point A to point B. And every action along the way must be logical reaction to the previous action.

Likewise, every action (regardless which character is performing the action) must be the result of logical thinking. Everything people do is the result of thoughts they think. One of the big differences between a good story and a bad story is a bad story focuses on the characters’ actions while ignoring the motives in their minds. A good story focuses on the thoughts of the characters, and the action is incidental to those thoughts. By basing the course of your story on the thoughts of the characters will help you make those characters real as well as ensure the sequence of action unfolds logically.

Once you’ve finished this much of the exercise, write a synopsis of your story. This will help you stay focused as you flesh out your story. And there’s a lot of flesh you can throw into your story.

Throughout the course of your story you can always at incidental conflicts that have no impact on the story other than to build suspense. If it’s essential for the protagonist to storm a castle and rescue the princess he can encounter dozens of minor-conflicts between henchmen on his way to the princess. If he’s chasing the antagonist in a car you can throw in policemen and bag ladies he has to avoid. These minor conflicts don’t serve the plot, but they add tension. And these are easiest to add after you’ve established the real plot points in the story.

If you’re writing a play with only one or two characters your story is finished. If you want to add supporting characters to help/hinder the protagonist on his journey from point A to point B they’ll be easiest to integrate coherently if you do it after establishing the skeleton of the protagonist’s journey. Just remember, their presence must be logical. Their actions/reactions must be logical. And you should only use the bare minimum to accomplish your goal. And make sure every character in the story is based on one of the 16 personality types.

Also, the most ridiculous plot twists (even dues ex machina events) become completely logical if they’re foreshadowed.

Every plot point must have consequences. If they can be removed without effecting the story then remove them. Also, each consecutive plot point must have bigger consequences. If the character starts out the story defending his village then he should be defending the entire realm or world by the end by the climax of the story.

When the protagonist gets a set back it’s more of an incidental inconvenience. Remember, the protagonist has a goal that he’s motivated to achieve. When he’s set back it prevents him from accomplishing that goal. He’s stopped dead in his tracks and has to change gears and try to work around that door that just closed. And remember, if the protagonist never gets what he expects then neither will the reader, and the story will never become predictable.

If you liked this post you may like these:


%d bloggers like this: