A New Take on Screenplay Structure

There are many schools of thought on screenplay structure – Robert McKee, Syd Field, and John Truby are just a few that come to mind. Or perhaps you’re more old school classic and bow down to the teachings of Joseph Campbell or his bastardized wanna-be cousin Christopher Vogler.

by The Single Screenwriter

Regardless of what school you follow, they are all full of crap.

All these gurus attempt to provide a framework in which to write compelling stories that resonate with the audience. And we all want a script that resonates with the audience, right?

So it boggles my mind to see all these wizards of structure totally miss the boat on something so painfully obvious.648-1013-A0686


We all know that sex sells, right? And we all try to put at least a bit of it into our scripts to give it that extra oomph.

But until now, sex has been looked on as something separate from script structure, and that is just so wrong. (Clearly these gurus need a woman to set them straight.)

Structure should not only take into account, but also meet the basic needs of, your target market.

Let’s take a movie aimed at 18 to 24 year old males for example. Men of that age think of sex an average of eight times an hour. If you don’t work with this information, you risk having your target market miss a major plot turn because they are briefly distracted by thoughts of the girl three rows down naked.

And we all want a script that resonates with the audience, right?

How do you avoid this? Easy. Control the animal instinct. Open with a hint of sex to reset the male internal sexual fantasy clock, then keep giving it to them again every eight minutes, and they’ll naturally get into the rhythm of your script. This meets their needs and hits them on a psychological level, so every male in the audience will feel deeply in tune with the story.

But every eight minutes? That’s a lot of sex. Especially if your movie is an all male cast and none of the actors have decent cleavage. Relax. It doesn’t have to be actual sex. Remember, you’re hitting them on a deeper, subconscious level, so go with something phallic – guns, explosions, tunnels, pencil sharpeners, linoleum floors (remember, we’re talking men just out of adolescence here, so pretty much anything is phallic at that age.)

Even if you fail on every last structural point touted by the gurus, if you hit them with sex every eight minutes, you’ll have a runaway blockbuster success. I promise. Hell, they’ll line up to watch a five hour movie if you follow this rule.

It gets trickier with a movie aimed at 30somethings. The frequency requirement drops significantly as men mature to only once every 10 minutes, but the threshold of quality for a phallic symbol is much higher. It is no longer enough to have a flash of that over-sized pepper grinder; you actually need character interaction with it. Or a well placed cactus or two, especially if it causes pain to a character, can be both phallic and symbolic of a troubled relationship. (Two birds with one stone. You gotta love that!) Also, don’t forget to appeal to maturing sexual tastes by including things like saran wrap or bacon grease.

Hell, they’ll line up to watch a five hour movie if you follow this rule.

Or forget subtlety altogether and go for out and out in-your-face sex. Why do you think so many movies have at least one scene set in a strip club? Move that touching and powerful classroom student/teacher valentines-day_1100011024-1013intbonding scene to a peeler bar if it falls on that ten minute mark. Same goes for that tear jerking mother/daughter right-of-passage first period scene. What’s that you say? A strip club doesn’t quite work with your story? You’re the writer, damn it. Make it work!

But what if you’re writing a family movie? These rules don’t apply, do they?

Of course they do! But you’ll have to get the low down on how-to from someone at Disney, because they are the undisputed masters in that area.

But what about the female demographic? Don’t we need to take them into account?

No, we really don’t.

It’s not that women aren’t important; it’s just that the task is too great. They’re not ruled by thoughts of sex, so a more complex set of rules is needed to ensure that a movie resonates with the female population. This set of rules must accommodate hormonal changes, cycles and fluctuations of individual women, yet still be universally appealing. And coming up with that makes quantum physics look simple. And that is exactly what all those structure gurus have been trying to do all these years. None have mastered it, but some have come close.

So if you have to write a chick flick, toss a dart at your guru picks and go with it, be it a three act structure, five, or seven hundred and sixty-two. It makes no difference. Inevitably, you’ll still get one in five women leaving the theater just not getting your movie. And it’s not your fault. It’s hormones.

And unfortunately Hollywood scientists are still a few years away from developing the tools that will allow them to manipulate the hormonal cycle of every woman on the planet, so it’s best to stick with writing guy movies for now.

They’re so much easier.

-The Single Screenwriter

I am a phenomenal screenwriter and self-appointed guru on all things.
I am here to spread wisdom to anyone stupid enough to listen to me.

2 thoughts on “A New Take on Screenplay Structure”

  1. Firstly, I consider this blog essay to be really below-par for The Story Department. Even if the surface content is meant to be read as some kind of wry humour. (It’s neither clever nor funny.)

    A sex-less film will never be a blockbuster? … Oh, really? Then how does “The Single Screenwriter” explain the box office returns and plain cultural impacts of, say, Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars (ep 4), and Fellowship of the Ring?? Or is Mr or Ms Single really going to try to push the line that, for instance, camel humps, light sabres, and elven-forged blades are all phallic symbols?

    Sure porn sells. More subtle forms of erotica do too. Sexual tension between characters work as well.

    But the fact that the Harry Potter novels have utterly out-sold any “adult fiction” is an empirical kick in the crown jewels to this essay’s central thesis. Even for a teen or twenty-something male demographic. (Perhaps Mr/Ms Single believes that Optimus Prime oozes alpha masculinity?)

  2. “But what about the female demographic? Don’t we need to take them into account?
    No, we really don’t.”

    Thanks for the education. Before reading these two sentences, I would not have thought it possible for an entire website to blow its credibility in a mere two sentences.

    Thank god Christopher Nolan isn’t going to ruin any more Batman scripts by leaving out the heavy sex scenes, and don’t even get me started on the box office poison called “The Hunger Games”.


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