7 Screenwriting Paradigms

Dave Herman has written a useful article about some of the most commonly used screenwriting paradigms (e.g. Blake Snyder’s 15 beats, three act structure) and how they can both help and hinder writers. Dave writes:

In a recent episode of the On The Page screenwriting podcast, screenwriter Irving Belateche related how he changed his attitude to what he calls ‘screenwriting paradigms’ and the dramatic improvement this had on his writing. The essence of his story seems to me to encapsulate everything that’s good and bad about screenwriting templates: He discovered that he could write much more freely and creatively if he only started checking for plot points, sequence breaks, act breaks and the like, afterhe’d finished writing the story. He found that too much ‘thinking about the writing’ too soon, detracted from his ability to create.

I don’t believe there are any rules about whether it’s better to check for plot points before, during or after writing an outline or even a first draft. But I think it’s wise to be aware of the essential difference between a creative and an analytical mindset.

Creation Versus Analysis 

Creative work is putting disparate things together to produce something new, while analytical work is taking something apart to identify it’s components. The two are complimentary aspects of screenwriting, but they’re fundamentally different. I like to move back and forth from creative to analytical modes, but trying to do both at the same time usually spells trouble. In other words, if I’m writing a scene and I’m trying to force it to have a particular function in the story, I remove myself from the flow of imaginative writing. On the other hand, it can be helpful going into a scene knowing in advance that this is where, say, the main character is going to make a really stupid decision that leads to a specific event further on in the story.

The various well-known screenwriting paradigms all defer at some level to the three-act structure paradigm, but they operate at different levels of abstractness or specificity and none of them is The Truth About How To Write A Screenplay. Knowing which model is appropriate to the current stage of a project, can make the difference between finding inspiration and encouragement or feeling discouraged and inadequate.

Here are some of the more famous models, and what I personally find useful (and dangerous) about them.

Read more here.

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