Joss Whedon on Structure

drawing my plot


The top 10 Writing tips from Joss Whedon are well worth reading.  This one pertains to #2.  “Structure.”

Structure means knowing where you’re going ; making sure you don’t meander about. Some great films have been made by meandering people, like Terrence Malick and Robert Altman, but it’s not as well done today and I don’t recommend it. I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes ? The thrills ? The romance ? Who knows what, and when ? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around : the way you want your audience to feel. Charts, graphs, coloured pens, anything that means you don’t go in blind is useful.

He goes into structure a bit here in the filmmaking tips article, but that isn’t the quote I’m looking for either.  But there’s an interesting tidbit in this interview as well.

.… Maybe this is true of all genre storytelling, but you’re very interested in rules and you like universes with rules. Both of these movies are like that.

Well, yeah. The more you can create a structure by which people live in a fantastical situation and by which they will act, and the more you lay that out for the audience, the more they will feel at home in it. And for me, there’s always going to be two things going on at once. There’s going to be the people trying to manipulate a situation and controlling it from above, and the people who are actually in the trenches. In that sense, “Cabin in the Woods” and “The Avengers” are oddly similar.

Therefore, I’ve got a big roll of paper on my kitchen floor. And a bunch of markers.  I’m doing this read through at a high level, marking down the conflict as I go.  I have more to do. But I love my new beginning, and I am going to have to do separate lines for internal conflict, external conflict, subplots. I want a Joss Whedon course on charting, because I think this could be a really useful method once I get it figured out.

Brett mentioned doing it in Excel.

I’m kinda thinking I can figure out how to do it in Scrivener…..

3 thoughts on “Joss Whedon on Structure

  1. David Farland goes into a lot of detail on this type of charting in Million Dollar Outlines, which I read recently. I found it to be an excellent book on planning and plotting, with some nice characterization ideas as well. I didn’t use everything in there when I was working on my latest outline, but there was definitely enough that I felt it was worth the price.

    • Thanks for the recommendation. I will look into it! So far, I am sort of learning my own way. I’ve read a lot of different books. My problem is that I need a way that works with my brain. :/

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