David Bishop set us an exercise this week that is apparently completed by all BBC script editors…the Hoover Dam Exercise
We spent around 50 minutes watching a documentary about the Hoover Dam with actors in all the main roles. David asked us to take notes and look for stories. He then split us into groups of three and our task was to choose one of the stories and map out a structure in five acts.
If you are writing novels, you mainly work alone. But if your interest lies in writing for TV, film or radio then the chances are that you have to work collaboratively. We discussed group exercises and David briefly shared his experience of having to work in a group for nine months, convinced that they had chosen the wrong story to work with. It was also useful to have a stab at structure and turning points. I have a tendency to over think and over analyse so I love the immediacy of trying things out in the classroom environment. I simply don’t have the time to over complicate things and always end up with something on paper that I can work with at a later stage if I want to flesh something out.
Here is the five act structure as it was presented to us for those of you who are interested. There is a good book, The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Volger which has some pretty good examples of how movies use acts and structure including Pulp Fiction and Star Wars.
Five Act Structure
1. Set up and call to action [incl. inciting incident] – inciting incident followed by reaction – Turning Point (TP)
2. Things go well – initial objectives achieved – initial objective achieved but fresh twist (TP)
3. Things go wrong, forces of antagonism gather strength – new objective pursued but it’s much harder now (TP)
4. Things go badly wrong, precipitating crisis and final confrontation – pursuing new objective but antagonism forces all-in moment (TP)
5. Final battle with antagonist. Matters resolve – for good or ill
- Inciting incident sends protagonist on internal journey leading to Obligatory Scene
- Sometimes Act 2 is the refusal of the call before another TP leads to Act 3
- Often Act 4 is a realisation – protagonist is own worst enemy
- Crisis or Worst Point at end of Act 4 is a moment of choice – confront their flaw, overcome it and reap the reward; or take the easy path and return to their old life
- Turning Points have to affect your protagonist – they expect on thing, get another
- Protagonist mustn’t be passive; they should influence events
- If central character doesn’t change [e.g. Bond] then they should induce change in others [David Bishop’s Bond example is that James is soooo good in bed, evil women stop trying to kill him and aid him instead. This from the man who described Act 4 as ‘one legged man loses other leg and then…chlamydia’]
I also want to say that the documentary which was part of the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World, was excellent. I have always wondered how the hell they built the Hoover Dam. Really an amazing achievement.