Narrative for Movies and Television (Seminar Outline)

As promised to the attendees, here is the outline for the seminar I presented to the Director’s Guild of Canada last Sunday in Vancouver.

It was a spectacular session with a packed house of really eager creative industry people, looking for ways to break through creative block, inject life into their stories, and find and fix elusive narrative problems.

Judging by the response, they found what they were looking for.

Thanks again to the DGC for their invitation, to Roy Hayter who initiated the concept and sheparded it through, and to Barbara Ann Schoemaker (BA) who anticipated and handled every detail to not only make the seminar a huge success, but to make my experience both incredible and indelibly memorable.  Good people, one and all!

So, here’s the seminar outline for reference, which of course does not contain any of the graphics, animations, numerous video clips or my rambling commentary.

Narrative for Movies & Television Seminar

Fix it in the Script – NOT in Post!



            Seminar Overview

                        Morning Session

                                    Identify common serious narrative flaws

                                    Techniques to repair flawed narratives

                        Afternoon Session

                                    Story Development Techniques

                                    Application of Structure to the Creative Process

What is Narrative?

            Origin of Narrative

            Generations of Storytellers

            Trial And Error

            Conventions of Storytelling

            Patterns of Dramatics

            The Concept of Narrative

Models of Narrative

            Aristotle and the 3 Act structure

            Jung and the collective unconscious

            Campbell and the Hero’s Journey

            Each had exceptions; Each was a formula

            Each showed only a glimpse of the elusive structure

A New Model of Narrative

            Structure is Non-Linear

            The Story Mind


            “You and I are both alike”

What’s Happening!!!

            Narrative is happening

            These are the kinds of dramatic elements that make up narrative.

            If a narrative doesn’t have all the important elements, it will fail

            Let’s learn how to recognize and repair flawed narrative elements…

Narrative Problems with Characters

            The most common narrative missteps regarding characters, and how to fix them.

The Main Characterv& Influence Character

            The passionate core of your story’s message

Main & Influence Characters

            So who ARE these guys?

            Main Character represents a paradigm of belief.

            Influence Character represents an opposing view.

            Between them is your story’s passionate argument.

            The result of this argument is your story’s message.

To Kill A Mockingbird

            4 Principal Characters

                        Main Character

                                    First Person Experience for Audience

                        Influence Character

                                    An alternative life view


                                    Prime mover of the effort to achieve the goal


                                    Diametrically opposed to Protagonist achieving the goal

Head Line & Heart Line

Heroes and Villains

            The Hero


                        Main Character

                        Central Character

                        Good Guy

            The Villain


                        Influence Character

                        Second Most Central Character

                        Bad Guy

            Hero and Villain Swap




                        Head line AND heart line between same characters

                        Power of storytelling masks gaps in arguments

                        Arguments are incomplete

                        Conclusions not supported

            The Dramatic Triangle

                        Can fully separate as in To Kill A Mockingbird

                        Can hinge on one character and split the lines

                        Most common variation (the love interest)

                        Other variations

The Heart Line

            Main Character Resolve

                        The Main Character doesn’t have to change to grow

                        He or she can grow in their resolve

            The influence character pressure the MC to change

                        Key establishing points to reference later.

            Change Characters

                        Establish a belief system

                        Establish illustrations of belief

                        Announce resolve

                        Verify resolve

            Steadfast Characters

                        Establish belief system

                        Establish illustrations of belief

                        Announce resolve

                        Verify resolve

            One Must Change

                        Main or Influence will convince the other to change

                        Change occurs at character climax

                        Success in logistic goal hinges on who changes

                        Message determined by results of change

            A Changing Influence Character

Character Arc

            Character Arc 101

                        The Steady Freddy

                        The Griever

                        The Weaver

                        The Waffler

                        The Exception Maker

                        The Backslider

                        How Change Happens

The Head Line


                        Origins of Archetypes

                        Each of us has the same complement of basic traits

                        We use them to solve our personal problems

                        When we join in a group, we quickly self-organize

                        As specialists, the group gains depth and focus

            The 8 Archetypes

















            External / Internal

















            Star Wars Archetypes


                                    Luke Skywalker


                                    The Empire


                                    Princess Leia




                                    Obi Wan Kenobi


                                    Darth Vader


                                    R2D2 & C3PO


                                    Han Solo

            Oz Archetypes




                        Wicked Witch




                        Tin Man









            Oz vs. Star Wars

                        Leia- Reason



                        Scarecrow- Reason



            Oz vs. Star Wars

                        Chewbacca- Emotion



                        Tin Man- Emotion



            Oz Element Swap

                        Scarecrow (Reason?)



                        Tin Man (Emotion?)



            Complex Characters & Relationships

                        Complex Characters

                                    Structural Relationships

                                    Character Relationships

                        Four-Dimensional Characters





            Summing Up Characters

                        Head Line characters involved in the goal

                        Heart Line characters involved in the message

                        Head Line determines if your story will make sense

                        Heart Line determines if your story will have meaning




Narrative Problems with Plot

What Is Plot?

Definitions of Plot

What happens in a story

Storytelling vs. Story Structure

The order of story-affecting events

Exposition Order vs. Narrative Order (Flashbacks)

Any sequential narrative elements

Characters, theme, and Genre

The logistics of the narrative

Plot Points (Goal, etc.)

Plot Progression (Acts, etc.)

Plot Points


The Single Goal

The Collective Goal

The Hidden Goal

Clearly Define!


What happens if the goal fails

What already exists that remains if goal fails

Situation or Condition

Specific or General, but clearly defined


Conditions that must be met for goal to be achieved

Shopping List Requirements

Sequential Requirements



Indicators the Consequence is closing in

Forewarnings of Degree

Forewarnings of Steps

Critical Mass clearly stated

Four Modifiers





Additional Plot Points




Plot Progression

Hero’s Journey

It works! (But is only one path)

It is a formula for a particular kind of story

Many different formulas

Seeking form without formula

Wheels Within Wheels






Dramatica Matrix

Dramatica Matrix

Four Signposts – IC

Influence Character Signposts

Signposts & Journeys

Four Throughlines

Main Character (I)

Influence Character (You)

Passionate Story (We)

Logistic Story (They)

Four Throughlines

Act Structure

Act Structure




Narrative Problems with Theme

What Is Theme?

Aspects of Theme




Lajos Egri


Greed leads to self-destruction

Great for classifying a story’s message

Lousy as a starting point for writing

Fraught with narrative problems

Thematic Conflict

Greed leads to self-destruction


Greed vs. Generosity

Scenes featuring Greed, Scenes featuring Generosity

Thematic Argument

Leads to…

Relative value – levels of degree

Once per act

Never compare directly

Thematic Conclusion

Total of all relative values

Author’s Confirmation

Less of two evils

Greater of two goods


Narrative Problems with Genre

What Is Genre?

Genre and Structure

Genre is most broad stroke structural aspect

Genre structure sets perspective for story

Positions your audience in their experience

Attaches point of view to structural elements

Dramatica Chart

Dramatica Chart

Dramatica Chart

Classes – Internal/External


Points of View

Main Character (I)

Influence Character (You)

Subjective Story (We)

Objective Story (They)

Situation in 4 Domains

Narrative Problems with Story Dynamics

The 8 Essential Questions

Main Character Resolve

Change or Steadfast?

Shift one’s viewpoint or stay the course

Leap of Faith or Creep of Faith

Influence character will do the opposite

Main Character Resolve

Main Character Growth

Start or Stop?

Hole in Heart / Chip on Shoulder

Grow into something or out of something

Waiting for something to start or stop

Main Character Growth

Main Character Approach

Do-er or Be-er?

Preference, not an absolute

Go with the flow

Fish out of water

Main Character Approach

MC Problem Solving Technique

Linear or Holistic?

Basic level below conscious consideration

Don’t shift techniques!

Appropriate behavior

Main Character Problem Solving

Story Limit

Time Lock or Action Lock?

State it when the quest begins.

Don’t violate the lock!

Can have smaller locks within overall story.

Story Limit

Story Driver

Action Drive or Decision Driven

Causal Relationship

Independent of amount of action or decision

Book Ends

Story Driver

Story Outcome

Was the goal achieved or not?

Independent of emotional conclusion

Independent of outcome for protagonist

Can have degrees of accomplishment

Story Judgment

Is the mood of the story better or worse?

Independent of success or failure

Transmitted particularly through Main Character

Can have degrees of positive or negative flavor

Story Outcome and Judgment

Morning Session Wrap Up



Afternoon Session

Story Development Techniques


Story Structure vs. Storytelling

Storytelling vs. Story Structure

The Creative Process and Narrative Structure

Muse vs. Structure

People think in narrative but think about topics

Not all topic concepts can fit in the same narrative

Starting with structure hobbles the Muse

The Master Storyteller Method

4 Stages of Story Development

Story World

Story Line

Story Points

Story Form

Building Your Story World

Story World Construction Steps

What’s the Big Idea?

Create a Log Line

Asking Questions

A Thumbnail Sketch

The Creativity Two-Step Demo

Creativity Two-Step Technique

Take any sentence in your story development

Ask questions like an audience might

Let your Muse go and provide multiple answers

Ask questions about each answer

Rinse and repeat

Character Tips

Creating Characters from a Log Line

Character Swap Meet

Character Personal Goals

Writing from a Character’s Point of View

Have Characters Write Their Own Life Stories

More Character Tips

Characters vs. Players

“Things” as Characters

Group Characters

The Attributes of Age, Gender

Character Sub-Plots

Plot Tips

Use Signposts and Journeys as a guide

Outline of each of the four throughlines

Look for gaps and missteps, fill and fix

What happens in Act 2?

Theme Tips

A different theme for each throughline!

Illustrated through proper point of view

Main and Influence Main Message

Don’t forget the topic!

Genre Tips

A Mixed Bag

Select genres you like

Choose elements that reflect your story’s personality

Alter the traditional references

Your Story Synopsis

A map of your story’s terrain

Characters, relationships, potentials

Plot, processes, events

Theme, topics, messages

Genre, elements, moods

Building Your Story Line

From Map to Path

One story or many?

Choosing a course through your story world

Narrative Order or Exposition Order

Sequential Outline

Include all four throughlines

Character Tips

The Rule of Threes

First Impressions


Character Hand-Offs

Varied Structural Relationships

Structural, Logistical, Emotional Relationships

Plot Tips

Acts, Sequences, Scenes and Beats

The 28 Magic Scenes

Multi-Appreciation Moments (MAM)

Constructing Scenes from Beats (PRCP-1234)

Theme Tips

Main / Influence Thematic Argument, Act by Act

Four Throughlines thematic conflict moments

Pacing of Topic references

Individual character themes

Genre Tips

Genre Situation

Genre Attitude

Genre Manipulation

Your Story Treatment

Write a separate timeline for your characters, plot, theme, and genre

Look for gaps and fill them, pacing and adjust it

Weave all four timelines together

Alter the timeline with exposition order

Building Your Story Points


Linchpins or anchor points of your narrative

Like Cornerstones and Keystones

If some are missing, whole structure can collapse

Some are more crucial than others.

The Story Points

Revised Story Treatment

Look for each story point in your treatment

Consider whether each point is crucial or optional

Incorporate all crucial story points

Incorporate as many optional story points as you can

Building Your Story Form


Perfect Story Structure is a Myth

Like a Blueprint for your Story

Includes both story points and story dynamics

Ensures all story points work together

Bring your story closer to a stronger structure

Storyforming Demonstration

Dramatica At Work

Narrative for Movies & Television

~ Fin ~

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