Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How I Impressed My Wife With Story Structure

Think story structure is just for writers? Guess again.

Recently, my daughter was assigned to watch a movie for her 7th grade theater class. The movie was “Newsies,” a musical based on the New York City newsboy strike of 1899. So my wife picked up a copy of the DVD at the local library and brought it home for the family to watch. We popped some popcorn, snuggled into our sofa, turned out the lights, and started the movie. Although I had some reservations about watching a musical, it turned out to be pretty good, although I could have done without the singing. But that’s just me.

Anyway, we were somewhere past the halfway point of the movie when my wife turned to me and asked when I thought the movie would end. Turned out she had to leave for an appointment in thirty five minutes, and if she was going to have to leave just before before the movie ended, she would rather stop the movie right then and have us finish it later.

According to the DVD jacket, the movie was 121 minutes long, but as we hadn’t noticed when we’d started, that wasn't much of a help. It’s possible, maybe even likely, there was some way of having the DVD player tell us how much time had elapsed, but none of us knew how to do that, so my wife was ready to press the stop button, much to the dismay of our daughter.

Then I suddenly realized the movie was in the middle of the “All is Lost Moment.” For those of you unfamiliar with story structure, the AILM is that point in a movie or book where it appears the hero is about to lose. In this case, the MC had been arrested, the evil newspapermen had threatened the father of the MC’s best friend, and the strike was falling apart. Classic AILM.

The AILM comes at the end of the second act, just before the second plot point, and according to story structure, should occur at the three quarter mark of a book or movie. And according to Larry Brooks (Story Engineering) and Blake Snyder (Save The Cat), Hollywood takes the timing of these milestones very seriously. For a 121 minute movie, therefore, there should have been only thirty minutes left before the end. So I told my wife the movie would end at 8:17. She was skeptical, but agreed to let the movie continue.

The movie ended at 8:19. Booyah!
The wife was much impressed.

I may struggle with putting my thoughts into words on paper. I may have trouble with showing versus telling. But dammit, I understand story structure.

Thanks guys.

Links worth checking out.

Story Engineering

Save The Cat

Plot and Structure


  1. Just as long as she doesn't expect you to predict the future :-)

    1. LOL. I'm not asuming anything :)

      Nice to hear from you again. It's been a while. Are you planning on firing up your blog again? Keep in touch.

  2. Dear Oh dear - if I had known all this I would never have started. I'm off to Amazon to get a self help writing book. It's great to know what you don't know. Ken - you know what sort of book you should write don't you........

    1. The trouble is, I'm always finding new things I didn't know about writing. And I'm afraid that will never stop.

  3. That is aewsome! I would never have thought to try, let alone recognized the AILM.

  4. That is aewsome! I would never have thought to try, let alone recognized the AILM.

  5. That is aewsome! I would never have thought to try, let alone recognized the AILM.

  6. This is hilarious and too awesome. I'm glad you could think this through so clearly!