I remember back in 2015 when I wrote my first script, a fantasy feature. I also remember an obsession about pacing consuming me. Without going into too much detail, it had to do with when in the script the hero left his home and arrived in a new land to begin, for lack of a better term, hero-training. You know, when the hero gets just enough prep to fight the villain and not die at the end. If only I had known about a video titled “Rocky: Why You Don’t Need Writing Formulas” by Sage Hyden.
Sage on Rocky
So why don’t you need writing formulas? Because, as Sage points out, if a writer sticks to the same paint-by-numbers structure every time, they’d only ever produce mediocre work.
The formula he talks about is the one laid out in a book titled “Save the Cat,” where the author instructs his readers to structure their scripts the same way every time, meaning that each plot-point should happen on the same page in every script: the catalyst has to happen on pg 12, the midpoint has to happen on pg 55, etc.
Yet Sage proves that we writers don’t have to follow this formula by pointing out that if “Rocky” did, it would’ve lost so much of what makes it great. The catalyst, for example, sets the hero on his journey and it apparently needs to happen on pg 12. For Rocky, this comes when he gets asked to fight Apollo Creed — 55 minutes/pgs into the movie!
Imagine if Stallone had followed the formula — that movie would’ve lost so much of what makes it so good, as Sage points out.
His talk with that girl as he walks her home
All the extra time he spends talking to his fish and old family pictures so we know he’s lonely
All the extra time he spends with Adrian.
It just wouldn’t have been “Rocky.”
That video has a lot of heart in it and is my favorite of Sage’s, which is odd since “Rocky” is his favorite movie. Hmm. Anyway, I wouldn’t want you to think that either of us are saying to just throw the plot together and assume it’s good because it doesn’t follow a conventional formula.
Sage on Batman Begins
A script needs structure, and in a video which almost beats the “Rocky” one out for the #1 spot, he talks about the “pitch perfect act structure” in my favorite movie, “Batman Begins.” See, the scenes in a movie need to build on top of each other in order for the movie not to get boring.
Sage evidences this by pointing out that if you found yourself getting bored in “Batman v Superman,” blame it on a lopsided act structure where the first act lasts about two hours and ends when Batman and Superman have that brawl, which encompasses the second act, only for the third to begin at its conclusion. And the reason for this lopsided structure is the fact that the scenes in that movie don’t build.
Sage contrasts this to “Batman Begins” where each of the four acts last exactly one quarter of the movie and where each act gets its own conflict. He references a screenwriter named John Truby in surmising that this occurs due to “Four Corner Opposition,” where 4 characters find themselves in conflict because of conflicting ideologies. By giving characters conflicting ideologies, not just goals, it gives a story an extra layer.
Diving this deep happens all the time on his channel. Sage talks about so much more than pacing and plot structure, too. Of course, if you want to find out more, you’ll have to see for yourself. Just go on YouTube and look up “Just Write,” the name of his channel. If you want to contact him, Facebook’s the best way. Also, don’t forget to tell him that I said to drop by.
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Until next time, never stop wordbending, my fellow story-tellers.