Screenwriting – The Value of Structure
By Kal Bishop

Structure in the form of frameworks, work processes and goals enhances creative output:

a) Short term goals (incremental productivity) produce more output than a “do your best” approach. Writing four pages a day completes a words-on-paper first draft screenplay in one month. A “do your best” or “waiting for inspiration” approach can take months or years. Witness the untold number of people with unfinished manuscripts under their beds.

b) Work processes such as separating creative from critical thinking and other techniques help to a) unblock the mind, b) tap into tacit knowledge, c) trigger the mind into working at various cognitive levels and d) apply a) and b) and c) to the areas of problem identification and idea generation and evaluation.

c) Frameworks reduce complex problems into their component intellectual parts. For example, story structure can be reduced to three or four acts or The Hero With A Thousand Faces (Campbell, 1973). Frameworks increase output by reducing complex problems into smaller, more manageable problem solving exercises. Frameworks tell the screenwriter where to start, where to finish, what to write and what should be happening at a particular stage of the story.

Additionally, a structured approach improves performance in a number of ways, including:

a) Structure triggers prolific production and simply being prolific improves performance and quality. The single best creative product tends to appear at that point in the career when creator is being most prolific. Experience refines knowledge and methodology towards optimal levels.

b) Structure triggers engagement and simply engaging in the tasks results in problem identification and stimulates the mind into working on those problems at various cognitive levels, resulting in inspiration. Screenwriters often find that their best ideas come to them when they are in the middle of writing a screenplay.

c) Structure triggers problem identification which in turn triggers incubation. Problems incubate until answers become apparent. Increasing the incidence and frequency of problem identification increases the incidence and frequency of insight.

d) Increased problem identification (coupled with motivation) increases the incidence of solution seeking, through active search for stimuli and intellectual cross pollination through networks and collaboration.

e) Radical shifts (originality) occur through sustained incremental change. By incrementally modifying output, the distance between the original and final versions increases. Radical shifts sometimes result from dramatic events or conditions but the vast number of gains accrue from continuous incremental improvement.

f) Quality gains, measured on many levels, are result of sustained incremental changes.

The Hero’s Journey and various story structure templates can be found at http://www.managing-creativity.com.

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Kal Bishop, MBA

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Kal Bishop is a management consultant based in London, UK. He has consulted in the visual media and software industries and for clients such as Toshiba and Transport for London. He has led Improv, creativity and innovation workshops, exhibited artwork in San Francisco, Los Angeles and London and written a number of screenplays. He is a passionate traveller. He can be reached on http://www.managing-creativity.com.

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