In My Story Can Beat Up Your Story, Jeffrey Alan Schechter promises “Ten Ways to Toughen Up Your Screenplay From Opening Hook to Knockout Punch.”
Like the old Arthur Murray dance classes where students would learn by stepping on the cut out footprints on the floor, Schechter simplistically breaks down basic screenplay elements into bite-sized pieces, ending each chapter with an exercise to put what you’ve just learned into practice. He’s smart to drive readers to the book’s website (MSCBUYS.com) by offering them the chapter exercises as free downloadable worksheets.
As the pieces begin to form the big picture, you, as the reader-writer, are taken on a journey unveiling the thought process behind the story structure software, Contour, that Schechter helped develop.
You’re encouraged to consider Schechter’s four key questions and then apply four classic literary archetypes to your own contemplated project. And as you build (or renovate) your three-act structure, he encourages you to populate it with your own unique interpretation and execution of the six supporting characters that will help illustrate the different viewpoints of the thematic argument in play — especially through character-specific dialogue.
With such a rich canon of screenplay literature, it’s difficult not to step on familiar terminology or territory and come across as derivative, so Schechter saves time by just crediting and starting with Michael Hauge’s great definition of what a story must do: “enable a sympathetic character who overcomes a series of increasingly difficult, seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve a compelling desire.” Schechter traces these elements through the most successful, non-sequel movies of all time as examples. This is a great filter to the vast inventory as it focuses on box-office successes that were contingent on original story execution.
The playful “bully” motif and terminology for plot point sequences and page goals were (to me) reminiscent of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. The distinction being here, perhaps, that where Snyder focused on commercial genre delineation and overall story beats, Schechter goes into the minute detail of structure to the point where he codifies a series of paired reversals to raise the stakes in the Second Act, which to me, harkened back to Robert McKee’s (positive/negative) unity of opposites.
By interactively reading My Story Can Beat Up Your Story and seriously analyzing your own story idea, you’ll learn Schechter’s reproducible 44 plot-point system and put it into action as you strategize how to most effectively populate your own story and build each beat, scene, and act into an ultimately satisfying story and, ideally, a marketable and producible script.
For more book reviews and Producer’s POV Columns, check out: http://www.scriptmag.com/author/heatherhale/