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How To Structure Your Story Fast

By Marilyn Horowitz

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As a writing coach, my job is to help writers get their material ready to be produced or published. Part of my job is to help the writer create the very best expression of their story, but another part is to help writers meet deadlines, and to produce new work quickly. I am also a professor at New York University and have taught many classes based on my book, How To Write A Screenplay In Ten Weeks, which teaches my trademarked writing system, and has helped hundreds of students structure and write a screenplay fast.

The following exercise from the writing system is the most time effective way to develop and structure a screenplay almost instantly because I have found that the characters frequently “know” what will happen long before the author does! Since this is often the case, why not ask your characters to help you instead of trying to “make it up” by yourself? What you do is to interview your main character and then your villain or obstacle about the story, as though it were already written.

The exercise works in two ways: by giving these two characters a chance to “speak” outside the confines of the script, you can gain information on what will happen in the plot. By letting your characters “answer questions,” you will get invaluable information about both the plot that has yet to be written, and the differences between your characters that will help you build more conflict and higher stakes.

For example, if your script were The Godfather, you would first interview Michael Corleone, and then Don Bazzini.

You would “ask” them both the question, “ What happened, “ and then, pretending to be each character you would answer.

How to do the exercise:

  1. Set a timer for twenty minutes.
  2. Pretend that you are able to have a conversation with your hero or heroine about how they felt about what happened to them in the screenplay you are working on. Ask him or her, “ So what happened to you in the movie?”
  3. Then pretending to be your character, answer the question by writing for ten minutes, in the first person, beginning with the phrase, “ Well, what happened was.”
  4. Repeat the process for your obstacle/villain.
  5. Put the work away for a while, so you can get a little distance.

When you read what you’ve written, you’ll have two points of view that will give you much of the plot, and also a much deeper connection to your characters, because you will be able to “hear” their voice.

About Marilyn Horowitz

Marilyn Horowitz is an award-winning New York University professor, author, producer, and Manhattan-based writing consultant, who works with successful novelists, produced screenwriters, and award-winning filmmakers. She has a passion for helping novices get started. Since 1998 she has taught thousands of aspiring screenwriters to complete a feature length screenplay using her method. She is also a judge for the Fulbright Scholarship Program for film and media students. In 2004 she received the coveted New York University Award for Teaching Excellence.

Professor Horowitz has created a revolutionary system that yields a new, more effective way of writing. She is the author of six books that help the writer learn her trademarked writing system, including editions for college, high school, and middle school. The college version is a required text at New York University and the University of California, Long Beach.

Professor Horowitz has written several feature-length screenplays. Her production credits include the feature films And Then Came Love (2007). Her new novel, The Book of Zev is available on Amazon.

Screenwriting Article by Marilyn Horowitz

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