A Crisis, By Any Other Name

Since Aristotle’s Poetics, many theorists have analyzed how “stories” work, and what elements a good story tends to be composed of. In recent years, some authors have specifically broken down the structure of an effective screenplay into its component parts. By and large, these theories have agreed with each other on many of the structural pieces that tend to be present at different points in a story.

When it comes to the “crisis,” “climax” and “resolution,” some of the most popular and well-respected theories have offered the following:

    Syd Field’s book Screenplay, perhaps the granddaddy of all such books, posited a 3-act structure where the second act, twice as long as the first and third act, consists of “confrontation,” and culminates in “Plot Point 2”—which spins the story in a new direction for the third act, which is focused on “resolution,” and has a “climax” near its end. (The other theorists tend to build on this idea of the three acts, and their lengths.)

    Robert McKee, in his book Story, mentions a “Crisis” late in Act 2, followed by a “Climax” in Act 3, and finally a “Resolution”.

    Making a Good Script Great author Linda Seger’s “Story Spine” also has a “Second Turning Point” late in a second act of rising difficulties, and a “Climax” followed by “Resolution” just before the story’s end.

    Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat books describe an “All is Lost Moment” and “Dark Night of the Soul” near the end of “Act 2” of a feature. The main character than has one last new plan and possibility for solving the story problem, which is revealed at the “Break into Act Three,” and is pursued in a sort of final battle that occupies that third act, and is called the “Finale.”

    John Truby’s “Twenty-two Building Blocks of Story” has a “3rd Revelation and Decision” that opens the Third Act—the elements of which include “Battle,” followed by “Self-Revelation,” “Moral Decision,” and finally “New Equilibrium.” The idea here is that, at the climax, the main character has to really look at himself, and decide to go about things in a new way, of some kind. (Blake Snyder calls this “digging deep” at the climax.) Though television episodes end with far less fundamental character change than movies often do, this aspect of “self-revelation” and “moral decision” still often play a role in the final climactic moments where the outcome of the story is decided.

    Christopher Vogler’s “The Heroes Journey” calls the beginning of the third act the “Road Back” (to the “Ordinary World,” which we might call the status quo situation of the main character), and his third act involves a “Resurrection” and a “Final Attempt” to solve the story problem.

    Michael Hauge’s “Six Stage Plot Structure” describes a “major setback” (what others call the “crisis”) at the end of Act Two, followed by a “final push” in Act Three involving “living one’s truth with everything to lose”. This leads to a “climax”—the final turning point of the story—followed by an “aftermath.”

    Finally, the “Dramatica” theory (which compared these paradigms at http://dramatica.com/articles/how-and-why-dramatica-is-different-from-six-other-story-paradigms) describes “greater complications and interactions” during its third of four equal-length acts, followed by a crisis, climax, and resolution of “plot points and story dynamics” before its “concluding event.”

Clearly there is a lot overlap in these story “paradigms”, all of which tend to focus on a two-hour screenplay. But the same basic model applies to a standard episode of any television show, albeit in a shortened, compressed form.


These tips came from the workshop

Writing a Spec Script for a Television Comedy or Drama Series

In this workshop, writers will learn all the key elements to a successful “episodic spec,” and will receive ongoing instructor guidance in building their own—from basic idea through finished outline. It begins with knowing how to choose the right kind of show to spec, then understanding which elements to study, in order to really grasp how a typical episode functions well enough to write one. Students will then learn the elements of great story ideas for a spec, and be given a chance to pitch and re-pitch multiple ideas for their episode, before finally settling on one to write. At that point, they will begin “breaking story” (figuring out the key “beats” of each “act”) over several weeks, getting instructor feedback along the way. Finally, they will be guided in crafting a scene-by-scene outline, from which they could then go on to write the actual script.

Learn more about Writing a Spec Script for a Television Comedy or Drama Series today!.