As a script writer for hire and script consultant I once taught a scriptwriting class for the UK Film Council. The course was designed and put together by a remarkable screenwriting tutor called Phil Parker (buy his book here).
One of the things that wannabe scriptwriters often stumble over is plotting. When writers contact me for my script reading and script coverage service one of the biggest issues that comes up again and again is writers literally losing the plot in their work.
Putting a story together and structuring a plot shouldn’t be too hard, but wannabe script writers often try to reinvent the wheel. Plots needn’t be too complicated or contrived.
Most stories we tell, will fit into ten simple archetypes. Phil, lists them as:
The ten story types
A person is missing something or someone. There is lack and desire for that thing or person. The character struggles in overcoming all or many of the barriers between him/herself and the object of desire. The closure of unity is eventually achieved.
Example: When Harry Met Sally
The Unrecognized Virtue
A virtuous person enters another world and falls in love with a powerful person in that world. The person seeks love but the power gets in the way. The person tries to help the powerful person and their virtue is eventually recognized.
Example: Pretty Woman
The Fatal Flaw
A successful person uses opportunities for personal gain, often at the expense of others. Then, seeing the damage, the person seeks to repair it, but the quality that led to success eventually leads to failure.
The Debt That Must Be Repaid
A person wants something or someone, for which there is a high price. The person accepts the price but seeks to put off paying the debt. Eventually, though, they have to pay it.
Example: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
The Spider and the Fly
A person wants another person to do something. Lacking the influence or power to demand it, they seek to ensnare the other person, tricking them into compliance. They are successful and a new future is faced.
Example: Double Indemnity
The Gift Taken Away
A person has a gift which is lost. Seeking to regain the gift leads them into a new situation, to which the person eventually becomes reconciled.
Example: Rain Man
A person is set a task to find someone or something. The challenge is accepted and the quest is eventually won. There may or may not be a prize.
Example: Star Wars
The Rites of Passage
A person knows they have reached a new stage in life and seeks to find what must be done to complete the transition. They pretend that they already know, then meet a challenge that shows they do not, yet also provides the route by which they achieve the full transition.
Example: Stand By Me
A person arrives somewhere new and finds a problem there. In facing the problem they show why they left the last place. They then seek to move on, repeating the pattern.
The Character Who Cannot Be Put Down
A person demonstrates prowess, but then faces a bigger challenge that tests that prowess. They succeed.
Example: Die Hard
These 10 story types are all you need to really know and understand.
Sometimes stories can contain more than one of the archetypal stories. But, forget that for the moment, the main thing for wannabe scriptwriters to focus on, and understand is, that the story you’re telling, should fit in with one of the above. Once you realise that, you can build a plot around these archetypes, and usually, if you do it correctly, the actual plot will usually work.
Star Wars and The Matrix are built on ‘The Quest’ story archetype. Both films have practically the same beats – swap Luke for Neo, swap Obi Wan for Morpheus. Think about what happens; the beats are the same in both films. And guess what, both films work! George Lucas didn’t need to reinvent the wheel when it came to plotting, and neither did the makers of The Matrix. And neither should script writer starting out – the plot types are there to be used, using them well, is another thing.
Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire, UK Script editor and UK script consultant for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. His UK script coverage service and script development service are highly sought after.
You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb.
You can contact Matthew directly to purchase his ebook The UK Soap Opera Script Writers Handbook.
You can get in touch with Matthew on email@example.com.