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Home » Archives » March 2007 » Currently Alternating
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03/01/2007: Currently Alternating

There's a trap that's very easy to fall into when you're breaking a story, and that's when you trick yourself into thinking a story is progressing when instead it's just alternating.

The very first (never submitted) spec script I ever wrote was an episode of M*A*S*H I attempted when I was 12 or 13 years old. One of the many things wrong with it was that I structured it around a simple choice: would Charles commit to the young woman he had been engaged to back in Boston? At first he didn't. Then he did. But she didn't. Then she did and he didn't. Then they both didn't. When I finished the script I looked at what I'd written, changed the name of the episode to "The Seesaw," and added a scene in which they talked about how they kept changing their minds. (Already I was a big believer in "hanging a lantern" on a problem.)

Now, I'm sure you haven't done things this badly, but it is pretty amazing how this kind of story-telling can still occur even now that we're all grown-ups. If your spec is about a choice, make sure that the act breaks are about more than just alternating which choice is made. If your plot is about whether or not something will occur, make sure you're not just alternating a "yes" and "no" answer to whether it will or not.

Look for more than a reversal, look for an escalation. Change the question.

Lunch: a baked potato with broccoli and cheese sauce. Waaay too fatty.


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