Middles + Subtext 

This season, Valerie continues her study of a story's Act structure with a deep dive into the second Act which is called the Middle Build. What exactly does Act 2 build and how can you avoid a saggy middle in your story? Having finished her study of Sequences, Melanie is tackling a very different topic: subtext. Because characters don't always say what they mean, or mean what they say. Plus, a character's actions and behaviours also convey meaning. 

That’s a wrap for Season 4! In this episode, Valerie and Melanie pull out their a-ha moments from the past ten shows, and they give you their best advice about crafting the middles of stories (Act 2) and subtext.

Sometimes, studying a story that you love can be a bit scary. What if it turns out that the story is rubbish, and what you really like is the soundtrack, or the actor, or the costumes? Well, you can cast those worries aside this week because The Devil Wears Prada is solid. In terms of structure, it isn’t fancy. It doesn’t waver from the Hero’s Journey/Archplot form, and that’s okay. In fact it’s more than okay because it teaches us what can happen when we focus on the fundamentals.

Want to keep the middle of your story from sagging? In this episode, Valerie reveals the one thing writers need to understand about the second act and its function in a story. While Valerie and Melanie agree on the genre for this movie, they disagree about whether the film works as a whole. What do you think?

What on earth can novelists learn from a musical? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot. Cinematically, this is a beautiful film, there’s oodles of subtext, and yes, the music is lovely. The story itself? Well, it’s kinda thin. And this is the problem many novelists have … we spend too much time on the polish and not enough time on the substance.I

In this episode, Melanie’s study of subtext has revealed something odd (and slightly uncomfortable). It seems that, according to Skyfall at least, M stands for mother. But why should Judi Dench’s M be a maternal figure for James Bond? Valerie’s study of Act 2 uncovers a striking similarity to last week’s film: Back to the Future. What on earth could these movies have in common?

Back to the Future has plot holes. There, we said it. Does it matter? Nope. We’ve watched this film dozens (hundreds?) of times and only saw the holes when we analyzed it for this episode. Folks, it doesn’t get any better than that. This is a great example of the three-act structure and the hero’s journey, so if you need an excuse to rewatch this 1985 classic, here it is! You’re welcome.

The Australian film, Storm Boy, uses a very complex story structure. It’s nonlinear, with a framing story and flashbacks…definitely not for the faint of heart. So, if you’re using even one of these techniques in your novel or screenplay, this episode is for you. Oh, and what does all this have to do with Hugh Jackman (because he’s not in the film)? You’ll have to tune in to find out.

There are plenty of great reasons to study this film and chief among them is that it’s a terrific example of why the antagonist in a story must have a point; a very good point that is hard to refute. What does your villain believe and can your reader agree, at least in part, with the argument?

Neil Gaiman is a master storyteller and his novel, Coraline, has been a favourite with young readers for two decades. The film version is a dazzling display of creativity from the stop-motion animation to the A-List voice talent, but does it eclipse or enhance Gaiman’s original concept? What can novelists learn from the filmmakers’ approach to adapting prose for the screen?

We’re kicking off a brand new season with a holiday classic. Home Alone might feature a 10-year-old in the starring role, but the writing in this film is anything but child’s play. If you’re the kind of writer who likes to bend the rules, this is the episode for you.

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