So there’s this book called Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies. (It’s a sequel to Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, but my library didn’t have that book, so I can’t read right now.) The book is about story structure in screenplay writing, kinda like Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, but focused more on movies.
The book also details about 10 different genres of movies, such as Monster in the House movies, which are about characters facing some deadly evil, like Jaws, Jurassic Park, and Alien, or Golden Fleece movies, where a group of characters go on some kind of journey, like Star Wars or Finding Nemo.
Anyway, I’m happy to say that my screenplay The Melody Box follows the structure of the Out of the Bottle genre so well, that I will call myself a
plagiarist genius. No, really, just following my instincts, the story follows the Out of the Bottle structure very nicely. Character gets magic, magic changes life, magic causes complications, the character eventually rejects the magic, etc. I was really delighted with myself.
Another real eye-opener for me (though unrelated to my screenplay) was that in Monster in the House movies, the evil that the characters are fighting has to be somehow associated with the actions of the characters. The characters (or at least one character) has to sin, has to invite the trouble of the monster(s) in; it all has to be someone’s fault. For example, in Jaws, people underestimate the power of the shark and keep the beaches open, even though they should know better. In Jurassic Park, John Hammond clones dangerous dinosaurs, even though he should know better. In Titanic, they should’ve known to put enough lifeboats on the ship, they should’ve known not to turn the ship too much upon seeing the iceberg, and they should’ve known not to say something as blasphemous as “even God couldn’t sink this ship!” The sin might even be something like not paying enough attention. I think the reason these “sins” work so well is because audiences will imagine themselves in the situations they see, and if they can’t say to themselves that they would’ve found a way out of danger (even if it means sawing a foot off), then watching the movie isn’t quite as fun.
(P.S. I think a novel plot can be much more “loose” as different readers will experience such stories at a different pace, sometimes over many months. However, the more the plot of a novel follows the “Save the Cat” structure, the easier a movie adaptation will be. And it could be a nice way for someone who’s plotting a novel to get ideas. Overall, I think most good writers will follow similar structures naturally, just as good composers follow the “rules” of music theory naturally… because it just feels right to do so.)