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Formula. Adapted from Downs and Wright, Playwriting: From Formula to Form Houston Wood Wri 3320 Hawai’i Pacific University. Formula = story structure Beginning, middle & end

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Adapted from Downs and Wright,

Playwriting: From Formula to Form

Houston Wood

Wri 3320

Hawai’i Pacific University

Formula form

Formula = story structure

Beginning, middle & end

“The fundamental elements (event, disturbance, decision, conflict, crisis, obstacles, complication, dark moment, enlightenment, climax, and catharsis) all occur and in the exact same order.” (page 30)

Formula  Form

Joseph campbell s myth model modern formula wright downs fig 2 1 p 33
Joseph Campbell’s Myth Model/Modern Formula(Wright & Downs, Fig. 2.1, p. 33)

Working title
Working title:

  • To sell the film

  • Tone/style over denotation

  • Need not be tightly connected to script

  • Sideways could be the title of many many films

Opening event
Opening Event:

  • Hook, “bang”

  • “An event or moment of uniqueness in the character’s lives”

Basic situation
Basic Situation:

  • Beginning balance, status quo

  • The time, setting, location, who’s who

  • Characters’ existing relationships

  • Existing situation


  • Chief character pushing the action forward

  • Not simply the “hero”

  • Can be a “victim” only if this forces the protagonist into taking action


  • Opposes & blocks action

  • Stands in way of protagonist’s goals

  • May be

    • —a person

    • —environment

    • —part of the protagonist’s character


  • Incident/event that disturbs the beginning balance

  • Changes the basic situation

  • Forces action

Mdq major dramatic question
MDQ = Major Dramatic Question:

  • The “hook”

  • Creates curiosity

  • Fosters uncertainty

  • The big unknown

  • Is NOT the theme or message

End of the beginning
End of the Beginning:

  • The protagonist makes a decision that will lead to conflict

  • Act One ends

  • Audience experiences the “take off”

The middle act two
The Middle = Act Two:

  • Conflicts

  • Crises

  • Obstacles

  • Complications


  • Will thwarted

  • Goals obstructed

  • Actions frustrated and/or meeting unexpected results

  • Protagonist and antagonist clashing

  • This is NOT events or actions

  • This IS situations, conditions


  • Events – not conditions

  • Emergencies

  • Calamities

  • Turning points

  • Entanglements

  • Difficulties


  • Helps build conflicts and crises

  • Creates barriers and hurdles in the way of the protagonist’s goals.


  • Builds conflicts and crises

  • An unexpected obstacle

Dark moment end of the middle
Dark Moment—End of the Middle

  • The ultimate obstacle has been revealed

  • The antagonist has won and the battle appears to be over

Enlightenment the beginning of the end
Enlightenment—The Beginning of the End:

  • Protagonist has a revelation

  • Protagonist sees anew

  • Protagonist discovers solution


  • The moment before (and during the time) the antagonist is defeated

  • The final conflict or point of highest tension

  • Protagonist is active, not passive

  • Climax is started, instigated by the protagonist


  • Final purging of emotions

  • Sometimes as credits roll

Summary in act one
Summary, in Act One


  • All major characters

  • The main story problem

  • Necessary exposition

  • The MDQ

Summary in act two
Summary, in Act Two

Subplots emerge and may temporarily dominate

The struggle escalates, complicates, deepens, turns

Reaching a climax, dark moment

Summary in act three
Summary, in Act Three

The dark moment lightens

The struggle climaxes

The subplots resolve

The protagonist achieves “success”—wisdom and/or satisfaction

From formula to form
From formula to form

  • Formula-driven plots


  • Character-driven plots

  • Use creative and logical deviation from all rules for best success