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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
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