TIP OF THE WEEK: Borrowing From Classic Cinema

If anyone spends even a small amount of time discussing writing with me, they know that before long, I’ll bring up the importance of structural timelines. Whether we write linearly, in bookends, with flashbacks, use chapters, or hold back facts for surprise endings, the way we stack elements enhances (or detracts from) the experience of a story.

All of those are classic structural forms, derived from literature and cinema.

I combined several of those structures in a story about a racing mule named Black Ruby. It has what might best be described as a “Merging Y Structure.” The piece has two linear plot lines originating in different times and places, coming together at the end.

I wish I had invented this, but it, too, borrows from a tried and true cinematic structure. You can find examples of parallel plot lining in the Odessa Steps scene of Sergei Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin” (1925). Or, watch the the climactic wedding scene in Mike Nichols’, “The Graduate.” Those parallel plot lines converge, as well.

Black Ruby begins with a moment, the mule escaping from owners who chase it around their ranch. Shortly, the piece cuts to another scene, weeks later at a racetrack as they prepare the mule for a major event. From there, we tell Black Ruby’s backstory by alternating between ranch scenes and track scenes, always moving forward until they come together in the big race and its finish. The story even has one, ironic, held back fact.

How could I have been so smart to plan all of this in advance? Well, I’m not, and I didn’t. As with any other script, I just started writing. Black Ruby began with one word that connected to another. The structure evolved as I discovered what fitted and flowed.

So simple….after the fact. And maybe a little dumb luck, too.