Down to basics

E. M. Forster described the basic classic plotline in the following way:

An event/catalyst/moment of change happens. From here there is a build-up of tension, rising to a crisis, then a lessening of tension to a resolution. Putting this into a graph like this can seem formulaic, but it’s very useful to realise that most stories follow a similar shape.

Here is the outline of a novel:

Here is the outline of a feature film:


Try watching a feature film and take note when the Big Event happens. It is usually around fifteen minutes in. William Goldman once said: ‘All screenplays are structure.’

Here is the outline of a TV soap opera – what is known as a ‘flexi-narrative’:

In this structure, stories begin and advance, then other stories begin later, and so on, so that we watch the soap into all eternity – or until there is no more TV or the soap is cancelled (there’s a futuristic story there, somewhere).

And this is why we keep on watching. In the case of soap operas, we watch forever and ever, because while one plotline is coming to an end, another is beginning or climbing in tension.