The narrative structure

I wanted to write an interesting plot that delivers a twist but doesn’t feel like it’s been setting up for a twist the entire film. You know those movies where you are just waiting for the killer to be like the police office or something. A twist that you can see coming isn’t really a twist. I also wanted the structure of the screenplay to be an interesting way to tell the story of this world.

Recently I was speaking to a magician at the Adelaide Fringe Festival and he was telling me about his show—I didn’t get to see it because it clashed with my show—and the structure he wrote into it. The show is performed in reverse chronological order, in that he comes out onto the stage and says “Thank you all for coming, I hope you enjoyed the show.” and would then progressively bring us to the beginning of the show. So the finale would be him saying “Hello everybody, welcome to the show. Tonight we are going to be doing some great magic, we will start of with…” and then list the effects he’s just done in reverse order. The mechanism for the reverse order was a sand-timer, there was a big sand-timer on the stage and overtime it ran out he would turn it around and that would bring us one step close to the ‘beginning’ of the show. I thought this was the most interesting idea, I’m pretty bummed I never got to see the show because it sounded really-really good.

So I took this idea of a reverse chronological order and started looking at non-linear narrative structures. The film Memento uses a very similar idea to the show I was describing above. Where the reverse chronological narrative is used to reveal information in a very controlled way. I got really fixated on this reverse chronological idea to tell a story, but I also wanted to add a spin on it.

I’m also a very big fan of Steve Jobs written by Aaron Sorkin and the way that was structured. It’s a three-act story, with each act 30-minutes in length, but the interesting bit is each act runs in real time. So each minute of screen-time is one-minute of time for our characters. Alejandro González Iñárritu does a similar thing for Birdman where its told in almost continuous shot. The three-act structure is appealing in that we don’t leave our characters and we live their world—with them, for half an hour—and we do this three times and then leave. We explore the world for these three moments, we only see a small part of this world and then we are gone. The sense is that the world is much larger and we could visit it again for another three moments and it still be interesting.

So with that been said, the narrative structure I will write the screenplay is a three-act structure with each act happening in roughly real time. There are two main characters that we follow, we follow one of them in chronological order and we follow the other character in reverse chronological order. A boy and a girl. The girl is chronological and the boy is reverse. So they are only the same age in the second act. But we only find out these are disparate times in the third act, up until then we think we are following a normal story in chronological order.

I realise this blog post probably make zero sense I think I have written the words narrative and chronological more times that I have in my entire life. Thats the story I will write, lets see how well it works.