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Robert McKee is a creative writing teacher known particularly for his "Story Seminar," a multi-day screenwriting lecture that he has given at venues all over the world. He is the[…]

Don’t try to put plot points on specific page numbers, says the screenwriting guru.

Question: What's the worst screenplay-writing advice rnyou've ever heard?
Robert McKee: That there are rncertain points, certain pages in fact, in which certain things must rnhappen.  You got 120 pages—although screenplays are getting shorter, rnbecause the emphasis on spectacle becomes greater and greater... And so,rn anyways, say 100 pages.  And properly typed in the right format, a pagern is equal to a minute of time.  And so they say, at a certain page, rntherefore at a certain minute, more or less in the film, there must be arn major turning point of some kind, or expositional point, a revelation rnof some kind perhaps.  And that the worst advice is to—many, many books rnthat say certain events must happen at certain pages in a screenplay.  Irn mean, that is the most destructive possible thing to say to a young rnwriter.  And to actually destroy a young talent by actually convincing rnhim that he has to pretzel his work into these page counts, that is justrn terrible. 

But there is a rhythm, and in order to reach rnanything like a satisfying limit of experience for these characters, rngenerally, you need a minimum of three major reversals.  Okay?  And you rnspread those... it could be four or five, I mean “Raiders of the Lost rnArk” was in seven acts.  It could be seven, eight, nine acts structures,rn I mean in “Speed,” if you counted the major reversals in a chase film rnlike “Speed” or whatever, it's probably nine.  Every ten minutes rnsomething explosive happens.  Right?  But three is a minimum.  And if rnthe film is, again, 100 minutes long, and you’re going to space those rnthree out in some kind of fashion, then clearly one of these is going torn happen, perhaps at the very beginning.  There may be another one rnsomewhere in the middle and maybe one toward the end, or it could be thern first one happens like 30 minutes in, and the next one happens like 90 rnminutes in, or whatever.  Okay, so you can have, obviously if they have rn100 minutes of storytelling, you can’t have three major events happen, rnbang, bang, bang, in the first 15 minutes and then leave 75 minutes rnworth of resolution.  Okay?  Nor can you make somebody sit there for 75 rnminutes in which nothing happens and then bang, bang, bang three things rnhappen in the last 15 minutes.  So, obviously these events have to be rndistributed with a certain rhythm.  Exactly what that rhythm is, is so rnidiosyncratic to the nature of the story that is being told that you rncannot predict, or demand that they happen on certain pages, but you canrn point out to the writer, of course that there is a rhythm and that you rnhave to hook the audience’s interest, hold it, and progress it for up torn 120 minutes, two hours, even more in many films.  And to do that you’llrn need at least three major reversals and then you’ve got to work out howrn to distribute them.
So, there’s certain forms.  There’s a rnform, but by the page is a formula, and that formula kind of thinking isrn very destructive.