Well here we are; the final installment of my series of columns on the eight sequence method for screenwriting (see Paul Joseph Gulino’s book, Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach) using Toy Story as our real-world model. In Part 4, we discussed the benefits giving your audience a small break from the main story by exploring a subplot (while still ratcheting up the action regarding our main goal), and achieving a main culmination that is both satisfying and provides a smooth transition out of the second act. We’re in the home stretch now: Act III. It’s time for that final push to get our heroes home and wrap up the main goal.
Need to get caught up? Here’s a rundown of what was discussed in earlier columns.
Alright, let’s get to it…
Sequences and ‘Toy Story’ (part 5)
Sequence Seven: New Tension and the Twist
Both of the final two sequences come at you with furious pacing. It’s time for all of the build-up from the rest of your script to finally pay off. In sequence seven, you’re going to see shorter scenes play out, the tension gets raised to the highest level yet, and you’ll also see some additional twist to the plot take place. This twist usually comes at the end of the sequence, but it can sometimes also be found at the start of sequence eight.
Toy Story does an amazing job of taking this seventh sequence and squeezing it for every ounce of additional tension there is. There’s a rapid fire series of near misses, each one raising the stakes even further. Take a look at everything that occurs within the span of just a few minutes.
- Buzz and Woody are finally back home… but the moving van is leaving.
- They make it to the van… but Woody get his foot grabbed by Sid’s dog. He can’t make it on the van.
- Buzz frees Woody… but falls out of the van while doing so. He’s now trapped under a car with Sid’s dog on the hut (this is also a nice payback scene from the subplot earlier. Buzz has now returned the favor of saving Woody’s life).
- Woody, desperate to save Buzz grabs RC and races him back to Buzz… but the other toys think he’s just killed another toy and they throw him out of the van.
- Woody and Buzz race RC after the van (allowing the other toys to finally see Buzz and redeem Woody in their eyes). They’re within reach of the van… but then RC’s batteries are dead. The van pulls away with our heroes left behind.
- But, Ha! - Woody still has the match put into his holster by Sid. They can use the rocket on Buzz’s back to catch back up the van. Woody light the match… but a passing car blows it out.
You could get whiplash from the rollercoaster of emotions Pixar is sending you on here. As sequence seven comes to an end, all is lost. There’s no hope of successfully completing their journey. And as sequence eight begins, we have our twist.
Sequence Eight: Resolution
Your final sequence brings an end to the journey of your script. Whether it’s the final confrontation with the bad guy, that final wire that needs to be cut to keep the bomb from going off, or the culmination of a journey to get home, this is where everything gets wrapped up and your main characters either officially succeed or fail in their quest.
In Toy Story, we begin with the twist that acts as the transition between sequences seven and eight. Having just had their match blown out by a passing car, it seems hopeless for our heroes. That is, until Woody notices that the sun shining through Buzz’s helmet is creating heat (the same way that Sid’s magnifying glass did. It’s a great utilization of a payoff for a piece of knowledge set up during the subplot phase of the story). They use his helmet to light the fuse on the rocket, and we’re off again; their final opportunity to get home.
Buzz and Woody lift off into the air, detach from the rocket, and begin to glide down on Buzz’s wings. This brings about another call back (damn, Pixar is good at this) to the beginning of the story as the roles are reversed and Woody proclaims that Buzz is flying, while Buzz demurs that he is simply “falling with style.” Finally, we see our heroes land in Andy’s car and get “found.” They’re home. The story ends. Bam, just like that.
There’s also a quick denouement set at Christmas in the new house; another round of present opening with the army men recon team. This is basically the establishment of the new status quo with Buzz as part of the family.
So there you have it, a complete breakdown of Toy Story utilizing the eight sequence method. The reason I enjoy this technique so much is that it’s an incredibly effective method for plotting out your script, while still giving you enough flexibility to avoid feeling formulaic. That being said, it’s important to remember that the sequence method is just a guideline. Every story is unique - YOUR story is unique, so once you feel comfortable with sequences, start playing around with them. Some scripts might need 10 sequences, while others might only require 6 or 7 to get where they need to go.
Until I see you at the sequel, have fun and keep writing.
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- More Specs & The City articles from Brad Johnson
- Screenwriting the Dan O’Bannon WayStructure and Breaking In: An Interview with Syd Field
- Why You Should Write a Short Film Screenplay
- Balls of Steel Goes Into the Writing Room and Behind the Lines with DR
Tools to Help:
- Books and Classes by Jen Grisanti at The Writers Store
- Screenwriting books by Syd FieldDan O’Bannon’s Guide to Screenplay Structure: Inside Tips from the Writer of Alien, Total Recall & Return of the Living Dead
- The Essential Elements of Screenplay Structure: Get Your Story Straight On Demand Webinar by screenwriter of What Women Want, Diane Drake