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WHY SPEC SCRIPTS FAIL: Formula vs. Structure – Part 2

Stewart Farquhar dives deeper into why spec scripts fail by explaining how to better understand structure.

Stewart Farquhar dives deeper into why spec scripts fail by explaining how to better understand structure.

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Stewart Farquhar dives deeper into why spec scripts fail by explaining how to better understand structure.

I have received over a dozen emails of appreciation, some with interesting questions, for this recent series of articles concerning Formula vs. Structure. To reach as many readers as possible, I felt it important to post a redacted, yet representative, email I received from a reader to TheReadersCompany.comcontact email along with my responses to his concerns and questions.

-------- Original Message --------

Subject: Formula v Structure - Recommendations
From: Oscar
Date: Tue, April 16, 2019 4:34 pm

“Hello Stewart,

I am fascinated by your series of articles and can't wait for the next installment. I'm an aspiring screenwriter, deep in the throes of writing my first four scripts.

Your articles are blowing my mind because I knew there had to be more to screenwriting than a 3-4 act structure, and/or pre-conceived 10-12 beats or plot points for the first act, and scheduled turning points, etc.

So far I see you've mentioned "The Anatomy of Story" by John Truby. I'm wondering, what books you would recommend to me in trying to free myself from the constraints of the traditional structures and formulas that are taught? You mentioned you have a few on your shelves. The only other book I know might be worthwhile is Robert McKee's "Story."


Hi Oscar:

Thank you for your email.

Your concerns regarding formulaic structure are valid.

However, that should not be the focus of your concerns at this point in your career.

As I mentioned in my response to a reader that was published in October 2018, a good story is what should come first.

I am writing a scholarly paper that argues against the formulaic writing approach. It will be available later this year.

However, as long as the public will lay down their hard-earned money the studios will continue to churn out pablum.

Having said that, Hollywood is looking for original writers. They are always looking for the next new thing.

Netflix, Amazon, along with the many, many production companies and mini-studios out there, are looking for original material. But the material has to be outstanding. Be careful. They can't be your version of the latest hit.

There is no secret formula to success, so don't chase any trends.

Write some high concept stuff that YOU want to see in that theater. Genre stuff is great.

An original horror concept will draw attention (ie: A Quiet Place, Get Out).

Horror is cheap to produce and the masses come calling for them in theaters.

Contained thrillers, psychological thrillers, and VERY original sci-fi scripts are also desirable.

So how do you create something studios want to buy?

  • Learn the art of dramatic writing.
  • Read produced scripts for story NOT format.
  • Learn how to create unforgettable characters.
  • Study and learn how to create a compelling story
  • Don't take anyone's advice (including mine) as gospel

In addition to the books I mentioned in my previous two articles, here are some that I found helpful.

Aristotle Poetics
Largos Egri The Art of Dramatic Writing
Linda Seger Creating Unforgettable Characters
Kristin Thompson Storytelling in the New Hollywood

I highly suggest you rent movies that were written in the silent era to study character (not acting). Also, Oscar or other award-winning movies pre 1980 concentrate more on story and less on gimmicks.

Again, STORY is paramount. Format can be fixed later.

When you have developed great story telling skills, you can explore the original sequence approach to writing by Frank Daniel that underwrites many of the early successful films.

I hope this helps you on your writer's journey.

Keep writing.


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