I just found screenwriter John August’s blog, and it was quickly added to my Google Reader. I appreciated August’s answer to a reader’s question of, essentially, how can I create better plots for my stories?
…let me offer some good news. The stuff you’re not especially good at — story, structure, plot — can actually be learned. If you were writing in for advice about how to be funnier or more charismatic, I would have probably let your email sit in the growing folder of unanswerable questions, because those are pretty much inherent qualities.
My advice for you is to dedicate one day a week to disassembling good movies. Take existing films (and one-hour dramas) and break them down to cards. Think of yourself as an ordinary mechanic given the task of reverse-engineering a spaceship. Figure out what the pieces do, and why they were put together in that way.
GOOD NEWS! I feel that my greatest weakness as a writer/storyteller is plot creation. I’m just not a natural at putting together an exciting, interesting sequence of events. So it’s good to know that it’s not something that is magical, mystical, and a quality completely bestowed from above by fate and the muses.
The deconstructing of a movie or TV show is a great exercise that I haven’t done much of. I remember being intrigued enough by the plot of the most recent Mission: Impossible movie that after the show, I wrote out all the major plot points that I could remember, but that’s really about it.
However, Robert McKee does a bunch of this for you in his simply awesome book, Story.
AND the contributors to the TVTropes.org wiki have mountains of these sorts of things for you to peruse for free (this was another recent discovery today, thanks to commenter, Tangent128 over at johnaugust.com)
What’s more, as John Gruber of Daring Fireball, says in the blog post that led me to johnaugust.com, the act of taking something apart in order to learn about how it works applies to just about any discipline there is.