Breaking Story: The 8 Sequences

I’ve asked my friend Sharon to write a short article about how she outlines, because she plots from character as opposed to story. I wanted to provide you with an alternative means of breaking story and beginning the outline. Ultimately, every writer must find the process that best taps their natural gifts. Here’s what Sharon says:

I am not a big advocate of outlining a story down to the very last detail. For me, I like a broad outline that has the basic ideas planned. I find that if I outline every last detail, some of the fun in writing gets lost. Let’s face it, writing is not always that fun, so if I can squeeze a few moments of “fun,” I want to savor them when I can.

That said, I find the 3 act structure pretty daunting. The second act can be a nightmare. Many times I have found myself lost on page 60 with no idea what to do next. So, I have learned to break it into 8 sequences (from one of my teachers, but I don’t think he made it up). Anyway here it goes:

Sequence 1: Beginning to Inciting Incident
Sequence 2: To the end of first act
Sequence 3: Enjoying the new world
Sequence 4: Middle of the second break
Sequence 5: Building to end of act 2
Sequence 6: End of act two (the lowest point of the protagonist, or a time when the protagonist is forced with a choice and chooses wrong)
Sequence 7: Beginning of Act 3 (a misstep, goes back to the things were as a result of a bad decision, etc.)
Sequence 8: Climax-End

Sequences 3, 4 and 5 are really the build in the story. The protagonist wants something (for example) and these sequences are examples of he or she getting or becoming what he or she thinks they want. (In a movie such as Big, this would be Tom Hanks becoming a man. Things he does as he slowly becomes more adult and drifts apart from his friend.) But each should stand on it’s own as a sequence. Each sequence could be around 10-15 pages. I find it a helpful way to break a story apart into manageable pieces.

Again, this sequence device is only meant to help you organize. If it doesn’t work, don’t do it. I think that as long you know the big emotional moments of the film then you are off to a great start!

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  1. Screenwriter-to-Screenwriter.com» Blog Archive » Different Stories Callfor Different Techniques - September 26, 2009

    […] story, it would really benefit from not writing expressly to the major beats, but in writing to the eight sequences. I think in this case if I were able to break each sequence down, it would help me manage the […]