In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a big football tournament going on (or soccer, if you want to give it the wrong name) and most of the world are glued to their TV screens as they cheer on their respective allegiances. I’m a huge world cup fan, and I’ve been watching a lot of sport rather than writing.
I read a writing advice book by David Mamet ages ago (I can’t find the book! Can anyone help me out?). I the book, he outlines why some sporting events feel more satisfying than others. The below is an updated version, seen through my eyes and undoubtedly warped by the fact I’ve not read the book for at least five years.
So, follow my advice and you can do something I never thought possible – watch the world cup and learn about story structure at the same time. The best games, depending on which team you’re supporting, are a perfect study in story structure.
The set up
What’s clear at the start of a game? The goal. Right from the kick-off, everyone knows that the goal is for each team. The players are positive and upbeat but aware of the challenge that’s in front of them. Star player know this is his/her opportunity to be noticed by the world. Make sure the objectives for your main character is clear
The good start
It’s 1-0 after only ten minutes! Great start everyone! Star player does something great as a direct result as a character flaw. This is a minor victory that makes everyone think that the task might not be that difficult. In a story, it could be a bad guy getting a slap on the wrist, or a clue unearthed that seems to point to one suspect. The objective should start well.
A team member is sent off! For reasons that were not his/her fault! Without a full quota of players the team will surely succumb to the opposition. But, there’s still a chance, if the star player can do something and they work together, the rest of the team can hold onto that lead. Keep your characters on their toes. Don’t have things get too easy. There needs to be conflict throughout.
The bad news
1-1! What happened? The player, who has a reputation for showing off his skills, did so in a poor location and the ball was stolen, allowing the opposition to equalise. Your character’s flaws should be a major obstacle
After a period where we thought our team might get back on top, the opposition have scored again. 1-2, and the star player isn’t performing to his/her best, means surely we have lost. The task should seem insurmountable.
The star player, who until now was showboating, finally passes to another player, who scores. If it wasn’t for the star player growing and realising he/she was part of a team, the team would surely have lost. Your lead character should overcome a character flaw.
The final victory
With the last kick of the game, the star player uses his natural skill, works with a team member and scores the winning goal. With the goal scored, the referee blows the final whistle and the team, just about has won it. Your main character should drive the victory.
And that’s about it. What do you think? Have I described the structure of a good game well? Although I’ve used football as the comparison, due to the world cup, you could apply this to other games as well. I think that the reason American Football lends itself to stories is because you can go from winning to losing in one action, which speeds up steps 6 and 7.
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