My evolving view of plot

There seems to be a certain serendipity in the way I research writing - all the books, courses and webpages I go to all seem to link to a particular subject at certain times, as if the universe is trying to teach me something in particular each time.

The evolution of my writing started out with correcting my grammar, all those years ago, then moved onto eliminating my excess purple prose, and learning how to actually write words on pages on a regular basis.More recently, everything that's turned up has related to plot - but over the last few weeks the things I've come into contact have started to give a different angle on that.

My first look at Plot came with the infamous Robert McKee's Story, and Syd Field's Screenplay. Both feature very strong emphasis on three act structure and the two plot points that bookend act two. I felt they had something important here, but it also felt simplistic, formulaic if done wrong. Certainly, the buzz I've heard (admittedly a quiet buzz, from over here in the UK) is that executives are seeing a lot of structurally sound but ultimately dull screenplays.

Yesterday I went on a Masterclass for the local Film Festival with Billy MacKinnion, who wrote, among other things, The Piano, Hideous Kinky and Small Faces. He was very critical of the Three-act-structure meme sweeping across Hollywood, saying (rightly, i think) that if you go through planning a film and think only of the signposts to mark along the way, without looking at what you're central idea of the film is, you'll get a structured mess. I also read Christopher Vogler's Writer's Journey, which expands the three-act structure to fill in the gaps, and i think it does it well. But the problem, I think, is that most writers and producers (who put the pressure on the writers) take all this too literally - it's perfectly fine to fiddle around with these concepts, change the order of things or move things so that it fits the theme of the story.

The trouble is, American movies concentrate too much on form, ending up with structurally sound, boring, riskless films. European films are too much mood-pieces, and are often quite slipshod in their story arc, resulting in a powerful but confused feeling.It's easy, I think to see the middle ground, where you use traditional film structure, but try to be loose and adaptable with it, letting the structure evolve with the films message, instead of constricting it.

The structure is there to amplify the message or central idea(s), not to kill them. Too many writers look at it far too mechanically, or too experimentally, eschewing all form to create an incomprehensible film.I'm gonna take the organic approach. A tree is structured, you can tell it's a tree, but branches from one tree come off at different angles and height to others, leaves are fewer or different colour. The basic 'tree' form is still present, but it adapts and changes to suit the growing conditions. That's how I intend the structure of my work to adapt around the story I'm writing. I offer it up to you too.