Eric May – Media Consultant
  

 

 

 

What if the bad guy wins?

Long form stories are built on worsening conflicts, rising tension, crisis, and resolution (or not). 

For the character, each new conflict is a test, more difficult than the last, and each time he fails, the stakes keep rising, finally reaching a breaking point, after which the story is resolved.

• Character (sympathetic)
• Conflict (character fails test)
• Worse conflict (character fails test)
• Even worse conflict (character fails test)
• Worst conflict ever (character fails test)
• Crisis/breaking point (will character fail or not?)
• Resolution (character passes test)

In this structure, the character is sympathetic, one the audience can identify with and root for. While the outcome is always in doubt, the character’s struggles and progressive failures at each step of the story hold the audience’s attention and the character’s efforts, against all odds, finally pay off at the end.

Scott Meredith* proposed an alternative idea, called the “inverted story skeleton.”

 

In this approach, the structure is the same, so are the conflicts, butthe character is different. This time it’s the villain, someone unsympathetic to the audience. The villain succeeds where the sympathetic character fails, but at the end, all those bad deeds result in failure.

• Character (unsympathetic)
• Conflict (character passes test)
• Worse conflict (character passes test)
• Even worse conflict (character passes test)
• Worst conflict ever (character passes test)
• Crisis/breaking point (character should easily pass test)
• Resolution (character fails test)


*“Writing to Sell” by Scott Meredith - Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati 1995