Two More Stellar – and Current – Story Structure Case Studies

Coming Monday – the deconstruction of Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island – the book and the movie. 

Refer to the past two Storyfix posts for more about this exciting exercise in understanding the role of structure, character, theme and concept in storytelling.

If you can’t read the book or see the movie before Monday (or before reading this series of posts), be sure to click HERE.

Because you can’t get anything out of a story deconstruction unless – and until – you know the ending.

Which is also true of writing a story that works as well as it possibly can.  Until you know the ending, all you’re doing is nothing other than story planning.


I’ve been seeing movies.  Two of them this week, in fact, that merit an enthusiastic mention. 

Not just because they’re good, which we they are.  They’re both better than good. 

But because they are stellar examples of story structure as the framework for the exploration of great characters within conceptually-driven stories.

Movies that writers – including novelists – should see.

I’ve mentioned one of them before…

The Joneses, starring Demi Moore and David Duchovny. 

It’s a killer “what if?”-driven concept… if you’re struggling with the understanding of the power of “what if”-driven storytelling, see this film.

Because it’s the concept here that drives everything.

I don’t want to tell you what the concept is, in this case, since the big reveal doesn’t happen until the first plot point arrives.  The viewing experience is much more powerful, and illuminating, if you allow yourself to be surprised.

And like concept, if you struggle with wrapping your head around the mission of the first plot point, this is a clinic on that issue.

You can visit the official website for The Joneses, and see a preview, HERE.

The other movie that will get your writerly blood bubbling is called City Island

I should mention that it’s only a coincidence that this title so close to Shutter Island

Like The Joneses, this movie is also conceptually driven with a brilliant “what if?” scenario, but it’s a good bet that this particular writer began the creative process on the energy of an initial character idea.

Remember, we begin the story development process with only one of the four corners of story – concept, character, theme or (rarely) structure – and it becomes our job to render the other three in a way that makes sense, leveraging the energy and context of that initial corner.

City Island was written and directed by Raymond de Fellita, son of noted horror novelist Frank de Fellita (author of Audrey Rose and a bunch of other scary stuff).

His touch is both deft and subtle, yet clobbers you with an ending that recalls the emotional impact of Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption (one of my top five movies of all time).

You can visit the City island website, and see a preview, HERE.

For your consideration – if you’re interested in learning more about story structure prior to the beginning of the Shutter Island deconstruction, may I join the many readers who have recommended my ebook, Story Structure Demystified.

Click HERE to learn more.


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4 Responses to Two More Stellar – and Current – Story Structure Case Studies

  1. sound like reverse engineering! Anyway I prefer to read and ponder about it, not really interested in knowing why and what make me feel happy or sad.

  2. Re scheng1:

    Different hats. As a reader, how does it grab you? Does it give powerful emotional experiences? If it does, you probably say it’s a “good” story.

    As a writer, you are interested in “how” it delivered those experiences.

    Both valid viewpoints, but they are only viewpoints.

  3. “Remember, we begin the story development process with only one of the four corners of story – concept, character, theme or (rarely) structure …”

    * Larry. Work your point —- story development rarely begins with structure.—

    Clearly, at least now I see it, structure actually facilitates the development of concept, character, and theme into a story line that is as old as time. Not to mention the fact the story gets published and you get paid. How can this be? The crass and the ceative meet at the same time and same place. 🙂

    *scheng. It is reverse engineering. In fact one of the early deconstructures, Lawrence Bloch, suggested the book be read from the end to the beginning. Not as you would read to be impressed with “story” but to facilitate the discovery of structure.

  4. Scheng, eh, if you enjoy movies just to enjoy the story and the acting–have fun 🙂 I honestly don’t think that someone needs to know anything about what the writer has done in order to be entertained and appreciate a great movie.

    On the other hand, I have always been the person who talked before, during and after the movie about what the writers did, what the director did, what the storyboardists did… and how they achieved the goals that they reached. I love tearing movies and books apart to discover how the creators of those works made the movies and books work.

    As a writer, I probably don’t do this enough with books. I must admit–I sit back and enjoy the book I’m reading without much thought as to how the author does what he does. I do it A LOT with movies though–perhaps it’s just more obvious? Or the fact I usually have someone to talk to through the movie (or after).

    Larry, just bought your story structure book and am getting ready to sit down and read it. Can I use the ideas in it to do my own deconstructions on my own blog? I’d like to try this on my own and I would like to have your permission to do so.

    I’m going to post links to your deconstruction of Shutter Island on my blog as well–I just finished the movie today and I’m glad I waited a few weeks after reading the book to watch the movie 🙂 I think the writers and director did a decent job with the movie and it’s a great piece to write a deconstruction on. There’s so much going on… I hope you won’t mind me commenting on your posts as to what I think as well! 🙂

    I would also be interested in doing a quick 6-7 question email interview with you, if you’d be interested 🙂 Thanks!

    I can’t wait to read tomorrow’s post!