The Doc Fix


Regularly updated articles on story structure and analysis; tips, thoughts and useful bits and pieces.

Middle, End, Beginning...

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“A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end…but not necessarily in that order” - Jean-Luc Godard.

I love this quote. Because it's not just cute, it's correct.

A plot is the logical order of events of your narrative - from the inciting incident to the climax.

It's what the audience is absorbing as they watch. They are building the meaning of your story in their heads. And by the end of the story, with how it resolves, you have given them everything they need to be satisfied. They then understand why you told the story in the first place, why it should matter to them, and the more significant and profound themes at its heart.

It's like they have been given the last piece of the jigsaw, the piece that finally makes everything make sense. And yet, the order in which you tell that story - the order in which they are given the jigsaw pieces - doesn't affect the fundamental meaning.

You can hide some of those jigsaw pieces. Perhaps you can only hand them over when they have answered a riddle. Maybe a piece is flipped over and only makes sense when you turn it over and look at the correct side.

In the same way, you can throw the plot up in the air and tell it in any order you think will work. But, again, in any order that you feel engages, entertains, and stays interesting.

Confusing the two elements - the plot and how you deliver the plot - is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. If your story isn't working, you can move elements around to make it more entertaining while doing nothing to make the plot make sense. You think you are making it better, but you are just making it worse.

You can end up destroying the meaning of your film.

So you end up going round and round in circles, watching and rewatching. Tinkering and trying new things to find a breakthrough.

Time and effort ticking by. Maybe even abandoning an idea that you know is really worth telling.

On the other hand......

If you know what you are doing, everything is in your control. You are constantly improving your documentary because you know where you are heading and why. The whole process is creative and fun.

Just like it should be.

It's not that complicated to do. It just needs the right approach.

All the best - Nigel