Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Toystory 3 Analyzed for "Beats"

Read this: 

CAUTION: that analysis contains "spoilers"

I don't accept that any good story can be "spoiled" by knowing what will happen before you read/see it and I've discussed why in these posts:




The analysis of Toy Story 3 is where you'll find how the film fits neatly onto the Beat Sheet developed by the late, great, Blake Snyder.

http://www.blakesnyder.com/tools/ is where you can download the beat sheet to use.

It's explained in detail in Snyder's
Save The Cat! screenwriting series

Now what has this screenwriting trick to do with solving the problem of why Romance is not the most respected genre in publishing?

Where is the Nobel Prize for Best Romance Novel?

Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet - that's where.

What is that "beat sheet" and where did it come from?

Snyder tells in his books how he watched hundreds of films, over and over, and extracted the "beats" (at what elapsed time each story-development plot-point is reached).

He found that all the widely heralded, highly regarded, raved about, high box office grossing films all had the exact SAME STRUCTURE.

It isn't a "rule" some gate-keeper in Hollywood made up and imposed.

It's a habit evolved by producers from audience feedback.

They learn how to do it by doing it.

On Twitter, I recently exchanged notes with a producer who had posted a tweet of advice saying learn to please an audience. So I tweeted back, prodding with "how do you learn to please an audience?" and he retorted - by getting up on stage of course.

I didn't fling back my writerly response, "I'm a writer, not an actor!"

It wouldn't have done me any more good than it ever did Dr. McCoy.

But I thought about it until this morning I found the link to this Toy Story 3 blog post in my mailbox.

Also yesterday, my fanfic writing friend whom I used for this writing lesson on converting exposition to action -

- mentioned that she has found her speed and facility with plotting increasing as she bats out tiny vignettes based on the TV show White Collar and gets reader feedback.

She can really TELL when she has done it correctly. The response to a well plotted piece is orders of magnitude greater than the response to an ordinary piece.

And that's exactly why I recommend fanfic writing as a way to learn this trade. It's how writers do what actors do in Little Theater. Learn to please an audience. What those producers whose blockbusters Blake Snyder studied have that we don't have - is just that, HOW TO PLEASE AN AUDIENCE.  And Snyder found and codified the secret.  The Beat Sheet, and his analysis of genres. 

As I've said before, writing is a performing art, an insight given me by the first professional writer to take me under her wing and pound some sense into me -- Alma Hill. I've discussed that here:


So what does it mean to "perform" a plot "well?"


Rhythm, just like dancing, playing an instrument, acting onstage. 

The Beat is what gives a piece the exact pacing that reader/viewers expect.

You know how it throws you off if your dance partner, Yoga or Martial Arts partner, or sex partner, misses a "beat." Fun turns into not-fun, and it's all in expectations of the actions of another.

In storytelling, the writer is the dance-partner of the reader/viewer.  That's why writers who just want to do their Art their own way fail in the marketplace - because they're dancing solo with a partner who wants carnal contact. 

Why is Romance Genre so emphatically disqualified from the super-huge audiences commanded by blockbuster films like Toy Story 3?


Pacing is the very important element that puts off the wider audiences and they don't even know it.

We've examined how "outsiders" explain their aversion to Romance Genre here:


and here


That's what trained professional writers see (and what widely read readers feel) is "wrong" with Romance.

But I submit that the real problem is the PACING - the exact points at which the plot moves forward a notch and the exact direction in which it must move to satisfy reader/viewers used to productions aimed at the very wide audience.

In graphic Art, trainees spend years and years studying and perfecting the ability to perceive and execute what is called "Line" - an element of composition that is the connecting point between the interior artistic content the artist wants to convey and the viewer of the work who may know nothing of art.  "Line" guides the eye and commands the attention.  "Line" says it all.  (watch Olympic Figure Skating). 

"Line" is what causes you to gasp when you first see an object, pierced by it's beauty.

"Line" is what makes you remember a company logo, and it's why companies pay millions to artists to create such memorable logos.

"Line" is what blockbuster movie fans look for and respond to when they think they're actually focused on something else.

The Romance Genre, packed into a side-channel of paper publishing for so long, has developed its own "Line" and its own "Beat Sheet."

And those elements, as original and enjoyable as they are, clash horribly with what the general audiences expect.

Not, mind you, with what general audiences WANT -- but with what they EXPECT.

Having expectations dashed is painful, not entertaining.

If Romance Genre can take its distilled essence (Love Conquers All; Falling In Love clarifies reality rather than obscuring it) and re-cast that essence into the Beat Sheet and Line that larger audiences expect, it will not only be accepted, it will be more popular than anything else ever has been.

Now that seems to have nothing to do with Toy Story 3.

Well, folks, "Romance Genre" is our "Toys."

People are expected to "grow out of" reading Romance.

Read the analysis on blakesnyder.com (and maybe some of the comments, too) and you'll see the analogy holds better than you would expect.

Just like the Toys, the Romance Genre clings to us, reaches for other readers, fights being discarded.

The "Debate" section describes where we are now in this Romance Story.

New "adult" motifs are injected to hold older attention. But just as with SF/F, the Romance readership cycles generation to generation -- just as with Toys. A new generation is reading Romance, a generation raised on visual media.

Also note how the blogger at blakesnyder.com keeps harping on how THEME carries Toy Story 3 to the wider audience. It's about toys - so it's for kids, right? But THEME is the most fun an adult can have with a story. So it hits both audiences.

Romance, like SF/F and all genres these days, has to change "Line" and "Beat" to sustain a "reach" into a readership broad enough to keep publishing profitable.

The world is changing. Novels have to become visual, structured like movies. Don't forget the as yet unrealized field of novels with text and video co-mingled. Only technology keeps that from Kindle distribution.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Beat is important. There's a screenwriters bible that has that structure in it. I'd have to check back in my notes to find it.

  2. Interested But Confused11:52 PM EDT

    You linked the Snyder beat sheet, so I understand that, but you didn't define the romance structure.

    I'm really curious as to how they differ. Could you or someone please compare and contrast them?

  3. Interested But Confused

    Ah, well, this is called ALIENDJINNROMANCES blog because it's about mixed-genre romance -- Science Fiction, Fantasy and Romance all blended in various wild mixtures.

    Most readers and many writers here are so familiar with the various "Romance Genre" tropes we don't really discuss them in technical detail. Let's see if we can find someone to summarize them (different publishers have different formulas).

    You're right, that data should be here for reference.

    In a Romance the Relationships IS the plot, and all else is commentary on that relationship.

    The conflict is the Relationship, what creates the attraction and what blocks the attraction.

    The story is all about how each person is changed by the need for the Relationship.

    The beginning is where the couple first become conscious of each other.

    The ending is where the Relationship roadblocks are removed and it's full speed ahead into a Happily Ever After life for the couple.

    There's a discussion that may be of interest to you on

    Which is all about the ENDING required to make a story Romance Genre -- the HEA or Happily Ever After ending where the conflict in the Relationship is definitively resolved.

    The differences among publisher's lines of books are mostly in the middle -- they all begin with the Encounter and end with the HEA, but the trip between - well, anything can happen and usually does.

    Some lines require a certain number of graphic sex scenes, others require no sex before marriage (marriage generally happens after the ending of the Romance genre, but not always).

    Some lines accept that the couple may be involved in "life" projects, others put all that off-stage and stay basically in the bedroom.

    Action and pacing is all measured by change in the Relationship -- everything else is decoration.

    The "Beats" of a Romance portion the number of pages between those changes in the Relationship, the stages by which two people get closer, break apart, give up on each other, discover that's not acceptable, go to each other's rescue or concede the bone of contention.

    Each line of novels has its preferred beat sheet. Then there's the more generalized Romance, and various lines that allow experimentation with portioning the "action" along the Relationship line.

    The field is extremely complex, rich, deep, broad in race, color, creed, social standing, ethics, morals, economic standing, time period, (from cave man days to colonizing other planets), and fantasy elements such as time-travel, ESP, ghosts, etc.

    Does that begin to help?

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Ah, well, google told me that my comment was too long and didn't post, but now I see it did and I started to post the first half but shouldn't have.

    Again, thank you for your comment.

  6. MPax - the beat sheet referred to is posted at

    There are other versions around the net - for shorter or longer screenplays. It's the proportions that are important more than the actual page numbers -- but for a given market, the total number of pages is critical. Blake Snyder did the 110 page screenplay for the "blockbuster" market.

    Those 110 page screenplay proportions work perfectly for the 310-400 page mass market novel.

  7. Brilliant points, Jacqueline. These reminders cannot be repeated often enough.

    In a Romance the Relationships IS the plot, and all else is commentary on that relationship.

    The conflict is the Relationship, what creates the attraction and what blocks the attraction.

    The story is all about how each person is changed by the need for the Relationship.

    The beginning is where the couple first become conscious of each other.

    The ending is where the Relationship roadblocks are removed and it's full speed ahead into a Happily Ever After life for the couple.

  8. Interested But Confused2:22 AM EDT

    I may or may not understand. Are you calling for romances where the relationship itself follows Snyder beats, or for the relationship to be secondary to an external plot which follows Snyder beats?

    There is also the Dramatica story theory. It consists of the Overall Story, the Main Character Story, the Impact Character Story, and The Main vs. Impact Character Story.

    Each story is assigned a domain, and then the stories play out with beats of sorts (dramatica calls them "signposts").

    The whole Main vs. Impact thing makes it seem like a good fit for romance. The heroine would be the Main and the hero the Impact. The thing is, with Dramatica, if the Main Character has an internal change, the Impact Character has to remain more or less steadfast internally (or vice versa). Do both hero and heroine need to change in romance novels?

    Here are some storyforms they have for romantic movies:



  9. Interested But Confused:

    Oh, if I'm calling for anything, it's "all of the above and more we haven't even thought of yet."

    However, the ongoing discussion for several years now on this blog has been about why the larger audience, general public, has such a low opinion of Genre Romance.

    Currently, we're examining the element of the HEA or Happily Ever After ending requirement for the genre label targeting an audience that feels cheated if the HEA isn't reached at the end.

    I advocate playing with the Snyder beat sheet because it is the product of having reverse-engineered hundreds of blockbuster films, widest possible international audience films. Opens Everywhere films, not "theater near you" films.

    I've been focusing (temporarily) on the interface between that huge audience and their attitude toward the HEA. I'll have more to say on that in a few weeks.

    Eventually, I'd expect I would get around to dissecting the effects you can achieve with the Dramatica approach, and contrasting those results with the Snyder results and seeing what we get.

    "Fiction" is as immense and complex as life itself. So meaningful discussion requires dissecting out little bits and focusing closely on those bits.

    Today's bit was about Romance as an artform seen in the context of a hugely popular blockbuster opens-everywhere family film's broad appeal.

    The focus was on the higher philosophical level behind the apparently trivial, childish story form.

    And the point was about the similarity between children's literature and the Romance Genre - a real stretch of a comparison but one worth thinking about if the objective is to solve the puzzle of the general public's attitude toward genre in general and SF and Romance genres in particular.

    Westerns reached a level of respect during the years they dominated TV. Why shouldn't SFR (science-fiction-romance blended) reach the same level of popularity?

    How would that change the world? Would that change be for the better? Is it the writer's responsibility or role to effectuate such change, or do we wait with folded hands for others to decide?

    If anyone can see a way to apply the Dramatica form to this problem, I definitely want to read the result!

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  10. Interested But Confused3:04 PM EDT

    I think I'll use a little of Dramatica, and a little of Snyder. They're both reverse-engineered from movies, but I think Dramatica focuses more on characters, interaction, and theme, while Snyder focuses on plot. They compliment each other.

    I think my novel will probably end up as romantic SF instead of SFR because I know much more about SF writing than Romance.

    Thanks for the discussion!

  11. Interested But Confused:

    Keep NOTES, and every draft, as you blend the two beat-sheet styles.

    You can write the book on the BLEND!

    I'm not kidding, it needs doing.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg