Smarter Story Structure (online course)

Write Addictively Entertaining Stories—Faster

With my online course, Smarter Story Structure, you’ll learn practical tips for overcoming plot problems like these in your screenplay or novel:

  • the story starts too slowly (according to a Goodreads survey, 46.4% of readers abandon novels for this reason)
  • the story doesn’t get going until halfway through (this happened in almost a quarter of scripts read by a studio reader in a year)
  • the middle “runs out of gas” (even John Grisham admits this is a tricky issue)
  • the climax doesn’t deliver fireworks, merely sparklers
  • the story is the right length…but isn’t a good read (uh-oh)

Enroll today and learn how to use story structure to get on audiences’ good side. Click on the button below to learn more:

Script Structure: Lessons from Crazy Stupid Love

The plot of Crazy Stupid Love

Today’s set of plot points features Crazy Stupid Love, the comedy-dramedy starring Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling & Julianne Moore, written by Dan Fogelman. I’ve already shared some of the screenwriting tips I learned by comparing the two million dollar spec script to the movie released in theaters.

But what can you learn from Crazy Stupid Love’s structure? For one thing, the movie is a like a crash course on subplots. While the main story focuses on Cal Weaver and his attempts to win back his wife and rediscover his manhood, the movie is full of subplots, all variations on the theme of love:

  • Jessica, Cal’s babysitter, is in love with him
  • Robbie, Cal’s son, is in love with Jessica
  • Jessica’s dad, Bernie, was Cal’s best friend but had to give him up
  • Cal’s wife, Emily, is dabbling in dating David Lindhagen, her coworker
  • Cal develops a friendship with Jacob, a mentor of sorts
  • Jacob has his own thing going on with a girl named Hannah

Whew! That’s a lot of storylines to juggle–and Dan Fogelman juggles them with ease and finesse. If you study the plot points below, you’ll be well on your way to understanding how these little beasties work, especially on how to weave them together.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the movie’s kickbutt climax where basically every subplot culminates in one glorious payoff. How do you structure your script to pave the way for a climax like that? Again, the plot points of Crazy Stupid Love should provide you with some insight.

In addition to subplots and a killer climax, Crazy Stupid Love excels setting up reversals so that they’re still a surprise to the audience. At the same time, Fogelman’s laid enough groundwork so that the audience isn’t thinking, “gee, that’s so random.” Take Robbie’s teacher for example, played to perfection by Marisa Tomei.

The first time we’re introduced to Robbie’s teacher, we don’t even see her. We just see Robbie cussing in front of her while pretending to discuss the Scarlett Letter. The next time we meet her, she’s at a bar–and Cal’s hoping to pick her up. She tells him she’s a teacher, but we don’t suspect at all that she’s Robbie’s teacher. Why would we, when we’re too focused on Cal’s awkward pick up lines?

Then it’s time for the big reveal: that Cal in fact slept with his son’s teacher. When does Fogelman choose to pay off all of his setup? At a parent-teacher conference. A logical choice, and also one which involves surprising emotional depth, as Cal and Emily wait outside the teacher’s door…and reconnect.

There’s real hope in that moment that these two will find their way back together–and then BAM!–Robbie’s teacher opens the door to her classroom.

Cal realizes his big mistake. Emily learns of his big mistake. And we learn how much deeper in trouble he is–whetting our interest to discover just how exactly Cal plans to right this wrong.

So, let’s get to it, shall we?

Plot Points from Crazy Stupid Love

  1. At a nice restaurant, Cal Weaver’s wife, Emily, tells him she wants a divorce.
  2. At Cal and Emily’s home, Jessica, their babysitter, watches their two kids, Robbie and Molly. Jessica’s got a crush on Cal.
  3. On the ride home, Cal is silent. His silence prompts Emily to confess she slept with a coworker, David Lindhagen. Rather than hear anymore, Cal jumps out of the moving vehicle.
  4. At their home, Robbie confesses his love to Jessica. In the middle of his conversation, his parents return. He learns his parents are getting a divorce.
  5. At a swanky bar, Hannah’s friend teases Hannah about her PG-13 life. Suddenly, Jacob appears at their table, and tries his pick up lines on Hannah. They don’t work.
  6. Cal drives Jessica home. Jessica confesses her crush on him, but he’s lost in his own world, and doesn’t hear her.
  7. Cal gets drunk at the swanky bar we saw earlier. He talks to anyone who’ll listen about his wife’s infidelity…all while watching Jacob score with the ladies.
  8. Cal’s boss laughs at Cal’s misery. He thought Cal had cancer…but it’s just divorce. Nothing major.
  9. Emily tries to talk to Cal about her midlife crisis, but he just talks about the sprinkler system before leaving their home in a U-Haul.
  10. At the swanky bar, Bernie, Cal’s best friend, tells them they can’t be friends anymore. His wife’s orders.
  11. Jacob invites Cal to his table and volunteers to help Cal rediscover his manhood. Cal accepts.
  12. Robbie and Molly visit Cal’s new apartment. Jessica comes over to babysit.
  13. At a restaurant, Hannah and her friend talk about her passing the bar. Her nerdy boyfriend might propose after the big exam.
  14. Cal gets a wardrobe makeover with Jacob.
  15. Jacob picks up more ladies as Cal observes Jacob’s technique.
  16. David Lindhagen tells Emily he’d like a real relationship with her; she’s not interested.
  17. Disillusioned by Jessica’s rejection, Robbie acts out by swearing in class. His teacher (whom we never see onscreen), sends him to the principal’s office.
  18. Emily picks up Robbie and takes him to work. Robbie meets David Lindhagen and declares that his mom will choose his dad–Cal’s better in every way.
  19. Jacob continues his tutelage while he and Cal are naked in a sauna.
  20. Cal is ready to pick up ladies on his own. He awkwardly hits on Kate, a teacher, but things go more smoothly when he reverts to honesty.
  21. Cal gets even more honest when they go back to his place. He’s back in the game!
  22. After that, his confidence bolstered, he turns into a real ladies’ man.
  23. Jessica overhears her parents (Bernie, Cal’s ex-best friend, is her dad) discuss Cal’s new dating life.
  24. At school, Jessica asks a slutty classmate how to attract the attention of an older man.
  25. Robbie makes a Scarlet Letter-type scaffold and confesses his love for Jessica in front of the whole school. Jessica is not happy.
  26. Cal sneaks into the backyard garden of his home and secretly tends to it.
  27. Robbie has a heart-to-heart with his dad about love. Robbie tells his dad not to give up on his mom–Robbie needs the inspiration.
  28. Cal and Emily bond as they wait for Robbie’s parent-teacher conference to begin.
  29. But when the conference begins, it’s revealed that the teacher Cal slept with, Kate, is none other than Robbie’s teacher at school!
  30. Emily and Cal have an epic confrontation on the school grounds.
  31. Hannah’s passed the bar–but her boyfriend doesn’t propose. He needs more time to “think” about their long term prospects. She races out of the restaurant–
  32. –and into the swanky bar, where she grabs Jacob’s lapels and gives him the kiss of his life.
  33. But when Jacob takes Hannah back to his place, she’s too nervous to sleep with him. He does his Dirty Dancing move–and it works…
  34. …but then, suddenly, when they’re in bed, the nerves resurface. Hannah comments on his foam pillows. They start to talk about all the expensive useless objects Jacob has accumulated over the years. In fact, they spend the whole night talking. Jacob even asks Hannah to ask him a personal question–and Jacob never talks about his personal life.
  35. Cal keeps on calling Jacob, but Jacob is too busy falling in love with Hannah to answer.
  36. Emily and David go out on a date. When they arrive at Emily’s home, David kisses her goodnight, but they’re interrupted by Jessica.
  37. Jessica prepares for her big TMZ moment, taking pictures of herself naked. Meanwhile, Robbie leaves a bouquet of flowers on her doorstep.
  38. While tending his backyard garden, Cal receives a call from Emily. He can see her, but she can’t see him. She pretends she needed help to get the water heater going, but she just wanted to hear his voice.
  39. Jacob calls Cal, asking for relationship advice. He’s meeting his girlfriend’s parents for the first time and he’s nervous.
  40. Jessica’s parents find her naked pictures and know they’re intended for Cal. Bernie rushes out his house, Jessical close on his heels.
  41. Cal is about to surprise Emily with the miniature golf course he created in their garden, when Hannah, his daughter, arries with Jacob. Cal flips out.
  42. Then Bernie appears, enraged at Cal. They fight. David Lindhagen pops in to return Emily’s sweater. Jacob hits David. A massive brawl ensues.
  43. Cal forbids Hannah to see Jacob, but she refuses. Robbie can’t believe his dad stole the heart of the woman he loves.
  44. At the infamous swanky bar, Cal’s getting drunk at 2 PM. Jacob approaches him, confesses he’s in love with Hannah, but Cal says he will never give Jacob his approval.
  45. At Robbie’s eighth grade graduation ceremony, Robbie gives a speech. It starts out okay, but then he starts ranting about true love, how there’s no such thing.
  46. Cal can’t bear to witness his son’s disillusionment, and goes up to the podium, delivering a heartfelt speech of his own.
  47. Cal finally gives his acceptance to Jacob; Robbie and Jessica patch up.
  48. Emily and Cal reunite. Looks like this marriage is back on track.

Typewriter (with modifications) by Xlibber

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Bob August 17, 2012, 8:36 pm

    I wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed reading your posts. I think you’re doing a great job. Thanks.

    • scribemeetsworld August 21, 2012, 1:42 pm

      Hi Bob,

      Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you’ve found the articles to be helpful. Let me know if there’s a particular movie you’d like to see analyzed on the site!

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