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 It’s Complicated

The plot of It's Complicated

Today’s plot point selection is It’s Complicated, written and directed by Nancy Meyers. It stars Meryl Streep as Jane Adler, a woman who ends up having an affair with Jake (Alec Baldwin)…who has been, for the last ten years, her ex-husband.

I’ve got mixed feelings about It’s Complicated. It has such a great high-concept premise, and the two leads shine in their respective roles. Streep is her usual impeccable self (although she does laugh her way through most of the film). Baldwin manages to be relentlessly charming even when he’s behaving like a dawg. The reason I have mixed feelings about the movie is probably because, based on the premise, I envisioned a rom-com full of hijinks along the lines of What Women Want, which Meyers directed, but didn’t write.

While it does have its comic notes, It’s Complicated is more serious than I had expected. It’s partly a reflection on divorce, on the repercussions it has years after the deed is done, and partly a wish fulfillment for any woman scorned. What could be better than to learn that your husband’s life with his second–much younger–wife is not all sunshine and rainbows…and that in fact, he “never learned how to live without you?”

My mixed feelings aside, the movie’s structure lends itself to study, whether you are writing a romantic comedy, a movie featuring a love triangle, or a family drama. So without further ado, here are the plot points for It’s Complicated:

Plot Points for It’s Complicated

  1. Exterior shots of terracotta tiled homes, followed by aerial shots of Santa Barbara.
  2. A garden party is in full swing. It’s an anniversary party for Jake and Jane’s friends, who’re still married. Jake’s very young, very hot wife, Agness, joins the group of old friends. The graduation of Jake and Jane’s youngest, Luke, is brought up. Both Jake and Jane will be staying at the Park Regent in New York.
  3. Gabby, another one of Jake and Jane’s progeny, is packing up her car, which means Jane will be sleeping alone in her house for the first time. Gabby says good-bye to Jane. So does her oldest daughter, who has a quirky boyfriend, Harley. He fits right into their circle.
  4. Jane putters around her kitchen, then at her amazing bakery. She meets Adam, an architect who’s going to be designing an addition to her house. He seems to understand her vision.
  5. Jane reluctantly meets with a plastic surgeon–one of her eyelids sags–but she races out of his clinic after he suggests a brow lift. In the elevator, she runs into Jake and Agness, who have just left a fertility clinic. They are joined by Pedro, Agness’s maniacal young son.
  6. Jane relates the anecdote to her gaggle of girlfriends.
  7. Jane arrives in New York, but her offspring abandon her to throw a party at Luke’s apartment. At the hotel bar, Jane runs into Jake, who’s also flying solo. They drink, have dinner, dance…
  8. …and sleep together. He revels in the experience. She freaks out.
  9. Luke graduates with great pomp and circumstance, and the family enjoys a celebratory lunch. Becoming quite emotional, Jake makes a toast honoring Jane. Gabby voices her appreciation that the “original five” (plus Harley) is together for once. Everyone returns home.
  10. Adam drives to Jane’s for their appointment. He listens to a self-help tape on divorce in his car. As he drives to her house, he spots her jogging. She’s forgotten their meeting. He gives her a ride to her home, with the divorce tape providing humorous interjections. At her home, they assess his architectural plans.
  11. Jake arrives. He wants a repeat of what happened in New York. Jane refuses; she feels guilty enough. But Jake makes a compelling speech (he’s a lawyer), and they end up sleeping together again. Afterwards, he’s sublimely content. She’s the same as before–guilty. He makes another compelling speech. They’re doing something brilliant. “It’s very French,” he claims.
  12. Jane spills the beans about her new relationship with Jake to her friends. They’re fairly supportive. Jane is still unsure about her new role as “the other woman.”
  13. Jane’s at her bakery. She’s decided to do something new with the breakfast menu when she gets a call from Adam. She’s forgotten their meeting–again. She rushes home and he goes through an architectural mock-up of her addition. In the middle of it, Jake calls. Jane ignores her phone.
  14. Jake exits his bathroom–he went in there to speak to Jane privately. Pedro almost blows his cover.
  15. Jane makes Adam croque-messieurs for dinner. Adam shares his story–his wife left him for his best friend. Jake sneaks onto Jane’s property, and spies Adam laughing with Jane. Adam leaves in a cloud of awkward good-byes.
  16. Jake knocks on Jane’s door. He wants to hook up. He tells her, “I’ve never really known how to live without you.” She relaxes in her tub, while he savors her homemade ice cream and chats about his difficulties with Agness. He produces a joint which he wants to smoke with Jane, but she declines. He leaves it in her bathroom. He tells her that the nerdy architect guy likes her, but she scoffs at his observation. They share a moment, but one of their kids calls, interrupting it.
  17. Jane visits her shrink–she wants to be told what to do. He tells her “to let go. It can’t hurt.”
  18. While Jake’s at the fertility clinic, Jane calls to arrange a clandestine hook-up at the Stanhope.
  19. Harley and her daughter are there too, having lunch. Harley sees Jake and Jane making out in the hotel elevator.
  20. For the first time, Jane lets Jake see her upright, minus her robe. Jake faints. A doctor is summoned. Harley freaks out. Turns out Jake’s been taking too much Flomax. Harley relaxes when he sees the doctor leaving.
  21. Jane and Jake have lunch in bed. She confesses, “when we broke up, I knew it wasn’t all your fault.” She didn’t have to acknowledge her part in the failure of their marriage before, not when he cheated. Jake confesses that he’s still sleeping with Agness–but only when she initiates.
  22. Adam calls and invites Jane to a French film festival. She would’ve said yes, but Jake whispers that Agness has plans, and he (Jake) can spend tomorrow night with her, so Jane says no to Adam. She promises Jake to make his favorites: roasted chicken, string beans, and double fudge chocolate cake.
  23. She prepares everything with eager anticipation. But Agness’s ovulating and cancelled her dinner plans. Jake can’t leave. With melancholy, Jane turns off all the lights in her house.
  24. The next day, Jane’s daughters (and Harley) are at her house. Jake arrives with Luke. Harley makes innuendo about Jake and Jane, which the other kids don’t pick up on. Jake has to leave early because Agness needs olive oil. Furious about last night’s turn of events, Jane announces that she’s bringing a date–Adam–to the grad party being thrown for Luke the next night.
  25. Jake asks to speak with Jane privately. She tells him she doesn’t want to do whatever they were doing anymore. She confronts Harley about what he knows–he admits he was there at the Stanhope.
  26. Jane gets ready for Luke’s party. To relax, she takes a hit from the blunt Jake left at her house. Completely stoned, she greets Adam, who’s brought her a gift–an appointment book. She kisses him accidentally; he likes it.
  27. They drive to the party. When they arrive, he takes a hit too. Jane introduces him to her children. Jake jealously observes them from across the room. He approaches them, and Agness joins the group. Still stoned, Jane makes off-the-wall comments to Agness.
  28. Jake corners Jane in the restroom. She lights up the joint to share it with him, when Harley stumbles into the bathroom. They all get high.
  29. Jake and Jane dance together. They’re totally in sync. Agness watches them and realizes she’s lost Jake. Jane abandons Jake to dance with Adam.
  30. On the ride back home, Adam and Jane admit that they really like each other. In pursuit of munchies, they make pain au chocolat at her bakery. She tells him that she had been seeing someone, but that’s over now. They make out.
  31. Apparently, all of Jane’s kids spent the night at her house after Luke’s graduation party. Jake arrives and announces that he left Agness. He cries, and the kids get all weepy. Jane agrees to let Jake stay at her place till he can figure stuff out.
  32. Jane and Jake argue in her garden. At the tail end of it, Adam calls.
  33. Jake and Jane have a movie night with the kids. Jake is positively gleeful.
  34. After the movie, Jane chats with Adam on the computer. She’s helping him weed out items from his wardrobe. They take a bathroom break. Jake gets naked, covering his modesty with Jane’s laptop. When he returns to his computer, Adam gets quite the sight. So does Jane. Just after Jake gets dressed, the kids rush in. Jake says he’s still in love with Jane, but Jane rejects him. They’re not getting back together. Adam turns off his computer. The kids get emotional–they’re still not over the divorce, which happened ten years ago. Still digesting what happened, everyone leaves Jane’s house.
  35. Jane sleeps outside. The next morning, she visits her children to explain her behavior. She asks for their forgiveness because she never meant to confuse them about her relationship with their dad.
  36. Jane visits Adam at work. He doesn’t want to get further involved–it’s clear that Jake’s still in love with her. She asks Adam to stay on as her head architect.
  37. Jake apologizes to Jane–for everything. They laugh, they cry. Both admit, they don’t regret what happened between them.
  38. On the day that the builders arrive to begin Jane’s addition, it’s pouring buckets. Jane invites the group to have their meeting inside. Under an umbrella, she and Adam head into her house.

Typewriter (with modifications) by Xlibber

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