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 The Holiday

The plot of The Holiday

If Pinterest and the Pottery Barn had a baby, it would look a lot like a Nancy Meyers movie. They showcase unabashed appreciation for the finer things in life.

But underneath all the gloss and inside all the designer kitchens, there’s usually a wry observation…uttered by an A-List actress.

Starring Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz as women who exchange homes during the Christmas season, The Holiday is no exception. It’s become my go-to Christmas movie, replacing The Sound of Music (and no, my values haven’t been replaced by gross commercialism). There’s something about its tidy slickness which is very comforting to re-watch. (Jude Law is pretty easy on the eyes too.)

Plot points from The Holiday are also great to study if you’re:

  • trying to write a romantic comedy
  • writing a story about 2 protagonists whose roles have equal weight or
  • attempting to write A-List actress bait

As a romantic comedy, The Holiday delivers on both the heart and the humor, which is becoming increasingly uncommon. Most rom-coms nowadays go for the comedy gags with the enthusiasm of a golden retriever puppy…and leave the romance by the wayside.

As a film with two main characters, Meyers adeptly interweaves the storylines of Iris (Kate Winslet) and Amanda (Cameron Diaz), oftentimes connecting them with clever transitional shots. A lesser writer would have inevitably ended up subordinating one character’s romantic storyline to the other’s.

Finally, Meyers is in the envious position of having written great female roles which have attracted the interest of Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton, Kate Winslet, and Cameron Diaz. Clearly, she knows how to write actorbait. (If I had to take a guess, the speeches Iris makes at the film’s beginning and the one around the 99-minute mark are one of the reasons which compelled Kate Winslet to sign on.)

My only gripe about The Holiday is that the movie runs rather long, clocking in at 130 minutes. As an unknown writer, you don’t have the luxury of writing a script of such length. If you’re writing a romantic comedy, you should aim for the sweet spot of 90-100 pages.

If, despite your best efforts, your script (romantic comedy or otherwise) is in need of dramatic cuts, have no fear! Using The Holiday as an example, I will post an article which will show you how to cut scenes from your screenplay, page by page…and degree by degree.

But for now, onto the plot points!

Plot Points from The Holiday

  1. Two lovers kiss–it’s a scene from a film for which Miles is composing the score. His girlfriend, Maggie, is in the background.
  2. Over images of various characters, Iris begins a lengthy voiceover. It’s clear she’s a hopeless romantic.
  3. Finally, the voiceover ends with Iris at her desk, wrapping a gift. She explains that she’s an expert in unrequited love.
  4. One of her work mates moseys over to gossip with Iris. During their conversation we learn Iris has been totally in love with her colleague, Jasper, for the last three years. Even though he cheated on her, she remained his friend. And yes, she’s very aware of how pathetic she is.
  5. Jasper interrupts Iris as she files her story. She gives him a gift–a first edition book. He’s “mislaid” his gift for her. They share a moment.
  6. Iris’s boss wants Iris to cover a wedding–it’s between Jasper and another woman who works at the paper. Iris is crushed.
  7. She leaves the party, arrives at her snug Rosehill Cottage, and weeps.
  8. In a gorgeous LA pad, Ethan wakes up on a sofa. He looks for his girlfriend, Amanda. When he finds her, she throws a shoe at him because she thinks he slept with his receptionist. He vehemently denies it. She breaks up with him. Despite the emotional upheaval, she doesn’t shed a single tear. He finally admits that he did cheat on her. She punches him.
  9. Amanda works with two assistants to cut a trailer. She claims she needs a vacation. They scoff–she never takes a break.
  10. She Googles vacation spots and tries to work up one teeny tear. Nothing. Then she resumes Googling vacation rentals…and discovers Iris’s cottage.
  11. In her cottage, Iris is still weeping. She almost kills herself (in a rather half-hearted way), but is interrupted by an instant message from Amanda. When Amanda ascertains there’s no men in Iris’s village, she agrees to exchange homes for two weeks, starting tomorrow.
  12. On the plane, Iris thinks she’s going to sit next to a handsome guy. Turns out, he’s married, and Iris is stuck next to two meddling older ladies. She reads a text from Jasper and asks him to give her space to fall out of love with him.
  13. On her private plane, Amanda imagines her life as if it were a movie trailer.
  14. Iris arrives in sunny Malibu; Amanda arrives in snowy Surrey.
  15. To reach Iris’s cottage, Amanda has to walk down a long, icy lane–in her designer heels. She finally makes it. Iris has an easier time at Amanda’s home. She acts like a little kid as she explores each stylish room.
  16. Amanda tucks her suitcase away, drives on the left side of the road, and loads up on supplies at a small shop.
  17. Back at the cottage, she watches the trailer she cut on TV. She lights a fire, plays with her hair, sings “Mr Brightside,” and engages in a staring contest with Iris’s dog. She’s so bored.
  18. Iris swims in Amanda’s pool, then peruses her host’s massive DVD collection. She gets a phone call from the front gate. It’s Miles (and his girlfriend). They’ve come to pick up Ethan’s things. As Iris chats with Miles, she notices an old man walk past the gated entrance of her home.
  19. Iris tries to fall asleep.
  20. A very drunk Graham knocks at Iris’s door at 1 AM. He explains he’s Iris’s brother; Amanda explains the house exchange. They share a brandy. She spills her guts about her break-up. They kiss. A LOT. Then Amanda suggests they have once-in-a-lifetime vacation sex.
  21. The next morning, it’s awkward between Amanda and Graham. A woman named Sophie rings Graham, who invites Amanda to dinner with friends at the pub tonight…that is, if she doesn’t follow through on her intention to return to LA.
  22. At the airport, Amanda again imagines her life through the lens of a movie trailer. In this edition, Graham features prominently.
  23. Iris wakes up, dances in bed to Jet, when Jasper calls her. He’s having trouble with his book. She agrees to help…then, as if in defeat, resumes her sleep.
  24. Graham looks for Amanda at the pub–she’s there!
  25. Iris stops her car to give a ride to the old man she saw walking past her gate earlier. His name is Arthur, and he declares that in rom-com parlance, they just shared a “meet-cute.” His office is littered with prestigious awards, including an Oscar, but his life seems lonely. Iris invites him to dinner.
  26. At the restaurant, Arthur and Iris discuss his career and her love life. He admonishes her: she’s a leading lady, but she behaves like she’s a best friend.
  27. Amanda wakes up with a raging hangover. Graham’s there too. They didn’t sleep together, but he stayed with her, because she asked him to. He gets a call from a woman named Olivia. As he takes the call outside, she watches him from the window. He asks her to lunch so they can get to know each other better.
  28. On their ride to a fancy restaurant, they exchange lots of silence glances. On their date, Amanda issues questions like it’s a job interview. Amanda explains that she and her family used to be the Three Musketeers…until her parents got a divorce. She was blindsided by their split, and has never cried since. Graham claims he’s a major weeper.
  29. A romantic montage of Graham and Amanda in the gardens.
  30. In the car, Amanda tells Graham she can’t handle complicated.
  31. Miles visits Iris…who’s in the middle of a Chanukah party with Arthur and his friends. She invites Miles to join them. They talk about Arthur’s wife and Miles’s girlfriend, who’s an actress. She’s not with Miles this evening because she’s on location.
  32. In Iris’s tub, Amanda has another movie trailer moment. She drives to Graham’s house. Looking nervous, he opens the door. He’s not alone. He’s with Sophie and Olivia. Turns out, he’s a widower with two young daughters.
  33. Graham gives everyone hot chocolate and pretends to be Mr Napkinhead. At the girls’ invitation, Amanda visits Sophie and Olivia’s tent. It’s magical. The girls reveal they refer to their family as the Three Musketeers.
  34. In Graham’s library, he explains that he doesn’t know how to date and be a dad…so he compartmentalizes his life. That’s why he didn’t tell Amanda about his children.
  35. Iris learns that Arthur doesn’t want to attend a WGA tribute to his work. Iris offers to help him prepare for the big event. They do water aerobics together.
  36. Iris and Graham chat on the phone. At the same time, Amanda calls Iris. Iris becomes an intermediary between Amanda and her brother. Then Miles calls Iris too, and asks her if she wants company.
  37. At a DVD rental store, Iris and Miles browse movies. Miles mimics the soundtracks of various films. But then they see his girlfriend outside. And she’s on a date with someone who’s not Miles.
  38. At Amanda’s home, Miles analyzes his relationship with Maggie. Iris gives a killer monologue in answer to the question, “why is Miles attracted to someone he knows isn’t good?”
  39. A montage showing the various characters.
  40. Miles composes “Arthur’s theme” to play when Arthur walks to the stage at the WGA tribute.
  41. In bed, Graham and Amanda discuss their future. She predicts a bleak one–long distance sucks. Graham confesses he’s in love with her. Amanda isn’t prepared for such depth of emotion.
  42. Miles and Irish have lunch. His ex calls him to say she misses him. Miles rushes to meet her. Depending on how long their talk takes, he might miss Arthur’s event.
  43. In the middle of reading Jasper’s pages, Iris receives a call. It’s Jasper. He’s at her door. They reconnect.
  44. Miles’s girlfriend begs for his forgiveness.
  45. Jasper suggests he and Iris sneak off to Venice, but he’s still engaged to be married. She ends the “twisted, toxic thing between them.”
  46. Iris picks up Arthur. He gives her a corsage.
  47. They arrive at the WGA tribute. It’s packed. Miles comes through with Arthur’s soundtrack.
  48. Graham and Amanda say good-bye to each other.
  49. In her chauffeured car, Amanda cries. She experiences one more “movie trailer” moment and tells her driver to turn around.
  50. She runs up the lane leading towards Iris’s cottage. Graham is still there–and he really is a weeper. She promises to be his New Year’s Eve date.
  51. On New Year’s Eve, Graham, his children, Amanda, Iris, and Miles all celebrate.

Typewriter (with modifications) by Xlibber

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