London Screenwriters' Festival

The Guru In The Attic, pt 1: How to Structure Films like RUN LOLA RUN by Linda Aronson

Posted on: October 9th, 2011 by Lucy V Hay No Comments


Brought to you by Charlotte Bronte and Linda Aronson

The story so far…

At Thornfield Hall in a part of rural England known primarily for a rare form of bovine liver fluke, non-linear and parallel narrative script expert Bertha Antoinetta Rochester is locked in a tower writing TV series and film scripts to finance her failed producer husband Edward and maintain a household of deranged rustics on retraining programmes.

Bertha has been offered money by Outstanding Films to write a movie. They have told her they love her work and she can write whatever she likes, but could she please structure it like ‘Run Lola Run’ and include an axe murder, dolphins and a good part for a Slovenian stand-up who’s a relative of the producer’s girlfriend but is just ,like, brilliant and doing outstanding on the Manchester club circuit…


(renting her dress)

I have but three choices! Chew the curtains.

Scare the bejasus out of Jane Eyre or

 construct a script copying the

complex narrative structure of Run Lola Run

Run Lola Run belongs to a category of parallel narrative script structure that I’ve termed ‘Consecutive Stories form’ (to remind us of its ingredients and how it’s put together so, under stress, we don’t lose sight of what we’re actually supposed to be doing vis à vis structure).

Examples of Consecutive Story films?

Consecutive Stories films include movies as different as Pulp Fiction, Rashomon, The Joy Luck, The Circle, The Butterfly Effect, Amores Perros, City of God and Atonement. Why are they similar? Because they all use separate, complete or almost complete stories, told one after the other, then linked at the end.

If you are thinking of writing a film that sounds like this, Consecutive Stories is probably the structure for you. But be prepared. All Consecutive Stories films run the risk of splitting into an anthology of short films so are shockers to construct. Lay in your tranquiliser of choice.

What’s their structure?

It differs according to their content. In film, as in all the other arts, content dictates form (forget the one-size-fits all approach). Hence, Consecutive Stories films are structured differently according to their theme and approach to life. There are four categories – three main ones, and a fourth for films that are just fractured versions of one of the other three (examples of category four fractured films are Pulp Fiction and Amores Perros).

What sub category does Run Lola Run belong to?

Run Lola Run drops into what I’ve termed ‘Different Perspectives’ form because the films that use it depict different versions of the same event and their theme is the subjectivity of experience, different possibilities and the slippery nature of truth. Their structure involves a crucial event, then various different responses to that event, told one after another.

How do you write it?

The trick with Different Perspectives movies is that you start the film in a completely linear way, then make the event which provokes the different responses (for example, in Run Lola Run, the fact that Lola has only forty minutes to get the money) the first act turning point.

The repetitions are the different possible responses or answers to the first act turning point problem and they make up the second act, with the third act being the resolution.

Traps to avoid

Make each ‘perspective’ very different or you’ll bore the socks off the audience. Don’t use Act three to tell what happens AFTER the repetitions (although yes, you can cover those very briefly, just as a resolution). You don’t have time to tell the consequences- you’ll end up just with people chasing each other about (as in Vantage Point, which you should see to take note of the problems it hits).

Remember, the point of your film IS its repetitions – the fact that one event story is capable of different interpretations or outcomes. It’s not what that happens AFTER the repetitions. You can use another Consecutive Stories structure to tell what happens after the traumatic event. It’s called Different Outcomes – Atonement is an example – and it’s put together differently. No room to discuss that here.

Fractured forms?

Yes, you can fracture Different Perspectives but again, no time here. This is just to give you the gist.

In a nutshell?

To pick Consecutive Stories films, hang on to the idea of ‘a series of complete or semi-complete consecutive stories linked at the end’ (whether fractured or not). For Different Perspective scripts, start repetitions at the first act turning point AS RESPONSES TO IT.

Bertha is unfortunately unable to attend the LSF because she has to write a treatment for a Chile/China co pro (working title ‘Pandas Love to Come to Chile’) starring a Chilean bear impersonator who’s really cheap and has already got his own costume.

However, if you’re interested in hearing more about how to construct non-linear scripts (flashbacks, ensemble films, time jumps, structures like ‘Pulp Fiction’ ‘21 Grams’, ‘ Babel’ etc) , Linda Aronson will be talking on the topic in a two hour lecture on 29 October at the London Screenwriters’ Festival at Regent’s College, Regent’s Park, London.

To hear even MORE on the subject, come to Linda’s two-day Masterclass on non linear and ensemble structures, 11-12 November, hosted by LSF at Regent’s College, Regent’s Park, London (www.21stcenturyscreenwriter). To accompany these, get Linda’s book ‘The 21st Century Screenplay’ (buy via bookshops, Amazon or at LSF).

Guru in the Attic will be back on the LSF website very soon. Watch this space…

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