The 15-Minute Structure

Every 15 minutes, notice that a movie subtly shifts goals while maintaining the overall goal. It’s easy to spot this 15 minute mini-story structure in even the strangest movies such as “The Lobster.”

In case you haven’t heard anything about “The Lobster,” it’s about a man who finds himself single and must find a mate within 45 days or risk being turned into an animal. Although this story sounds bizarre, it actually follows the 15-minute story structure perfectly.

In there first 15 minutes, the hero arrives at a hotel filled with other people. Gradually we learn that he must find a mate in 45 days or be turned into an animal of his choice. The hero curiously chooses to be turned into a lobster.

In the next 15 minutes, the hero starts meeting the other single people trapped in the hotel like he is. His goal is to find a woman who’s compatible with him although in this movie’s world, compatibility means finding something in common with another person even if it’s as odd as limping like the other person or having regular nose bleeds like the other person.

At the 30 minute mark, the hero finally finds a woman he thinks will be compatible with him, but she’s a cold, heartless woman so he must act like he’s cold and heartless as well to remain compatible. At the end of this third 15-minute story, the hero fails to remain heartless so the woman threatens to break off their relationship.

The fourth 15-minute story is about the hero trying to find a way to deal with this heartless woman, which he does by fighting her and then ultimately knocking her out and dragging her to the transformation room where he turns her into an animal. Then he escapes the hotel at the 60 minute mark.

This seems like the hero is free but then he runs into a group of loners who live in the woods. The fifth 15-minute story is about the hero trying to blend in with these loners who have a rule that no one can have a relationship. That’s when the hero meets a woman he truly loves.

The sixth 15-minute story is about the hero falling in love with this woman and deciding to escape this loner group so they can return to the city as a couple. The leader of the loner groups finds out their plans and blinds the woman to keep her from leaving.

The seventh 15-minute story is about the hero helming this woman escape any way and getting revenge on the leader who blinded the woman he loves. The couple finally escape and return to the city, but the problem is that they’re no longer compatible because the woman is blind and the man is not. To remain compatible, the man must blind himself.

The eight 15-mintue story is about the man trying to decide if he should stay with the woman he loves or leave her.

As bizarre as “The Lobster” may be, time it every 15 minutes and you’ll see how the story subtly shifts. Every 15 minutes, the hero’s goal changes but stays within the structure of the story.

When plotting your own screenplay, break it into eight 15-minute mini-stories. Dn’t worry about the details, just focus on the starting and ending points of each mini-story like this:

  • 0-15 minutes — The hero in “The Lobster” arrives at a hotel and must find a mate in 45 days or else he’ll be turned into a lobster. He starts meeting the other singles in the hotel.
  • 15-30 minutes — The hero meets different women and finally settles on a heartless woman. The heartless woman agrees to pursue a relationship with him.
  • 30-45 minutes — The hero tries to pretend to be as heartless as the woman. He initially succeeds but finally fails and is discovered by the woman to have feelings, which causes her to break off the relationship and put his life in jeopardy once more of being turned into a lobster.
  • 45-60 minutes — The hero fights the heartless woman. Finally, he knocks her out and turns her into an animal before he escapes the hotel.
  • 60-75 minutes — The hero flees into the woods and runs into a group of loners who take him in. The hero meets a woman he truly loves.
  • 75-90 minutes. The hero and woman fall in love and plot to escape. The leader of the loners finds out and has the woman blinded to keep her from leaving.
  • 90-105 minutes — The hero gets revenge against the loner leader who blinded the woman he loves. Then the hero helps the woman escape into the woods and into the city.
  • 105-120 minutes — In the city, the hero realizes that he can’t stay with this woman unless they’re compatible, which means if she’s blind, then he must be blind too. He goes into a restroom with a steak knife to blind himself.

Plot your own screenplay in 15 minute increments and make sure that each 15-minute mini-story has a clear beginning and ending where the ending directly leads into the next 15-minute mini-story.

Don’t worry about details at this point. You’re just trying to define the overall structure of your story. Once you know the rough outlines of your story structure, you’ll be less likely to stray into tangents that detract for your story.

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