Lester Dent, the pulp writer who created Doc Savage
(and I believe wrote all or most of the Shadow stories) and God knows how many
others once gave his formula for any 6000 word pulp story… which is EXACTLY
the four-act structure for TV. He even breaks those six thousand words into four,
1500 word acts…Absolutely fascinating.
Bigby is right. Dent’s formula reads almost exactly like the four-act structure of an episodic teleplay. For example, here is how Dent describes the first 1500 words of a story:
- First line, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero
and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or
a problem to be solved–something the hero has to cope with.
- The hero pitches in to cope with his fistful of trouble. (He
tries to fathom the mystery, defeat the menace, or solve the problem.)
- Introduce ALL the other characters as soon as possible. Bring
them on in action.
- Hero’s endevours land him in an actual physical conflict near the
end of the first 1500 words.
- Near the end of first 1500 words, there is a complete surprise
twist in the plot development.
That’s pretty darn close to what the first Act of any episode has to accomplish. The first Act sets up the central conflicts of the story: what the hero has at stake, what others have at stake, what his goals are and the obstacles that prevent him from achieving his aims. Dent says much the same thing, only in a different words ("He
tries to fathom the mystery, defeat the menace, or solve the problem."). Dent’s advice is worth taking — whether you are writing a thrilling short story or a spec episode of a TV show.