The Turn & Burn Structure

Structure tends to generate a lot of heated debate among screenwriters and in my opinion a lot of the debate simply isn’t warranted. I’ve read through lengthy rants by writers adamant that three acts are better than five acts and vice versa. People often tend to support structures like sports teams, as if everything else is in opposition and they must be loyal fans. But here’s the thing, the way I see it is through cheeseburgers… seriously.

How would you describe a cheeseburger to someone who’d never seen one? Would you say it’s meat between two buns with a slice of cheese? Would you say it goes bun, meat, cheese, onion, tomato, relish, bun, sesame seeds? It really depends on where you draw the lines – however, the concept of a cheeseburger stays the same. Contemporary western commercially appealing storytelling is no different, everything comes back to the monomyth and really all those arguments out there are are just debates over how to cut it up and describe each section.

When it comes to structure the right one to follow is the one which motivates us to write. I have no grievance toward a writer whose excited to write because they’ve read Save The Cat, I have no issue with a writer who always found comfort working with three acts, I respect any writer who swears by The Syd Field Paradigm, in fact here’s a huge list of story structures by Greg Miller that I encourage any writer to browse through.

For me structure was, and in a way still is, my Everest. I thought it would be something I could never get my head around. It was through a very painful learning process that I came up with the Turn & Burn structure and I wish I could go back in time and hand myself this methodology when I started.

Yearn, Turn, Burn, Learn, Earn

Five simple words, an endless number of story opportunities. Five simple words that are easy to remember yet summarise the elements of the hero’s journey. Five simple words we can quickly jot down and start building upon.

Yearn
The hero. We are introduced to the protagonist, a fascinating character who lives in a compelling world. There is just enough conflict in their life to cause them to yearn for something more, but this is balanced by a level of comfort which is causing them to stay in stasis.

Turn
The call. A tipping point changes the balance of the world enough to start the drama and set a goal via either an event that affects the protagonist or an opportunity that’s offered to them. This triggers the antagonist force which the protagonist becomes aware of.

Burn
The tests. The protagonist enters a world of heightened antagonism which demonstrates their strengths and weaknesses. The protagonist’s decisions are seemingly set to readdress the balance but the conflict builds to a climactic event which creates a point of no return.

Learn
The revelation. The protagonist cannot balance out the downward spiral of increased peril and there’s seemingly no route to the goal or return to their original world. However they hit a point of realisation learn a life lesson, change their mindset, and re-establish a belief they can re-address the balance.

Earn
The leap. The protagonist confronts the antagonistic force and risks everything they have available, but winning turns out to be even harder than they thought. Regardless of if they win or lose in the end, they reach a point of acceptance that confirms their new belief system that we the audience find life affirming.

It’s really that simple. The protagonist yearns for something more until their life takes a turn which causes them to burn their bridges and have to learn a harsh lesson about life before earning their ending. For further clarity, here is the Turn & Burn structure overlaid with other structures.

 

 

So well, if that helps you form your story and motivates you to write, have at it.

TURN & BURN STORY STRUCTURE WORK SHEET
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YEARN:
WHAT IS THE PROTAGONIST'S FLAW?
WHAT DOES THE PROTAGONIST DESIRE?
HOW IS THE PROTAGONIST’S LIFE COMPROMISED AND THUS BALANCED?
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TURN:
WHAT IS THE TIPPING POINT THAT CHANGES THE PROTAGONIST’S LIFE?
WHAT NEW WORLD DOES THE PROTAGONIST ENTER?
WHAT ANTAGONISTIC FORCE DOES THIS INTRODUCE?
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BURN:
HOW IS THE PROTAGONIST’S MAIN FLAW MAKING THE SITUATION WORSE?
WHAT IS THE POINT OF NO RETURN THAT TRAPS THE PROTAGONIST?
WHAT ARE THE STAKES AT THREAT FROM THE ANTAGONISTIC FORCE?
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LEARN:
HOW DOES THE PROTAGONIST HIT ROCK BOTTOM?
WHAT IS THE POINT OF REALISATION THAT CHANGES THE PROTAGONISTS MINDSET?
WHAT IS THE PROTAGONIST'S NEW BELIEF SYSTEM?
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EARN:
HOW DOES THE PROTAGONIST PREPARE TO WIN?
WHAT IS THE PROTAGONIST RISKING TO WIN?
WHAT IS THE POINT OF ACCEPTANCE FOR THE PROTAGONIST?