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Advanced Plot and Structure Workshop

2-day workshop with Stephen Cleary

If you have taken my Plot and Structure Workshop before, or if you are interested in exploring plotting and structuring stories at a new depth, then I have designed an Advanced Plot and Structure Workshop looking at different, more complex ways of understanding stories. This workshop shows you how to apply these advanced ideas about plot and character to structuring your own work. Writers, directors, producers and story executives are all welcome. 

Previously we looked at how screen stories fall into sequences and how to see where they fall, and then how to sharpen each sequence so the story plays as well as it can. But what about stories that don’t move forward smoothly? What about stories that are non-traditional? 

And how about stories that originate outside the Western tradition we know? That pay no attention to the structural principles we understand? What can we learn to help us explore those stories? What can we learn from non-European or American stories that we can usefully apply to our work?

There are other questions too. What effect on the structure and plotting of your story does the gender of the protagonist have? Because if character and plot are different ways of looking at the same thing, then surely if you change the nature of the character, you must change the nature of the plot? If we have more stories featuring, made and aimed at women, what new things might we have to understand about plotting female characters?

And how does the form shape the plotting and characterization? Is it true that cinema protagonists work best if solitary whilst TV drama series protagonists work best in partnerships or groups? Is it true that in commercial movies the plot is what drives the story whereas in TV series drama it is the characters that drive the story? And how does this effect the way we approach writing and developing these different kinds of story?

The advanced Plot and Structure workshop will take your ability to analyze and understand the underlying structures of screen stories to a new level, giving you a new set of tools to apply in your everyday work.

Day One:


  • Recap: the principles of plot sequences and the relationship to character.

Special sequences, exploring more deeply:

  • The opening sequence: unfolding your story
  • The Antagonist’s sequence: organizing the forces of opposition
  • The closing sequence: structuring the audience’s cathartic moment

Thematic Sequences:
The Exterminating Angel
Apocalypse Now

            Imagistic Sequences:
            Andrei Tarkovsky – The Sacrifice
            Sally Potter – Orlando

Solving the problem of passive protagonists in a sequence
Sequences and Narrative Point of View


Day Two:

            Sequences and TV drama series:

  • The primacy of the character questions
  • Dangers of character sequences
  • Managing change
  • Character groups

           Leaving sequences behind: structuring around character.

  • Types of character action
  • Secondary characters
  • No-plot sequences

As usual courses will be accompanied by extensive notes on all areas covered, including all slides shown over the two days.


Stephen Cleary

Stephen Cleary is a story developer and feature film producer. He has developed over 60 produced features with directors including Ken Loach, Beeban Kidron, Milcho Manchevski, Sophie Hyde, Beeban Kidron and Marc Evans. He was Head of Development at British Screen for four years. He produced New Years Day in 2001, (Panorama selection Sundance Film Festival, Winner Best British Film Raindance Film Festival) and co-produced Goodbye Charlie Bright in 2002. That same year he was also co-screenwriter of the feature, Alexandria.

Stephen founded and ran Arista, Europe’s largest private film development agency from 1996 to 2006. Graduates of Arista programs have written, directed or produced over 250 feature films, including The Last King of Scotland; Brick Lane; Totsi; The Flying Scotsman and London to Brighton.  

Stephen is now an international story consultant. He was the Grace Marion Wilson Visiting Fellow in creative writing at Melbourne University and in partnership with the South Australian Film Corporation, co-designed and ran FilmLab, an acclaimed initiative producing eight prize-winning low-budget features in three years. Most recently he developed Sweet Country, prize winner at the Venice and Toronto film festivals in 2017, and was the lead consultant on the Emmy-award winning documentary What happened Miss Simone?

When not travelling, Stephen lives with his family in Aquitaine, France.