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Units and objectives

Breaking your story into pieces.

David Gane
David Gane
1 min read

In his book, An Actor Prepares, the acting coach Constantin Stanislavski talks about units and objectives.

To him, all stories can be broken down into smaller units (beats, scenes, and acts) and are all governed by an objective;

At the heart of every unit lies a creative objective. Each objective is an organic part of the unit or, conversely, it creates the unit surrounding it.

Each contains the characters’ wants at that moment—but they are all guided by the character’s overall objective driving them.

To better explain this, Stanislavski shares this story:

A certain pilot was asked how he could ever remember, over a long stretch, all the minute details of a coast with its turns, shallows and reef. He replied: I am not concerned with them; I stick to the channel.

The character’s overall objective is the channel that guides you through the scene.

Ask yourself what your character wants throughout the story. This will be your channel across it.

Or think of it this way:

  • Each act is designed in pursuit of the story.
  • Each scene is in pursuit of the act.
  • Each beat is in pursuit of the scene.

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Co-writer of the Shepherd and Wolfe young adult mysteries, the internationally award-winning series, and teacher of storytelling and screenwriting.