As a life-long learner, I’ve taken many a writing class, course and workshop over the years.
I studied Professional Writing & Editing at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, I did Summer School in Copywriting at University of Melbourne, I’ve joined various writing organisations and associations to enjoy their seminars and workshops and I’ve attended writing retreats in the US with high profile “Proposal Doctors” and paid for many a critique. I think you learn something from everything you do, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I discovered my favourite way to learn writing and storytelling.
FILM IS STORY
In August 2016, for the very first time I bought tickets to The Melbourne International Film Festival. I was working on the book proposal for A Letter From Paris, struggling with knowing what to include and how to share the story in a way that would make someone (other than me) intrigued, so I decided to bunk off for the day and booked a workshop with script consultant Wendell Thomas about writing a thriller screenplay.
The workshop, held in a theatre, was targeted at screenwriters, but it helped me immensely with my book proposal.
Thomas took us scene-by-scene through the 2015 film Sicario, illustrating how tension was built in sequences, and more importantly, how to sequence a story through the information you leave out.
I took about ten pages of notes, leaving with my creative cup full, having learnt more about story structure (and in a much more enjoyable way!) than I had in my entire two year writing and editing degree at RMIT, incredibly inspired to get back to my laptop and bang out my story.
STRUCTURE IS THE MISSING PIECE
You see, what I never learnt at RMIT, was how to structure a story. I didn’t even know structure was a thing. We wrote plenty of scenes in Novel. We wrote essays where we explored the genre of creative non-fiction and were given a word limit. We were taught proofreading and editing symbols in Editing and poetry in Poetry and myths, archetypes and symbols in the late Ania Walwicz’s class Myths & Symbols (I loved that class and I loved Ania.) But we never ever learnt story structure.
WHY MOVIES HELP YOU LEARN STORY STRUCTURE
When you watch movies – feeling the tension grow in your body because of the order in which certain information is released– you undoubtedly know that story is a physical, primal thing. It enervates us, pulls, tugs, intrigues and captivates us. This is why Hollywood went through the Golden Age between two world wars – we need story to take us out of our lives and inspire us to imagine something else!
The missing piece of structure – and movies! – is exactly why I created 90 Day Memoir and teach it in the way I do (via video classes and using visual aids to show certain stages in storytelling).
90 Day Memoir is not so much a writing course (you won’t be finessing your sentence structure or workshopping your chapters) as a storytelling course. And in terms of the program experience, I decided to mimic that wonderful workshop on Sicario and screenwriting – each of the masterclasses that take you through the Hero’s Journey guide you through examples from both blockbuster films and bestselling memoirs. I think most of us our visual learners to a degree, and it’s much easier to conceptualise certain keys of storytelling if you have a real live example.
FILMS WHICH USE THE HERO’S JOURNEY
Some of the films I use to illustrate certain structural parts of writing in 90 Day Memoir include:
🎥 Crocodile Dundee (this is CLASSIC Hero’s Journey stuff!)
🎥 Overboard (yes, I know technically it’s a story of kidnapping, but I adore Goldie Hawn)
🎥 The Devil Wears Prada (Meryl Streep as Villain archetype is particularly wonderful, as is Stanley Tucci as Ally!)
🎥 The Bourne Identity
🎥 Spectre (and all the James Bond films)
🎥 Sleepless In Seattle
🎥 The Wizard of Oz
📚 Books include WILD by Cheryl Strayed, UNBOUND by Steph Jagger, The White Masai by Corinne Hoffman, MAID by Stephanie Land, Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember by Christine Hyung Oak-Lee, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, EDUCATED by Tara Westover and many more.
Story is as much a human need as food, drink, shelter and safety – it gives context to our experiences and brings meaning to our lives. I wanted to make LEARNING story fun in the way I structure 90 Day Memoir, which is why the masterclasses take you through certain scenes in movies as well as bestselling books to really anchor in that knowledge of how you tell your story.
My idea of a cosy winter afternoon is settling with a good book or a Hitchcock film in front of an open fire, notebooks to hand and a glass of red, because even when i’m trying NOT to write, movies and good books just get my creative juices flowing. I did my best to incorporate this into 90 Day Memoir, which gives you over ten hours of video masterclasses to watch in your own time (with your notebooks at hand!). What’s more is that it doesn’t feel like you’re studying – you get to just ‘lose’ yourself in a good story!