Script Analysis: “The End of the Tour” — Part 2: Plot

Reading scripts. Absolutely critical to learn the craft of screenwriting. The focus of this weekly series is a deep structural and thematic analysis of each script we read. Our daily schedule:

Monday: Scene-By-Scene Breakdown
Tuesday: Plot
Wednesday: Characters
Thursday: Themes
Friday: Dialogue
Saturday: Takeaways

Today: Plot.

In every scene, something happens. A plot point is a scene or group of scenes in which something major happens, an event that impacts the narrative causing it to turn in a new direction.

A relevant anecdote. Years ago, I was on the phone with a writer discussing a script project. My son Will, who was about four years old at the time, must have been listening to me talking about “plot points” during the conversation because after I hung up, he asked, “Daddy, what’s a plop point?”

That’s in effect what a plot point is. It’s an event that ‘plops’ into the narrative and changes its course. So when you think Plot Point, think Plop Point!

The value of this exercise:

* To identify the backbone of the story structure.

* To examine each major plot point and see how it is effective as an individual event.

* To analyze the major plot points in aggregate to determine why they work together as the central plot.

This week: The End of the Tour. You may download a PDF of the script here.

Screenplay by Donald Margulies, book by David Lipsky.

IMDb plot summary: The story of the five-day interview between Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky and acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace, which took place right after the 1996 publication of Wallace’s groundbreaking epic novel, ‘Infinite Jest.’

Writing Exercise: Go through the scene-by-scene breakdown of The End of the Tour and identify the major plot points. Post your thoughts in comments and we’ll see if we can come up with a consensus.

Major kudos to Steve Fabian for doing this week’s scene-by-scene breakdown.

For Part 1, to read the Scene-By-Scene Breakdown, go here.

To download a PDF of the breakdown, go here.

To read my 2015 interview with screenwriter Donald Margulies, go here.

Tomorrow we shift our focus to the script’s key characters.

I am looking for volunteers to read a script and provide a scene-by-scene breakdown for it to be used as part of our weekly series. What do you get? Beyond your name being noted here, my thanks, and some creative juju, hopefully you will learn something about story structure and develop another skill set which is super helpful in learning and practicing the craft.

The latest volunteers:

12 Years a Slave — Georgevine Moss
Beasts of No Nation — Jacob Holmes-Brown
Bridge of Spies — Scott Guinn
Carol — Jillienne Bee
Celeste and Jesse Forever — Ryan Canty
Diary of a Teenage Girl — Cynthia
Ex Machina — Nick Norman-Butler
Frozen — Doc Kane
Gone Girl — Ashley Lara
Inside Out — Katha
Legend — Olivia
Leviathan — Piotr Ryczko
Locke — Megaen Kelly
Macbeth — Trung
Man Up — Kristy Brooks
Monsters University — Liz Correal
Mud — Kevin
Nightcrawler — DJ Summit
Pawn Sacrifice — Michael Waters
Steve Jobs — Angie Soliman
Straight Outta Compton — Timm Higgins
The End of the Tour — Steve Fabian
The Iron Lady — Leslie
The Way Way Back — The Deuce
Trainwreck — Joni Brainerd
Wreck It Ralph — Kenny Crowe

Thanks, all!

To see examples of scene-by-scene breakdowns, go here. Part of the goal is to create a library of breakdowns for writers to have at their disposal for research and learning.

You may see the scripts we can use for the series — free and legal — by going here.

To date, we have analyzed 54 movie scripts, a great resource for screenwriters. To see those analyses, go here.

Thanks to any of you who will rise to the occasion and take on a scene-by-scene breakdown.

And for those of you who have volunteered, please send me your scene-by-scene breakdown as soon as possible!

Circling back to where we started, reading scripts is hugely important. Analyzing them even more so. If you want to work in Hollywood as a writer, you need to develop your critical analytical skills. This is one way to do that.

So seize this opportunity and join in the conversation!

I hope to see you in comments about this week’s script: The End of the Tour.

UPDATE: Here is my own sequence breakdown of the plot:

Opening (1–4): Lipsky hears about Wallace’s death.

Infinite Jest (4–7): Lipsky reads the novel and lands the Rolling Stone gig to interview Wallace.

The Meeting (8–12): Lipsky meets Wallace and they go to Wallace’s house.

A Day Out (12–21): Wallace takes Lipsky to the writing class Wallace teaches, then dinner, driving, and 7–11.

Conversation (21–31): The pair discuss contemporary culture, the writing life, the possibility of fame, and Alanis Morissette.

Traveling (31–38): In a car then a plane, they talk parents and rumors about David’s suicide watch.

Settling In (39–42): They meet their host Patty, go the hotel, Lipsky’s boss presses him to ask Wallace about reported heroin addiction.

Tug Of War (42–52): At a reading, Lipsky connects with Julie and Betsy, then Wallace reciprocates by talking to Lipsky’s girlfried Sarah.

Infinite Jest (52–57): The novel is the subject of a Wallace radio interview and conversation between the two Davids at the Mall of America.

Confrontation (57–63): Wallace is angered thinking Lipsky is “hitting on” his ex-girlfriend Betsy.

The Seduction of Fame (63–71): Wallace shares the very real fear of how fame may affect his writing.

Revelations (71–79): Wallace discusses heroin rumors, the root cause of his depression, then reveals he goes to a weekly dance at a local church.

Farewell (79–84): In saying good-bye, Wallace agrees to read Lipsky’s book, then says, “I’m not so sure you want to be me.”

Denouement (84–85): Lipsky writing in 2010, Wallace dancing in 1996.

What I find so interesting about the narrative is how if you look at the sequences, it feels like it should be an episodic story, yet there is a flow to it from venue to venue. And to me that all comes down to the arc of the characters’ interactions. We’ll explore that in tomorrow’s post.

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