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Image of a story mountain

Story mountains and other narrative templates

Film is an incredibly powerful tool for storytelling and by creating their own scripts your learners are developing advanced narrative capabilities. A story planning template acts as a thought provoking catalyst for creative writing. In our previous step we used the Plot Point Sentence Starters template. In this step, we’ll be using the ‘story mountain’ pictured above, which is a simplified version of a story arc.

The majority of mainstream films follow a set of narrative formulae and whilst this may seem conventional, the narrative possibilities are limited only by imagination. These structures give teachers a fantastic tool for helping pupils plan a coherent and structured narrative.

Story arcs

During a standard story arc, we begin with equilibrium (our main character’s normal life and routine), next an inciting incident (unusual event) takes place and changes everything for our protagonist (main character), giving him or her an obstacle (problem) to overcome. Tension rises at this point in the story, and the obstacle seems insurmountable (impossible to overcome). Finally, during the climax (most exciting part of the film) the protagonist finds a solution, and a new equilibrium takes the place of the old. The protagonist has usually learned something about him or herself by the end of the narrative journey.

Can you apply the story arc to your favourite film? Students tend to become really enthused when they begin to recognise each of the stages within a text they know well.

To simplify the story arc for use in class, you will find two straightforward story mountain planning templates below that can be selected according to age and ability. The first offers an explanation of each of the stages and what should happen at each point in the story, and the second contains the story mountain template above along with the sentence starters, use these interchangeably or allow the students to select their preferred format. Additionally, you will find attached a Planning Axis which is a more advanced template if you would like to offer a further challenge for your class. Not only can the templates be useful for analysing narrative structure, but as a template for writing an original script.

In our next step we’ll move on to shoebox set design, which is a simple planning and filmmaking task. In order to prepare for your film in a shoebox, please use the story mountain planning template as a guide to assist you in writing a simple script of no more than a minute in length. We will be using our script in the following step.

How could the story mountain task also be used in relation to film analysis or to scriptwriting in your class?

Please add to the comments below.

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This article is from the free online course:

Teaching Literacy Through Film

The British Film Institute (BFI)

Course highlights Get a taste of this course before you join:

  • Why use film to improve literacy?
    Why use film to improve literacy?

    Watch this short video to discover how and why learning through film improves literacy.

  • Foley sound
    Foley sound

    This step is an introduction to Foley art, and has a video clip with Foley artist, John Fewell.

  • Stills from The Girl and the Fox that show different shot sizes.
    Developing writing through camera shots

    Linking camera shots and positions to still images in this activity, can provide a great writing stimulus in creating narrative.

  • Record and Playback
    Record and Playback

    An introduction to the technique of Record and Playback, a simple but very effective tool for curricular learning.

  • Two images each showing samples of a shoe box set design.
    Shoebox set design

    Making a shoe box set takes your pupils on a filmmaking journey that produces literacy outcomes, and is a great tool for assessment. PDF provided.