How to Write a Screenplay? PART 3 – PLOT Screenwriting
For most writers, PLOT is the most interesting part of screenplay writing, and why they begin to write to write the script in the first place. They have a good idea for a story, and they want to write it.
PLOT Screenwriting is a mixture of two things:
1) What happens to the characters
2) What they do because of WHO they are
Most PLOTS wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t for the CHARACTERS. A CHARACTER(s) should drive the story, and vice versa.
You always know you’re watching a BAD FILM when any human being can insert themselves into the film. The UNIQUE character has to drive the PLOT.
The last thing you want is for you, the writer, to be a character in the plot.
“The stuff that I got in trouble for, the casting for The Godfather or the beginning scene I wrote in Patton, was the stuff that was remembered.”
-Francis Ford Coppola Writer/Director (Godfather Trilogy, Apocalypse Now)
LET’S TALK ABOUT THE BASICS
Every story has a BEGINNING, MIDDLE and END, and every story has to come from a certain point of view. It can come from the point of view of a character (or characters from scene to scene) OR it can come from the audience’s point of view. WE the audience are looking into the story and seeing what is happening.
Think about reading a NOVEL. Either it’s written in the first person, where the character is telling the story, OR it’s in third person, where the actions are telling the story. The same goes for a script.
KNOW WHAT’S AT STAKE IN THE MOVIE – WHAT IS THE CONFLICT?
1) SURVIVAL – Many good films are about survival – human instinct – do-or-die situations. If you’re into Hollywood scripts and stories, think about the top-grossing films of all time. 99 out 100 are stories with characters in DO-or-DIE situations.
2) SAFETY AND SECURITY – Need to find a secure/protected setting once again.
3) LOVE AND BELONGING – Someone longing for connection – wanting to feel LOVED.
4) ESTEEM AND SELF-RESPECT – Wanting to be looked up to, and be recognized for their skills.
5) THE NEED TO KNOW AND UNDERSTAND – Curiousity, and understanding how things happen and what they have to go through to get answers.
6) THE AESTHETIC – Trying to be connected with something greater than themselves – a higher power.
7) SELF-ACTUALIZATION – The characters need to express themselves – to communicate who they are. The audience roots for someone to succeed. A lot of comedies have this plot.
RAISING THE STAKES WHILE THE CHARACTER GOES AFTER THE GOAL: PRESSURE AND ROADBLOCKS
SCENES are unified around DESIRE, ACTION, CONFLICT and CHANGE
Each scene has to be a minor, moderate, or major turning point
The effects of TURNING POINTS are fourfold:
You need to lead the audience into EXPECTATION, make them think they understand, then CRACK and open a SURPRISE
SURPRISE and CURIOUSITY always bring the audience into the story
Give the audience the pleasure of discovering life, pains and joys at a level – and in directions – they have never imagined
SETUPS/PAYOFFS-Setup is layering-in knowledge-Payoff is closing the gap and delivering the knowledge to the audience
THREE POINTS YOU NEED FOR THE AUDIENCE TO FOLLOW YOUR STORY
1) Empathy with the characters. We don’t need to like them, but understand them and feel for them.
2) We must know what the character wants and let the character have it.
3) We must understand the values at stake in the character’s life.
The more often the audience experiences something, the less effect it has.
EMOTION peaks and valleys rapidly in a great story. It’s the catalyst for the PACE of the story.
THE LAW OF CONFLICT – Nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict.
As long as conflict engages our thoughts and emotions, we travel through the hours unaware of the VOYAGE that is leading us.
Make sure to check out WILDsound’s Screenplay Festival where you can submit your script and get it read in front of hundreds of industry people.
“Usually when you have a block, it’s because you’ve lost the motor of the story.”
– Amy Holden Jones, Screenwriter (Indecent Proposal, Mystic Pizza)
“The singular image is what haunts us and becomes art.”
-Julia Cameron, Author (The Artist Way)
REMEMBER, THE SCENE IS NEVER WHAT THE SCENE IS ABOUT
1) Define Conflict
-Who drives the scene, motivates it and makes it happen?
-Look at the character; what does she/he want?
-What blocks that which they want?
-What do the forces of the Antagonist want?
2) Break the scenes into BEATS
-A beat is an exchange of action/reaction in character behavior
3) Survey BEATS and locate the Turning Point
-Find the ARC in each character’s transaction
4) Note what begins the scene and what ends the scene
-The great industry cliche is to LEAVE THE SCENE EARLY and ENTER THE SCENE LATE
RHYTHM AND TEMPO – Set by the length of scenes. How long are we in the same time and place? Two or three minutes average for a scene (but come on – it’s not always that easy).
UNITY AND VARIETY – Because something happens in the beginning, something has to happen in the end.
PACING – Rhythm, serenity, harmony, peace, revelation. But we desire change – challenge, tension, danger, FEAR – never repetition.
JUST LET THE STORY BEGIN IMMEDIATELY, THEN LET THE CHARACTERS BRING NEW PEOPLE ON BOARD.
TRUST YOUR CHARACTERS TO TELL YOU HOW THE PLOT CAN EVOLVE IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION. THERE’S ALWAYS SOMEONE IN YOUR STORY WHO CAN BE INTRODUCED TO SEND THE ACTION TOWARD THE CLIMAX.
One of the greatest aids when writing a screenplay is to BELIEVE in the story – believe you are discovering it, instead of creating it. If you believe it already exists somewhere in your head in its entirety, there is no problem you can’t solve with a little detective work.
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