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But the what if can be found in smaller character-driven and slice-of-life movies as well. An abduction! And just the idea of it gives most people a massive headache. Bilbo materializes as he pulls a plain gold ring off of his finger. Drawing a blank? Now, we want to see how the story feels when we describe it briefly with a simple beginning, middle, and end.
If the journey is easy. Synopsizing Tells the Story Thanks to your brainstorming from character. Use the Brief Synopsis template to get you there. Feel free to use one or more of these. Use verbs! Resolution Tells the Story In your screenplay. Problems oc- cur when an evil witch sabotages her and her new friends: Remember that audiences invest their in- terest and their money in a movie in order to discover how a character will solve a big prob- lem.
The Wizard of Oz what if A restless girl is hurled by a tornado into a ma- gical world and discovers that the only way she can get home is to seek help from a powerful wizard. In movie terms. Now you just need to figure out how all that happens. His act of honesty triggers the third-act reward. In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In Casino Royale. In Primal Fear. In Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. James Bond is asked about funds he was supposed to transfer. What was said that triggered the character to search for that clue?
What physical clue led her to that place? A sequence of clever details that push a character toward a truth is a much more interesting journey than one in which she simply trips on the answer. Start with the final reveal: What does the character discover that is most painful.
What goal did the main character have that caused her to behave badly enough to create this problem? What problem occurred that created that event? What event occurred that caused that character to speak the line? Where did that person discover it? Use this page as a constant reference tool to remind you of your original intentions for your project. To deal with it in ten-minute increments of time.
Make something up and see what happens! And as a person who tries hard not to be boring. You relate funny events to your coworkers. If you get stuck on a blank. This template is somewhat long since it works through your entire movie. This helps move her into Act 2. This will make Act 3 — when your main character solves the problem — feel like even more of a victory. Doing so may change the whole story!
STORY 1. Decide on a beginning. Where it all gets kind of crazy is when writers. Theory has been developed about it. Debate has gone into it. Our character-driven structure. Like many other people who write books about screenwriting. Books have been written about it. And writers either feel that they have to follow every single rule they read or that they should abandon structure altogether and commit themselves to artistic aimlessness.
To get started. You can tell your story from several points of view. I promise that. Stay with me. As long as your writing is clear. But this is only a guide.
I said linear.
You can tell your story backward. Consider it a ten-minute crash course in ACTS. You could throw the pieces up into the air. Imagine that there are tons of these scraps of paper.
And imagine that they are everywhere! Imagine that all of the ideas for your movie are written on tiny scraps of paper. You could hand them over to audience members and tell them to come up with the movie on their own. Now imagine dividing those piles into a series of events that add up to each act.
Now go through each se- quence pile and look at each piece of paper. Those are the ACTS. To review: Big picture piles of story are ACTS. Just follow each step and watch your story build. Imagine that each piece has a character moment or activity on it.
Imagine sweeping those ideas into three or four big piles. Dividing Act 2 in half also prevents that act — the longest of the three — from becom- ing repetitive and eventually flat-lining.
Act 2B. Act 1. In this book. Act 2A. Act 1: Act 1A: Page count and act breaks vary in one-hour. Two and a Half Men. Think pages per segment. Dorothy experiences conflict with Miss Gulch. Step 2: The Wizard of Oz. Bring him the broom of the Wicked Witch! Faced with that task. This attempt incites the Witch to set the Scarecrow on fire.
Shifting an act completely restructures your movie. One movie. The Witch kidnaps Dorothy. Four quarters. She has to doll up to get into the castle. Each act shift tests out a new story.
In this story. Dorothy delivers the broom as ordered. By simply re-sorting the titles. Changing the title of an act helps you to brainstorm completely new changes in the plot. Continue to make structural changes by switching the acts around. Step 3: Re-sort your sentences. Sub- sequently.. Act Titles: Dorothy learns that she must seek help from the Wizard to get home. Dorothy runs away and gets caught in a tornado. What sets it up? Are there obstacles along the way?
Remember that your act titles suggested a focus or theme. What events reflect that? In The Wizard of Oz. Those events drives us to the reveal that she must now go home and has only one way to do it. Step 4: Looks like you may have a movie on your hands! Now you can see the big picture on one page. To test all of the structural possibilities. TITLE each segment so that it covers a different event or theme.
This section. And so much is dis- covered during that process! An outline helps you to brainstorm more story ideas. It should also be a tool that is malleable. For these reas- ons. For the purposes of this book. Remember our four-part act structure? To better define your beats.. At what point does the story twist or heighten? Simply put: What your main character wants. Now that you have a sense of what the beat might be.
Character goals change and grow as complications are dealt with and new obstacles appear. Rather than simply long for something. What your main character does. Each sentence will cover the GOAL. A fortune-teller reveals that Aunt Em is sick with worry. Dorothy wants to get away from Miss Gulch.
Dorothy runs away from home with Toto. Story moves forward as a character now has to create a new goal to overcome the complication. Dorothy wants to get back to Aunt Em. But leave the smaller character moments for later. Acts 1. Dorothy is caught in a twister and forced to take refuge in the house. In six sentences. If this is a television script. Act 1 Tips: The house lands in Oz.
Since you only have ten minutes. For now. Your supporting characters can help. In Sequence 4. Make this a big. This is an opportunity to heighten your second act and keep it from flat-lining. Your antagonist plays a role! Act 2A Tips: Often this first part of the second act is a training period for the main character as he is thrown into a new situation or world.
So it tends to be even more exciting. It will be all the more fun to get him back on his feet and victorious in the third act. As the villain gets closer and the relationships become more intense. Pay off those minor characters.
Act 3 Tips: A screenplay feels complete when the main character uses the lessons and skills he has learned along the way to ac- complish his goals. This section deals with the new complication introduced in Sequence 4. The Beat-Sheet Rewrite Congratulations! But when recently chal- lenged by one of my students to define each section.
I did notice a certain rhythm. And, by doing so, the story is pushed for- ward. So try it out. This rewrite might also bring out an important story layer or subplot.
But what if Miss Gulch chases after Dorothy with a machete. Change the complication of that sequence by going to extremes and you breathe a differ- ent life into the next beat.
Use the genre. Beat-sheet Midpoint Rewrite Does your beat sheet start to run out of steam in the second half? Are sequences repeating each other? Perhaps the big event in the middle of the movie, the midpoint, needs some reinvention.
In The Wizard of Oz, big problems occur in the middle of the movie when Dorothy gets to the Emerald City only to be told that she has to kill the Wicked Witch of the West.
Were we to change that midpoint complication, everything else would have to change as well. Instead of being sent on a new mission by the Wizard, perhaps The Emerald City has been taken over by zombies and Dorothy and friends must destroy them all. Try rewriting the midpoint of your beat sheet using one of the following options and see if it helps your story. Beat-sheet Structure Rewrite The beat sheet is the best tool for helping with your structure because it allows you to see — on one page — where your story slows down, cuts corners, or repeats.
Try out one or all of the suggestions below to see if your beat sheet could benefit from a structure rewrite. You may find that doing so cuts the fat and helps you to hit the ground running. Do you get to your movie quicker? Cut the talk and up the activity. Take a hard look at that sequence. Did you speed up your third act by simply writing Sequence 8 as a wrap up? That will give your third act the heft it needs. Beat-sheet Rewrite: Nonlinear Structure Hey, structure rebel, remember how I prom- ised that you could eventually create a.
Then you can build back up to 8 again.
If this is an ensemble movie and you want to switch character point of view per sequence. And by playing around with structure in the beat sheet. See what happens if you move backward from Sequence 8 to Sequence 1. Mix and match sequences to create nonlinear jumps in time and place. Try one or more of these options and see if a nonlinear method of storytelling will work for you. By the time we get to the event we started with.
But is your story emotional? What does it mean for the main character or for other characters? If you do choose to branch off into different directions. Fear to bravery. Loathing to love. A scene tends to take place at a fixed point in time.. They can include many people or no one. When the location or time changes. Scenes capture public events. They can be as short as an eighth of a script page or as long as several pages. The ones we separated into big-picture piles of acts and then subdivided into sequences?
Those scraps are your scenes. Dorothy runs away from home. The next part of the outlining phase. Your out- line will eventually look something like this: Dorothy wants to get away. Build from your beat sheet. Only synopsize your scenes. More scenes will come to you later. A fortune-teller tells her that Aunt Em is sick with worry.
You have spaces here for eight scenes per sequence. Ready to begin? The passages above each section guide you through it.
Is he at home when he shows us how he feels? At school? Any scenes pointing to potential relation- ships down the road? How about a scene showing brewing con- flict with a potential antagonist? You can stop setting up flaw in Sequence 2 and instead switch focus to the activity that gets your character into trouble. By the end of the sequence. Show the scene where something happens that triggers a complication.
Does someone challenge the MC? And when that complication does occur. Does he educate himself by learning about a new environment? Does he train in some way.. A pivotal scene deal- ing with the antagonist or antagonistic force is also. The supporting character may show her worth at this point by bringing up an important question. Your MC may be so invested in his current situation that he forgot what his original story goals were. No worries. By the end of this sequence.
Let your MC ap- ply one of his newfound skills to a scene. No more setup needed! Horror movie? Give us a fright! Kiss the girl! The antagonist may be moving closer. Let him take a risk.
The more risks our MC takes. Create scenes for the character in which his flaw returns or he shows personal doubt. This can be a very emotional se- quence as the ride we were on in Sequence 5 threatens to break down or collide. The lower the moment. Write a scene that gives us a sense of his strategy for Act 3.
Think about a scene that pays off a seemingly mundane line. Something happens here to help your MC refocus and solve his problem. A final scene. Think about a scene where the supporting character makes a choice at this point. The final showdown takes place in this sequence. To add to your scene list.
Shop for items 3. Even in the most traditional setting. Check out Boring. To find this activity. Imagine a character is at a supermarket. An obsessive-compulsive character might have to feel and smell every fruit and veget- able in the whole store.
A competitive character might engage a hapless fellow customer in a race for the best cart. Not necessarily. Get a cart 2. In the TV show Friends. But Phoebe was simply being true to herself — putting freedom and joy above societal norms.
Phoebe sprints. Not only does he solve crimes. During one episode. Rachel and Phoebe go jogging to- gether. This next exercise helps you bring activity into a scene based solely on the flaws of the characters. Annoying to others. If a wo- man needs to get to work. Get ready 2.
Enter building. Ride subway 3.
New security clearance needed. Thriller Genre Obstacle: Add a genre obstacle. Get ready a. Apartment floods.
Enter building a. Horror Genre Obstacle: The passengers on the subway turn into vampires. Action Genre Obstacle: Ride subway a. By doing this. Think about your favorite movie and ask yourself.
Bring back these de- tails. The payoff accomplishes so many things for your script. One of its most effective uses is in helping you find your third act. We see him lug it through the airport.
And in Act 2B. Object Payoff Movies allow the writer the luxury of pointing out even the smallest detail through a close- up. In Act 2A. The suit- case pays off throughout the movie. And that small detail could be the very thing that cracks the movie wide open.
Ryan collects them. Re- member the dropped ring in The Sixth Sense? In the movie Up In The Air. Travel Club cards also pay off in this movie. It symbolizes the per- sonal relationships he so desperately wants to leave behind.
He makes his busi- ness partner hold it.. It can be anything that you know or imagine for your story. At a low emotional point. Object payoff in Up In The Air could look something like this: List all of the objects set up in Act 1 or 2A. He reluctantly throws it in his suitcase. Traveling along with him is yet another ob- ject: But when that small event pays off in an unexpected way later.
Event Payoff A character may do something in the early part of a movie that reveals character or adds life to the act. The in- mates are reluctant to try. Chief Bromden. Randle shows his will to leave. Determined not to make the same mistake twice. By Act 3.
Watching the earlier water fountain scene. List the events — big and small — set up in Act 1 and Act 2A. In The Dark Knight. The Joker. It also pays off as a threat. He reveals that his father abused him when he tried to defend his mother. In this example. Whenever The Joker starts to ask that ques- tion. In the movie Toy Story. A friendship is formed. Line payoff for Toy Story could look something like this: List a line or lines a character may utter in Act 1 or Act 2A.
A sequel can take place. Woody has to admit that. In Act 2B and Act 3. Describe each story beat in three sentences fo- cusing on the GOAL. Now go through your scene list and add those scenes to the correct sequences. Divide your act segments into two. What was once a throwaway becomes real story. Your outline is finished! The Characters Congratulations! Expanding your beat sheet into a scene list has created an outline — a screenplay blueprint from which you can begin writing.
Before you start writing in screenplay format, however, take some time to focus on character. Better to reveal character within the story, by showing the small details and allowing the camera to go close-up. After all, film affords us that luxury. We can pick up on the minutia of a character and, by doing so, get to know him in an intimate way. Consider this next ten-minute tool to be an update of a more traditional character bio- graphy.
Feel free to add more details about your character to this list as you discover them — and ask yourself how these details might pay off. They forget that first impressions are everything and that the audience will judge a character from the. For that reason, bring your character into your script in an act- ive way. In short: Give him something to do that gets our attention. In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Jack Sparrow sails in on what looks like a grand ship, but it turns out to be nothing more than a sinking dinghy.
In The Hangover, one of the first images we have of our ensemble of heroes is the group of them passed out in a Las Vegas hotel room while a tiger prowls in the bathroom. Notice that all of these powerful introduc- tions tell an immediate story. In this way, we cut entire scenes of first-act setup and exposition. In one-hour dramas, combining a strong first impression with an opening teaser can sell a pilot: In Prison Break, Michael Scofield holds up a bank on purpose in order to get thrown in the same jail as his brother.
In the teaser of Breaking Bad, lead charac- ter Walter White recklessly drives a Win- nebago while dressed only in a gas mask and white underpants. So forget the small talk and think of that oneliner that will get noticed. Character Rules You might know what your characters want from your script and have some idea of their point of view.
But how do you know what to do with them scene-by-scene? To get to know your characters and to find interesting things for them to do, you need to figure out their rules — the things they tend to always do — or in some cases, never do.
Man cracks jokes. Wall-E cleans. Juno listens to music. Elle Woods from Legally Blonde knows haircare. You have rules. We all have rules. Think about a recent family dinner. Character rules are abundant in the dinner scene in the first act of Little Miss Sunshine: Act like a mom no matter what.
SO SHE SO HE Always tell the truth, no matter how painful. Refuse to talk until he makes it as a test pilot. Ask questions. Focus only on himself. By everyone applying their rules to the scene — their habits, personal references, likes and dislikes, quirks, and ways of commu- nicating — they let us get to know them quickly and also learn some much-needed in- formation about how they all ended up togeth- er.
But the character rules distract from the exposition. Your screenplay is one big family dinner, and every character in it brings habits and quirks — their rules — to the table. But how do we show all sides of them without going into long monologues about what they feel or think about everything?
What does the character always do out in the workforce or in the world? What does the character always do when he thinks no one else is looking? Use your ten minutes to find rules for as many characters as possible. Bottom line: What does the character always do in one- on-one relationships? And when you come up with those rules.
A friend. He refuses to step on cracks in a sidewalk. Often we invest in a television show just to see how the characters apply. His verbal rule gets in the way as well. A habitual truth teller. In The Year-Old Virgin. A cowork- er. In Lost. Jerry was phobic about germs. Jack will lead. Kramer was an inventor. Elaine was selfish. We invest so heavily in the rules of our fa- vorite television characters. Sawyer will joke. George was cheap.. Kate will act..
Does this create complica- tions for him? You bet it does. In the dark. In The Wrestler. And we see that change only when he breaks his own rule. Kate shows us she is really changing.
In the television drama Dexter.
In Knocked Up. In Baby Mama. Relationship Rules Just as characters follow their own personal rules. Think about it: Put two characters together with contrasting rules. They ski silently to- gether. Her character rule is that she forgets. They share a laugh over dinner.
In Sex and the City. They watch the sunset. She looks confused for one mo- ment. His rule is that he remembers for her. Their rela- tionship rule is that this problem is not to be discussed or dealt with. The great lovers and buddies of American cinema have all had well-defined relationship rules. Charlotte and Miranda have different rules of.
Adam and Amanda Bonner. Fortunately for the clerk. Assuming that the evil Joker in The Dark Knight believes the movie to be his.
As he inter- rogates a clerk about his isolated gas station. Her log line might read: If antagonists clearly pursue their own movie goals. We may not like them or want to be like them.
BREAK character rules to show transition and change. In this chapter. But how much writing can one possibly get accomplished in ten minutes? Remember that scenes can be as short as one-eighth of a page. Then you build out. Just focus on one scene at a time. I mean what has to hap- pen on a physical. Writing solely around these intentions will help you get to the heart of your scenes and keep you from meandering or overwriting. What has to happen in the scene?
What do we have to see someone do? What has to be communicated with words? How does this scene move the story forward? The writer adds scene direction in order to meet the physical intention. When you break down a scene element by element.
Maya leads the way toward the Saab. The writer creates a scene heading to show whether a scene is taking place inside or outside. I mean. I told you the truth. MAYA Were you ever going to say anything? The writer adds dialogue that conveys the verbal intention. Look at how the following scene from Side- ways is written. The writer adds an action line that shows what is really going on in the scene in order to reveal the emotional intention.
Notice how this scene accom- plishes all of its intentions in eight simple lines. From Sideways. Just take me home.. The writer adds a button to the scene that brings closure to the moment.
A man. JEFF Charlotte? JEFF I thought so. Charlotte stares mystified. Reference your scene list. Action button that brings closure and pushes the story forward. Write quickly. From Bloodborne.
And the goal is simply to write a scene. You wrote your first scene. Before a line of dialogue. And you did it without stressing or overwriting! Quicky Format Still intimidated by the form?
You only need to know a couple of terms. It looks like this: It should be capitalized. It is written in sen- tence form and looks like this: Mary writes. The Speed Draft The goal of the speed draft is to finish. MARY Only one hundred pages to go. Put together.
I like Final Draft. If you want to press a key and have it done for you. Dialogue is centered on the script page and looks like this: If you get stuck. Just write. Try and bang out a scene per ten minutes.
And to write those scenes in a format that looks like a movie. Set the alarm clock ten minutes early — write a scene 10 minutes: Office coffee break — write a scene 10 minutes: Drinking morning coffee — write a scene 10 minutes: Baby napping in chair — write a scene 10 minutes: Older kid doing homework — write a scene. Your mantra is: It does not have to be perfect.
But for now. Make it up! At this rate. Only seven more sequences to go. Keep pushing forward to the end! Arrived at class early — write a scene 10 minutes: Riding the train — write a scene 10 minutes: Keep writing where you do. Double your work time and make it two weeks! And those were the scenes that were put together to form your rough draft.
Speed Draft to First Draft You wrote to the end! Script Development: Add New Scenes You worked. And you did it by working around the main intentions of the scene. That means that your next step is to go back through the script and develop it. And your time limitations have ac- tually forced you to write more efficiently and from the gut. You see. By focusing on the imagined, top-secret project, the writer creates both a suspense movie and a character play. American Beauty was also wise to frame its story as a thriller.
Remember to focus on the hook. What makes your story unique? Is it the clash of two opposite characters? Is it the unconventional approach the char- acter uses toward solving a problem? Or is it the problem itself — a situation never before seen on the big screen? You may be dwelling on Act 1 when you try to find your hook. But you should also feel free to explore other areas of your script. And that was the hook, without question. Got it? Here goes:. See the big movie in that one sentence?
From here, you can take your idea and run with it. Why should char- acters in movies be any less self-centered than we are? He believes some good-looking guy with more screen time is simply get- ting in his way. It thinks: The Queen looks at the story of. The Departed is so rich because it focuses equally on the lives of two men on opposite sides of an undercover mob sting. You may even find a better screenplay idea. Antagonist log line. Complication Tells the Story A well-written log line pushes the reader or listener to want to know more about your script.
So, the inevitable follow-up question is: Where do you take the story from here? So, I put it to you: And then what?
Time to brainstorm the major complication of your story. Who might want to prevent your hero from doing what he wants to do? What villainous steps would he take? In When Harry Met Sally, problems occur when Harry sleeps with Sally, then panics, causing her to cancel their friendship altogether.
In Juno, complications occur when Juno becomes attached to the couple that intends to adopt her baby. Sometimes, problems occur because of the flaw of your main char- acter. That flaw is only really useful if it comes back from time to time to shake things up. In The Silence of the Lambs, problems occur when Hannibal Lecter forces Clarice to confront her psychological demons, causing her to weaken in the face of the serial killer.
Now heighten it. List two more complications. By dealing with clever complications, characters earn their happy endings. Synopsizing Tells the Story Thanks to your brainstorming from character, you have a sense of your story. Creating a log line has helped you find the hook and creating complication has expanded that idea into a movie. Now, we want to see how the story feels when we describe it briefly with a simple beginning, middle, and end.
Use the Brief Synopsis template to get you there. Feel free to use one or more of these. Use descriptive, active language to help you see your movie. Use verbs! Fortunately, the therapist learns that the ghosts simply need attention from the boy. Tragically, he learns that he himself is dead. The Wizard of Oz what if A restless girl is hurled by a tornado into a magical world and discovers that the only way she can get home is to seek help from a powerful wizard.
Problems occur when an evil witch sabotages her and her new friends: Fortunately, the group melts the witch, proving that they have the brains, courage, and heart to solve their own problems.
In movie terms, those are your first, second and third acts. Resolution Tells the Story In your screenplay, you know that your sweethearts get married, your cop gets the robber, and your good guy defeats the bad guy. Now you just need to figure out how all that happens. Remember that audiences invest their interest and their money in a movie in order to discover how a character will solve a big problem.
Often, the answer can be. His act of honesty triggers the third-act reward. In Casino Royale, James Bond is asked about funds he was sup- posed to transfer, triggering his realization that the love of his life has betrayed him. In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, main character Joel Barish is given the cassette tape that talks about his former girlfriend, triggering him to reclaim his memories.
Start with the final reveal: What does the character discover that is most painful, shocking, surprising, or delightful? Where did that person discover it? What physical clue led her to that place?
What was said that triggered the character to search for that clue? What event occurred that caused that character to speak the line? What problem occurred that created that event? What goal did the main character have that caused her to behave badly enough to create this problem? A sequence of clever details that push a character toward a truth is a much more interesting journey than one in which she simply trips on the answer, or worse, is just told!
Plot and Character Elements Tell the Story Use ten more minutes to review your elements by putting them on one page. Use this page as a constant reference tool to remind you of your original intentions for your project. Additionally, as a veteran moviegoer, you already have a story sense that helps you as a writer.
You relate funny events to your coworkers, reminisce with your loved ones, and tell bedtime sto- ries to your kids. In fact, the next template uses the language and simple beats of a bedtime story to help you tell your movie story.
This template is somewhat long since it works through your entire movie. If you get stuck on a blank, just move on to the next section.
Make something up and see what happens! This helps move her into Act 2. This will make Act 3 — when your main character solves the problem — feel like even more of a victory. To get here, you made up a story on the spot — filling in the blanks as you went. Doing so may change the whole story! Flag for inappropriate content. Related titles. Screenwriting] - J. Jump to Page. Search inside document.
The Coffee Break Screenwriter: