December 22, 2011

Writing a Scene - Scriptcast notes

Hello my festive eyeballers. Today’s Screenwriters Anonymous is about scene writing. This handful of nuggets comes care of the Scriptcast podcast (you can find it here on iTunes). You could go listen to it yourself, or you can save your minutes and read the crux below, but it's still a podcast worth a regular listen.

I’ve gotta say, I love a lot of these screenwriting podcasts, and we should show gratitude to the awesome folks who make them without getting a buck back from them. Kudos.

* Start with a slugline – what happens? (What needs to happen in the scene based off your outline?)
* Four elements:
-An emotional moment (if you’re writing comedy, this could be the funny bit)
-A character moment
-Plot movement
Your MUST have AT LEAST TWO of these moments per scene.
* What information are you giving? Do you give it more than once? Cut that shit down, son.
* What does each character want, and what will they do to get it?  Where’s the CONFLICT?!
* You can add a third character to a scene to create friction when the two other characters are talking (the great example they gave was The Big Lebowski, how when Walter & The Dude are talking at the bowling lane, Donnie keeps pissing Walter off).
* Characters CAN hate each other.
* You can get a lot of comedy from a stupid character, or a character that lies a lot.
* Think of several ways to write a scene. Don’t just write it one way! Explore. Rigidity is not your friend – experimentation is (unless you’re in college, in which case rigidity and experimentation may go together).

That's all for today, but very soon I'll post a chunky recap of the brilliant Scriptchat on THRILLERS. It should be... thrilling. Yes, I know. Dad humour. I love you too.

Merry Crustmas, Happy Harmonukkah, Joyous Ryan Kawnten-za, and any other holiday religion I forgot to offend. Stay safe, be generous, and get started on those New Year's Resolutions. Next year is set to be huge, considering it will be Earth's going out of business sale, if you believe those meddling Mayans.

Screenwriters Anonymous - when we say give yourself over to a higher power, we do not mean Robert McKee.

December 4, 2011

Structure - tips from Scriptchat

We're born, we do shit, we die. There's our three act structure.
But when it comes to the stories we tell, it gets more complicated, because we must play God and be the architect of our characters' fates.

Structure is a tricky thing - so set in stone in some ways, so loose and 'anything is possible' in others. And it's something you'll be lucky if they teach in a screenwriting course (I am scowling at my university as I write).

Here are some gems shared by the brains trust of Scriptchat. I hope you find some helpful wisdom in here.

STRUCTURE 30th October 2011

* There’s overall structure and individual scene structure.
* When writing a scene ask yourself “What do I want this scene to be about?” Let that guide how you construct the scene.
* Start with a solid structure (don’t overthink it!) then let your characters run free so the structure becomes organic.
* Once the outline is written, stop stressing on structure and have fun with the story.
* Think of your script in quarters (like 4 acts).
* The midpoint is a thematic break, rather than a plot break. This is why 3 acts can often seem like 4.
* Think of the midpoint as page 60 of a 120 page script. A major plot decision that highlights the theme.
* Focus on set-ups and pay-offs.
* A good guide for scenes: they should be on average 2 minutes long. 7 in the first act, up to page 28-ish. Proceeds accordingly. (The maths on this doesn’t add up – maybe the person who suggested this tip could clarify?)
* Try to focus on plot events rather than acts when charting your A, B, and C strands.
* The major key to cracking structure is figuring out what events drive the plot. Not comprise it, but CAUSE IT.
* Do extensive character work, really get to know these people in and out, and the plot points you devise will be organic to your characters and believable to the audience.
* What’s your character’s goal? Their obstacles? Don’t prescribe, LISTEN!
* Don’t be married to your outline or you won’t embrace changes.
* Plotting: ‘Veni, vidi, vici – I came, I saw, I conquered’.
* Be sure that your lead character drives the action, despite you having ‘outlined their fate’.
* Characters should always be making choices true to the character. Bring ‘em to their breaking point honestly.
* You could break plot into 7 – 8 blocks with a dramatic question for each, and plot points spinning the story in a new direction (even if your story is linear, it shouldn’t walk a straight line!)
* Inciting incidents tend to appear earlier now than they used to in films, now occurring between page 5 – 10.
* Conflict drives story. Never forget that. Dexter was at its best when you were constantly fearing Dex getting caught. The Big Lebowski is funnier when Walter is yelling at Donnie.
* By page 5, the reader should know who the main character is and what they want. Why they can’t get it should follow soon after.
* The best scenes have three layers of conflict: intrapersonal (inside the character), interpersonal (between characters), and circumstantial (conflicting with their environment/situation/the greater world or order).
* Always know what all of your characters want, and how those desires clash, and there’s your tension.
* Your inciting incident should never be the most exciting thing in your script. The conflict should.
* DVD recommendation: ‘Heroes 2 Journeys’ (structure & character development)
* Book recommendations: ‘How to write a movie in 21 days’. ‘Myth & the movies’ by Stuart Voytilla (myth structures for 50 top films). Books written by David Howard, including ‘How to build a great screenplay’, and Paul Joseph Gulino, including ‘Screenwriting: the sequence approach’.

I don't know about you, but I think there's a lot of gold written above. Structure of plot and scenes intimidates me, but I think some of these tips will help me to move forward.

Next time I'll share some notes I made listening to a podcast. Yes, you could listen to the podcast yourself, but not everyone has 45 minutes to give their full attention over to a sound file. The topic will be scene writing, and it should be a nice little follow-up to this post on structure.

Screenwriters Anonymous - where a narcissistic, egotistical God complex with features of grandeur delusions is absolutely mandatory.