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Screenplay Structure

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polkablues

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Reply #30 on: March 12, 2014, 08:17:41 PM
Plot is a series of opportunities to present choices to your characters that allow them to reveal themselves.

That's fantastic. A much more succinct way of saying what I was trying to say in this other thread:

You can't look at plot as a dirty word, though; boiled down to its broth, all "plot" means is cause-and-effect.  It's the series of actions and reactions that drives your characters through the story.  You can't really say don't be concerned about plot, just write the story -- the plot IS the story.  Without it you just have a series of unrelated events in which characters do things that don't matter.  I've read (hell, written) enough aimless scripts that start nowhere and go nowhere to respect the importance of plot to story.  And I've used the same excuse that every writer who writes an aimless script uses: "It's about the characters."  Which is fine, but cinematically, the way you reveal character and develop character is through plot.  Characters start out in stasis, then events happen which move them out of that stasis, and how the characters respond to their new situation is the only way we know who they are as characters.  That's all plot is.  It's how we get the characters from point A to point B.
That's some catch, that Catch-22.


Reelist

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Reply #31 on: March 12, 2014, 09:00:19 PM
Interesting you'd bring this up, I've been stuck for a while on a specific plot point that was the germ of my idea when it first came to me in my teens. Yet after all this time ruminating about it and writing 60+ pages on everything surrounding the event, I still haven't gotten to the meat of that scene in script format, just outlines and notes. Most of my efforts have been placed on sort of justifying what would get the character into that situation, and writing it out has taken me on some interesting detours that have made it a richer and more personal story for me, but then there's this crucial scene hanging over it all like a dark cloud, "Hey, make sure you fit me in there, too!"  So, I haven't worked on it in months now, and I think the key to getting back on track is to write the scene as it seems to continuously play out in my head and really figure out how the consequences affect his decisions after that, and does it make for something exciting to watch? I never thought about the outcome of this film, certain images just flashed through my mind and never left, so I feel like I have to honor them and see them through to their conclusion to find out if they WORK, even if they end up not being used or the movie isn't made at all.
Ever have a feeling and you donít know why?


wilder

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Reply #32 on: May 04, 2014, 03:57:11 PM
This is kind of funny:

Quote from: Sean Hood
I would argue that ANY movie can be interpreted as following Blake Snyder's famous beat sheet - even epic failures like Gigli, Pluto Nash, or (in my opinion anyway) Star Wars: Episode One.  What most people don't consider is that universal templates for stories apply universally to both good and bad.

In this April Fools Day blog article, I argued that the "Save The Cat" principles apply to Plan Nine From Outer Space.

Genre Hacks - "Save The Cat" Beat Sheet: Plan Nine From Outer Space


Robyn

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Reply #33 on: March 29, 2019, 11:48:46 AM
I think there's a common misconception that outlining is somehow divorced from actual writing, or that the goal of outlining is build a rigid plot skeleton that you then have to cram your story into no matter how much your characters and themes bulge grotesquely out the cracks.

On the contrary, I see outlining as simply the process of thinking your story through before committing it to its final format. Unless you have Jon Peters standing over your shoulder telling you Superman has to fight a giant spider in the third act, the point isn't to retrofit your story to hit predetermined points, but to be able to go through and examine from all angles how your story and your characters progress. Who are your characters? What is their situation? What happens that alters that situation? How do they react to it? What does that reaction drive them to do? How has that choice changed them, and what is the new situation they're faced with as the result? You could stop at the first question and start scripting, but what happens 60 pages in when you realize you took a wrong turn back on page 20 and your whole story is suffering from what seemed like the right choice at the time? If you're incredibly disciplined, maybe you go back and fix what needs to be fixed and redo 40 pages from scratch, but if you're anything like me, odds are you just get frustrated and put the whole thing to the side, hoping to return to it but never actually doing so.

To me (and this is the result of a major evolution over years of writing), outlining is just as much a part of the process as scripting and revising are. And the lovely thing of it is, the more you focus on the outlining, which can actually be fun and creative and gratifying, the less you typically have to worry about the revising, which tends to be mind-numbing and soul-crushing.

The process I go through now, which has made my writing so much better and so much more rewarding, is: start with a very basic description of your story, essentially your logline. If nothing else, you want a sense of what kicks off the story and the general direction that takes it. From there, figure out who your characters are. Beyond general description, you need to figure out what their internal struggle is. How is each person in your story affected by the events of the story? You absolutely positively HAVE TO know who your characters are before you start plotting, because everything that happens will derive from the actions they choose at each step of the way, and if those choices are not beholden to some logical consistency built into those characters, your story sucks and I don't want to see your movie.

From there, I write a fairly brief prose outline, maybe 2 to 4 pages, just working out the broad strokes of the story. This is where you really want to put the last step to use, because every time you ask yourself, "What happens next," the answer is always going to be found in your knowledge of the characters. And the deeper that knowledge goes, the easier those answers become clear. It's at this stage that the major themes of your story will likely start revealing themselves to you as well, and that's a fun process to be a part of.

That done, if you want to start writing the script from there, I would fully support your decision. For me, though, I would move on to the scene-by-scene outline, which is exactly what it sounds like. Using my previous outline as a loose guide, I start working out the setup and payoff of every single scene in the movie. Where are they, who's in the scene, what happens. There are two huge benefits to this: it will cut the time it takes to you finish the full script immeasurably, and it will help you find major problems and fix them before you've committed too much to paper.

I guarantee you, if you take the time to work through these steps, writing the actual script will be easier, faster, and you'll be so much happier with your first draft than you would be if you just started scripting with nothing more than an idea and a title (side note: starting with a title is fine, but 99% of the time the script itself will suggest a much better title once it's done). I find that when you've put this much thought into it beforehand, issues will become apparent immediately as you're writing, and solutions come much more easily. It's a wonderful feeling to hammer out a solution to a problem in your story and realize that same change solves a problem elsewhere in your story. I'm not saying that's impossible to achieve when you're writing by the seat of your pants, but it seems to happen more easily and more often the more thought and effort you've put into the story and the characters prior to the actual writing.

Aaaaand that concludes today's edition of Pretentious Thoughts on Screenwriting with Polkablues. Tune in next week for "'As I'm Sure You Know...': How to Better Hide Exposition in Dialogue."

This is a great post!

You hear guys like PTA in interviews saying that he begin writing the script and then let the characters take him to the end. But he's one in a million, and a genius. I've reached the same conclusion regarding my own writing, that it's less frustrating when I have clear goal in mind, and know how I want to tell my story. I've spend days and days trying to perfect scenes and then realize later on that the scene doesn't have a place in the script in the first place. If you can kill your darlings, that's great (you have to be ruthless with them), but if you knew what story you wanted to tell before writing the first draft, then you wouldn't be in the position where you have to cut scenes you are proud of because they doesn't make sense in the grand scheme of the story.

Maybe I'll underwrite my characters before I start the script and it would be easier to work the PTA-way if I knew my characters better. 

Regarding themes I try to come up with the story first, and then ask myself what themes I can explore within that story. I feel like you'll get more interesting results then if you do it the other way around. The script I am writing on now is about a cannibal truck driver. I was drawn to the images that idea evoked in me. Then I come up with the conflicts and the story, then I asked myself what themes and ideas I could explore within that story structure. And I can tell you this much: I wouldn't have thought of that story if I had the themes in mind first. Now hopefully I have an interesting story and can explore unexpected themes within that story. 

Is this a pointless post? Maybe. Do people here even care? Idk... but I feel like we all have things to say about this, and it's nice to talk about writing somewhere.


eward

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Reply #34 on: March 29, 2019, 12:33:08 PM
I'm nearing the finish line on draft 1 of a new script, and this is really the first time I've made the effort to construct a full outline prior to diving in - in the past I'd often compile a lot of stray notes and things but nothing particularly organized - and to my delight I find I can't begin to sing the praises of the process loudly enough. The whole thing unspooled in about two days, and almost immediately I was compiling script pages with relative ease.

This is also worth watching:

"Do you laugh at jealousy?"

"No, I don't even laugh at seasickness! I happen to regard jealousy as the seasickness of passion."


polkablues

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Reply #35 on: March 29, 2019, 12:42:53 PM
My ultimate goal in life is to be the L. Ron Hubbard of telling people to outline their stories before they write the script.

And I was just making a joke at the end of that post, but I think I might actually get around to doing that post about how to write exposition better. This might surprise you guys, but I HAVE SOME THOUGHTS ON IT.
That's some catch, that Catch-22.


eward

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Reply #36 on: March 29, 2019, 12:51:28 PM
I like what Bogie said (paraphrasing): "If you give me anything expository to say, there better be two camels fucking in the background."

I also recall at the PTA masterclass a few years ago during Inherent Vice's run at NYFF, he mentioned North By Northwest and screened a scene featuring a lengthy exposition dump, I believe between Cary Grant and Martin Landau, and mid-dump they wander past a large airplane, the engine of which roars to life right behind them, totally drowning out the rest of it.

So that's fun.
"Do you laugh at jealousy?"

"No, I don't even laugh at seasickness! I happen to regard jealousy as the seasickness of passion."


Robyn

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Reply #37 on: March 29, 2019, 01:20:58 PM
hehe, I was actually about to ask you for the next part!

I remember being so anti rules when I was younger. I thought that, if I only watched a lot of films and wrote from my gut, things would sort itself out... that's bullshit, lol

regarding dialogue; the more I write the less I care about dialogue. I used to care so much about it, analysing the dialogue of my favorite movies, trying to make my dialogue sound similar, to the point where I forgot the most important thing; in what context the dialogue was spoken. if there isn't an intriguing context there's a big change that the dialogue will sound flat regardless of how much you work on it. wanna be the next tarantino? then look at what situations these dialogues are spoken. they aren't spoken in boring situations...

everytime I am struggling with exposition, I ask myself why it need to be spoken in the first place. is there a way I can tell it without the dialogue and how? that's standard, but I feel like a lot of people are forgetting it... just look at all the spec script out there. everyone are writing so much bullshit dialogue. cut the crap and be a more visual storyteller. that's what I am trying to do at least.



thanks for this link! i'll watch it.


Robyn

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Reply #38 on: March 29, 2019, 01:33:04 PM
when I was 16 I had a teacher (sort of, I was hanging out at a youth recreation center (if that's the english word) for young filmmakers, where I spent everyday writing scripts for like a year) who told me; "there's too much dialogue in your scripts". I wish I had listened to her back then and not spend so many years trying to perfect it...


eward

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Reply #39 on: March 29, 2019, 01:37:43 PM
I got a lot of that out of my system in the years I tried to be a playwright.
"Do you laugh at jealousy?"

"No, I don't even laugh at seasickness! I happen to regard jealousy as the seasickness of passion."