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Screenwriting Tools and Definition

Character Arc

Develop a story that is significantly challenging enough for the character as to force a transformation. A character begins with a conscious desire and an unconscious need. During the course of pursuing his desire, he suffers sufficiently to become conscious of his need and lets go of his want. Often, the character arc of the protagonist is what defines the theme of the movie, contained in the truth the character doesn’t realize until after his or her transformation.

Ticking Clock

The more time involved in the story, the harder it is to have a script that flows smoothly.
• It is essential that an audience has some clue as to how much time is going to transpire during the story.
• Cram your movie into the shortest workable time frame it will fit into.
• If you’re going to use a flashback, use it within the first 20 minutes or it will be jarring.

Structuring Scenes

Never let a scene go to ten pages. Aim for five pages or less. Cut into a scene when the energy is still high from the last scene. Multitask scenes so that they fulfill several purposes simultaneously. Ask yourself:
1. Is this scene necessary to the story?
2. Does it have conflict? Can it have conflict?
3. What is the purpose/intention/heart of the scene?
4. How late can I come into this scene?
5. How early can I get out of this scene?
6. Can I accomplish more than one thing in this scene?
7. Can I combine this scene with another scene?
8. How can I button this scene (end on the perfect moment)?

How to Develop an Effective Protagonist

The protagonist is the one who has the problem. Without problem, there’s no story. If it’s her story, it has to be her problem.

Create a Sympathetic Character.

We need to care about them within the first ten minutes.
• We often like people who are brilliant/strong/extraordinary in some way.
• If the character cares passionately about something, it is easy for an audience to care about that person.
• We are interested in character who are so unique, quirky, enigmatic, or startlingly original that we want to find out what the deal is.
• The character may be clearly a good, decent person.
• The character may be the underdog
• The character may be hapless and we feel sorry for him.

Don’t describe your actor too specifically in terms of physical attributes and age. This may hurt you in attempting to cast later if actors read the script and know that the part does not describe them.

Give your main character a great entrance or a wonderful character-defining moment in the first five minutes.

Give your protagonist great dialogue. Actors love looking for “Oscar moments” that could include:
A blow-up
A breakdown
A freak-out
A big heroic moment
A terrific physical set piece
A show-stopping speech
A breakthrough

Give your character an original voice.

Heroes and Villains

A good antagonist needs to have strengths that equal the protagonist but don’t necessarily mirror them. The adversary needs to be passionate about his own cause, no matter how evil or misguided it may seem to the audience. Ex. “Heat” (1995) with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.

How to Write a Great Movie Opening

  • Choose a strong image

The opening moments should convey your theme or set the mood for your film.

  • Introduce your star

Introduce your protagonist early and in a way that is original and provides a clear revelation of character.

  • Symbolism
  • Theme

Establish what aspect of the human dilemma is being explored.

  • Establish relationships

Quickly and clear establish relationships between the character and the story as well as between the audience and the story.

  • Surprise or astonish us

Surprise will peak further interest and investment into what will happen in the future.

Act II Blues

Don’t let your Act II lose its pace:

  • Develop your B story

This is often a love story.

  • Develop your Theme
  • Keep your Story Alive
  • Get your Set Ups in place for Act III
  • Continue to Raise the Stakes
  • Shorten the Time Frame

Speed up the clock.

  • Roadblocks

The biggest reason the second acts sag is insufficient conflict. A good roadblock raises the tension – it can be anything that stops the progress of the ongoing story and forces the characters to find another way over or around a new problem.

  • Reversals

When things are rushing along in one direction, and they suddenly do a 180-degree switch and speed off in the opposite direction, that’s a reversal. Reversals work best if they are the last thing your characters (and audience) expect.

  • Character Revelation
  • Develop your Relationships

Relationships always work best in movies when they tie directly into the Through-line and support it.

Climaxes

The climax of the film comes near the end of Act III. Sometimes the climax is the end, but not always.
The climax is about the final rush of energy, while the ending is about wrapping it up.
The climax of the film is the moment at which the central question is answered.

Every subplot has its own three-act structure and its own climax. When your subplots climax simultaneously with your A story, it give far more impact to the climax.

As screenwriters we are always trying to find “the darkest hour before the dawn.” This moment has to come before the climax and the darker and less predictable it is, the better.

Write a Great Ending

Above all, an ending must be satisfying. This doesn’t mean that your story has to be tied up in a neat little bow. Even when an ending is ambiguous, the audience must still feel satisfied; the audience should feel like the journey they just experienced was worth the time and emotional investment they spent in your character’s world.

Film Script Analysis Screenplay Writing


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