A Screenplay in 70 Days – Week Three

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With the characters now under development and we have our first outline written out, all in just two weeks. Very well done. We will continue to move forward this week in developing more of the details for our story. Going forward I will be using last week’s example of the bank robbery as our example. There’s a lot of work to do this week so, let’s getting started with Week Three.

Week Three – February 2 – February 8, 2014

Day One – Determining Your Setting
Your choice of setting is one of the three most important parts of your story. Story Development is reminds me of the definition of a noun, a person, a place or a thing. These are the three key things a storyteller needs to tell a good story, a Hero, a Setting and a Plot. We’ve got our hero and we’ve started to develop the Plot so now let’s focus on our setting. Where does your story take place? A city, town or a village? Maybe a specific location, like Die Hard where the entire film took place in a office tower under siege. Time to have a little fun today; we’re going to watch a movie and make some notes. Pick your favourite film and while watching it, write down the specific locations. Star Wars would start with, space over Tatooine, inside the Rebel Blockade Runner, and inside the life pod. You’ll find some movies like Star Wars while have a number of unique locations while Die Hard has very few locations.

Today we’re going to write down a list of possible locations for our story. Looking at our bank robbery story of course the two key locations will be inside the bank and the street outside the bank. But throughout the film we’ll need a police station, the inside the Villain’s house, a car chase through city streets and maybe a train station. Notice how we’ve started to block out the story. Each location tells a different part of the story and by creating a list of locations we’ve started to thinking about the specific details of our story. Spend an hour or two coming up with interesting and unique locations for your screenplay. Once you have your list, put them in order of their appearance in the screenplay. Now rearrange them to tell the same story in a different order. Keep shuffling your location blocks until you’ve found an order which you like.

Day Two – Researching Your Story
Research – the word that can either scare or excite a writer. When your going to write about something you personally don’t know about, you first need to do research. Thanks to the internet there are a number of valuable sources you can use to conduct your research but be warned; not everything on the internet is correct. Get information from a number of different sources. The internet, the library and interviews are the three common forms of research. If you have a scene with fire fighters battling a blaze in extremely cold temperatures then take the time to go to your local fire station and request an interview with a couple of fire fighters. If you explain who are and what your looking to learn many professionals will assist you often by telling you their personal stories which can lead to a much more realistic scene or character. I love research, but I’ve only come to love research recently. I find the internet gets you enough information to put together some intelligent questions to ask those you’re interviewing. Remember if you just make up the facts, there will be those in the audience will call you on your fake facts and you’ll lose a fan.

Research will take longer than just a few hours in day, but today we’re going to get started. What parts of your story do you need to learn about? I need to learn about bank robberies and how a bank operates and reacts to an armed robbery. Knowing that I need research in this area I’m going to start with the internet and read about various robberies around the country and then a trip to Library to read about historic robberies in my local area as these could plan into my story. Finally I have a retired police officer friend who I sit with and learn what he knows about police robbery procedures maybe a couple stories from his own experiences. Each of these three sources might then point me into specific direction leading further research. A writer can often become a subject matter expert in a number of fields based on their writing. Keep individual notebooks for each topic you research because you never know when that information might be needed in a future story. Just keep researching and your stories will continually improve and sound more and more realistic. Whenever possible, don’t make up information, research it.

Day Three – World Building Your Story
Part research; part creativity, world building can often take over the entire development process if you allow it to. Even if your story in the real world you still need to build your world first. If you’re story takes place in an old, large house then the first thing you need to do is draw a complete floor plan of the house. As the screenwriter you need to know that the character needs to turn right to go from the second bedroom to the bathroom. They would need to turn right every time they leave their bedroom to go to the bathroom. What’s important is that you don’t allow it to take over the development process. If you are building a completely new world then I would recommend you search the web for further information as there are some amazing websites out there.

In our story we would need to develop the bank design. How does the villain escape? Is there a back door? If not, then how does he get away? Maybe later in the story there is a fight scene in a unique location such as a museum and you’re best to visit the location and take notes and (if possible) take photos. You would need to use this information to build parts of your story’s world.

Day Four – Weaving Great Subplots
In Star Wars the main plot is getting the Death Star plans to the Rebellion and there is a secondary plot about Luke starting his training in the Force and there is a third plot about Han wanting to pay off his debt with Jabba the Hutt. There are a number of smaller plots going on in the film such as the history between Ben and Vader and Leia protecting the Rebellion’s hidden base. How do you develop these different plots; where do they come from? While you develop the characters you give them all personal goals and it is these goals that are developed into subplots. Han Solo’s goal is to make enough money to pay off his pre-existing debt with the gangster, Jabba the Hutt. Leia has been raised to protect the Rebellion to her dying breath. She is willing to die to protect the Rebellion. Ben has been protecting Luke readying him to learn about the Force.

Today write down a list of each of your characters and next write down each character’s goals. Some of these goals might be strong enough to support a subplot while others might just support a scene, such as Leia’s protection of the Rebellion to the point where she allows her home world to be destroyed. Don’t worry about your Hero and Villain as their goals are the push and pull of the screenplay. Look to your secondary characters, such as the negotiator or the bank manager and write down their goals. The negotiator’s goal is to bring the hostage taking to an end, but what if he had a second goal? What if he’s trying to get a promotion within the police force and the outcome of this incident will determine the success of his promotion. What if the bank manager is just days away from retirement and he doesn’t have funds to fall back on and decides to assist the villain in an effort to steal some of the money for himself? Character goals become wonderful secondary plots. Don’t go with the most obvious goal; try to find a unique goal. What if the bank manager wants the money to be able to move to Island and open a hamburger stand?

Day Five – Putting it all Together
Over the last three weeks we have built a number of plots and scene ideas and it is scattered over a number of different days. Today we’re going to pull it all together and write down a in a specific list of ideas for our story. Last week we wrote a four page outline for our story; let’s start with that. Now look at what we’ve done this week. Did you’re setting cause you to make changes to your story? If so, how did your story change? If not, why not? If you change your setting then it should have an effect on your story. If I move the bank story from a bank to a fast food outlet what changes is going to happen? The amount of money at stake is much less so the Villain would need to have a beef (no pun intended) with the fast food outlet, or with a specific person working there. Did your research or world building change your original outline? Maybe you learned something about a location that makes part of your outline unrealistic? Yesterday we spoke about subplots and this is going to change the outline. Hopefully you have one or two additional subplots to fit into your story. In a possible subplot we may have determined that the negotiator is in fact in on the robbery and that information would need to be added to the outline. It would make a great twist towards the end of the film when we reveal that the negotiator is in fact the main Villain.

Today write down a list of information that needs to be added to your story’s outline. If you find that you’re missing information or you’re new ideas have some holes in them than take some time and try to close those holes and making your new information is solid. I really like the idea that the negotiator is the main Villain and it will completely change the ending of the film, but it would also change parts of the beginning of the film because the negotiator has a new central goal. Once you have all of your new information brought together you’re ready to tackle tomorrow’s task.

Day Six – Writing a Final Story Outline
Today is a big writing day. We’re going to write down an outline for our story that includes all of the subplots and research information we’ve created this week. Your second outline will be longer than your first because there will be greater detail in this outline. Subplots will need to threaded throughout your story at this point and you will need to make sure that these subplots are explored in detail and they are brought to a close cleanly before the Climax of your main plot. Write the outline in prose complete with dialogue and wordy description. The first act of your story should be about four pages long. The second act is doubled the length of the first act and the third act should be the same length of the first act. This will give you a 16 page outline with a great many details about your story. Go and get started with your outline because it’s going to take you a couple of hours.

Day Seven – Three Act Structure 301
Two weeks ago I introduced you to the three act structure and how well written stories are drafted using three different acts, a beginning a middle and an end. Last week I told you that everything you’ve ever read about writing to the page numbers is hogwash. Yes there are points in the story that must happen to move your story forward, however putting them on a specific page number and ensuring they are on that page number is just a waste of your effort. Today you’re going to tackle your second act.

The second act is the longest act and many writing books now break it into two equal parts to help work through it. While I see the logic of making it easier to digest, I prefer to look at it as one seamless piece of writing. The second act begins at the point where the Hero decides to take on whatever the story challenge is. Luke Skywalker, after discovering his aunt and uncle are dead, returns to Ben Kenobi and agrees to go with him to learn the ways of the Force, who describe the end of Act One in Star Wars. Now that the Hero is committed to the story it’s time to throw him some curve balls. Make things difficult. Luke has to find transportation to Alderaan which means he has to sell his speeder. While boarding the Falconthey are attacked by Stormtroopers. Nothing is too difficult yet as each moment builds the drama a little bit at a time. Conflict is Drama and Drama is Story therefore your screenplay needs conflict.

Earlier you were asked to write out a number of story scenes that you can see happening within your screenplay and then you were asked to divide these into potential first, second and third act scenes. Take the second act pile and spread out these scenes on the table in front of you. This is where working with cue cards might make things a little easier. Look at each scene idea and ask yourself, what is the level of conflict? Assign it a number between one and 10, with one being easy and 10 being difficult. Luke needs to find transport to Alderaan. With Ben’s Clone War connections this proves to be not too difficult and I would assign the scene a 2. What about selling his speeder? It’s also assigned as a 2, because it’s the scene where the Imperial spy sees Luke and reports it to the troopers. Escaping the Imperial attack in the hanger bay is a 4 because there is suspense here, will they escape? Keep doing this until you have assigned a number to each scene. Once done resort them numerically from lowest to highest. Don’t worry about chronology just yet; everything is fluid right now. When you read through your cards is the suspense building? Does this order sound almost right for your story? Do you have a late second act scene that scored really low? If so then you should reimagine the scene with more conflict. The second act of Star Wars ended with the death of Kenobi and the escape of the Falcon, both were very suspenseful scenes. Maybe you discovered through this exercise that you are missing some scenes; if so, now is the perfect time to add them. Again don’t focus on chronology so much at this point just get the scenes written, scored and sorted.

Next week we begin building a coherent story out of your story cards, but this is a great exercise to get a start on your second act. Often it’s the second act kills the story because it’s either too weak or the writer just cannot work through the different scenes needed to build the suspense.

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