After several months of world building I’ve decided to write about screenplays again. I’m still working on the novel, but I don’t want to bore you, my readers, with the day by day details. Besides, this will give me the chance to write something other than the novel on some days.
Starting Your Screenplay
Where do you start when you ready to begin a new screenplay. For those of you have been around for a while, you will remember my 70 Days to Your First Screenplay workshop from a few years ago, if not, here’s the link (it’s also above in the menu). Everyone begins at the sample point, the idea. I don’t need to spend words tell you that ideas are everywhere, but not every idea is a screenplay. You may have an idea for a character, or a setting, or maybe an event. Alone these are just ideas, but together you have the beginning of a story. You need a story before you can write a single word of your screenplay.
So, let’s say we have a character; a female in her late-20’s. You want her to be your HERO. Done, but what does it mean to be the hero of a story? The hero is the gateway into the story for your audience. They must be able to relate, at least in part, with your hero. Let’s take a quick look at Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. She is the hero of this story, an like Luke nearly 40 years earlier, the audience follows Rey through her adventure, learning some things along side with Rey. How does the audience relate with Rey? Emotionally. Not everyone in the audience was abandoned in the desert by their family, but everyone is the audience has felt lonely. It is Rey’s loneliness that drives her to rescue BB-8 when she hears him which gets the story moving forward. Everyone has felt a longing for something. Rey is longing for her family to return, but he is also longing for something more. As a bonus these two items are in conflict with each other. Wanting something more, drives Rey off-planet, but the longing for her family pushes her to want to return to the desert.
It make your audience relate to her hero you must find an emotion which the audience has at some point experienced and give it to your hero. Embarrassment is something everyone has experienced. Fear of something is also good, especially if it can be abstract, such as the fear of growing old alone, or fear of getting bad news. Finding an emotional connection is the first thing you need to do when developing your hero.
What if your idea is an event? How can you use an event? First ask yourself, does the event begin the story or does it end the story? What if George Lucas had the idea, opening the Lost Ark and finding it empty and he knew it was going to be the end of the story. You need to ask yourself some questions who opens the Ark? Where did they find it? Why were they looking for it? The answers to these questions will start to build the foundation of your story. Just keep asking and answering questions until you discover your hero. Once you have that, then you can shift your questions to the hero and determine the emotional connection your audience may have with the hero. The audience related to Indiana, because at some point we’ve all felt that we’re in a little over our head, just as Indy felt while trying to get the Ark, that we are losing control of the situation and we just have to hang on for the ride.
Like your event idea, the first thing you need to ask yourself if your idea is a setting is when does the audience see this setting? Will it be in the beginning of the story, the middle or the end of the story? In Lord of the Rings the audience visits the elf town of Rivendell. Tolkien could have placed this visit anywhere in the story, but it made sense to have this happen near the middle of his first book. This is where the quest to destroy the one ring beings with the forming of the Fellowship of the Ring. The setting is very beautiful and I could see Tolkien wanting to develop it in detail first. Once you have the setting there are questions you need to ask, such as who is there? Why does the story take place there? Is it the only main setting, or will it be one of many? What story event can happen at that location? The elves are a long-lived society and would be best to establish a plan to destroy the ring as many of the elder elves were present when the rings were first handed out to the races. What if you can see a scene from your story taking place on the top of the CN Tower in Toronto you need to ask yourself, what gets my characters to the top of the CN Tower, some 500 metres above the ground? Answering the why’s and how’s of your setting will lead you to the development of an event. Answering the event question should get you to a hero.
Regardless of what you start with, you should be able to develop your idea to a hero and it is that hero that we’re going to discuss in detail next. I’m off to go and turn my idea into a hero and so should you. Just remember: when writing notes, never throw anything away. You don’t know where a great idea is going to come from, and some of them were not so great ideas about something else and you just need to review your notes to remind yourself of the nuggets of gold you’ve already developed.