Who Wants to Write a Screenplay?

I’ve spent much of this year NOT talking about writing so it is time to return this discussion back to it. I’ve been working on the novel lately, but I need a break between drafts so I’m going to write a screenplay. Do you want to write a screenplay as well? If so, then let’s work together.

YOUR IDEA

It seems like everyone wants to write a screenplay now-a-days. They all believe they can write the perfect screenplay in a matter of weeks and get it into production the following week and then wrap it all up with an Oscar in the new year (someone’s post to the Facebook Screenwriting page; paraphrased by me). I tried to explain to the poster that first, no one looks at a first draft, let alone films a first draft, but he wasn’t hearing of it. His screenplay was perfect. Maybe he is the Mozart of the screenwriting world. I doubt it.

Time is the Enemy

Everyone is being chased by time. You’re 60 seconds older (maybe more) now then you were when you started to read this post. And you’ll be a couple minutes older by the time you finish it. Time is also the screenwriter’s enemy. You are just one of tens of thousands of writers. Every writer has ideas; good or bad. The same as you; good and bad. Not word for word, but premise for premise (word for word would be scary). Do you remember Michael Bay’s 1998 film Armageddon? Of course you do but do you remember Mimi Leder’s 1998 film Deep Impact? Probably not as much. Two films about an asteroid racing towards Earth. The same premise but two very different stories. This is what I mean when I said, time is the enemy. If you sit on your idea too long, someone else will think about it and write it.

So let’s grab a new, clean notebook and start building our idea into a functioning first draft. Before someone else does.

A Good Idea; A Great Screenplay

Do you have an idea? You won’t be able to go much further without an idea. A good idea is preferable, but any idea will work. Good or not we’re going to try to make your idea better but if we can’t we’re going to set it aside and find another idea. At this point don’t worry about High or Low Concept. It’s too early to worry about concept as we’re still building our idea. As I said to the gentlemen on Facebook, “don’t get ahead of yourself.”

Write down your idea. Don’t worry if it’s just two words, it’s your idea. Once it has been written down it becomes real, physical. You can see it, touch it, read it. So write it down in the middle of your piece of paper.

Two elderly brothers drive across the country.

This is the idea I’m going to be working on. There’s no story there. Not yet, but that’s the point. It’s just an idea. Barely a thought. But now it’s written down. It’s real. The idea unleashes dozens of questions. I define an idea almost the same way a noun is defined;

  • a person (two elderly brothers), place (the country) and action (drives).

If you find that your idea is missing one of these three elements then add it. You’ve just improved your idea. So far so good.

A Dozen of Questions

If your idea doesn’t immediately have you asking a dozen questions then you’re not thinking hard enough. I define building a story as

  • answering questions asked by the story idea.

Very simple. All story building is the asking and answering of questions. The 5 W’s of the press; who, what, where, when and why. Right there are the first five questions you need to ask yourself about your idea.

Who are the brothers?
What are they doing as they drive across the country?
Where are they going?
When are they making this trip?
Why are they driving across the country?

Questions lead to answer which in turn lead to more questions. This is story development. Let’s take a look at the last question for a moment.

Why are they driving across the country?
They are driving across the country to attend the funeral of a someone who is very close to the two of them.

Who died?
How was this person close to the brothers?
If they were close why did they live so far apart?
Why are they not flying across the country?

Our questions have expanded beyond the 5 W’s. Do you see how one possible answer to just one of our initial questions has now opened up to four additional questions. Remember when answering your questions you need to ensure the answers are believable within the context of your story. That doesn’t mean that there are wrong answers, it just means that there are answers which will drive the story forward better than other possible answers.

Assignment 1.1

For the next two hours write down at least 20 questions an possible answers for your idea. Start with the 5W’s and then add any additional questions you think would be helpful. Then write down answers to those questions. Those answers will spawn additional questions and those additional answers will spawn even more questions.

What you might find as your working through your questions and answers that some answers may have your returning to previous questions and adjusting the answer. Never thrown away anything you’ve written. Never. If you decide not to use an answer keep it stored away. While questions and answers are often very story specific, later when you get to character creation you will need to keep characters that are unused so they can populate your next screenplay.

Finally, remember don’t get too detailed here. We don’t need to know the specifics about each brother at this time. Keep the information high level, which is why limiting yourself at this point to 20 questions is a good idea. The goal is to have enough information about your idea to write your initial LOG LINE.

See you next time,
Stephen

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