Notes On A Screenplay

It can be said that writing is all about the words and the arrangements of grammatical cues. With a screenplay, the nuance is in the spaces between the words, in the white space between the scenes, in the creative imagery found in our imaginations.

For me, the importance is in knowing the story, the back story, the sub story. How does each scene add to the whole? How does a character’s drive fight against the current of contrived reality as displayed ‘on screen’?

Solving a great many of the questions that evolve before and during the writing of a screenplay should come as a result of being intrinsically connected to the characters and the outcome of their decisions.

Who are your characters? What are their histories? What are their objectives (as defined by the storyline)? What are their obstacles, strengths, weaknesses?

Being able to arrange the structure of your screenplay, based on a few simple guidelines can be crucial to its completion and its success.

Knowing how the American screenplay works is a good place to start. Basically, you have a main character who chooses to do something OR who something happens to. After that comes the fall out of that decision/initial happening. At about the three-quarter mark, there should be some contradictory shift in the overall goal of the story, a turning back of sorts, which if you follow the MO of contemporary film, reveals an inner weakness of the character(s) and turns the story on its head. Following that is the resolution of the story, a completion of all elements therein.

First, establish the premise of the story, who the main characters are, then create the problem. The ‘problem’ should appear anywhere from page 25-33. ‘The problem’ should be the result of a decision made by the main character(s). The fallout should follow the character(s) on a logical, albeit surprising and enjoyable, path toward resolution – and it should develop over the next 60 or so pages. The denoument should come to around o pages and be the summation of all the events thus far. In the case of the American-style screenplay, the resolution should = a satisfied audience. Unfortunetely that means many things, not the leas of which is revisionRevisionREVISION.

Having worked in this form on several occasions, I suggest checking out Final Draft. It’s a powerful tool in a writer’s toolbox, and one I highly endorse.

Hopefully, this is a good primer for those who are starting to think about taking a story from scribbled notes and a dream to a screenplay come true.

Let me know how it’s coming, and what you’re working on.

– Benjamin Spencer

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