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Breaking the Story

Page history last edited by Steve 7 years, 11 months ago


This post is about how to create a story at a very broad level.


It's a collection of direct quotes culled from the last 3 years of my script-writing diary. At the moment, I've simply arranged it into sections and left it. My intention is work up and refine these notes on as 'as-I-need-them' basis. To start with, I'll be redrafting the notes onthe overview of how I want to write scripts.


Ultimately, what I want to create is a list of general principles, common problems and their solutions, and examples of how I write. The act and process of writing is personalised - varying greatly between writers. Ideally, this is all stuff that'll give me a leg up on the next script I write.


The sections in this post are:



-- My script-writing aims

--  Overview of my process (2007)

-- Dan Harmon's process

-- Tensions and Questions

-- Brainstorming 20 Questions (B20)

-- Create a 20-Sentence Outline

-- Creating a Structure

-- Essential Elements of a Story (organise)

-- The Pitch








Script-writing is an open ended situation. Use lateral thinking. Examine all the angles.




I’m coming to believe Subtext is vital to writing a good script. (a good script = a script I’m happy with)




David Mamet, on what he's learned from writing for Hollywood: "Tell the story as straightforward as possible and play fair with the audience."





I've talked before about my new approach of not pre-planning plot twists or cool things that could happen in a story. The idea is to just start with an opening situation (a What-If), introduce characters as needed and then see what they do.


"Seeing what they do," involves brainstorming possibility after possibility until I come up with something surprising, satisfying and that forces other characters to react. After getting the answer to "What would this character do?" I propose you ask "Why did they do that?" either straight away or in an extensive post-draft analysis.


The point: deepen your understanding of the character at every point.






Another way of looking at storytelling in the movies* is that each phase of the film has a different 'energy' about it.


Taking War of the Worlds (2005) as an example (because that's where I first noticed this), you have four different types of energy in the story. The move from the normal domestic set up to the full on terror of the invasion is almost unnoticeable. The transition between the two happens in a bravura 15 minutes set piece involving lightning strikes and a stolen car. That full on terror of being pursued is sustained for what seems like a full hour. But then there is a noticeable gear change when Tim Robbins arrives in the film. All of the action becomes confined to a single location and the emotions darken towards paranoia and despair.



The trick, I think, is to be aware of the emotions and mood you're generating & how the audience feel about that.


*I think this applies much more to films than television because the film is designed to be watched in one uninterrupted burst, so you are more attuned to variations in tone and intensity.



From a talk by Dylan Horrocks:

1) You should reveal yourself, or truths about you, in a world you create.



Worlds implicitly convey that self revelation. What that means is that even when you remove the characters and what they do from a story, the world that you're left with (its geography, population and history, for example) still convey themes and conflict.Worlds have meaning.



Titles I've come up with that I think work: I think what they do is give a clue about what I think the hook is, and they use a pop-cultural phrase.



There should come a point where I feel like the script is now 'telling' me what it wants to be. Like there's an ideal version of this draft that I'm chiselling the unnecessary material away from.

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