Welcome to DAY SEVEN in the thirty days to a first draft screenwriting thread.
It’s time to start writing. It’s good to spend some time dreaming about your project, but there’s a time to stop dreaming and start writing and that is now.
We’ll begin with the beginning, The OPENING IMAGE.
The opening image of a movie should have some power. It might start with an image that has a symbolic power or immerses us right into the story in some compelling way.It may also rhyme with the closing image.
It may introduce the character. The opening of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE shows us Olive, staring into the TV as it plays a beauty pageant, the pageant winner reflected in her coke bottle glasses Then it pulls out to show Olive in full workout gear, walking on a treadmill.
Check out this video by editor Jacob T Swinney juxtaposing the first and final frames of several famous films:
Craft your opening image and then keep going. Write your first five pages, introducing the character and the world of the story.
Welcome to DAY SIX in the thirty days to a first draft screenwriting thread.
A strong DESIRE is important in developing a good story. Today you’re going to write in your character’s voice. You’re going to have them talk about what they want most in the world.
In musicals, this is called “THE I WANT SONG”
Dorothy dreams of being anywhere but in Kansas
Hamilton dreams of doing something great in “my shot”
Elsa dreams of getting away from everyone so she can stop being repressed and just let it go.
The story is strong because right off the bat the audience knows what the character wants, why and what they might be willing to do to get it.
Movies have I want songs too. Olive in little Miss Sunshine wants to be a beauty pageant winner. The Batman wants to find a way to change Gotham City. Inception’s Cobb wants to find a way to get back to his children. Woody wants to be Andy’s one and only.
The strong desire of the character is what drives them.
Write a page monologue of your character talking about what they want, why, and how they are going to get it. This sets the stakes for the story.
When you’re done, do the same for your MAIN ANTAGONIST.
Now you know what they want, you have an outline for act one, conflict, a setting, stakes. It’s time to start writing. Tomorrow.
Welcome to DAY FIVE in the thirty days to a first draft screenwriting thread.
Now is where the NOTECARDS are put to use.
Find an area where you can lay out the Notecards and find an order to them.
You can lay them out on a table to start. Or you might tack them to a corkboard if you have one, but the table is good. You are going to place the cards in the order you think they come in.
You should start to see the story forming. Don’t worry, you don’t need to know it all yet. We only want to outline up until the End of act ONE, or PLOT POINT ONE. We will stop between each act to outline some more as we go.
You can download the outline I use HERE.
Lay out the plot points for act one. Here’s what you need to figure out:
An opening image, This could be something poetic that hints at the larger themes of the movie. The ordinary world stage. This is where we meet the character and see their everyday world. The INCITING INCIDENT. The event that kicks off the story. Then they will be called to take some action to change their life. They’ll refuse at first, and then something will force them to do it anyway. That is PLOT POINT ONE.
You can check out my video on Three-act structure for more guidance, But only worry about act one right now.
Welcome to DAY four in the thirty days to a first draft screenwriting thread.
This is an old school screenwriter’s trick: We’re going to use notecards to brainstorm scene ideas.The great thing about the notecards method is you can flip through them and change the order and lay them out to see your plot without committing to the order of scenes.
The method is you write at the top of each card, what happens in the scenes in big bold letters. Then you can add little notes on the card as you see fit little details.
The goal is to have forty cards total. Ten cards for act one. Twenty for act two — or ten cards for the first half of act two, ten cards for the second. And ten for act three. Forty cards makes a full plot, but of course, this is not an exact science and different movies will have different numbers if scenes.
You’ll see once we start, by filling in what you know it will lead you to figure out what other scenes you might need.
I’ll talk you through it here. For example” let’s say we need to write a superhero flick. They tend to follow a similar pattern.
START by writing down any scenes you know you need. Or anything that you have a strong picture. I picture this superhero movie having a fight on a train. So I’ll write that down.
Next, we’ll tackle act one. Write a card for the OPENING IMAGE. Now write another for The INCITING INCIDENT. Give us three scenes that’s three cards, that will give us a picture of the characters life before the inciting incident. This is the ordinary world phase.
After the INCITING INCIDENT, which could be the moment they gain their powers. We’ll watch them struggle with the decision to take action. This is the DEBATE section or the refusal of the call. We’ll probably need to give an introduction scene to the antagonist. This is easy to make cliche, so push yourself to find a new version to make the antagonist seem good and scary. Then we’ll end act one with a moment where the character takes on the journey: THe LOCK-IN or plot point one.
Now we are in ACT TWO. Write up three scenes or obstacles that the protagonist might face in the first half of act two.
You may need to introduce a B story. It could be a love interest or something.
Brainstorm a bunch of potential obstacles that get harder and harder. You’ll throw some of these cards out. Brainstorming rules are, no idea is too stupid. No idea is censored. That’s why you bought a 100 pack and not a fifty.
You’ll need one for a MIDPOINT, this will change the story and three more obstacles for the second half of act two.
Add cards to revisit the B story. At some point, your character will have a conversation where they assert their POINT OF VIEW on life, They’ll be wrong, and this will establish the theme by having them say something they think but shouldn’t.
Think about a few set pieces, scenes that we’ll remember. Write cards for those.
Now we’ll hit act THREE. You’ll need an ALL IS LOST MOMENT. Then your character will need to change. The Antagonist will make one last grasp at the hero. Then we’ll have a resolution. Then a resolution for the B story. Maybe a denoument and a closing image.
If you want more ideas on story structure, check out my playlist analyzing story structure of several films…
Try to get forty cards. We’ll use these tomorrow to create an OUTLINE.
Welcome to DAY THREE in the thirty days to a first draft screenwriting thread.
Yesterday we found the protagonist, and today, we’ll work on THE ANTAGONIST.
Your antagonist is the ENGINE of the story. They are the one that provide the obstacles for the protagonist. You need a strong Antagonist to make the story work. In fact, you need several.
In the book, The ANATOMY of story, John Truby suggests four-point antagonism. This means the Protagonist sits at one corner and is opposed by three other antagonists.
For example: Take THE BIG LEBOWSKI.
The DUDE has his main antagonist, THE BIG LEBOWSKI. But that is not enough he also has
THE NIHILISTS that have kidnapped poor bunny Lebowski, and most important of all, he has WALTER, his best friend and absolute relentless psychopath. Walter is the who feeds the Dude the most significant obstacles. Sometimes having you antagonist right next to the hero is the most interesting choice.
Draw a diagram of your antagonists and put your hero at one corner, and the three opposition characters at the other end of the rectangle.
Finally, you’ll want to write about your antagonist. Start with your MAIN ANTAGONIST. What motivates them? What quirks do they have? Physical attributes? How do they dress? What do they want?
Write about them for five minutes straight. Do the same for the other protagonists.
If you want more ideas on creating the antagonist check out this video here….
Tomorrow we’ll use these ideas to brainstorm a plot. HOMEWORK: You’ll need INDEX CARDS For tomorrow’s task. Pick up a pack of 100 cards. Maybe get the color coded ones in case you want to get fancy. You can get them at any drug store.I’ll see you tomorrow.
Welcome to DAY TWO in the thirty days to a first draft screenwriting thread.
Today we’re going to create the protagonist. Your protagonist or hero is the one who needs to carry the movie, so they better be interesting as hell.
You need to pick the most interesting protagonist possible.
One trick is to pick someone who is ill-suited for the job at hand. For example: Let’s go back to the GODFATHER,Remember the logline: The task is, after Don Corleone is shot you must take over the family business and root out your enemies.
You could make this movie with Sonny (James Caan’s Character) as the main character and it’d still be a good movie, but it wouldn’t be great. Sonny is suited for the job he’s a violent tough guy and criminal.
What makes it great as they pick MICHAEL instead. Micheal wants nothing to do with the family business he’s rejected his father’s lifestyle. This is what makes him a great protagonist. This also brings in a sense of irony that makes the story so fascinating, We’re going to take Michael, a man who rejects the mafia and is against everything it stands for, and turn him into the godfather
So pick your protagonist. Give him a name even if it’s just a temporary one. No time to labor over decisions like this. You can always change it later. That’s what find & replace is for.
Write about your protagonist for a couple of paragraphs. What do they do for a living? What are their flaws? What drives them? What is their philosophy? Do they have any unique physical attributes?
Now surround them with the supporting cast. Does the character have a BEST FRIEND? A MOTHER and Father? An antagonist? An inner antagonist–that’s someone who appears to be on their side but opposes them. Do they have a mentor? A boss? A love interest? List out your cast and give everybody a name. Again, don’t wait to name them. That will always stall you.Write about each person and make bold decisions about who they should be.
It can be helpful to cast them. Grab pictures on the internet of actors you’d like to use to play the character. Or use your friends. It can be a short cut that kickstarts your imagination to base characters on people you know or actors you like.
If you want more ideas on creating a character, check out this video on Creating Characters using great Television icons.
Now you have your cast. Tomorrow we’ll add an ANTAGONIST.
Welcome to DAY ONE in the thirty days to a first draft screenwriting thread.
The first few days will be spent outlining and planning.
We’re going to write a logline or elevator pitch. I always start with this, because if you can’t write an elevator pitch then you don’t know what you are writing. You’ll also use this all the time. Contests will ask you for one and when anyone asks you what your screenplay is about, you should be able to rattle it off in one minute.
A good logline has four elements:
Who your protagonist is.
What is the inciting Incident, this is the event that kicks the story off.
What is their goal?
And finally, what makes it difficult? This could be a dilemma or could be the cause of the conflict.
So for example: Let’s take the THE GODFATHER.
How do we describe the protagonist? Michael Corleone. The reluctant son of a Mafia Crime boss.
What happens to him? His father is shot and injured, leaving Michael to take over the family.
What is his goal? To root out his father’s enemies.
And finally.. what makes it hard. What creates a dilemma?
What makes The Godfather interesting is Michael wants nothing to do with organized crime. This creates an irony.
Let’s put it all together now…
Michael Corleone is the son of mafia crime boss who wants nothing to do with the criminal world. When the Godfather is shot, Michael must take over the family and root out his father’s enemies.
That’s 35 words. You want to keep it under 50. The contests all ask for a logline and they always want it under 50.
So write down a logline for your film using the four elements:
One. Who your protagonist is? Two: What happens to them. Three: What’s their goal? Four: what brings the conflict. If you know these four things you can begin writing.