While my laptop has been whack lately, I am not deterred from bring you tips I have found helpful. What advice do I have this week? That depends on you. If you are one of those writers who like to rush into a project headlong and just let your ideas flow naturally and have the story evolve as it goes along then I have told you most of what you need to know. You have a general story to work off of and some focus. You just need to learn as much about the structure and conventions of the format you are using to tell your story. There are a lot of software programs you can use, and the best for your buck is Celtx, which offers a great free version. It does all the structuring for you, but you still need to learn about the conventions, and I will go over those at a later day and time.
If you are like me, however, you need to prepare a bit more than having a title and a logline. Each person is going to need different levels of preparedness. I will admit that I may go about things differently because of my theatre background. That does not mean that this will be any less helpful for you. To go about planning for your script, let us look to Aristotle’s Poetics.
In Poetics Aristotle lists the parts that make up a tragedy, though these parts have been extended into any other type of story. He lists them off by importance, with plot being the most important and characters being the second most important part of a story. Now-a-days it is usually discussed as to whether this holds true or if character is the most important part of the story and that plot is second in command. I am not here to really cause a debate and instead would advise you to go with which you think is more important. That said, if you have a logline then you have a plot it is just not fleshed out. Either way, you next step is either to flesh out your logline or create your characters.
You should probably kill both birds with a boulder. How can you do such a thing? Instead of worrying about the plot or characters, you should create the world of the story. To do this, you should look into the Given Circumstances of the story. The Given Circumstances of a story refer to the world that the characters inhabit and environmental and/or situational conditions of this world that motivate the characters and influence their actions. Two examples of Given Circumstances would be the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents (situation condition) and the corruption of Gotham City (environmental situation) motivated Bruce to become Batman and to fight crime. By creating the world through the Given Circumstances you create your characters and inadvertently start to build a rough outline of your plot and give it a bit more focus.
“What are these magical circumstances?” I hear you ask. There are three major Given Circumstances, with one of them having six subcategories. The first of the three Given Circumstances is “Previous Action”. “Previous Action” refers to the events that happened before the story, which is also known as “Exposition”. My story, for instance, revolves around an old hermit that has no idea that he is dead. In order to set up the plot, then, I need to come up with how and why he died, as well as what happened to cause him to believe he is dead. Likewise, what is the background to your character that is relevant to the story you want to tell? You do not have to go too far back in your character’s past, but enough so that your world can have a sense of existence before the plot story starts.
The second Given Circumstance is “Environmental Facts”. These are the outside forces that dictate your character’s world. There are six environmental factors that should play into the world your script. The first is the geographical location, or the specific location your story is taking place. Is your story taking place on Earth or somewhere else? Is it within a certain country, city, town, or building? What is the most specific you can be with overall pace? Geographical location then asks what are the exact locations or the story. If your story takes place on Earth, where does it play out exactly? What room of the building will you find you characters? What streets are in your story? Is there something more specific, like a tree on a street or in a park? Also try to add the climate of the location, for a climate can add to the overall mood.
After looking at the geographical location, think of when this story is taking place. What is the date the plot starts? What is the date the plot ends? What is the significance if there is any? Is your story taking place during a particular season? Do you want your story to take place during a particular event as the Revolutionary War or the rise of the Ottoman Empire? How does this affect your character? Dates, times, seasons, and historical events can also play for the past as well. For example, has your character ever served in the military, and if so have they ever been in war? You can use your ideas in “Previous Actions” to create past environments or time and vice versa.
Lastly are the Social, Economical, Political, and Religious environments of your story. These four environments will probably become a byproduct of the spatial and temporal environments you already chose. This is not always the case, however, especially if you choose to create an entirely new world. An example would be James Cameron’s Avatar.
Avatar takes place in the distant future on an alien planet. As such, James Cameron had to create an entire social structure for the planet of Pandora and its inhabitance. This meant that he had to create the political hierarchy, the economic system, and religious beliefs for the Navi. At the same time, Mr. Cameron had to create the social, economic, political, and religious environments or the human characters. In Avatar, the human colony on Pandora has the main goal of obtaining resources of the planet to help reignite a crumbling economy on Earth which helps set up the economical and political environments. The base is run by a corporate administrator who is trying to run a business around the resources the planet has to offer while being pushed around slightly by the head of the military operations, who is meant to help protect both the both the mining excavations and the scientific research being conducted. This sets up more of the political world of the humans as well the social structure of the base. I could go deeper into the environmental aspects of Avatar, but I believe you have the idea.
The third Given Circumstance is “Polar Attitudes”. This means any beliefs held by the characters that go against the world around them. Through these dueling beliefs a conflict is created. My old man is an example, being a part of the dead while thinking he is part of the living. Avatar plays the “Polar Attitudes” through the conflicting beliefs of the human and Navi races. In Charlie Chapin’s masterpiece, Modern Times, Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp is trying to create a stable and simple living environment for him and his girlfriend during the great depression in a highly industrialized city. The complexity of the story will determine the number of “Polar Attitudes” the story will have and each character should have different beliefs towards the many environments of the world.
Through these Given Circumstances, you can then start digging deeper into your characters and maybe even start outlining you plot. Do not worry too much if your Given Circumstances feel sparse. Some elements, such as times of day, season, and maybe even exact locations, won’t fully develop until you get into actually writing your story. Just try to come up with as much as you can, as having something to leap off of is better than having nothing at all.
On March 5, 2012 I signed up for Script Frenzy. Script Frenzy is an event ran by The Office of Letters and Light, which runs National Novel Writing Month. Script Frenzy is where writers are given the challenge to write a 100 page script over the 30 day period of April. The script can be written for Film, Television, Stage, or Comic Book/Graphic Novel, and since I am a movie guy, my script will be for the screen.
Similar to NaNoWriMo, once you sign up with Script Frenzy you can get sponsored to help bring donations to The Office of Letters and Lights and their mission. You get access to forums, and the ability to talk to people with in your region. You also get guides to script writing since writing for film, television, stage, and comics is different from writing a novel. It require you to be detailed enough that the reader knows what is going on yet sparse enough that you don’t choke the artistic freedom of the cast, crew, and director that will breathe life into your word.
To sign up for Script Frenzy go to their website, www.scriptfrenzy.org, and click on the Sign Up link on the upper right-hand corner of the screen page. The sign up process involves creating a usernamer, providing an e-mail, and picking what area you are writing in. You then get a password e-mailed to you to which you can then log in and start with your journey to write your script. Once you are in you can start updating your writing profile, releasing information on your script, post on the forums, and find friends for the support you will need.
And while the event requires that you write with in the month of April and not before or after that month, nothing can stop you from starting you plan your work.
Script Frenzy: Week 1
Even though I do not want to start writing my screenplay out of fairness, but that is not stopping me from think about what to write. I want to be as prepared as I can be so that once April comes around I can dive right in. At first I planned on re-writing a screenplay I started last summer and only got seven pages in. But then I decided to challenge myself a bit and start anew.
When starting a new script, I thought, it is always best to think of a pitch. In the business, the pitch of a film can break or make your film. Each pitch is different because every film is different, but there tends to be one cardinal rule. That rule is you must keep it short. It used to be that you had to describe your film in fifteen words or less. If you could not do that your film was less likely to get made. While I am sure that some companies still go by this rule, I doubt most adhere to it. One sentence should be enough, and this is something that applies to most medium.
This makes sense for multiple reasons. Writing a movie, television, or comic book script or a play is very different than writing a novel because you are writing for a visual art. A highly collaborative visual art in which many people will be interpreting as the product is getting made. As such, you are writing an outline, and having the ability to use a sentence (or a “log line.” for a more technical term) to tell everything about your story will show the potential producers your talent for by descriptive with minimum detail.
Another reason to use a log line is the fact that someone has to buy your script. In order to sell your script, you have to advertise it. Calling your script “A surrealist character study musical with comedic bit about a group of quirky adolescents taking part in a spelling bee” is going to get someone’s attention faster than “This story is about these quirky kids who take part in this outrageous spelling bee where on kid is a horny boy scout while another spells words with his foot and there is a counselor who is there because of his service hours…” You are going to lose potential buyers quickly if you cannot hook them immediately. This is made even more vital since the producer who is interested will probably be seeing many other potential buys outside of yours.
There are other reason for having a log line ready, such as giving you script focus, a mood to play with, and much more, but there are two other elements to having a pitch ready. One is the “My script is…” in which you use two films to describe your film. An example would be “My film is Up meets The Sixth Sense.” This shows that the story has elements of the two movies and depending on the log line the elements would be very visible. Another thing this does is compares you film to two or more other successful movies. Be careful when comparing movies to your film. Make sure you use movies that are either critically and commercially successful, just commercially successful, or considered classics, otherwise the film may not get picked up. The last thing to have for your pitch is a title. It does not have to be the actual title, but a title none the less. The buy may not ask what you are going to call your movie, but there is a good chance that they will. Having one ready shows that you are prepared for the journey ahead.
If you are an aspiring writer, especially if you are interested in writing for the visual and performance arts, Script Frenzy is the challenge that can get you in moving in the right direction. Again, sign up at www.scriptfrenzy.org, get friends involved and start planning.
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