Monthly Archives: June 2013

Writing is Rewriting III

People talking

Characterisation:

Having already written two drafts, one focusing on comprehensibility and the other on structure, we now turn our attention to character.

Writer/director Clive Barker once said with regards to character: “Always try to trip yourself up—look for the places where you’ve done something which was convenient rather than true.” This is no more true than when applied to your characters’ actions.

Keys to Good Character

Ask yourself the following questions:

1. Are the characters in my current draft distinctive? Does each character have her own goals, foibles, mannerisms, and way of speaking that sets her apart from all the others?

2. Do I need all the characters in my story? Have I invented characters to solve plot problems that would otherwise require more ingenuity and hard work to solve? If so, cull them, or combine them into a single character and find better ways to solve story problems.

Remember that most stories revolve around three or four main characters: Protagonist, antagonist, mirror or reflection character and, sometimes, a romance character.

Character Check-List

1. Have you established the pivotal emotions and values that exist in your story-world from the start?

2. What attitude, emotion, value, and belief changes do your main characters go through? Do these changes occur at the structural nodes of your story (turning points, midpoint, climax)? We refer to such changes as the transformational arc of the character.

3. Is there a strong correlation between your characters’ (especially the protagonist’s) inner and outer journey? In other words, does your protagonist’s action stem from his inner values, beliefs, background, attitude?

4. Are your characters original? If not, think about having them act contrary to reader or audience expectation—though still in keeping with their defining traits. Have your character(s) do something unpredictable at some crucial junction in the story (usually at a structural node).

5. Avoid clichéd characterisation by ensuring that your tale contains unexpected outcomes stemming from pertinent but surprising character actions.

6. Try to establish an enigma around a main character’s actions and maintain it for as long as possible. Provide a satisfying answer by the end of the story as part of the climax or resolution.

Summary

The focus of your third draft is on character. Work on making your characters as sharp, true and interesting as possible, using the above tips as an aid.

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Writing is Rewriting II

Fountain pen and corrections

Rewriting II

In last week’s post, I talked about Frensham’s six areas of focus involved in arriving at the final version of your screenplay—the first stage being to increase comprehensibility. Today, we look at the second: Structure; because this website is filled with discussions of the story spine—the inciting incident, turning points, pinches, the mid point, and so on, it is not my intention to repeat this material here. Instead, I want to focus on an important aspect of structure: the structure of climaxes within the overall story context.

Climaxes

The climax of an Act is contained within its turning point. Because your screenplay is a composite of several stories, or subplots, supporting the main through-line, each turning point is part of the broader story sweep. One of your tasks in writing your second draft, therefore, is to ensure that each climax pitches higher than the one before it.

The climax at the end of Act II is often the most challenging. The hero needs to be (seemingly) as far away from achieving her goal as possible—having (seemingly) been, or about to be, defeated. She abandons her quest, and/or denies responsibility for her actions, and/or faces her moment of truth. If she does none of the above, then consider remedying the situation by introducing another character/subplot, an action which reveals her state of mind, a further confrontation either directly or through a flashback, or new information through an unexpected revelation.

In crafting each climax, ensure that you have seeded the possibility for it earlier in your story and allowed the audience to chew on it before unleashing it, remembering that the essential skill in constructing an effective climax is knowing what information to reveal, and when to reveal it. Examine each climax in your screenplay with this in mind and ensure the ‘what’ and ‘when’ are effectively utilised.

Lastly, ask yourself whether each climax is followed by a pause that is encapsulated within a scene or sequence which is in harmony with the pacing and rhythm of your overall script? Does each climax build from the least significant to the most significant moment by the end of the story?

Summary

Because climaxes occur towards the end of acts as part of a turning point as well as at the midpoint, they are natural attractors for the action that leads up to them, helping to shape and direct the material before them. Effective climaxes, therefore, are an indispensable part of writing successful stories.

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Writing is Rewriting

Hand writing

Rewriting

In his book, Screenwriting, Raymond G Frensham, talks about six types of focus associated with rewriting a screenplay: comprehension, structure, characters, dialogue, style, and polishing. Although opinions differ on the exact number and order of rewrites, Frensham’s view offers some useful insights.

In this first post in the series I examine the first stage of the rewriting process and offer some suggestions for piloting the process. I will be looking at some of the other stages in follow-up posts.

The First Rewrite: Enhancing Comprehension

In seeking to make your story as understandable as possible, ask yourself the following questions and seek remedies if the answers are less than ideal:

1. Is my particular story the best vehicle for expressing my dramatic and emotive intent? Would changing the setting or characters or genre improve the impact and effectiveness of my tale?

2. What information does the audience need to know in order to understand the story? Is the information revealed at the appropriate stages?

3. Can I strengthen the story by more strongly referencing its genre, for example, does my action film contain enough action, my love story enough love (or hate), etc.?

4. Are my characters’ actions motivated by their situation, background, and personality type?

5. Have I chosen the right structure for the type of story I’m writing? Is a three-act structure the best vehicle for my particular tale, or would a two, four, or five act-structure be better?

6. Whose story is it? In other words, through whose eyes is the audience experiencing the story?

Summary

The process of completing a screenplay involves several stages, each with its own focus and task. This post has examined the first stage—enhancing story comprehension.

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How to Start Your Stories

Starting line

Story Start

A great opening immediately hooks the reader or audience and stacks the odds of writing a successful story in your favour. In a previous post I talked about the importance of a strong first image. In this post I want to suggest four types of starts employed by skilled writers.

Action Start

This type of opening immediately catapults us into the hurly burly of the tale, refusing to yield a static moment or slackening in intensity or pace. Movies such as Speed and Die Hard are renowned for this kind of action early in the first act.

Shock Start

This opening typically highlights the formidable powers of the antagonist and by implication, the danger this presents to the protagonist. The explicit sex scene in Basic Instinct, for example, demonstrates the antagonist’s ability to use sex to manipulate the men around her, culminating in a shocking murder.

Contrasting Character Start

These openings immediately highlight the differences or incongruities between two lead characters and help to sustain interest throughout. In Lethal Weapon Riggs is a suicidal special forces cop whose crazy tactics conflict with the traditional approach of aging cop, Murdoch, who just wants to retire in one piece and with the minimum of fuss. Their contrasting styles drive the entire movie.

Twist Start

These openings mislead the audience or reader into believing one thing only to discover that quite the opposite is true. In The Matrix the lead character, Neo, is introduced as a hacker and merchant indulging in illegal activities as a way of life. We soon discover that this life is an illusion, and Neo is potentially the saviour of mankind.

Summary

Action, shock, contrasting character, and twists openings are just four types of starts used by writers to hook readers or audiences into their stories.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, or have a suggestion for a future one, kindly leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.