Monthly Archives: October 2017

Improving your logline and synopsis

Synopsis and The Matrix
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You’ve finally written that logline for your story and generated a synopsis from it as a first step to writing your novel or screenplay.

But how do you go about improving both the logline and synopsis, prior to commencing the writing of the actual work itself? How do you write something as good as The Matrix?

 

The quality of a story is reflected in the quality of its logline and synopsis.

Ask yourself: Does your logline contain an effective set-up and pay-off? If not, seek to improve it.

Next, run through the basic structure of your story. Consider whether you can improve on any of the events, actions, and motivations that occur, especially at the major pivotal points:

How captivating is your introduction to the ordinary world or the inciting incident? Do we know what the story is about by the first third of Act I? How surprising is the first turning point at the end of Act I? Does your protagonist weigh the pros and cons of continuing his struggle at the mid-point? Does his struggle take a turn for the worse at the second turning point towards the end of Act II? How strong is the crisis leading to the final climax? How rewarding is the resolution?

Search for scenes that seem weak, flat, or uninteresting, then strengthen them. Specifically, consider if your setup and payoff are sharp and unique enough? Are there enough twists and surprises to hold our attention? Is the mislead and reveal as surprising and fitting as it can be?

Focusing on the pivotal scenes allows you to target your improvements where they count the most.

Summary

Improve your logline by making it more unique. Strengthen your synopsis by ensuring that the actions, motivations, and events that occur at the pivotal points are the best they can be.

Three Act Structure

Three act structure

Syd Field was a big proponent of the three act structure


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IN his book The Screen Writer’s Workbook, Syd Field points out that each act in a three act structure story performs a specific function and answers a dramatic question.

The three act structure

The first act establishes the world of the protagonist and foreshadows his conflicts, as well as determining his purpose in the story world. The dramatic question of the first act is: What is the protagonist’s initial challenge that compels him to embark on a struggle to achieve the story goal?

The second act is characterised by mounting conflict. This act pits the protagonist against the antagonist by placing both in a situation of mounting attrition, forcing the protagonist to adapt his skills and face his inner weaknesses.

The second act is typically double the length of the first, and is propped up by a midpoint—the moment in which the protagonist decides on whether to give up on his goal, or press on against mounting obstacles. To go forward he has to dig deep to find his inner strength.

Ironically, the protagonist’s dogged determination to attain the goal in the second act increases the deadly opposition against him. The dramatic question of this act is: How does the protagonist keep his head above water in a rising tide of obstacles?

The third act is characterised by the story climax and resolution. It contains the must-have scene: The final clash between the protagonist and antagonist. The outcome of this clash yields the theme of the story.

In The Nostalgia of Time Travel, Benjamin’s encounter with the ghosts of his past who represent the secret knowledge rooted in his subconscious gives rise to the perfect inner storm. His realisation about who he truly is changes his life forever. The dramatic question of the third act is: Will Benjamin discover the truth about his past. The theme is: Seek, persist, and you shall find.

Summary

A story typically comprises of a three act structure. Each act answers a specific dramatic question.

Defining the theme in stories

Theme in 30 Days of Night

Theme in 30 Days of Night

Dictionary.com defines theme as a subject of discourse, discussion, meditation, or composition; a unifying or dominant idea or motif found in a work of art.

What I find most useful about theme stems from combining two ideas drawn from the work of Lagos Egri and Stanley D. Williams: that a theme emerges only the end of the story and contains a moral premise.

The theme is proven at the end of a story because that’s when the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist is decided. It contains a moral premise because the conflict itself is, at its core, a conflict between good and evil.

In simple terms, if the antagonist wins we have a down ending — evil triumphs. If the protagonist wins we have an up ending — good triumphs over evil.

Establishing the theme in 30 Days of Night

In the film 30 Days of Night the isolated northern Alaskan town of Barrow is beset by a band of vampires intent on using a month of darkness to gorge on the unsuspecting and helpless community.

The sheriff, Eben Oleson, the story’s protagonist, confronts Marlow, the leader of the vampires, in order to protect his town, but clearly lacks the strength to defeat him. All seems lost until Eben hatches a plan to bolster his own strength by infecting himself with tainted blood, turning himself into a vampire. Eben defeats Marlow then purposely exposes himself to sunlight and dies, ensuring that he himself never becomes a threat to the humans.

The theme that emerges at the end of the story is that death, through self-sacrifice, leads to a greater, more transcendent victory by granting life to others.

Isolating themes in this way allows us to see the essence of stories at a glance. It helps us to keep narrative events on track.

Summary

The theme embodies the moral premise of the story and is established at the end of the tale.