Tag Archives: film

How to Save your Story Ending

Your story and GladiatorIN his influential book, Save the Cat, Blake Snyder
offers an approach to writing your story that comprises of a beat sheet of fifteen dramatic units.

They are:

1. Opening Image
2. Theme Stated
3. Set-Up
4. Catalyst
5. Debate
6. Break into Two
7. B Story
8. Fun and Games
9. Midpoint
10. Bad Guys Close In
11. All Is Lost
12. Dark Night of the Soul
13. Break into Three
14. Finale
15. Final Image

 

Blake Snyder’s story structure is solid, but there is a possible weakness in the gap between the Break into Three and Finale. The danger is that the sudden reversal of fortunes may appear too abrupt to be credible.

The Break into Three shows the hero at his lowest ebb. But the Finale typically shows the hero in a last ditch attempt to try again. It is the most vulnerable point of the Hollywood ending – the moment when your story, which cannot allow the protagonist to fail, turns the tables on the antagonist.

How can we prevent this last twist from appearing forced?

Making your story ending more credible

In Gladiator, the lowest moment occurs when Maximus finds himself on his knees in the arena, nursing an earlier wound, swordless, and pierced by the Emperor’s blade. His efforts to avenge his murdered family and save Rome from the clutches of the madman seem to have failed.

How does he go from defeat to victory in the space of a beat?

The answer lies in Maximus’ physical strength, his love for his family, and his loyalty to Rome. This grants him the strength to pull the Emperor’s sword out of his own body and turn it against the Emperor himself, ending the tyrant’s life.

The twist seems believable because it marries the theme of the story (that integrity and moral fortitude will trump lascivious greed) to Maximums’ character arc. We find it fitting that the strong and noble Maximus, who has given his life to the service of Rome, should find the strength to rid his country of its incestuous ruler by sacrificing his own life.

Summary

Tie your hero’s lowest moment to his character arc and to the theme of your story to allow the audience to experience the ending as fitting rather than forced and formulaic.

How to Write Backstory

Whispering

Backstory

In this follow-up post we look at a very important aspect of effective storytelling—backstory. The following question immediately comes to mind:

Q: When is it useful to include backstory in your screenplay or novel?

A: When information from the past is needed in order to make sense of the present and future.

Three Principles

1. In writing backstory consider the following: Is it absolutely needed?
2. Is it economically executed?
3. Does it blend in seamlessly with the rest of the text?

Necessary Information

Include only information that is absolutely necessary to your story.

In a chilling early scene in Inglorious Basterds, for example, we learn that the SS’s Colonel Hans Landa’s mission is to find missing Jews in the French countryside whom he suspects are being protected from by French Farmers.

Economically Executed

Always try to deliver backstory in the most economical way.

In the same film, some of the backstory is revealed through Landa’s sinister, if well-mannered, speculation, interlaced with subtle threats to the dairy farmer’s family, that he suspects Perrier LaPadite of hiding a Jewish family under the floorboards of his farm house. The dialogue, therefore, does double duty: 1. It reveals the reason Landa is interrogating LaPadite—he is aware of the French dairy farmer’s sympathies for his one-time Jewish neighbours. 2. It increases our suspense because the backstory becomes an indispensable part of the interrogation with an immediate threat to the farmer and his family.

Seamless Blending

Backstory blends seamlessly into the tale when it surreptitiously manages to drive the plot forward—as in the above example—rather than halting it In order to reveal background information. Because it becomes part of the forward thrust, there is no interruption to the story’s relentless march towards the climax. Interest and tension is actively maintained.

Summary

Backstory works best when it helps, rather than impedes, the forward-thrust of the plot. The three principles mentioned above provide a useful checklist in this regard.

How to Write a Log-Line

Logs arranged in a square

Log-lines

In his book, Screenwriting, Raymond G Frensham defines a log-line as a “short, pithy slogan you see on a film poster that captures, at an emotional level, what it’s about, or the kind of short description billings used in weekly TV guides.” The purpose of a log-line is to attract an audience by creating the right expectation in agents, producers, and the audience. Although usually written last, as part of the marketing strategy, your coming up with a log-line prior to starting your story will help you to focus on the main through-line of your tale. Although log-lines, also known as strap-lines, primarily refer to film projects, their functionality can be applied to stories of any format, such as the paperback or kindle novel.

Two Key Elements

Log-lines consist of two key elements: a repeating formal sentence structure and an element of contrast. The following examples, taken from successful movies, demonstrate the effective use of these elements:

‘Honour made him a man.
Courage made him a hero.
History made him a legend.’ Rob Roy

‘Imagine if you had three wishes, three hopes,
three dreams,,,and they all came true.’ Aladdin

‘Someone said “Get a life” – so they did.’ Thelma And Louise

‘This is Benjamin…He’s a little worried about his future.’ The Graduate

‘A story of Love Laughter and the Pursuit of Matrimony.’ Muriel’s Wedding

‘Don’t breathe. Don’t look back. The Dark Side of Nature.’ Twister

‘Everything is Suspect. Everyone for Sale. Nothing is what it seems.’ L.A. Confidential

Summary

Log-lines contain two key features—formal repetition and contrast. Log-lines are used for marketing purposes but they are also useful, if conceived early, as indicators of your story’s through-line.

Invitation

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