Saturday, February 24, 2007

Brainstorming the Synopsis

Welcome back! So you've got a great idea for a script, and you followed my last recommendation for getting started:

Write down what the movie audience sees. Action. Visuals. Try to tell the story without telling us what the story means.

Good job! Some of you have pages and pages. Some of you probably have a paragraph. Whatever you have, it's fine. There are only two absolutes in the world: Everything Tastes Better With Bacon and Start Where You Are.

Now we're going to start brainstorming MORE story for you, and making sure that your story works on film. And we're going to use the three-act structure. Why? Because it's what audiences are used to. It works in films. It works in short stories and novels. It works in Greek tragedy and detergent commercials. It's more or less what the human brain is wired for. Many of you are resistant to you, because it sounds like a formula. It CAN be used like a formula. But when it's used to support creativity rather than tap it down, it's an incredibly useful tool.

It's this simple:

Bob falls in love with Karen.
Bob fights for Karen.
Bob marries Karen.

Now take a look at your own story, and find the on-screen moments that "book end" your script. What starts the script, and what ends it.

Why is that a better story than Bob falls in love with Karen, Bob fights for Karen, Bob gets a job out of state? Because there's UNITY in the tale. The beginning tells us what the story's about, and the ending should satisfy that question. Screenwriters often know what the ending of their story is -- the big message, the big climax, the big pay off. And because they know that, they know where to start.

Take a moment and ask yourself if the question asked at the opening is really answered by the event at the end.


1. Look JUST at the opening. Come up with three scenes that answer the questions asked. Remember, use just the action and visuals an audience will see on screen.

2. Look JUST at the ending. Just like before, use only what a movie audience can witness, and come up with three new openings.

What's the most dramatic combination of all these options?

I'll bet money it's the points that are as FAR AWAY from each other as possible. Now you've got an opening and an ending that are probably farther apart than they were originally.

3. Push it again. What's ONE CRUCIAL DETAIL about the MAIN CHARACTER that make the journey from beginning to end even MORE OF A STRUGGLE?

It looks like I've left out an absolute: Drama, it appears, is the distance (physical, emotional, or otherwise) a character travels in the course of a script.

More soon. Feel free to post your beginning and ending moments in the comments section. I'll be happy to comment on them!

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