How to Write a Screenplay or Tell a Better Story
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How to Write a Screenplay or Tell a Better Story

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For anyone who wants to tell a better story, or specifically write a screenplay, I thought I'd share advice I've learned on the road. ...

For anyone who wants to tell a better story, or specifically write a screenplay, I thought I'd share advice I've learned on the road.

I wrote this for friends who've wanted me to give them a one hour crash course on storytelling and screenwriting.

I hope this helps!

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  • cool
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  • Nice!
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  • @geovibe I would hardly take a Wikipedia article as being more authoritative in this regard, even so it states 'Beats are specific, measured, and spaced to create a pace that moves the progress of the story forward.' which is not 'entirely different' - the statement here seems to be that this 'space' is the smallest possible, which makes sense as you can always scale that up to longer periods using 'multiple beats' hence being compatible with the Wikipedia definition. In fact the Wikipedia Article even states that 'In screenplays, a beat is a pause in dialogue.' but I've seen beats used in other contexts in scripts, so I would just argue that the Wikipedia entry is merely incomplete.
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  • Love it! In the Adversary slides, and because of the characters chosen to introduce FLAW, I'd have been tempted to use Adversaries to match the FLAW characters- as you say, choosing the right Adversary is all about the character MOST able to make the hero face his FLAW... Wow! great stuff....
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  • On slide 41 you define 'beat' as the smallest unit in a script/story. It seems, that according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beat_(filmmaking) its something entirely different.
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How to Write a Screenplay or Tell a Better Story How to Write a Screenplay or Tell a Better Story Presentation Transcript

  • How to write a screenplay. Or tell a better story. by Victor Piñeiro[storystuff]
  • First things first.What’s your idea?
  • It should have a HOOK. It should be HIGH CONCEPT. Which really means...It should be awesome.
  • high concept: adj. a story based on a striking andeasily communicable plot or idea(Oxford English Dictionary)
  • Awesome ideas.• A cop who has to kill robots might be a robot himself.• During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaurs to run amok.• A suicidal family man is given the opportunity to see what the world would be like if he had never been born.• A guy who complains about God too often is given almighty powers to teach him how difficult it is to run the world.• After an Alaskan town is plunged into darkness for a month, it is attacked by a bloodthirsty gang of vampires.
  • You need a PLOT and a STORY.
  • Plot• the hero WANTING something• one event causing another
  • Story• the hero NEEDING something• revealing the hero’s character
  • Okay, you’ve got your awesome idea.Tell it to me in one line.
  • Your one-line idea, or LOGLINE, should include orsuggest these three elements:Someone (the hero) wants something (the goal) butis blocked by something (the adversary).
  • Awesome loglines• An 8-year-old boy, who is accidentally left behind while his family flies to France for Christmas, has to defend his home against idiotic burglars.• A cowboy toy is profoundly threatened and jealous when a fancy spaceman toy supplants him as top toy in a boys room.• A weatherman finds himself living the same day over and over again.• A naive young man battles heartless authorities to protect the life of his girlfriend when it’s revealed that she’s not human— she’s a mermaid.
  • If it helps, you can also describe the TONE of your moviewith an “X meets Y”, “X with Y” or “X in Y” one-liner.
  • Pocahontas In Space
  • blair witch meets Godzilla
  • hamlet with lions
  • jaws with other creatures
  • For bonus points, give me:Your idea in one word. (This is your THEME.)
  • revenge.
  • family.
  • character.
  • Okay, you have an idea.Who’s your hero?
  • To define your hero, ask:What does he WANT?What does he NEED?
  • A WANT is external.A NEED is internal.
  • WANTS: Parents to Meet NEEDS: Courage
  • WANTS: MoneyNEEDS: Trust/Love
  • WANTS: TomorrowNEEDS: To Appreciate Today
  • WANTS: To Defeat Doc Ock NEEDS: Confidence
  • One more question.What’s his FLAW?[What he NEEDS is related to his FLAW.]
  • FEAR.
  • INDECISION..
  • SELF-DOUBT.
  • Okay, you’ve got a hero.Who’s the adversary? [Note: They might not be a villain.]
  • An adversary embodies the hero’s FLAW.An adversary forces the hero to face his FLAW.
  • Adversary.
  • ADVERSARY.
  • ADVERSARY.
  • ADVERSARY.
  • Idea? Check. Hero? Check. Adversary? Check.Let’s talk STRUCTURE.
  • Most films (and many stories) have THREE ACTS. Each ACT is made up of SEQUENCES. Each SEQUENCE is made up of SCENES. Each SCENE is made up of BEATS.
  • MOVIE = ACT ACT ACT SEQUENCE SEQUENCE SEQUENCE= SEQUENCE SEQUENCE SEQUENCE SEQUENCE SEQUENCE SEQUENCE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE= SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE SCENE BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT= BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT BEAT
  • Beat• the smallest unit in a script/story• an exchange of action & reaction
  • Scene• a continuous action in a specific location• functions as a mini-story• has a protagonist with a goal• the protagonists must face an obstacle• a scene either moves the story forward or• reveals info about the character
  • Sequence• several scenes that build up to a bigger climax• each sequence has a mini-goal• sequences end in turning points• turning point = a goal achieved or lost• turning point = the story changing direction
  • Act• several sequences that build up to a climax• the climax is a a major turning point
  • Stories also tend to have the following SIGNPOSTS.
  • A day in the life.Show us what the hero’s world is like, introduce all themain characters, introduce the hero’s flaw(s). MIDPOINT ACT I ACT II ACT III
  • The SPARK!Something happens and the hero’s world is FLIPPED ONITS HEAD. This is where the HOOK comes in. You canalso consider this THE CALL TO ADVENTURE. MIDPOINT ACT I ACT II ACT III
  • Do I Stay or Do I Go?The hero must decide whether to embark on thisadventure (or take this new opportunity). 99% of the timeshe will REFUSE INITIALLY and something will drive herto make the decision and GO! MIDPOINT ACT I ACT II ACT III
  • Into the New WorldThe hero (boldly) ventures into the new world, which isthe OPPOSITE of the world she’s lived in up to this point. MIDPOINT ACT I ACT II ACT III
  • What is love?The new world often comes with a few new characters,including the LOVE INTEREST. He usually representswhat the hero NEEDS. MIDPOINT ACT I ACT II ACT III
  • Melt Their Faces OffRemember that awesome HOOK you thought up? Pay itoff here. The hero has fun with her new powers orsituation. The audience should LOVE this part. MIDPOINT ACT I ACT II ACT III
  • Crossing the RubiconIn other words, this is the POINT OF NO RETURN. Thehero must do something which she can’t undo, whichwill soon plunge her into the NIGHTMARE... but notquite yet. MIDPOINT ACT I ACT II ACT III
  • False VictoryThe hero gets a moment of clarity, and everything seemslike it’s going to be okay – she’s going to prevail...[Note: sometimes this is False Defeat.] MIDPOINT ACT I ACT II ACT III
  • Long Journey Into NightThings go from bad to worse. The villains come back,way more powerful than before. The hero’s losing herexternal battle and internal battle (which often means thelove interest leaves). MIDPOINT ACT I ACT II ACT III
  • Rock BottomThings could not get worse. The villains seemunstoppable. All hope is lost. The love interest ditchedthe hero (usually because of the hero’s FLAW). And justwhen things are at their most hopeless... MIDPOINT ACT I ACT II ACT III
  • From the Ashes...the hero realizes her flaw, learns her lesson, andformulates a plan to defeat the villain. Here’s where the Astory (the main plot) and the B story (often the loveinterest) meet. MIDPOINT ACT I ACT II ACT III
  • Time to Kick Ass!The hero faces the villain, who is at their strongest... andWINS! By winning she has now CHANGED THEWORLD. The hero is now older and wiser. And everymajor character HAS CHANGED. MIDPOINT ACT I ACT II ACT III
  • Signposts ACT ONE Day In the Life The SPARK! Do I Stay or Do I Go? Into the New World! ACT TWO What Is Love? Melt Their Faces OffCrossing the Rubicon (Midpoint) False Victory Long Journey Into Night Rock Bottom From the Ashes ACT THREE Time to Kick Ass!
  • The best advice I can give you at this point is:Focus on your outline.
  • Spend a lot of time working out the beats, scenes,sequences and acts. Use the signposts to help guideyour story. Stories/Scripts ARE structure. Iron outstructure before you dive into the writing.** This point is super controversial. For another take, Google the term “pantser”.
  • Checklist✓ You have an awesome idea that’s easy to communicate.✓ Your hero is awesome and likable.✓ She wants something that’s tangible, and she wants it BAD.✓ She is flawed and needs to change if she’s to succeed.✓ Her adversary is formidable.✓ Every scene has conflict.✓ Obstacles get harder and harder.✓ Stakes get higher and higher.✓ We enter scenes late and leave scenes early.✓ Every major character changes by the end.✓ The turning points should be SURPRISING BUT INEVITABLE.
  • Rookie Mistakes• Your hero is too passive.• Your main character has too many friends.• You have a few (or many) scenes that lack conflict.• Your characters don’t all change (or learn something).• You have too much exposition, and are telling, not showing.• Your scenes are way too long.• Every character sounds the same.• The stakes aren’t high enough.
  • Finally, the best advice I can give you: Read.
  • Start with these books.• Save the Cat by Blake Snyder• Story by Robert McKee• The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier• Screenplay by Syd Field• The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell• Writing Movies For Fun & Profit by Ben Garant & Tom Lennon• Save the Cat Strikes Back by Blake Snyder * In order of usefulness (to me).
  • Visit these websites.• http://johnaugust.com• http://screenwritingtips.tumblr.com/• http://www.gointothestory.com/• http://scriptshadow.blogspot.com/• http://www.tracking-board.com/
  • Caveats!These tips and guidelines are a collection of stuff I’ve founduseful as I’ve learned about storytelling and screenwriting.Nothing here is set in stone and all these “rules” can be broken.I learned a lot of this stuff from the books I mentioned earlier – do yourself a favor and read them!I’m barely scratching the surface here. Didn’t even get into genre!I wrote this for friends who’ve asked me to give them a quickprimer on storytelling basics, and for a younger version of myself– I wish I’d known some of this when I was in high school orcollege.
  • Who I AmHi – I’m Victor. I haven’t written an Oscar-winning screenplay, asummer blockbuster or The Great American Novel.I did write and produce the documentary Second Skin, whichpremiered at SXSW, won a bunch of awards, and was distributedinternationally. I’ve also written a bunch of screenplays, onewhich was a Sundance Film Lab Finalist.Besides film, I’ve worked on establishing stories and voices forSkittles, Star Wars and other brands. I’ve also published a bunchof articles and poetry. And of course, I’ve got that unfinishednovel in the desk drawer.Talk to me: victor@victorpineiro.com Twitter: @victorpineiro
  • Thanks!Tyson Damman for the design.James Hutchinson for the advice.Will Simon for the edits.Juan Carlos Piñeiro Escoriaza for the ideas.Greg Babonis for the tweaks.