First off, I want to welcome the wonderful writers I met at The Screenwriters World Conference last weekend to the site. You’ll have a ball here. RobEdwards.net is an ever-evolving website dedicated to eradicating bad screenwriting forever.
Over the past few months we’ve been covering different aspects of screenwriting.We started with essays on character and theme and then moved on to spitballing the essential 5 beats of your story and then we expanded it into 15 solid beats. Now we’re in the final stretch. We have 17 beats of our brilliant story worked out and it’s time to build the remaining 13 beats into the fantastic screenplay you’ve known it could be since you broke that amazing SUPERFREAK!!! at the beginning of the process.
Those remaining 17 beats will serve as your tentpoles. Now it’s time to string beautiful tapestries of writing between them. They are where you will show your mastery of screenwriting. But here’s the secret that structuralists like me and guys who write screenplays in a weekend don’t tell you. Scripts need both. The greatest dialogue in the world is meaningless unless it’s driving toward the next tentpole.
So let’s get started–
INTRODUCTION TO OUTLINING
Let’s start with theory and then put them to use.
There are two big problems I’m always trying to solve as a screenwriter.
1) I want to write the most entertaining script ever written.
2) I don’t want to write a 300 page formless mess. So, let’s use two completely different methods to solve these problems.
Being entertaining is tough but not impossible. I like to look at problems from 3,000 feet in the air so let’s flip this one around a bit. Is any part of being entertaining easy? No. So, why don’t we try to be the opposite of entertaining and then reverse engineer it? If I want to bore my sons, all I have to do is put them in the car and not tell them where we’re going. Whether it’s a 5 minute trip or an 8 hour one, I’ve accomplished my task in the first minute. I don’t have to tell them where we’re going, I just have to tell them we’re going somewhere exciting and we’ll be there in 15 minutes and I’m the greatest dad that ever lived. So, if I don’t have to tell my reader where I’m going, I just have to tell them we’re going someplace exciting, I know where it is and we’ll get there soon.
Formlessness. We all know readers want us to stay “on schedule”. They’re looking for the 30, 60, 90 of it all and every book tells us what they’re looking for and what page they want to see it on. In fact, when I first started writing, I was so paranoid about it that I did what I’ve seen a bunch of you guys do. I’d write a brilliant 11 page scene about two people eating cheese in French cafe and then I’d look up at the page count and freak out. “Syd Field and Blake Snyder say I need to have an inciting incident on page 12!” So, a crosstown bus hits my protagonist at the top of page 12. Problem solved. Whew. That was close. You think I’m joking. I’ve read way too many screenplays that do exactly that.
After 30 years of trying to teach people how to keep their screenplays “on schedule” during my workshops, I’ve found that it’s best to look at them this way. Don’t think of Inciting Incidents as single “incidents” that happen on page 12. Think of it this way. You’re telling a 12 page story about a character that is great in some ways, terrible in others and everything’s been just fine until… page 12.
You’re writing a short film with a beginning, a middle and an end. That short film will, in turn, lead to another that takes you to Act Two and so on. Each sequence sling-shoting you to the exciting conclusion of the film. You’re not looking at a 120 page behemoth that you’ll have to fill with 11 page cheese-eating scenes, you’re looking at 12-15 paged bite-sized chunks of entertainment that are much easier to handle.
The good thing is, you already know the punchlines to all of these sequences because you’ve been doing your homework up until now. So, moving forward, we’ll cover two sections per week during OUTLINE MONTH until you’re intimate with all of them. Here’s a preview:
I know this is longer than 15 pages, but I like to think of Third Acts as one unit. It will take us from ALL IS LOST, through the SETBACK to the SUPERFREAK!!!
Until then, here’s a POP QUIZ! Below are some famous lines from famous movies. See if you can tell what section of their films they come from. For example, the answer to 1 is VII. It’s an obvious SUPERFREAK line because, even if you don’t know the film that well, you know a one in a million shot is pretty miraculous and miracles are what SUPERFREAKS are all about. And, more importantly,they don’t happen in sections I-VI. Good luck with the rest! I’ll post the answers on Friday.
1) “Great shot kid! That was one in a million!” (STAR WARS)
2) “You can’t handle the truth!” (A FEW GOOD MEN)
3) “This looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” (CASABLANCA)
4) “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” (CASABLANCA)
5) “Bah, humbug!” (A CHRISTMAS CAROL)
6) “E.T. phone home.” (E.T.)