Basic Elements

THE BASIC ELEMENTS OF SCREENWRITING


2 Types of Stories

Vertical Stories = Character Stories

  • The protagonists affect the events 

  • Humans control their own destiny

Linear Stories = Plot Stories

  • Stronger in plot

  • The characters are predominantly affected by external events

  • Destiny more significantly controls humans in these stories

You will always have a mixture of character and plot. But usually, either story or character will dominate.

You should be aware of what type is yours, so you can either add a good plot to your character story or good characters to your plot story. 


Achieving Believable Unbelievability 

  • In short, movies are unbelievable. You have to help the audience believe its unbelief. 

  • An audience must believe in and care about your lead characters within the first 10 minutes of your movie.

  • (EG. Film starts with a man waking up, going through his morning routine. Stretching, brushing his teeth, shaving. Then, he pulls over a gorilla mask over his head. He scares a sleeping woman and gets kicked in the buts. From there, the story gets even madder.)

  • The audience identifies with the man's waking routine for its initial character grounding reference. This helps to establish believability by not starting out being too crazy or outrageous. 

  • There's a thin, invisible strand between the audience and the screen, which is called Believability. 

  • This strand gets stronger and stronger as the film progresses. 

  • It can be easily snapped if you start out being too crazy or unbelievable. 

  • Thus, if that believability strand is not first established, audiences get thrown off by the first few scenes and not believe in the world of the story. Audiences will just not get with a film that starts off with what they perceive as simply unbelievable. 

  • You have to make the audience care about your characters, and their problems. When that happens, you've created believable unbelievability. 


Audience Caring

  • The audience must care about your characters. 

  • You've got to develop your story so your viewers start caring about your characters as soon as possible, and maintain that until the film's end. 


Open Story 

  • The audience knows what's going on

  • They know "whodunnit"

  • They know who the villain is

Closed Story

  • The audience learns about the antagonist as the protagonist learns

  • 99% of TV cop shows are closed stories. 

  • Generally, the audience will be more moved by closed stories, as they can more easily identify with the hero or protagonist. This identification gives the audience the psychological illusion that they are the characters. 

Open or Closed is a very real choice you have to make if your idea is in the mystery genre. 


Storytelling Is Exaggeration

  • "Without exaggeration, we writers are nothing."

  • Go for the extremes. Make your characters the best good guys, the nerdiest nerds, the best lawyer, etc. Not the ones who are just OK. The audience is best threatened by the strongest antagonists, from the Joker to the Nazis. 

  • From these extremes, come the best drama.

  • When you honestly can, be extreme and exaggerate your characters and your story elements in your scripts and during the development of your ideas. 

  • There will always be somebody to help you dull it down later.