Pre Frenzy Week 1: Your Idea in Micro and Macro

So you’ve come up with an exciting idea for this year’s ScriptFrenzy. Your screenplay/stageplay/teleplay is dramatic, thought-provoking, and most of all entertaining. That’s great! I want to hear all about it.

In ten seconds or less. How about in ten words or less?

We call this the premise, and it can come in many forms, but being able to state your main conflict in one simple sentence will help keep your thoughts focused as you continue to flesh out the details of your story. “The premise should be the driving force behind every event in your screenplay. A good premise is derived from emotions–love, hate, fear, jealousy, desire, etc.–and revolves around a character, a conflict and a conclusion” (http://www.fathom.com/course/21701762/session1.html).

Here are some different types of premises you might have already encountered.

1. What If?:  Basically, you want to know what will happen given a certain situation: What would happen if a shark swam into a beach resort and devoured a vacationer? JAWS.

2. The Logline: Look no further than your local TV listings: Molly Ringwald is an underpriviledged Cinderella choosing between two prom princes: a charming preppy (Andrew McCarthy) and a disarming buddy (Jon Cryer).

3. When, Then: If you follow this format, you can’t lose: When Dr. Emmet Brown, enjoying a peaceable existence in 1885, is about to be killed by Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen, then Marty McFly must travel back in time to save his friend. BACK TO THE FUTURE III

4. Or you might just rely on a general concept: Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew set in a modern day high school. TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU

No matter which type of premise you choose to get your point across, there a few things to keep in mind. You’ll want to have some idea who the main character and the antagonist are, what their conflict is, what change will result from the conflict, and why the main character needs to take action.

Sometimes writers don’t find their premise until after they’ve fully explored their characters and plotlines. The best way to accomplish this is to write a treatment of your screenplay. Treatments are written in present tense in a narrative form and is a moment-by-moment outline of each scene that includes information on setting, characters, subtext, subplots, and inner motivations. Treatments can be anywhere from one to 100 pages or more. It all depends on how in depth you want to get. Using the treatment as a pre-writing exercise allows your thoughts to roam unchecked. By the time you’ve finished, you may find your idea is more solid or it might have changed completely. Regardless, you’ll be more organized and focused when it comes to writing scenes.

Exercise One: Write a premise for your script idea in one sentence.

Just so you know I’m really doing this too, here’s mine: While on a quest to find her estranged sister, a Night Elf assassin uncovers a conspiracy that could bring down the entire Alliance faction, thus discovering the real reason behind their father’s execution.

Exercise Two: Write a treatment, or an expanded outline, for your script idea covering all the major and minor characters and plots. Include scenes and bits of dialogue as they reveal themselves.

Next week, we’ll discuss character and characterization.

Pre ScriptFrenzy Frenzy

If you’ve ever tried to write a 90 page script or a 50,000 word novel from conception to completion in 30 days, you’re just as crazy as me. What I’ve found from multiple attempts is that it can’t be done. At least, not with anything worth a damn at the end of the month. I’ve read different blogs and posts by participants that all say the same thing: they went off on tangents just to hit the word count. They wrote characters who had no purpose, they wrote plots that led nowhere, and they often wrote a mess that was not even rewritable let alone revisable when they were done because they did not want to fail.

What is the purpose of this? Isn’t the point of writing to express yourself in some way? And hopefully to become published? Do we really have time to write a bunch of crap that is basically useless and would take way more effort to fix than to just spend quality time writing quality prose? Granted the allure of finishing a feature-length screenplay or a novel is enticing especially if, like me, it takes you years to complete one, but I find ScriptFrenzy and NaNoWriMo incredibly stressful. I blame that on poor planning. (Plus the fact that I always start late anyway.)

Last year, I tried to participate in ScriptFrenzy by writing a screenplay I had conceived of at age 11. The only problem was, I had tons of research to do for it because obviously it had changed in concept in some ways, and I labored over the opening scene for about three weeks until I decided that it just wasn’t gonna happen.  Had I taken the time to get all of my pre-writing done ahead of time, I might have had a better shot.

Likewise, I tried my hand at NaNoWriMo one year. I’m used to writing novels, so I didn’t think it would be that bad. And although I tend to write without a whole lot of focus, I do spend much of my time editing as I write, which does not work well with time constraints. It could take me an entire weekend to write one chapter of 7-10 pages. But it’s a damn good chapter.

So the advent of 2012’s ScriptFrenzy is almost upon us. (It starts on April 1st in case you’re wondering.) And I vow to complete a screenplay based on my WoW character’s secret life. (If you’re interested in what this entails, follow my blog at www.rumertales.wordpress.com) But in order to complete this insane quest, I’m going to spend the month of March doing all my pre-writing exercises. And I’m going to share them with you, so you too can succeed at ScriptFrenzy.

I know what you’re thinking. “Why should I take advice from this nobody? She can’t even finish a screenplay in 30 days?” Well, I’ll tell you. I am somewhat adept at the art of screenwriting. I’ve studied it at UCLA and I’ve taught Introduction to Screenwriting courses at Westfield State University. I even presented my Capstone seminar on screenwriting.

So there you have it. I’m an expert and you should listen to me.

For the next four weeks, I’ll be posting a series of exercises meant to focus your ideas into a cohesive and fluid storyline. You’ll learn how to write a premise and create a beat sheet, how to create characters and scenes, and how to structure your story using the ten elements of screenwriting.

And if you don’t want to listen to me, you should listen to this guy: Robert McKee, screenwriting guru and author of Story. http://www.mckeestore.com/Robert-McKees-book-STORY_p_11.html

I can’t promise anything, but if you join me, you might just finish that script after all!

The Rite: From A Writer’s Perspective

It’s four months in Rome. What could go wrong? Oh, you’d be surprised.

They say reality doesn’t need to make sense but fiction does, which makes me wonder what exactly happened in the real lives of the real Frs. Michael Kovak and Lucas because I had a hard time believing (and accepting) the storyline of The Rite. I could be biased; anytime I hear a movie is based on or inspired by true events, I tend to think they’re making it up just to increase sales. I mean, did we learn nothing from The Blair Witch Project?

Not that there is anything wrong with the actual elements of The Rite–most of them seem to be there: catalyst, internal need, external goal, opposition, darkest moment–it’s just that they are all squished into the last 2o (or 30 if we’re lucky) minutes of the film.

Enter Michael Kovak: a priest-in-training with no faith. Father Superior gets the brilliant idea to send him to exorcism school in Rome cuz, ya, that will help him. Maybe lectures aren’t Michael’s thing, so his teacher sends him to a little village in Florence to witness a real live exorcism. I’m fairly gullible, but even I don’t believe Rosaria is possessed. I think Michael hits the nail on the head (pun intended) when he states she was internalizing her guilt over being raped by her father and carrying his demon seed.

(One thing I would like to know is why doesn’t this happen more often? The possession part, I mean.  The other, I’m sure, happens more often than we know, and it does seem like the work of the devil, but not all victims go around speaking in foreign tongues. I guess I want to know why Satan/Beelzebub/Baal chose to inhabit a 16 year-old Italian girl. What exactly did he get out of it? She and the baby died, so…it seems rather anticlimactic and not really worth the trouble.)

We witness a few more possessions, a few more exorcisms, some of which are hoaxes, none of which are believable enough to force Michael to believe in God and take a stand.  What exactly pushes him over the edge? Is it realizing he just talked to his already-dead father on the phone? (I think I might have reacted a bit differently than sobbing on the bed if that happened to me. Just saying.) Is it the random voices in his hotel room or el mulo with the red eyes in the courtyard? Maybe it’s hearing Fr. Lucas himself tell us he’s possessed. (Again, I have to wonder why the devil chose him. Aside from the fact that Anthony Hopkins is a brilliant actor with a bit of crazy in him.)

Regardless, we finally hit our first plot point. Michael now has a goal, we know he’s searching for his own faith, why he has none, and that he’s recruited his friend, Angelsomething, to help him out.

The screenwriter shoots off the rest of the elements in rapid fire, wasting no time because he’s already over budget. Michael performs an exorcism on Fr. Lucas, it doesn’t work, his faith is tested, Angelsomething has to convince him to get back in there–he can do it, he’s not alone. (Usually, the opposition has much greater resources and is much stronger than the protagonist; however, Michael has the power of God on his side. Seems a lot like cheating, doesn’t it?) Michael tries again, this time he gets the devil to give up his name. (Baal’s screwed now.) Oh, it worked! Story’s over.

I’m not really buying that Michael suddenly finds his faith in God either. I don’t know if it’s just bad acting or not, but I tend to think it’s because we don’t get to see him really search for it, to really want it. The majority of Act Two should be the protagonist fighting against all odds to achieve his goal. Instead, Michael pretty much complains and denies his faith throughout the whole storyline until the very end, and actions speak louder than words. One can’t go from having no faith, to realizing you have no faith, to suddenly achieving faith. You kind of have to work at finding it. (In contrast, I totally believe Anthony Hopkins is possessed. The way he smacked that girl–freaking brilliant writing.)

I’m thinking the screenwriter could have gone back for a few more rewrites, weeded out some of the inconsequential details, worked on pacing, and found more creative ways to handle the amazing amount of backstory we had to watch for the first 82 minutes of the film.

The good news, though, is that Michael doesn’t have to pay back his student loans.

Failure

Script Frenzy is out.  Day 26 and I have four pages.  (Does one of them count when it’s the title page?)

It’s not procrastination this time (I worked on it plenty and have brightly colored post-it notes and index ccards pinned to a bulletin board to prove it); I blame poor planning and a late arrival.  Maybe some people can do it all in 30 days, but I think to effectively complete a screenplay or a novel in 30 days, you must have it mapped out ahead of time.  And I don’t just mean the character work, the motivations, the external goal, internal need, blah blah blah.  The story needs to be fully realized in your head or better yet on paper unless you want to spend a month writing incoherent scenes that have nothing to do with each other by page 100.  I don’t want to spend the whole challenge frustrated by tyring to find my story.  I want to write it.

The thing that stumped me the most was the beginning.  Well, what else could it have been if I only wrote three pages?  My Theatre Arts professor, who directed all the program’s plays, told me that often the opening scene didn’t come to him until sometime deep within rehearsals.  Granted, he already had the words in front of him, but I understand what he meant.

En Medias Res is always a tried and true method.  I think I was trying to focus more on the visual aspects of how the story would look onscreen rather than concentrate on the story itself.  Not to mention, I had no motivation for the sorceress Ilaria to abduct the young male gypsy (who coincidentally looked like a young Johnny Depp) in the opening.  Whatever I thought was her motivation had turned out not to be the case, and the opening scenes I had written were just blocking me from moving forward.  They were bridgeless.

And even though I’m a complete failure at Script Frenzy 2011, I managed to use the time to concoct a story and a plan for writing it where ideas can flow unheeded by deep chasms of crap.