One Conflict: One Story

Every screenplay must have one inciting incident—the initial conflict that happens that sends the protagonist on his or her journey to transformation. In other words, the protagonist is thrown from his or her normal every day world into a challenge or obstacle. This conflict is what shifts them into a new world, so that his or her old world is no longer the same. This conflict is what begins the story and causes the protagonist to act. You also want to remember that conflict is essential, but all conflict must be connected to the initial conflict for the story to work.

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Weak and/or unfocused conflict is problematic. If your story does not have a strong external conflict (the obstacle that comes between the protagonist and their goal), the script will not move forward, and then you will struggle to keep things exciting. Your story begins with the inciting incident, and if this is not clearly defined, you don’t have a story (ouch).

Here is a good checklist to follow:

  1. What’s your story’s external (plot) conflict?
  2. What is your protagonist’s emotional conflict?
  3. How do we see your hero battle the external conflict?
  4. Are the external conflict and the emotional conflict connected? How so?
  5. How do you dramatize the protagonist’s struggle with his or her emotional conflict?

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“The Inciting Incident always leads us to the Key Incident, which is the hub of the story line, the engine that powers the story forward. The Key Incident reveals to us what the story is about. All films can break down as such. The Key Incident will generally be the plot point at the end of Act One, but not always. One such example is Ordinary People. The entire screenplay revolves around the key incident of the drowning, which occurs before the story begins but is pieced together and finally seen in its totality at Plot Point II.” – Syd Field

The inciting incident is the beginning of your story. If you don’t have a clearly defined inciting incident, you don’t have a story. The inciting incident throws the protagonist from “the normal everyday world” into a challenge, an obstacle. Something shifts in his world so that his world is no longer the same. If you don’t flag a major shift (with huge dramatic stakes and passion), then you likely don’t have a story.

The inciting incident cues the audience/reader about what type of journey we’ll be going on. But, the journey is pointless if you don’t get your hero over the finish line…he or she must complete his or her goal. Generally, this happens somewhere between page 5 and 7. If by page 5, the theme is not stated CLEARLY, who your protagonist is, and what is his or her need (issue), with a goal in site, you’re going to have an issue with arching the story, the character and the resolution. In short—that will pose a MAJOR problem.

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I am available for online, one-on-one, script coaching.   Click here: Script coaching online

August Osage County: Film vs. the play

Sometimes theatrical plays don’t translate well onto the screen.  I suspect, based on my reading of the play (I have not seen the production), that this might be the case with Tracy Letts Pulitzer Prize-winning play, August: Osage County, vs. his movie adaptation.

In the play, the first line of the prologue is revelatory. “Life is very long…” (10) This intensely dark comedy epitomizes the term “baggage” with the unfolding of every single character within the play, and Letts uses their dysfunctional personal and interpersonal dynamics to set the tone in the storyline, which drives the plot forward.  This is certainly the case in the film as well.  The audience is told that life is long against a backdrop of miles flat Oklahoma fields–fields that seem to go on forever.

There is no doubt that Meryl Streep lives up to her reputation, and executes a brilliant performance playing Violet, the cancer-laden, vicious, pill-popping, abusive, bitter Weston family matriarch. This untamed shrew is at the helm of her entire family’s extreme dysfunction.  Despite the amazing performances by Streep, and even with the all-star cast in this adaptation, the film has some issues.  Let’s start with the fact that the trailer sets this film up as a comedy, but in no way is this storyline comedic, in fact, it is epitomizes that worst kind of individual and family dysfunction.  It’s brutal.

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Violet, who is suffering from mouth cancer, spews venomous words in rapid fire against every member of her family–to include her daughters, following her husbands suicide.  Violet is toxic and overbearing; she is nothing short of a monster. Her “truth-telling” takes sharing and disclosure to a new level. Julia Roberts plays her eldest daughter Barbara, who is the acorn that didn’t fall too far from the tree.  Roberts also delivers a stunning performance, but having two characters that are this “large,” seems to take away from the  intensity of the other.  Even though I’ve not had the pleasure of seeing August Osage County on stage, I can’t help but believe these two characters, in particular, would be better slated for the stage than the screen.

Some of the themes so present in the play are muddied when adapted over into a film.  Such as the disconnect present in a family who are aimlessly going through the motions of life, and none of them are on the same page. At times, it felt contrived.  Also, the dinner-table scene goes on and on, and is somewhat stifling.

At the core, this story is about abuse, and generational abuse shared between all the women in this family, and all of the many skeletons that are in their closets.

When a story comes together in a film… well, it’s

MAGICAL!!!

For those of you who haven’t yet seen Saving Mr. Banks, I highly recommend it.  Based on the true story of P.L. Travers, author of the Mary Poppins children’s books, Saving Mr. Banks promises to entertain, prod emotion, and warm the heart.

The story is about the making of Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins, and how Disney wooed author P.L. Travers to allow him to make a film about her “magical” nanny.  As expected, Emma Thompson (P.L.Travers) and Tom Hanks (Walt Disney) give absolutely wonderful performances.  The author juxtaposes the unbending, surly personality of P.L.Travers’ character, against warm-hearted, passionate and determined Walt Disney, and it works well in the storyline.  Of course, while the film’s final scene between Disney and Traver’s is endearing and heart-warming, it is completely embellished.  The real story portrays a very unhappy Travers over the final outcome of the film, and it appears Disney and Travers end things on a very sour note.

However, the film keeps the moment magical, and it works. Our hearts are lifted, and we (the audience) are contented.

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Saving Mr. Banks manages to weave together two separate stories: the story of Ginty, an eight-year-old Australian girl and her relationship with her father, Travers Goff (Colin Farrell).  Ginty and her father have a unique, close-knit, loving relationship that is dramatically affected by his love for the bottle.  When his life is cut short, and he dies, Ginty’s life is forever affected. The bulk of the narrative is Disney’s pursuit of the story, and the things that transpire once Travers is flown to Los Angeles to meet the writers (screenwriting and songwriting) who hope to take the Mary Poppins’ stories and adapt them for the screen.

Travers is not easy won, which really adds to the complex scope of her character.  She is cold, indifferent, calloused, and clearly flawed.  Screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith did a great job of jarring the audiences emotions with this character, and Thompson gives a rave performance.

From the time Travers arrives in Los Angeles, she is uncomfortable and unyielding, in fact, the only one who is really able to crack through her hard-hearted shell, is the friendly limo driver (Paul Giamatti) provided by Disney.  He touches the heart of Travers; something that Disney is really never able to do.  She is taken off-guard, as he gives her the grand tour of L.A. and takes her to Disneyland.  Her relationship with the driver is sincere and gives us a sense of “who” Travers “really” is, when she is normally complex, irritable, and very difficult to deal with.  Giamatti’s relationship with Travers is endearing and uplifting.

One of the biggest issues with the script, is the continual flashbacks from the present (life in the 60′s) to Ginty’s troubled childhood in Australia. These flashbacks are used to slowly unveil the complexities that surround Travers and her icy personality.   Flashbacks are tricky and can often be risky, but somehow, they work in Saving Mr. Banks.  Eventually, the audience is made aware of “why” Travers is so protective over her work; it is related to her need to protect her father.  Knowing this history gives the audience a greater understanding and appreciation for Travers.  We become engaged, and we care about this character. It’s powerful when the audience cares about the protagonist.

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The film is actually more about struggle than anything else.  While we “think” it’s about how Mary Poppins was made, it’s really much more than that.  Both Travers and Disney had troubled childhoods.  Disney choose fantasy as a way to ease his own past and conquer his demons, where Travers plummeted herself into her books about a magical nanny–a nanny that would simple whisk heartache and care away.  Travers looks at the world through hardness and disappointment, and Disney creates a new world–a happy place to shield himself from pain.  It’s a compelling comparison.

No doubt, Saving Mr. Banks is well-worth seeing.  It encapsulates the word, “entertainment,” and makes the heart glad.  <3

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Plotting your way to a compelling screenplay

Plotting your way to a compelling screenplay

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be teaching a webinar on PLOT for The Writers Store on December 18 from 1:00 – 4:00 (Pacific Standard Time).

ABOUT THE WEBINAR

Screenwriting structure can be daunting to the best of writers if the elements are not properly understood.  In fact, screenwriting has more structure than any other form of creative writing, with the exception of certain styles of poetry.  While each element is vital to the art of screenwriting, plot is probably the most misunderstood of all. It is not story.  

Even though we can isolate each element of structure, and compartmentalize how they function in a script, this is not about a formula for writing, but having a greater understanding of the building blocks that make a story great.  Carla says, “Screenwriting is not like any other kind of writing, because it is for a visual medium.  While the elements of story (plot, storyline, character arcs, story arcs, and good dialogue are also shared in creating a work of fiction, there are a couple of fundamental differences in the process of writing for the screen.”  One major difference is the use of exposition to drive a plot forward.

Carla currently teaches screenwriting at Santa Barbara City College Continued Learning and holds regular workshops in Montecito.  She has written a dozen original screenplays and two have been optioned.

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN:

  • The difference between plot and story
  • How action is used in the plot to advance the story
  • The relationship between plot, story and character
  • Is plot just about a random sequence of events?
  • Plotting = planning
  • Timing is everything: How does timing influence the evolvement of the story?
  • How character creates plot

WHO SHOULD ATTEND?

  • Novice and advanced screenwriters
  • Screenwriters who want a better understanding of plot
  • Writers who want to learn more about the craft of screenwriting
  • Writers who want to challenge themselves
  • Screenwriters who write in all genres
  • Screenwriters who want to learn
  • Anyone “truly” interested in writing a industry-acceptable, compelling story for the screen

For information or to sign-up, please click on the following link:  

http://www.writersstore.com/plotting-your-way-to-a-compelling-screenplay/

Delivery Man Doesn’t Deliver

I went to see the film Delivery Man the other day, and it simply didn’t deliver.  In fact, according to Rotten Tomatoes (the tomatoemeter gave it ONLY a 36%), “It has an undeniably sweet charm, and Vince Vaughn is eminently likable in the lead role, but…”

Vaughn’s appeal is laced with sweet, endearing sentiment, and while his character does evolve, there are issues with the plot, in this American remake of the French Canadian film “Starbuck.” Just too many narrative threads, and David Wozniak, the flawed protagonist is juggling too many fires (stereotypical kids), that makes the plot sort of fall apart.  Vince Vaughn is always a good idea, but his desperation isn’t believable in this film.  It kind of feels like he’s just going through the motions of a story, which is somewhat exhausting. Ironically, the little bit of humor in the film, is more related to the circumstance the lead character finds himself in.  Then there is his oddball best friend and lawyer in season, Brett (Chris Pratt) with his 4 ridiculously brazen children who offer a moment of comic relief in this supposed comedy.  The script itself just doesn’t deliver.  It is confused and cliche’- driven.

DELIVERY MAN

Good News for Screenwriters

Recently, I posted something about WriterDuet.com, the free online screenwriting program that allows you to write collaboratively, seeing all edits as you write. Whether you’re writing with a writing partner, or as a group, or working on screenplay solo, WriterDuet is a great program; it has my endorsement.  Another wonderful perk…WriterDuet has a page for outlining, story-boarding and creating index cards. With the flick of a finger, using the command key, we can go back and forth between our notes, and insert right into the script!

With the increasing popularity of WriterDuet, there have been requests for a desktop version, which is in the works. This will be fully compatible with the free web app, and will feature offline access to your scripts while saving your files automatically to your hard drive.

A Kickstarter campaign for the desktop version has been launched, and we’d love your support, and greatly appreciate your help promoting this campaign: www.kickstarter.com/projects/1721272044/writerduet-collaborative-screenwriting-software

Please check it out!

 

I love incredible movie moments

I’ve been reading Solomon Northup’s memoir, Twelve Years A Slave, and it’s been quite a revealing narrative — a 12- year nightmare, truthfully.

I’ve been eager to see the film adaptation, and I went last night.  It did not disappoint. It  is incredibly sobering.  It’s brilliantly written and brilliantly acted, but unsparing and gut-wrenching. John Ridley did an amazing job with this script, and Steve McQueen’s directing is equally good.  Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 96% rating, and it’s no wonder. “It’s far from comfortable viewing, but 12 Years a Slave’s unflinchingly brutal look at American slavery is also brilliant — and quite possibly essential — cinema.” — Rotten Tomatoes

I couldn’t agree more with the review posted on Rotten Tomatoes.  The fact that this is written from Solomon Northup’s perspective only makes the intensity of the story that much greater.  This has top billing in my book, but beware, it’s graphic and boldly honest, so if you have a weak stomach, you might want to re-think viewing this.

Brilliant writing, brilliant acting, brilliant directing = incredible movie moments.

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIqodUJ-UfM