What’s up with universal appeal?

So, you want to write a screenplay that has universal appeal (don’t we all)?

There are a couple of major things you need to focus on for that to happen:  Your plot and the reason for action.
According to Aristotle, “The life and soul of all drama (tragedy) is the plot,”  and action is related to the want and need/goal of your main character.  In other words, let’s say your protagonist desires or needs love.  His or her need is going to drive him or her to respond or act according to the need.  Micheal Tierno, in his book Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters says, “When a strong desire of a hero relates to all of the action, then the plot can depict a simple ‘portrait’ of the hero.”

So, often times, action is a emotional response of the character’s need or want.  For example:  Remember the movie Cocktail (1988), which starred Tom Cruise and Elizabeth Shue?  Let’s look at the storyline.  Brian Flanagan has just gotten out of the service and wants to make money.  He wants his own business, but after being turned down in several job interviews for lack of education, he takes a job working as a bartender.  His need for money pushes him to take a job that he’s really not excited about.  However, his need produces continued actions (chains of events), to include traveling to Jamaica to work as a bartender at an upscale resort, and meeting Jordan Mooney, the seeming love of his life. His boss, Doug Coughlin also wants to own his own high-end bar, so the two come up with a game-plan.  Once again, this flawed protagonist has an agenda, and his need gives rise to action, pushes the plot forward and will eventually guide the story to resolution.

(Tom Cruise- Brian Flanagan in Cocktail, 1988)

Universal appeal is important because for an audience to relate to a character or story there must be a relationship with the character and the storyline.  So, when Brian Flanagan’s business partner (the antagonist) puts him to a dare, we (the audience) feel bad for him, because it seems like all is lost.  We’ve all been there.  Desire and need are powerful things.  We somehow relate to his plight, his frustration, his turmoil, and that is universally appealing.

Is universal appeal important?  You betcha!  Life is a journey, and we are all a part of it.  For an audience or reader to relate to a character, there must be character traits, familiar moments that we’ve walked through or witnessed.  We know how this character feels because we’ve been there and done that!

According to Aristotle, “A plot must include causes of the action that can arouse the audience’s deepest pity and fear [or laughter and tears]. This means the audience must understand the hero’s thoughts and see those thoughts becoming actions, which in turn reveal a moral quality (character) of the hero.”

Just a little writing tip, in case you’re in the midst!

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

Reference:  Aristotle’s Poetics by Michael Tierno

Advertisements

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.

Image

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?

Image

“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.

Image

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

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

What do you mean I don’t have a good story?

It’s amazing.  Wherever I go, when it’s found out that I’m a screenwriter, I will get approached by someone who says, “Oh my God!  You write screenplays?  I have the BEST idea for a screenplay…” In fact, this happened to me about a month ago at a coffee shop that I frequent.  I was working on a screenplay, and the woman at the table behind me started talking with me, wanting to know what I was writing.  After she learned that I write screenplays, she said, “I have the best story ever for a comedy.” Without hesitation she began to share.  Of course, she was not too pleased with my response. I said, “You know, that’s a really funny scene, but I’m not sure it’s an actual story.  You will need to develop a story-line in order for it to work as a screenplay.”

The nub of it…you cannot build a story on a scene.  I’ve tried it, and it doesn’t work.

Whaaaaaa?

Another factor to consider when writing your screenplay:  You cannot just cram together various scenes, that have no connection with each other.  That is like trying to squash a square peg in a round hole; it will never work. They must be cohesive.  Like building blocks–they need each other to stand.  So, a good story needs to promise something from the beginning.  There must be a hook, and everything that you write from the first word to “The End” must lead to a final goal. Every sentence, every stitch of dialogue, the scenes, the descriptions all connect, and an audience or reader is magically drawn in.

So, the elements that you provide for the audience or reader actually draws them in, and keeps them engaged with the story and the characters.  Good stories are made up of various elements.  There are guidelines, not hard-fast rules, but structure and strategy is paramount.

Aristotle claimed, “the ability to plot, or to create a powerful structure, is the most important aspect of writing.  Good writers serve their stories; bad writers serve their own agendas.”

A story is evolving, not static.  It is LIVING–alive with anticipation, and that anticipation holds an audience/reader to the premise like glue.

There are reasons that films like: A Beautiful Mind (2001), Dances With Wolves (1990), How Green Was My Valley (1941), Zorba The Greek (1964), Norma Rae (1979), Crazy Heart (2009), The Silence of the Lambs (1995), The Sound of Music (1965), Lord of the Rings (2000-2010), Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000), Whale Rider (2003), Gangs of New York (2002), La Vie En Rose ( 2007), Finding Nemo (2003), Inception (2010), Toy Story 3 (2010), Fahrenheit  911 (2004), Atonement (2007), Little Miss Sunshine (2006), to name a few, have won Oscars.

For screenplay coaching and/or editing:  carlaiacovetti.com

Other references: ReadThrough.com – where screenwriters and actors collaborate online to help bring scripts to life!

What are you plotting?

Plotting Away!

Every screenwriter MUST remember that the plot is LIVING!  The audience MUST always be focusing on a single action-idea throughout every story event!  In addition, the plot and character(s) work together, and action MUST have a connection to the plot. Aristotle believed that “Plot is soul.” Because the plot is the very structure that arouses emotions from an audience, it is paramount.  To write a good plot, you MUST consider the end.  For example:  Let’s say we are building a tree-house.  The visual image of the finished house is the end, so everything in the story needs to lead you to the completed tree-house.

Plot is STRUCTURE!  What are you plotting today?