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!

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Are your characters believable?

Building Believable Characters

How do you build a believable character?

A character is no different that each of us, and we all have history.  The woman I am today is largely related to who I was yesterday, so our background is a part of our development.  In the same manner, the background of your character will determine how he or she responds to crisis while on their journey.  So, it’s important to create some history, or background for your main characters, even if it is not shown in the screenplay itself.  Character worksheets are a great way to create detailed background for your characters.  This will give you (the writer) a much better grasp on understanding “why” this character will do what he or she does in every situation.

Remember the comedy What About Bob? The flawed hero, BOB WILEY has a whirlwind of issues that become DR. LEO MARVIN’S nightmare.  The audience never finds out what has made Bob all “tide-up” in “emotional knots,” but we do see the result of his anxieties, phobias and social disorders from the get go.  In addition, his emotional needs push him to action–he seeks the professional help of Dr. Leo Marvin.

To create a character like Bob Wiley, it is imperative that the writer understand his background.  Why?  Because characters with psychological problems and quirks are going to respond a little differently than the “average” Joe.  So, how do you write these quirks and personality traits/disorders into your tale believably?

Journalists are taught that a story should always contain answers to six pertinent questions:  What” Who? Where? When? How? and Why?  A journalist could actually accomplish this in one sentence:   “Bart was murdered in his own home last evening by a neighbor using a shotgun in revenge for Bart’s insults to the neighbor’s wife.”

In a screenplay, this has to be accomplished differently.  Remember, a screenplay is written for a visual medium, so these questions need to be answered within the development of the storyline, and seen in the dialogue and actions of the characters.

We never know “why” Bob Wiley is such a mess, but we see his responses to life in the development of the storyline through his actions and his dialogue.  We see his craziness in the development of his relationship with Dr. Leo Marvin and his family, and again when “suddenly” Dr. Leo Marvin’s “death therapy” cures him.

Making your character have history will help you answer those five questions, and when your character is confronted with conflict, you (the writer) will know exactly how he or she is going to respond.  Why?  Because you’ve spent time with this character and you know him or her so well.

Hint:  It’s all about understanding the human condition, and having a grasp on basic psychology.

In addition, if your screenplay happens to get produced, GIVE the actors something to work with!  Make them dig deep!  🙂

To Subplot or Not to Subplot: That is the Question

What is the purpose of a subplot? Well-written subplots should enhance the story in a different way, emphasize the theme and resolve by the end of the story. In addition, at some point, your subplot(s) must intersect with the main story and push the story forward to the end. Much like rivers and streams dumping into the same ocean.

The beauty about well-crafted subplots are that they can help weave dimension and complexity into the central plot, but they must be cautiously integrated and they must stay relevant to the theme. A good subplot should hike-up the drama by making it harder for the protagonist to achieve his or her goal. In other words, subplots effectiveness are dependent on the conflict that they bring to the protagonist.

The writer MUST maintain control over the main plot while bringing in a subplot. Robert McKee says, “The balance of emphasis between the central plot and subplot has to be carefully controlled, or the writer risks losing focus on the primary story.”

Here are a list of things that subplots do:
They introduce new characters
– They enhance your main story/plot.
– They can be the mirror opposite of your main story.
– They can introduce new characters.
– They can reveal the back-story of the main plot, and they always enhance the theme.
– They reveal exposition.
– They show simultaneous action that happens along side your main plot.
– They supply tension and conflict.

Subplots are also often referred to as the “B” story, which is a secondary story. Often times, it’s a love story that’s introduced into the storyline, and while it MUST support the main theme, it gives us a little breather from the central story. It’s like a temporary diversion.