It has been a fun-filled week of writing, which is writer speak for “an absolutely brutal week filled with psychological torment that manifests itself into physical paralysis and episodes of psychosis.” But I have made progress.
My initial runtime goal for episode 5 was 20 minutes. I have a recent draft that lasted 28 pages. The first 8 pages involved my main character having a flashback, a meeting with his brother, and online research. The following 20 pages all belonged to a single scene in a single setting (albeit, one that transforms as the story progresses).
I find it is much more fun to work with too much rather than too little. You get to comb through events, conversations, and pivotal moments and rank them from greatest to needless. And from there you get to cherry pick the parts that you like and annihilate the rest. So that’s what I’m doing now.
I would like to reduce the runtime to approximately 15 minutes. The more I can condense the story, the better. I have already erased 2 characters in order to increase my budget for other resources. But beyond that I have to deal with the knowledge that I’ll be filming each scene. If I can ensure that a cast of 5 or 6 actors will have all of their lines completed in 1 day at the location I rent I will further increase my budget allotment. But budget aside, there are more important reasons for condensing the script.
I imagine the ratio of excitement from author to viewer is somewhere close to 5:1. Unless you can feel strong emotion as you are reading your work, the viewer will not. A prime example of this experience was my first time reading the screenplay for “The Prestige.” As each line progressed and the story unfolded I could literally feel the suspense tightening its hold on me. My initial goal was to highlight areas that demonstrated plot devices and I wound up so enamored by the story that I could not help but race to finish it. That should be your goal as a writer – to produce a work so compelling that the reader is unable to analyze it because it is affecting them on a psychological level.
A little bit about plot devices – there are surefire ways you can make any story more appealing. Introducing a “ticking time bomb,” or limited amount of time for actions to be completed, adds an element of urgency. Elevating the stakes – or the amount a character will lose should they fail in their quest – will add a great deal as well. Tension occurs when sources of conflict have opposing desires but are forced to intertwine and duel it out because of the circumstances.
My favorite way to add intrigue to any story is what I’d like to call “the decision.” I desperately want to use this frequently in episode 5 because I feel that I have yet to use it effectively in a short film.
Let’s pretend your story is about a grown man searching for his missing dog. He runs into an individual, named Bob, who claims he’s keeping the dog safe in his home. From here we have an infinite list of options for what can happen, but lets limit them to the probable ideas that a writer would consider:
- Bob tells our hero that he’s happy he arrived and can find his dog inside.
- Bob informs our hero that he will have to pay $500 to get his dog back
- Bob informs our hero that the dog was dangerous and had to be put down
- Bob informs our hero that unless he can prove ownership, the dog is now his
- Bob informs our hero that his blind daughter finally has a friend, and he will be sad to see her lose him.
Each option besides the first one increases the amount of conflict. The options for our hero to pay $500 or prove ownership provide obstacles to overcome. The information that the dog has been put down works mostly as an inciting incident that will provoke reactionary action from our hero.
But the most intriguing option is to learn that Bob’s blind daughter has become best & only friends with our hero’s dog. Though the other options provide for avenue toward plot, this is the only option that truly forces Bob into a character arc, change, and reveal. How he handles the situation fascinates us because it is a difficult moral question. We wonder what we would do in his shoes, and that causes us to empathize more with the hero and learn from his decision – and judge him by it.
When the neighbor requests $500 for the dog’s return, everything is in black and white. If our hero pays up he’s a pussy (sorry, but give me a break). If our hero deceives Bob he is sly. If he overcomes Bob with force he is a tough guy. But each of the options is simple – the neighbor is wrong for the request, and Bob is right for trying to get his dog back. These different options will also define varying genres. Ultimately, I do feel drama is the most compelling form of writing. Just because you’re writing science fiction doesn’t mean your viewers will not “lean in” when they come across a true moral conundrum.
I am looking at points in the story where I can introduce moral dilemmas. In my previous works I have often zoned in on escalating conflict. Escalating conflict is a powerful tool to build toward a rewarding climax. I often find, however, many works of suspense are ruined by the lack of pacing shift. Finding areas of your story to provide comfort and emotional entrapment to your viewer will help the escalation in tension pay off ten times more. We have to genuinely care about someone in order for their death to affect us.
I’m going to get some rest now, but when I wake up I’m determined to complete a clean draft of my script in order to begin receiving feedback on it. I am disappointed in how much time it has taken me. Nevertheless, I am excited to shape something into a meaningful evolution rather than crumple it into another mindless pile of garbage.