Saturday, October 22, 2005


Working on a new screenplay. In some ways it’s different than doing a short story or novel, in other ways it’s the same.

Create a compelling opening. Something that will hook the reader (or an audience later). Something that hasn’t been done a million times before. Be clean and intriguing.

Introduce the main characters. The biggest difference between prose and a screenplay is that you can’t tell scenes from a character’s POV. I mean you can sort of but not really. Okay, that was clear as mud. You can write a scene from one character’s POV but that’s not the same as getting into their head and writing the scene. That’s better. And a screenplay doesn’t have a voice like prose does. The closest example I can give of a novel and movie having a similar voice is To Kill a Mockingbird. Still (and TKAM is a great movie), it doesn’t have Harper Lee’s voice or way with words. On the other hand, when I reread the novel, Gregory Peck is Atticus Finch in my mind’s eye.

Back to creating. What is similar? Plot, characters and dialogue. Yes, both must have an engaging storyline, well-defined characters, and sharp dialogue.

In the new screenplay, I open with a short scene. None of the characters ever come in direct contact with the main and supporting characters. The scene sets up the world I’m taking the audience into.

Then I introduce the villain and lead secondary villain. Their nefarious plan is set into motion. What is happening is a direct and in-direct reaction to the opening scene. Direct reaction because if the opening had not occurred then the plan would not have been formed, in-direct because the people being involved in the plan have nothing to do with it except that the villain knows them all. This time it’s personal, as the old movie slogan goes. Hopefully also, I’ve established a good enough villain that the audience will ask two questions: 1) She’s capable of anything -- What will she do next? 2) How will the heroes ever escape from this evil person?

Okay. World set-up. Villain’s plan. Meet the heroes. For this screenplay, I decided I wanted non-professionals meaning no cops, FBI agents, former thieves or the like. Regular people. Subject to change of course, the lead female is a grade school teacher and the male a cross-country truck driver. Well, I cheated a little. The truck driver is a former Marine. This will be an action-horror-thriller after all.

Next comes the secondary characters. Must be intriguing in their own right but must not over shadow the heroes. I’ve had that happen before. A secondary character became so fun to write that I kept creating more scenes with them. In those cases I’ve had to re-think my main characters. Intriguing but not stock or clichéd. And one of them, a solid well-defined character, must be the first to go. Because, after that death, the audience knows that no one is safe.

Then we have dialogue. Must seem natural. No info dumps. I personally detest the scene at the end of a thriller when the villain tells how he did everything. Heck, if they’d shut up and just shoot the hero, they’d win. Got it? Oh, yeah, just one more thing … while I hate it when the villain does it, I don’t mind a bit when Columbo tells the villain how he did it and where he slipped up. Where was I? Oh, yeah, dialogue must sound natural and individual. That’s much tougher than it sounds. And it has to be more than one character does not use contractions and another always drops the g’s from any word ending in ‘ing.’ I admire good dialogue. Watch Deadwood and listen how the characters speak. Even the cursing is an art form. Read any Elmore Leonard novel and just look at the dialogue. Always remember to that the dialogue can’t jerk you out of the novel or screenplay. The audience can’t be marveling about how wonderful the writer is. It must sound like that character would say those words at that time. Yeah, tougher than it looks.
Oh, well, back to writing creatively … I hope.

No comments: