ScreenWriting

16 Steps for Planning and Writing Your Script: Step 11

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Step 11: Thinking about plots

Hi, my name is J.O. Booker and I am the producer, screenwriter, location scout, storyboarder, director, and editor of the upcoming short film called L.O.V.E.: A Four Letter Word.  Let’s continue working on your script.

Previously, we started Profile documents and began the process of populating the following fields in those documents: 

Character profile:

  • Name:
  • Physical traits
  • Race
  • Age
  • Height
  • Background (backstory)
  • Habits
  • Likes/dislikes
  • favorite foods
  • Style of dress
  • Tastes in men/women
  • Job/Career
  • Internal and external conflicts
  • Religion
  • weaknesses 
  • Hobbies

Location Profile

  • City 
  • Neighborhood
  • Hangout spots
  • How he or she feels about where they live
  • Time period (past, present, or future)
  • Season
  • Does the character have his or her own place or are they living with someone such as their parents, lover, friend, etc.

As you continue to flesh out these profiles, I want you to focus more on your main character.  He will not only be influenced by his environment, which we covered yesterday when we began our Location profiles, his (or her) personality will also be shaped by other characters in the story.  

If your main character is an extrovert you should complement this character with a character (or characters) that contrast with them.  One option might be a best friend who is introverted. If the main character is weak, complement him with characters who are strong, etc. 

 

In this lesson, let’s start thinking about our plots.  We have an idea of what we want to write, now let’s give this idea a skeleton–a beginning, a middle, and an ending.

The first thing we want to think about, whether we’re writing a script for a full-length feature, a short film, a short story, or a novel is our story’s overall goal or theme.  Every story has a goal that should be spelled out at the very beginning.  For my upcoming short film L.O.V.E.: A Four Letter Word, the goal of the main character, Johnny, is leaving town.  

In the 1977 film Rocky, the goal of its main character, Rocky Balboa, is set up by his environment.  He lives in an Italian slum in Philadelphia, he has a “job” as a leg-breaker for a loan-shark, and the fact that he is 30 years old and lives alone with a couple of aquatic turtles named Cuff and Link.  Rocky boxes for side money in a decrepit gym.  In comes the Heavyweight Title fight in which the challenger withdraws due to an injury.  Unable to schedule a suitable replacement on short notice, the Champ–on a whim– selects Balboa from a list of local Philadelphia boxers to fight.  Rocky now has a chance to make a better life for himself, a GOAL. 

The 2nd step in transforming your idea into a plot is conflict.

Again, using my script for an example, the main character’s (Johnny’s) goal is leaving town.  He’s heartbroken, discouraged, and feels like the best way to move forward is a change of scenery.  But just as he is about to board his train, the reason his wanting to leave in the 1st place–the woman who broke his heart– calls at the last minute asking for another chance.  Hence, the conflict!  Now, the main character, who was resolved to leave and start his life over elsewhere, has to make a tough decision, because he is still in love with the woman who left him for her old flame.

In Rocky, the conflict arises out of Balboa’s lack of confidence in himself.  He is fully-aware that he’s a flat-foot southpaw “bum” going up against “the” Heavyweight Champion of the World who sees the fight as a promotional gimmick. 

 

The 3rd step in transforming your idea into a plot is resolution; how will your story end?

Usually, this and the beginning are the easiest to visualize.  The trick is building the bridge between points A and B.  These points are connected by a series of threads called subplots, which are smaller plots interwoven with the story’s main plot.  As I showed with my script, the main plot is the main character leaving town and the subplot is the main character’s ex trying to keep him from leaving town at the last minute.  In Rocky, the main plot is the protagonist fighting for the title and the subplot is this character’s growing love affair with Adrian, who works in a pet shop. Let’s set up a worksheet for this idea:

 

Your Story Title

  • Plot
  • Goal
  • Conflict
  • Suspense
  • End (Resolution)
  • Subplot(s) (there can be more than 1 subplot. I will elaborate more on subplots in the next lesson)
  • Backstory (what happened prior to the point where you begin telling your story)

This is a very basic structure to begin developing your idea.  This outline is designed to make you think about that idea in a more organized fashion.

You notice that I included a field, backstory.  The backstory is whatever happened prior to the story that set up the beginning of your story.  The backstory for my script sets up the story’s intro where the main character is in the process of leaving town.  The backstory for Rocky is the fact that Rocky, who’s 30, was dumped by his old trainer “Mickey.”  

The backstory is the most tricky element of the plot because you can’t really spell it out without losing the audience’s or reader’s intrigue in the main character.  The backstory is usually hinted at throughout the story in bits and pieces.  

A scar on a character’s cheek can imply a backstory and create intrigue about how the character got that scar.  Or you can work it into the dialogue without being too on the nose.  Incorporating backstory calls for a great deal of creativity and subtlety.

Be aware of backstory the next time you watch a good movie or read a good book.  To put in a nutshell: the backstory sets up the beginning of the story and sustains tension and intrigue throughout the story. So, keep writing in your journal, reading, and populating these worksheets and I’ll see you next time.

Keep going!

 

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