The Art of the Screenplay

     The screenplay is an odd format to write in. It really is. In one sense, it is very easy, but after a second breath, it can seem very difficult and hard to master. What most distinctly sets it apart from a novel is that many of your freedoms and creative abilities are completely stripped away from you. Instead of being able to fully pour your ideas out on the page, you are only allotted a limited amount of time (pages) to capture your audience’s attention. The Great American Novel has been referred to by some naive film buffs as “word vomit” and “rambling”, because they view the screenplay as a superior counterpart to the novel. While I understand the sentiment, they are simply two different formats that cannot be compared, and they both have their respective ways of telling a well-crafted story. 

     Enough with the novel. I’ll get into that aspect of writing in further detail later. Right now, I want to discuss once more, the art of the screenplay. I am a young and inexperienced writer, so what can I teach you? I’ve only written two feature length screenplays and a handful of shorts. So what should make me an authority on writing a screenplay? Well, I assume if you are reading blogs on screenplay writing, you are probably just as inexperienced, or perhaps even more so, as I am.  So if we are on a similar level of experience, it can be beneficial to both of us if we learn together. Instead of trying to learn from and place yourself in a master’s shoes, you can start out slow and work your way up to the big times. This is a plan that I have integrated into my writing regimen, and will continue to do so. 

     First thing’s first: if you have an idea for a story that you are dying to tell, the number one thing to worry about is structure. Structure is very important because it will determine how you will tell your story, and each structure you choose will have its own unique bounds and limits. Do you want to just throw your audience into the story, with no set up, and then immerse them in the backstory as the story unfolds, or do you want to have a setup, conflict and resolve, like a traditional structure? These choices will severely affect the way your script will read and how the events will unfold. Sometimes it is best to set up the characters and the world they live in first, especially if you are working in a world of pure fiction of your own creation. No one would have understood the significance of the Flux Capacitor in “Back to the Future” if they just threw you into the story with no setup. But if you are working in a world of the reality in which we already live, then the chances are, even the most dissociated people will understand the significance of what is happening, in which case, it can then be possible to throw your audience into the conflict before showing the setup. If you choose this path, make sure the story of how they got into the point of conflict is just as interesting as the conflict itself. If you’re showing the backstory after the fact, don’t do it all at once. Sprinkle the back story throughout the entire film at times when it is most prime to do so. For example, if a character dies in your script, you could then write a piece of backstory showing a happier time in his individual story, thus making his death even more tragic. In a traditional structure, you would make your audience like the character first, and then he would die. But in this format, you are forcing your audience to remember back in your film as to why he was so likeable, and why his death was tragic. In doing a sort of reverse format, you would kill your character first, and then show your audience why it is so sad. Show them a kind act that your character had done that they never even knew about. It will blow their minds. 

     Now I’m going to regurgitate a concept that has been done before, but not one that I have ever attempted myself. You would start your story right at the end, in the resolve, and then push backwards to the conflict, and finally, the setup. This has been done very well in Christopher Nolan’s “Memento”. 

Thanks for reading! I might do another piece on this subject soon, and I definitely plan on doing some pieces of novel and short story writing very soon!

Copyright 2015 by Kyle Oliver
Kyle Oliver is an award nominated filmmaker for his amazing short film “NUMB“.  He is also a writer, working in screenplays, short stories and novels. To find out more about his latest project,visit http://www.facebook.com/TheManifestingUndead

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