I’ve learned some very important lessons from my overseas travel, but one message actually applies to screenwriting: always prepare yourself for the journey ahead.
Writing a script, is, in essence, a journey. Don’t be that guy who gets stopped at the border because you forgot your passport and who drinks the water the moment his boot hits Mexicano soil.
Here are six ways to prepare for writing that killer screenplay and put experienced travelers to shame!
1. Concept comes first. You need an idea that’s not only marketable, but interesting, compelling, and high concept if you can manage it. You need something that’s going to be a movie. Examples:
- Not a movie: ‘two people fall in love but life gets in the way’
- A movie: ‘two people fall in love but they’re on The Titanic‘
- Not a movie: ‘a lawyer learns that lying is immoral’
- A movie: ‘an attorney preparing for a big case is cursed and cannot lie for twenty-four hours’
Be specific and use irony when you can!
2. Give your protagonist a clear fatal flaw. In The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman’s character doesn’t know what he wants out of life, and he wanders, which gets him into trouble. Make sure the flaw is clear. Don’t give me any, ‘she always gets into trouble’ nonsense. Don’t be vague. ‘She seeks out trouble because she’s bored with her life’ is better. Finding out what your character’s fatal flaw is will help you plan out who
For some types of characters (namely superheroes) their flaws often are what make them who they are: superheroes. Batman is paranoid and obsessive, but this helps him fight crime. Superman sacrifices himself for the ones he love. A hero’s vulnerability, their drive to protect the people and cities they love: these flaws separate them from the bad guys.
3. Use character archetypes. Archetypes are basically blueprints derived from ancient storytelling that you can use to help create your characters. By using these blueprints, you can focus your characters and give them distinct voices. Stay tuned, because I’m going to be writing another post on this subject!
4. Outline major beats. It’s up to you if you want to outline on the micro scene-level for your first draft, but figuring out the macro major reversals and plot points helps to focus your first draft while still allowing a little wiggle room. If you know that you need to get characters X, Y, and Z to Mexico so they can die in a blaze of gunfire by page 55, then you’ll not only be able to add some fancy shmancy foreshadowing prior to that point, but you’ll know that page 50 is not the time for them to go off on a 30-page subplot-ridden adventure to Candy Mountain.
5. Plan out your character arcs. The easiest way to do this? Know how your story is going to end before you type fade in. If I’m writing a character who is deathly afraid of farm animals on page one, you can be damn sure he’s going to ride off into the sunset on a llama as the credits roll. In TV, you can get away with static characters. In movies, you win all the awards if your entire cast of characters change in some way.
6. Know your protagonist’s ultimate goal. The key to an active character is to give them something they want more than anything else in their world. Then, make a list of all the terrible things they would do to achieve that goal: lie? Cheat? Steal? Murder? Pillage and plunder small countries? Now make them do a bunch of those terrible things, and boom! You’ve got drama!
Hit the road! It’s time for your journey to begin.