Sunday, July 4, 2010

Day Four - Part Two of The Grid

Okay - so a note about writing tools. They are tools. They aren't magic. They can't do the work for you, but they can help you do the work. And, just like you can't use one tool to frame a house, you can't use just one tool to write a screenplay.

Here's my favorite tool for outlining: Story Grid. If the structure of the screenplay is like the frame of a house, then the Story Grid is the hammer. After I have the storyline roughed out in a short treatment, once I know my character's arc (and I'm working every day on getting to know his/her attitudes, history, ambitions) I turn to the Story Grid.

I first started using a form of the Grid while studying screenwriting at UCLA. One of my favorite professor's grid got me through my first five or six scripts. (The professor was Hal Ackerman - who wrote the terrific how-to book: Write Screenplays That Sell - The Ackerman Way). But, as fabulous as this book is I discovered that I needed something more for pitching for writing assignments. All the structure was there and it was a great tool, but I needed something that emphasized the premise. In pitching the premise is King and Queen and landed gentry.

Next, I started using Blake Snyder's Save The Cat Beat Sheet. Blake Snyder, God rest his lovely soul, wrote Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need. And that was great for pitching, but, for me, I found the character arc unsupported when I got to the writing stage. And, for me, the third act was murky. Again, great tool, but I needed something a little different.

Then my mangers shared with me a diagram that had a multitude of arcs and arrows which basically discected the storyline (vs. the plot). Again helpful, but not exactly what I needed.

Finally, I decided to make my own. And the point is - other people's tools are great to get you started. Ride on the back of their knowledge and experience, but eventually you will discover what works for you. Here is what works for me. THE STORY GRID

Click On The Story Grid to make larger.

Here's the corresponding key to The Story Grid.

Opening Image - pretty self-explanatory, it is the image that opens your story. It should be mirrored with a closing image. These two images when held side-by-side should provide evidence of how your character has grown.

Issues/Problems Demonstrated - These are 3-6 examples of what need is lacking in your main character's life. These are set-up scenes and they must pull double duty. They set up the story (who, what, when, where, how-come?), they show where your character is at and what has transpired to get him/her in that place, but they also must set up pay offs where you will later show their corresponding pay-offs/resolutions of problems.

Potential Exposed - During the set-up sequence, relatively early on in the story, one of your scenes should provide an opportunity for the audience to see who your character can be one day. It is usually the same moment that tells the audience - hey we like this guy, let's root for him. No matter how messed up your character is - this is the moment where the audience can see themselves in the character and thereby gets on board to root him in.

Inciting Incident - Traditionally this is a letter, a message, a piece of information that sets the story in motion. What it has to be is a moment where the rest of the story would not take place if it had not occurred.

Act One Break - The end of Act One is where the story heads in a new direction. It is also where your premise starts playing out.

Act 2 A - How Your Premise Tests Your Main Character
This section is the entire point of your script to most people in Hollywood. Only us writers really care about character arcs and themes. This section is what is represented in the poster of the film and most of the scenes in the trailer will come from Act Two A. (The reason why your main character is being tested? Because on the character arc - he's still "before the midpoint." He's klinging to his old ways and therefore gets the snot beat out of him.

Midpoint - Before (approximately) page 55 your character's actions reflect the first half of his arc. After page 55 the scenes demonstrate moving closer to end of his character arc.

Act 2B - We are on the other side of the mid-point, so your character is now on his way to the right side of his character arc. He is now demonstrating those skills - but he doesn't quite have it down.

To demonstrate this you have two-linked beats. The Problem Returns - only stronger and he Battles Back, but with inadequate tools. Once the main character has learned his lessons the movie is over. In the second half of the second act, the obsticals have to escalate to keep us interested, and the character has grow to keep us interested, but the big point still eludes him. That's the big work of Act 2B.

Act Two Break - The end of Act Two is where your character is the farthest away from his goal. Everything has blown up in his face - even bigger than he ever thought possible. He's in a worse place now than when he started the movie.

Act 3 - Reflection Beat
After the smoke clears we need to see a moment where the main character reflects on his ownership of what has happened.

Getting It Right - Here's the climax of the film where the hero proves that he's learned his lesson. He may not have got what he wanted, but he's got what he needs and this is the beat where he demonstrates that.

Closing Image - Look how far we've come! Ideally this little wrap up beat should mirror (literally or thematically) the opening scene.

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