Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Cna yuo raed tihs?

fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too. Olny 55% fo the plepoe can. i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

I guess if you have trouble editing your work, you can blame it on your extremely efficient brain. Cool. I always blamed it on being a bad speller.


Blogger Optimistic_Reader said...

Brilliant, I shall be adopting this excuse from now on!

21/7/06 9:49 AM  
Blogger Neal and Barbara Weckworth said...

Well, How about that! I slogged right through that and it was amazed. Thanks for letting me know that I have abilities that I never knew of.


21/7/06 9:55 AM  
Blogger Jeri said...

Thanks guys.

optimistic-reader, a positive excuse is much easier to swallow isn't it? ;-)

Neal, I was amazed too. Every word is completely screwed up and I could read it just fine. It's no wonder I have such a hard time editing my work. I guess the best editors are from the 45% that can't read it.

21/7/06 11:13 AM  
Blogger wcdixon said...

Fcinasating sfftu...

22/7/06 12:10 PM  
Blogger Jeri said...

LOL. Thnkas, wcdixon.

24/7/06 7:20 AM  
Blogger Simon said...

That was fairly easy to read. haha!

31/10/06 11:15 AM  
Blogger Word Demon said...

very witty

2/12/06 7:06 PM  
Blogger Enzio Pesta said...

You seem to be suffering some of the same afflictions that have made my life a living hell, most of it caused by my pursuit of screenwriting nirvana. Perhaps by peeking into the crypt door of my purgatory, it could help you deal with your own demons.

Always open to advice from fellow sufferers of the pox.

17/2/07 9:09 AM  
Blogger alex said...


26/5/07 1:36 AM  
Blogger adam brown said...

Hi, this is not so related to your page, but it is the site you asked me 1 month ago about the abs diet. I tried it, worked well. Well here is the site

27/12/07 5:56 PM  
Blogger James Sutton said...

Ttah si os fnuny

I don't think I did it right..

30/4/08 5:47 PM  
Blogger Eleanor said...

Does this mean I can't use the "I'm slightly dyslexic" excuse anymore?

I wonder if I could still read it if the first and second letters were transposed as well...

14/9/08 6:40 AM  
Blogger James A. Ritchie said...

That's not an excuse for poor editing, it's a very old hoax with carefully selected words that anyone can read despite the order of the letters.

It's been going around the internet for many, many years, but was revealed as a hoax only weeks after it started.

14/5/11 8:05 PM  

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Monday, July 10, 2006

My New Approach to Screenwriting: A Cure for My Act Two Blues - Hopefully

I've been doing a lot of reading and a lot of thinking. Then I did even more reading and more thinking, but I think I've finally come to a better understanding of storytelling and screenwriting.

When I first started this screenwriting adventure, I learned about the 3-Act structure. Like I've said before, it has always looked like a 4-act structure to me so that's what I called it. Somebody, sorry I can't remember who, said you need a "Whammy" every 10 minutes. And Ted and Terry over at Wordplay write 60 two-minute scenes.

I'm a visual person so I created a worksheet with all this information and a few of the key scenes in place.

Originally uploaded by carpediem-101.
This, or some variation of it, is what I have been using for a few years to plot out my stories. (I would literally try to fill every box. Can you say anal?) Sometimes I would see each act having a beginning a middle and an end. Other times I would see 2 or 3 separate sequences in each act, with each sequence having their own beginning, middle and end. Either way I tried to make something new happen every 10 or 12 minutes. Sometimes it worked great, but sometimes it didn't.

I often suffer from the Act Two Blues. This is directly related to the Swayback Screenplay, where the middle of the screenplay sags and looses momentum. It's a horrible feeling when you know that the middle of your story is weak and you don't have a clue how to fix it.

I boiled it down to two major questions I had about storytelling and screenwriting.
1) What does the traditional Second Act (middle of the story) consist of?
2) How do I make things progressively worse and worse for the Main Character?

Lets look at number 1 first. What does the traditional Second Act consist of?

Keep in mind you need 20-30 minutes for the First Act (The Beginning) and 20-30 minutes for the Final Act (The Ending). That leaves you 60-80 minutes for the Middle of your story.

You can fill the Middle with:

1) Tasks - those undesirable things that the Main Character must do in order to reach the Goal.
2) Snafus - [I borrowed a military acronym, S(ituation) N(ormal) A(ll) F...(ouled) U(p)] Basically a Snafu is any obstacle, hurdle, complication, dilemma, etc. that fouls things up for the Main Character making it harder for him to reach the Goal.
3) Slams - incidents which force the Main Character to wrestle with his flaw.
4) Subplots - additional storylines that
a) Repeat the theme.
b) Reflect the theme, showing it's opposite.
c) Refract the theme, bending it to show a different facet. (That Physics class came in handy after all)

There's a lot going on in the Middle of a story, but now 2) How do I make things progressively worse? This seems like a simple task, but its something I struggle with continually.

The first thing to keep in mind is that no one changes unless they have to. An equal or weaker Antagonist will never force a change in the Main Character, so make sure that your Antagonist is stronger than your Main Character.

Now, make each of your Acts represent a different "world", not necassarily a physical world but an emotional one. Then make each "world" represent a greater conflict.

I'll show you what I mean in 4 Acts. (This is the traditional 3-act structure with a beginning, a 2-part middle, and an end)

Act 1 - Ordinary World
Somebody, somewhere is doing something. Then something happens.
(Conflict is introduced)

Act 2 - Extraordinary World
Blake Snyder calls this "Fun and Games" - The Main Character tries to solve the problem with the least amount of effort.
(Protagonist VS External Conflicts)

Act 3 - Interpersonal World
No More Fun and Games. Now things are Personal.
(Protagonist VS Interpersonal Conflicts/Antagonist)

Note about Act 3
In and Action/Adventure this may be when the Protagonist and antagonist come face to face for the first time.
In a Romance, your couple may say, "I love you" or make love for the first time.
In a Horror, the bad guy has been killing off people around your Main Character, but now he comes after him directly or those he loves the most.
It may be a personal moment or a personal attack, but because it's now personal, the stakes are higher and the Main Character's desire for the Goal is greater, exactly what you want to happen.

Act 4 - Intrapersonal World
Thing are even more Personal.
(Protagonist VS Intrapersonal Conflicts/Himself- his Flaw)

Note about Act 4
Here the Main Character realizes that he must come to terms with his flaw before he can continue his pursuit of the Goal. Or maybe the Flaw and the Goal are in Conflict with one jeopardizing the other. Either way the Flaw becomes the biggest obstacle standing between him and his Goal.

What if you want 5, 6, or more Acts? Kick it up a notch. Create things that are tougher than previous act, but not yet at the level of the act that follows.

Here's what a 6 Act Horror flick might look like.

Act 1 - Ordinary World
Somebody, Somewhere is doing something. Then something happens.
(Conflict is introduced)

A group of college students go on a weekend getaway. They arrive at the house, but it doesn't look like the picture on the brochure.

Act 2 - Extraordinary World
Fun and Games - Main Character tries to solve the problem with the least amount of effort.
(Protagonist VS External Conflicts)

Lights go on and off for no reason, people get locked in their rooms, the phones quit working, and the car won't start. The Main Character tries to fix these things with a hammer and a wrench.

Act 3 Extraordinary World 2
No more Fun and Games.
(Protagonist VS Tougher or More Serious External Conflicts)

The water pipes (filled with hot water) burst and someone gets burned, an animal is found dead in the kitchen, and someone from their party has disappeared.

Act 4 - Interpersonal World
Now things are Personal.
(Protagonist VS Interpersonal Conflicts/Antagonist)

The body of their missing friend is found, one by one the other members of the party are killed off in horrible ways. The main Character has a run-in with the bad guy but manages to escape.

Act 5 - Interpersonal World 2
Things just got even more personal.
(A Weaker, More Helpless or More Desparate Protagonist VS Meaner, Nastier or More Determined Antagonist)

The Main Character and his girlfriend are the only two left. They try again to get the car started. Then out of nowhere the girlfriend disappears.

Act 6 - Intrapersonal World
Now things are Deeply Personal
(Protagonist VS Intrapersonal Conflicts/Himself - his Flaw)

The Main Character must gather all his courage and face his greatest fears in order to save his girlfriend.

It's not a great story, I know, and there's a lot more to it than that, but you get the idea.

You can have any number of acts and organize them any way you want. If these Act titles don't work for your story, you can make up new ones, but by making each Act represent a new "world" and a deeper, more personal conflict, you increase your chances of knowing what is missing or what isn't working in your script. For instance a weak script may be jumping from the Main Character trying to solve external conflicts straight to him facing his internal Flaw. You may want to build an Act that shows him dealing with interpersonal issues in between the two Acts you have. Or maybe you're spending too much time with the Main Character dealing with only one type of conflict and the story is slowing down. Try giving the story a kick by having the Main character deal with those conflicts only to discover that he now has a whole new level of conflict to deal with.

A Word about Turning Points.

This new found understanding of Acts becoming progressively more difficult also brought a new understanding of what a Turning Point really is. I knew that each Act should end with a Turning Point that slings the story in a whole new direction. Now I understand that it needs to be strong enough to sling the story into a whole new "world".

Again, in a 4 Act screenplay:

Act 1 Turning Point slings the story from the Ordinary World into the Extraordinary World.
Act 2 Turning Point slings the story from the Extraordinary World where nothing is personal to the Interpersonal World where things become personal.
Act 3 Turning Point slings the story from the Interpersonal world to the Intrapersonal World where the main character has to face the thing he fears most - himself.

Lajos Egri defines a Crisis as "A state of things in which a decisive change, one way or the other, is impending." It helped me to think of a Turning Point as a Crisis. Some event or decision puts things in a state of unrest. It's that first hint that things just got a lot tougher. Things are up in the air. A decision must be made. What will the Main Character do? The answer lies in the Act that follows that Turning Point. The Turning Point should hook the reader/audience and make them want to know "What's going to happen now?".

The key thing to remember about turning points is, once you cross over you can never go back. In other words, once you hit a new level of conflict you can't revisit a lower level conflict. You must keep moving forward, not backward. I've read that a million times in screenwriting books and articles, but thinking about each Act as a different, more emotional "world" helped me to see the Turning Points as the one-way gates to those new "worlds", and once you cross over.... Now I "get" it.

Since I am still a visual person, I created 2 new worksheets, one for 4 Acts and one for 5 Acts.

Originally uploaded by carpediem-101.

Originally uploaded by carpediem-101.

You'll notice these do not include sequences or 60 2-minute scenes. This time instead of literally trying to fill each box, I'm just going to set one of these worksheets in front of me with a notebook and pencil and try my hand at some freewriting. I'll just let my imagination run wild for a while coming up with Tasks, Snafus, Slams, and Subplots that deal with each level of conflict. Then I'll organize them, tweek them, polish them, create an outline and start writing a screenplay.

I have three different screenplay ideas vying for attention right now but I seem to be stuck in each one. I'm going to rework each of them with this new approach and see if anything clicks. I'll let you know how it goes.


Blogger Afonso said...

Very cool boards. I might use them. Good for keeping myself in check.

15/7/06 6:38 AM  
Blogger Jeri said...

Thanks, afonso. Help yourself. I'd love to hear any ideas you have on how to improve them.

15/7/06 10:20 AM  
Blogger Neal and Barbara Weckworth said...

I am sorry to be so late to respond to your post. I have been somewhat busy and did not read it until today.

I must say that I am impressed by the amount of effort you have put into this project and the amount of thought so as to get it to a understandable level. It is enjoyable to watch the growth. Keep up the good work and it will all come together when you least expect it.


21/7/06 11:15 AM  
Blogger Jeri said...

Thanks, Neal. I hope it comes together soon. It's becoming more frustrating than enjoyable. I have wanted to quit so many times, but I just can't. I hope that inability to quit is a sign of being a real writer and not just a sign of obsessive compulsive behavior. ;-) I guess we'll find out.

24/7/06 7:44 AM  

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Tasks and Slams

I've been doing some thinking. Scary, I know, but bare with me for a minute.

A while back I posted about my so-called Recipe for Conflict. In it I talked about a Wordplay article by Terry Rossio titled "The Task". He describes the Goal as usually being general, positive and desirable and the Tasks being the specific, negative and undesirable things that must be done in order to achieve the Goal. This idea cleared a lot of things up for me, especially when you combine it with the idea that these Tasks should all lead to one specific Decisive Action. A final attempt by the Protagonist to reach the Goal. It's all or nothing. Everything is riding on this one action, the Final Task. The outcome determines if he wins or looses. This idea helped me to up with external things for the protagonist to do that were all related to the Goal. As helpful as it was though, it kept me in plot mode and didn't help me get inside the head of my character. So I set out to find an Internal equivalent.

I took all the information I already had about character flaws, needs, arcs, etc. And reorganized it in my head and looked at it from a different angle.

The protagonist should have a Flaw, a specific character need or defect that must be overcome. So overcoming the Flaw is sortof like the Internal Goal (even if the character doesn't know that's what they are aiming for).

In David Freeman's book, "Creating Emotion in Games: The Craft and Art of Emotioneering", he describes a Slam as an incident which forces the character to wrestle with his FLBW (Flaw, Limitation, Block or Wound). After many slams, the character will eventually overcome his FLBW and be pushed through the Character Arc. I suddenly saw Slams as the internal equivalent (or maybe the opposite) of the Task. Tasks being things the character does, and Slams being things that happen to the character.

The Character Arc is the moment in which the character overcomes his Flaw and becomes a different, better or stronger person because of it. Then I remembered reading somewhere that in Anti-hero or Tragic Hero stories it may be the moment the character decides NOT to overcome his Flaw. The word decides stuck in my head. If the character can decide NOT to overcome his Flaw then he should also make the decision TO overcome the flaw. I immediately saw the Charcter Arc as a more active process, not something that passively happens to the character, but something he actively chooses to do. I also saw it as the internal equivalent of the Decisive Action. (Or again, maybe the opposite, if the Decisive Action is deciding to act and the Character Arc is actively deciding.)

So for the External Story, we have:
#1 Goal - Beginning
#2 Tasks - Middle
#3 Decisive Action - End

For the Internal Story we have:
#1 Flaw - Beginning
#2 Slams - Middle
#3 Character Arc - End

It's funny, I now feel like I have a much better handle on the external and internal storylines. Even though I have read all of that information a hundred times before, just the act of rethinking it and reorganizing it in my head made it more accessible, more concrete. Also, with multiple Tasks and Multiple Slams all taking place in the middle of the story, my second act suddenly seems easier to fill. Well, it seems easier anyway. I guess we'll find out.

A quick plug for David Freeman (and I don't even know him). He gives a screenwriting workshop in L.A. and NewYork called Beyond Structure. I don't live close to either city and couldn't afford the workshop even if I did. I bought his book "Creating Emotion in Games" hoping it would cover some of the same material. I can't comment on the material covered in his workshops, but the book is a goldmine. It was written for people who write interactive games, but it's more about storytelling than game designing so much of what he writes can be applied to screenwriting as well. He even includes many examples from movies. Every screenwriting book will tell you that you need to write good dialogue, create characters we care about, create believable character relationships etc, etc, but David Freeman gives you specific techniques to do these things. It's not a step-by-step book, but more of a collection of techniques to be used however and whenever you please. It won't tell you how to write a story, but it will make the story you write better. This has become one of my most used "screenwriting" books. I refer to it often, and can recommend it without reservation.

Now, If I could just figure out how to write a story, I'd be set. ;-)


Blogger Neal and Barbara Weckworth said...

Just a note to let you know that I read your post. Now I just hope that you don't "Slam" my "Flaws"!

Sounds like you are getting things into a perspective that you can understand and deal with. That is the important thing. Sometimes books are written for the writer to understand and it takes some doing to translate it into a "lanquage" that the reader is comfortable with. I think that is the distillation process you are going through. Good luck.


2/7/06 8:17 PM  
Blogger Jeri said...

Neal, you're right. I read books and articles and it all makes perfect sense... in theory. Actually knowing how to apply it to a story I'm writing is something entirely different. I always feel like I'm missing something.

It's funny how I can read something a hundred times then I read it one more time, or I read the same thing from yet another guru, and it clicks in a whole new way. Then I get that forehead slappin', "oh, of course" thing going on. These little moments of insight seem to be coming bit by tiny bit. As long as they keep coming I'll be happy.

Thanks for your encouragement. It truly means a lot to me.

4/7/06 9:59 AM  

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Gathering More Resources

I've been doing a lot of thinking about my writing process lately, thanks mainly to afonso. ;-) When I get stuck in a script, usually because of a lack of conflict in act 2, I try to create conflict that will fill the holes in the story. The problem is, it always seems forced and unnatural.

Then, I had an insightful moment yesterday. I think the reason my conflict always feels forced and unnatural is because I try to come up with conflicts in the plot; problems, obstacles, circumstances, situations, delimmas, etc. What I should be looking for is conflicts within the character; their fears, their secrets, their old wounds, their scars, their deep-seeded motivations for doing what they do. I need to figure out how to create problems that not only get in their way, but get under their skin as well.

To help me out with that, I ordered three books yesterday.
1) The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson
2) The Literary Enneagram: Characters From the Inside Out by Judith Searle
3) Screenwriting From the Heart: The Technique of the Character-Driven Screenplay by James Ryan

Several months ago I read How to Write a Great Movie by Jeff Kitchen. He wrote a chapter about the enneagram and discussed it's benifits in creating characters. I did a little internet research and found some free online enneagram tests. (#1, #2, #3, #4) I had friends and family fill them out and send me the results. It was pretty interesting, but I didn't take it any further. Now I'm ready. I bought the first two books because I think the enneagram will be helpful in creating deep, well rounded characters. I bought the third book hoping that it will teach me how to put those characters on the page.

By the way, the tests told me that I'm a #5 - the Investigator. A curious researcher but must fine tune everything before acting- working things out, preparing, practicing, and gathering more resources. Hmm. I've been gathering resources and practicing this screenwriting thing for a few years now. I wonder how long it takes most 5's to figure things out. ;-)

Take a test, they don't take long. If you do, let me know the results.


Blogger Neal and Barbara Weckworth said...

You keep this up and we will be able to say "We are related to a famous writer!"

I enjoy reading about your travails in writing screen plays.


24/6/06 9:11 AM  
Blogger Jeri said...

Ha ha. You keep right on thinking that way. If I keep plugging away at this, I'm bound to figure it out some day.... Right?

I'm glad you're getting so much enjoyment out of reading about my false starts, my misadventures, my failed attempts to be a writer. Jesus! What's wrong with you. ;-)

Just kidding. I'm glad you enjoy it.

24/6/06 10:42 AM  
Blogger Neal and Barbara Weckworth said...

It is like watching a flower bloom! It starts out as a bulb in the ground and after much effort it blooms and I can be a witness to the process. :)

All good things come with effort they do not just occur. Who was it that said that success is 99% persperation and 1% inspiration? Or somethning close to that.


25/6/06 9:48 PM  
Blogger Jeri said...

Ha ha. I hope you're a patient man, I may be a slow bloomer. I just hope we don't discover I'm a "bloomin'" idiot.

I worry about the bloomin' idiot thing when I re-read my work and I find things like "deep-seeded motivations" instead of "deep-seated motivations". It felt right when I wrote it, though. Now that I think about it, I don't know which is right. Like I said, this may be a slow ride. : )

27/6/06 6:08 AM  
Blogger Neal and Barbara Weckworth said...

Wonderful comeback! "Blooming Idiot" See you are learning real fast to think and be creative. Keep it up.

Deep-seated is what I always thought was the correct statement.

Hmmmmm the other works to I guess.


27/6/06 8:19 AM  
Blogger Jeri said...

LOL. I'm glad I'm not the only one wondering about the deep-seeded vs deep-seated issue.

27/6/06 10:34 AM  

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Friday, June 16, 2006

I'm Not Giving Up, Just Moving On

Okay. Enough is enough. I've been working on this latest script and I haven't gotten anywhere with it in a long time. I'm stuck and I'm not sure where to go with it. I honestly think I need to do some more research on my subject. But I also know there's a good possibility that I'm just procrastinating and looking for excuses not to write this story. I'm also afraid that if I start researching, I could still be researching a year from now and not have one new word written. So I think it's time to put it aside (again) and work on something else for a while. I haven't given up on this. I still think there's a story there. I just haven't fleshed it out yet, and trying to force it is becoming torturous. It's time to move on.

The next question is, what do I work on now? I got my notebook of story ideas out and read through them. One of them sparked several new ideas right away and I actually got excited about writing again. Ideas started flowing, conflicts started developing, characters started to show themselves. I'm psyched. I'm ready to write. I'm excited to see where this story will take me. Isn't that the way it's supposed to be? So, I'm on to a new project.

Meanwhile, I will read up on the other subject and see if I can figure out how to tell that story. This way, the research isn't taking the place of writing. Ha ha. I'll play a little trick on my non-writing self. We'll see how it goes.


Blogger Afonso said...

If you want a hand let me know. Maybe all you need is some discussion and a different point of view.

Grab my MSN or something.


16/6/06 9:50 AM  
Blogger Jeri said...

Thanks, afonso. That's very generous. I'll keep that in mind.

I worked on the new story all day yesterday. It felt good to have ideas moving through my head again. The other story created quite a drought. Maybe a little time away from it will help.

Thanks again.

17/6/06 7:07 AM  
Blogger Afonso said...

The combination of the two isn't all that simple. The idea is to allow rules to shape your creativity.

Once you know the rules and study them hard, they will become an integrant part of your knowledge, which means your ideas will be generated on top of those rules.

This is what the gurus refer to as CREATIVE LIMITATION: once you are familiar with the norms, conventions and whatnot, you have the necessary boundries around which to exercise your creativity, as if ideas already came tailor-made.

Know the rules. But then, just let it fly. It'll come.

You are very right about "going technical" when things are wrong, because that's probably the best way to find the holes in your work, except of course having someone else analyse it for you.

On the act structure issue, I think you have to figure out the best approach for your story. By the way you write about structure in the comment you left and throughout your blog, you obviously know how structure functions. There is no textbook answer to how many turning points you should have.

When the ideas come to you, see how they work. That's when you'll get your act breakdown. Don't force a structure onto your ideas. Do the opposite.

Act structure is actually a very subjective business if you ask me, so don't be bound by it. (ex: the first Indiana Jones, in theory and as explained by "the" Robert McKee, has 8 acts, yet - - - isn't it obvious there are other possible analysis of the movie?).

Anyways, good luck with your new idea (not "structure"!!!).


17/6/06 6:14 PM  
Blogger Jeri said...

Thank you so much for your comments. They have been helpful and very reassuring.

I like to think of screenwriting "rules" as curbs. I can get in my car, and go anywhere I want to go, except in people yards, on the sidewalk, or through the city park. Curbs don't prevent me from going where I want, they just keep me from going where I shouldn't. And if I get a wild hair and decide to take that shortcut through the city park, I can always jump the curb. (As long as I understand that it's not the conventional way to get across town and that there may be consequences.)

I agree with you, structure is subjective. One person could say that Indiana Jones has 8 acts, someone else could say it fits perfectly into a 3 act structure and I could find a way to show them that they're both right. If you have a good story, I don't think it matters how it's deconstructed after the fact. It's still a good story whether it has 3 acts or 8.

I think it must take a different part of the brain to construct a story. Probably the part I'm lacking, wouldn't you know. : )

I'm new at this, but so far all the stories I've written or tried to write have fallen into two categories.

1)I have a concept that interests me and I have a lot of story ideas to flesh it out. Then it becomes a matter of deciding which ideas work best and putting them in the order that works best for the story, in which case I don't worry too much about structure. The structure seems to come as a natural part of the storytelling process. And as long as the ideas are there, I don't have much trouble tweeking them, changing them or coming up with something different.

2)I have a concept I'm interested in, but I don't have enough story ideas to keep the story moving. Then I look at the structure to try to figure out where my holes are, and I say, "Yep, there's my holes. Right there in act 2." They're always in act 2. There's never enough conflict.

When this happens I get sortof hyperfocused on plugging the holes in my structure and trying to create conflict where there is none. It feels more mechanical than creative, it's no fun and, so far anyway, it doesn't work.

Yes, I know I have a post titled "Recipe for Conflict". Ignore that. That was wishful thinking. : )

The fact is, I haven't figured out how to create conflict, how to create story ideas, how to deliberately come up with something where there is nothing without it feeling forced. Either it comes naturally or it doesn't come at all.

I've never really thought about all this before, at least not in this way, so I want to thank you again for the conversation. It has made me analyze my own process, and although I still don't know how to fix it, I now have a better idea of what needs to be fixed.

Thanks again.

19/6/06 10:28 AM  
Blogger The Moviequill said...

my current script was started last year and abandoned for same reason, I just felt that it needed a lot of research and prep work, and I wasn't about to devote that much time to it. I did another screenplay, now I am back on it with a fresh perspective...sometimes a step back is a positive

20/6/06 7:33 AM  
Blogger Jeri said...

Did your fresh perspective come from doing the research or from looking at the story or the characters from a different angle? I'm just courious.

21/6/06 3:55 PM  
Blogger Afonso said...

Sorry only now read your reply to my comment and just wanted to make one observation: I don't know why, but you never write the word "character" in your comment...

Like you alluded to, I think we are completely different (aspiring) writer, which is a good thing I believe.


29/6/06 5:39 PM  

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Monday, May 29, 2006

Which Comes First? The Structure or the Story?

I tried out the 5 Act structure and was excited to see how it played out. It helped me to rearrange some things in the script and put them in a better order. It also helped me identify where the script was lacking. I think just viewing the script from a little different angle was helpful. However, what it didn't do, is help me fill in those gaps where the script is lacking.

After playing with the 5 Act structure for a while I discovered that it's not much different from the four act structure that I'd been using. Scenes and sequences build from the least amout of tension to the most amount of tension until they reach a climax and a resolution. And that fact remains true no matter how you stack it. 4 acts, 5 acts, 8 acts 12 acts, still true.

I think I've been going at this all wrong. I think I've been concentrating on the structure too early. I've been trying to cram my story and my characters into a particular structure. Maybe I need to develope the story and the characters first then tweek the structure to fit them. Or maybe I have been thinking of the structure as a solid brick foundation on which to build a story, when I need to think of it more like a flexible skeleton. I don't know which it is.

I think part of my problem is that this is basically a rewrite. This is a story that I started, got lost in, then put aside. Now I'm picking it back up with all the preconceived ideas from the first draft. I know I should be looking at it with fresh eyes, but it's like the judge telling the jury to disreguard that last statement. Too late! I already have the visual! Now I have this horrible script, okay it's not horrible, it has potential, I think it has lots of potential, but it plays out in my head a certain way and I'm having trouble seeing it play out any other way.

I'd like to tell myself to just put it aside and come back to it again later. But, been there! Done that! I took 5 or 6 months away from this script to write the last one. Crap!

Is it possible that some stories just don't want to be told? Nah! I just haven't figured out how to tell it. But I will. So help me, I will!


Blogger The Moviequill said...

same thing here, I just dusted off my first stab at writing, the concept is phenonenal, all my peers and friends said it was the one to do. But I didn't think I was ready. Now two scripts later I am back trying for another angle, 15 pages into it (started Tuesday)

1/6/06 7:21 AM  
Blogger Jeri said...

Good Luck Moviequill. 15 pages already? You're off to a good start.

1/6/06 9:59 AM  
Blogger Afonso said...

I have the same problem quite often. The trick, I believe, is to not think of character, story and structure as separate things.

Structure will always be the sequence of events that happen to your characters.

Characters will always (in a good script, anyway) be the ones that trigger the events. These are not seperate things. They are merely examined on their own so we can further understand each's unique functions. But still, they're just story.

My advice is to just let go creatively if you can, even if it's a rewrite, and try to answer the specific problems without getting lost in the formal rules of screenwriting.

I wish I could always think without using those rules as a crutch, I'm probably worse than you are, which is why I understand what you wrote: you know the rules, so put them in the back of your mind. Just get down, get creative and solve the problems.

Good luck!

13/6/06 4:11 PM  
Blogger Jeri said...

Afonso, thanks so much for your comment. I think you're absolutely right. I need tolearn how to relax, quit dissecting the story into parts and just let it happen.

That's so much easier to do when the story is flowing smoothly. That's when I love being a writer. But when I get stuck on something I always resort to my anal, scientific mode to try to figure it out, and it's the worst place in the world to be. I just can't stop myself. : }

I've decided I simply don't know enough about my subject. I don't know what kinds of things can go wrong, so I'm having trouble creating the conflicts I need to keep the story moving. I think it's time to put my anal, scientific mode to better use and do some research. : )

14/6/06 8:18 AM  

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Friday, May 19, 2006

Round Peg, Maybe?

I've been having a hard time getting the middle of this screenplay figured out. I feel like I'm pounding square pegs into round holes. I just can't get things to work out.

But I may be onto something now.

So far I've always worked with a 4 Act structure. Basically a Sid Field 3-Act structure with the screenplay divided into 4 30-minute sections with a plot point at the end of the first three and a resolution at the end of the fourth.

Act 1 - plot point at 30 minutes
First half of Act 2 - midpoint at 60 minutes
Second half of Act 2 - plot point at 90 minutes
Act 3 - resolution at 120 minutes

1 2 3 4, looks like four acts to me. I've never understood why Mr. Field doesn't just call a spade a spade, but that's beside the point, his basic theory works, sometimes.

Like I said, this screenplay isn't cooperating and I'm starting to think it may be because I'm trying to cram it into the wrong structure.

I remember the 5 act Dramatic structure from a college Lit class; Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action and Denouement; but I have never found it useful in writing screenplays. While looking through the Wordplay archives I ran across two unrelated posts that helped me to see that 5-act structure differently. One post refered to the 5 Acts as Thesis, Antithesis, Crisis, Climax and Denouement, which for some reason clicks with me better than rising and falling actions. Another post also used 5 acts and shortened each act; 30 mins, 25 mins, 20 mins, 15 mins, 10 mins; to increase the pacing.

So we have:

Act 1 - Thesis - 30 mins
Act 2 - Antithesis - 25 mins (55 total)
Act 3 - Crisis - 20 mins (75 total)
Act 4 - Climax - 15 mins (90 total)
Act 5 - Denouement - 10 mins (100 total)

Tweek the minutes to 30, 30, 25, 20, and 15, or something similar, to get a 120 minute screenplay.

Wow! I like this! I get this! And it may be just what I need to work out the problems I'm having with that annoying middle. Have I just discovered a round peg? I don't know. I'm off to try it out.


Blogger The Moviequill said...

everywhere I am reading lately is saying no scripts over 110 pgs... talk about editing pressure

23/5/06 10:57 AM  
Blogger Jeri said...

Everywhere I go they are talking about Creative Screenwriting or Script magazines. : )

If it makes you feel better, the guy that wrote about shortening each act and ending up with 100 minutes, did say that he was taking about comedies. I'm guessing he would suggest closer to 120 minutes for dramas or action/adventure. Does that help ease your editing pressure?

25/5/06 11:04 AM  

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