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ScreenwriterBones

Stories from a seasoned screenwriter. Take heart! Your creative source is infinite and un-ending. Sometimes Hollywood just rips up the roadmap back to it. The bottom line is that Hollywood is not at all as bad as it sounds. Additionally, it's worse than you can imagine. Remember to pack a sense of humor.

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I am a screenwriter living in Southern California. I've written screenplays for most of the Hollywood studios over the past 20 years. One of the uncredited writers of FANTASTIC FOUR, I wrote FIRE DOWN BELOW starring Steven Seagal, and the TV Movie 12:01 PM starring Martin Landau and MANEATER with Gary Busey. I have directed short films. I have written on numerous Hollywood studio assignments, some for big shot actors, some for small shot nobodies.

Monday, March 20, 2006

On Structure Part 2

Okay, so I promised part two on structure and here it is.

(You can check out part one a few posts down – but I copy here the last part of that post which is the jumping off point for this one):

"What ends a chapter? What ends an act break? How to nail a story that’s either linear, or has multiple story lines, flashbacks, flash forwards, what have you? We have to examine structure a little further. There are two realities in your hero’s world. The “situational” reality and the “emotional” reality and they have to intertwine.

Situational Reality: the physical world, ticking clocks, ticking bombs, car chases, kidnappings, fist fights, heists, trysts, invasions, defense, offense, the attack, the counter attack, the ambush, plotting, hiding, sneaking, losing, wining.

Emotional Reality: the lovers, the haters, the betrayers, the needy, the desperate, the dense, the out of touch, the shut-down, the over-sensitive, the hopeful, the funny, the hurt, the sad, the healing, the dying, the redeemed, the lost, the lonely, the saved.

Each reality has it’s own arc. How do they intertwine?"

The situational reality arc: Is start to finish. Hero usually has a goal, or a goal is thrust open him (her/them/you get it). Then, inevitably, the hero heads towards it, willingly or unwillingly, until they have to face it. And then the conclusion you determine is reached: the hero wins or fails, he lives or dies. It's like a great game of chess.

The emotional reality arc: oddly, can be viewed as finish to start. In the sense that the hero you start with will no longer be there when the movie is over. A new hero will stand in his shoes. You are “starting” with the finished version of this hero, one that your story will hammer down and smash apart in your brutal mill, until he's a broken ham sandwich in a bag, and quits, and then a new hero will have to be born, will have to rise, to survive your story to its conclusion – or, more to the point, to face the conclusion as a new person, at a new energy level so that they have the heart to conclude the movie. And this should be like an emotional rush, the thing that gives you chills, that makes you laugh and cry and leave the theater with an expanded heart and an expanded sense of self.

Now, granted your variations may break this rule, and that’s fine. Rules are made to be broken. Just make sure you know the rules first. You'll find hero stories where the hero refuses to change (Leaving Las Vegas) and dies because of it. And that’s very powerful (because we are supposed to change). There are heroes that don’t change as events change around them on an immense scale (The Pianist) and that’s powerful because they are a “witness” character, and we have a vicarious experience as we watch the journey through their eyes without getting distracted or wrapped up in their own emotional arc. There are heroes that don't change, but change others because of their lighthearted ability to stay above the heaviness dragging everyone else down (standard comic hero, Bill Murray in Ghost Busters, Eddie Murphy in Trading Places).

But what's important for story telling, in general, is that these two realities I've talked about track through time, through four acts of your story:

1) Your hero is alerted to the adventure, refuses it, enters it, gets trashed by it, nearly killed by it, survives and rallies to overcome. Sure other stuff happens, but that's the simple line.

2) Your hero has an emotional issue, the adventure demands he faces it, he denies it, then he tries to face it, the old him fails at it so a new him sparks to life, he tries the new self on, then both the old and the new him fail emotionally and he’s ready to throw in the towel, then an emotional re-birth, he re-enters the journey less for himself and more because it’s the right thing to do, a selfless act, where he’s ready to die for it (physically and emotionally) and that surrender of self is what give him the edge (I like to say “the heart has hope when the mind fails” and that act wins him his desire.

If you track these two realities side by side as you tell your story, you stand a very good chance of telling the best version of your story that you have.

9 Comments:

Blogger Eleanor said...

Woo-hoo! :-) Excellent post.

The emotional arc stuff - you've helped me nail down some of what I need to do/finnesse in my rewrite.

Thanks Philip!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006  
Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

good stuff

Tuesday, March 21, 2006  
Blogger Bill Cunningham said...

Brilliant, boss!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006  
Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

Stupid Question Alert!

Since situational reality is the physical world, is there a "spiritual" reality? If you write a reality that only works if certain spiritual truths are accepted as fact in order for the story to work, is that still situational reality? I only ask because it seems like spiritual reality would have no arc. It either exists or it doesn't, i.e. "I see dead people", "Zeus is master of the universe", etc.

Thursday, March 23, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

There are no "stupid questions", Maryan, just... Okay, maybe this is. Okay, just kidding.

But the fact is that what you're calling "spiritual reality" is really just defining one of the laws of the universe of your character, and therefor his/her situation. Does the hero see dead people? He does? Cool. Does that have an arc? No. Neither does gravity. But gravity is one of the laws of the universe of your charcter too, and very important, especially if they're running full speed, then jumping between buildings that are too far apart, and somehow they make it.

Do the laws of the real world vs. the laws of the hero's "special world'(or they way the hero uniquely experiences our world) run into conflict, defy common sense, etc? Sure seems like it. But no. But what they really run into conflict with - are our expectations of the real world. Then you get the fun of revealing that your hero sees the world differently, and that THEIR laws are true, and ours are an illusion (dead people walk around all the time, we just can't see it, he can). This is all sitational reality. How you set up conflict, desire, obstacle, resolution in this story has to work then with the laws for your hero and the genre he's in. As you imply in this case, that genre you're playing in, the psycho-spiritual thriller or whatever you want to call it, has cool-ass spiritual laws. For our hero to achieve his desire, he will have to deal with those laws - and hoefully learn them the hard way so that the story is rich with conflict.

Thursday, March 23, 2006  
Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

A very clear and patient answer. Thanks.

Friday, March 24, 2006  
Blogger Vince DC said...

Phil, it's posts like these that keep me coming back for more. Who needs McKee and Syd when there's you guiding the way.
Great stuff! Thanks.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

Thanks Vince. I've been asked to record my workshop on cd by another reader and offer it here. Might do it. Or a book...?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006  
Blogger Vince DC said...

The CD/DVD idea is good. A book is always a neat way to pay the bills if you can get a publishing deal. Alex Epstein seems to have done well with his. But, why would I encourage you to do any of that when I can get all this great information for free? No, seriously, I think you should be paid for your advice and you should pursue both avenues. I'd take the workshop thing a little further and offer it in the less-served areas of your country outside of LA and NYC. Of course, that takes marketing savvy and money along with a kick-ass website that requires lots of TLC. Whatever you do, Phil, I'm sure everyone will benefit. Any chance of me reading one of your scripts? Email me at vincedc55@yahoo.com and we can talk about it if you'd like.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006  

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