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protoAuthor
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Screenwriting 101 Feb. 20th, 2012 @ 06:36 PM Reply

Hello, all. I was just browsing this section and thought; "I wonder how many NGers have taken screenwriting classes!".
Strange thought, I know, since you're all twelve-year-olds, but still, I see very few threads about screenwriting in this section, and I don't know whether to chalk that up to everyone knowing how to write a script already, not caring about screenwriting, being satisfied with Microsoft Word, or being too embarrassed to ask, but I figured that no matter what, I'd lend a helping hand. I'm going to e-teach you how to write a screenplay. Hopefully you will e-read, and if you do well, you can e-graduate and get an e-job in the e-business! All joking aside, I think that; despite me not being an actual certified teacher, I do know a bit about the practicality of screenwriting, and some of you may benefit from reading this thread. Some of you already know this stuff, I know, and if you do, you're welcome and encouraged to add your own input, as long as you're not just calling me a knowitall fag. Give some insights into your process as well, THEN call me a fag.
So, I'll start off by shattering the dream. Scriptwriting is not always a magical artistic process. Sometimes, you have to get shit done on a deadline. Sometimes you look back on your work and get embarrassed. You won't always have inspiration, nor enough time to seek it. Hopefully these steps will help some of you get through those dark times where inspiration is fleeting.

First step: Have a workable idea.
It seems obvious, but one must remember that not everything that pops into their head is pure gold. Not everything you (or I) think of is worth making, or possible to make (that is, at a beginner's level). For example, I have this idea of a magical unicorn that has a wonderful life, filled with joy and rainbows; lacking trouble and woe. That may be all well and good to me, but objectively, there's no story. Or say I have this epic sci-fi trilogy in my brain, with lots of characters, a rich universe, and a deep and engaging story. But all I've got to make it with is an E-Machine from '97, no friends, and no reputation, plus I still have to go to Middle School during the week. As good as the story may be, there's no way to do it justice at a beginner's level. Not to say you don't write these ideas down, but you can't expect people to jump on them and do them perfectly. You gotta know what you can do, and work with that. I'm not saying limit yourself, but you do have to write what you can do at the beginning, so it can get made.

Next: Screenwriting software.
Now, I may catch some flak from 12-year-olds coming from ff.net and dA, but to write a decent script, it really helps to have a good screenwriting program. Not that it is impossible to do without, I've written a script in Word, too. But no one is going to seriously look at your script for DeathMaster 12: IN 3D, if it's written using notepad. There are certain rules when it comes to formatting, and if people don't see that right away, they tend to not really read a script. "But Final Draft is expensive!", you say? Not a problem! Besides certain illegal practices, there IS a solution. It's called Celtx, and it's a completely free screenwriting program. At least, the core program is, which is all you need. There's extras you can pay for, such as a mobile version for your neato-cool iPhone (which is pretty shiny, I must say), but the basic software is completely free. And it works incredibly well. So go download it!

Now that you're back, it's time for Step 3: Going back to your idea.
Since you now have the tools to write a properly-formatted script, let's go back to your idea. Ask yourself, "Is it a proper story?" And I don't mean does it drink tea with its pinky out. I mean, "does the story have the beats it needs?" What do I mean by beats? I'm about to get to that, jeez, you impatient sons of bitches.

You see, even though you may be some young, daring loose-cannon writer who doesn't play by the rules, your audience may just see you as a retard who doesn't know proper story structure. Most successful screenplays follow certain "beats", most of them follow the same structure so rigidly you know the entire story from 10 minutes in. Unfortunately, YOU will not be the one to make Hollywood learn that there are different ways of thinking. Not yet, at least. You gotta start as a conformist to break out of conformity; which, incidentally, is one of the beats in nearly any plot. Most story structures that you are going to see go as follows; especially in the action/adventure genre. In fact, I'm going to use The Matrix, one of my favorite movies (especially in terms of plot structure), to draw parallels to. I will explain each beat as it comes up.

First Beat: Normal World. You see the protagonist's normal life, before everything goes HORRIBLY WRONG! In The Matrix, we get what's called a cold open, which, while not completely intertwined with the protagonist's plot points, helps set up the style of the story. So, the story doesn't really begin until after that super-cool mysterious opening where Trinity beats the hell outta some bluepill cops. But, this cold open sets up the Agent characters, and their immense power. But, when the story starts proper, we see Tom Anderson doing what he does every night, writing programs and looking for Morpheus. The reason you start out in the normal world is so that you can bond with the character, see what they have to lose, so you can care when they start to lose things, such as Neo's security.

Second Beat: Inciting Incident
Something has to start your quest, right? In The Matrix, this is the section from when Neo gets the phone from Morpheus, to when Neo takes the Red Pill and finds out what the Matrix really is (Yes, beats can overlap.). This starts his quest to bring about its end.

Third Beat: The Quest.
The Quest is the journey your character embarks on. This is where your character DOES something about that inciting incident. And yes, they have to DO something. They can't just ignore it. You can't let someone else do it for them. Neo's training is the quest, and on that quest, we learn more about who he is, how he thinks, AND we learn more about what is possible in The Matrix, and how Neo is going to surpass those limits. This beat goes through the Oracle meeting, and until Cypher's betrayal, and Morpheus's capture.

Fourth: The Surprise.
Now, your characters can't just get everything they want. That's boring. They have to work for it, and there has to be consequences to their actions. This beat is a large obstacle, greater than the character's comfort zone. In The Matrix, it's Morpheus getting captured that spurs Neo to, well, kick ass and rescue him. Morpheus's capture leads to the next beat.

Fifth: Critical Choice.
This is the part where your character overcomes The Surprise, and sets the ball rolling for the Climax. In The Matrix, it's where Neo decides to go in and rescue Morpheus, despite all odds. This is necessary to show that your character believes in their ideals enough to fight (and kill, in Neo's case) for them. It HAS to be a choice your protagonist makes. It CANNOT be a chance thing. Your protagonist HAS to drive the story.

Sixth: Climax
This is where all the problems the protagonist has compound on him, and he overcomes them. In the Matrix, the real climax is where Neo dies. Yep. That's a philosophical thing about letting go, it's been set up. Don't worry about it. It's also a writing thing that the forces against your character have to be more powerful than your protagonist.
Then comes-

Beat Seven: The Reversal
Neo is now completely opposite his situation at the beginning. He's a superdude, with lots of neato powers who can easily beat Smith's ass. Agents run away from him now.

Beat Eight: Resolution
The protagonist now can return to his new normal world in peace. The character has changed, for better or worse, and the story is complete.

Next up, I'm gonna talk about characters. Maybe. If you want.


I can voice act for you, here's some demos!
Demo Reel 1 Demo Reel 2 Demo Reel 3

Kirielson
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Response to Screenwriting 101 Feb. 20th, 2012 @ 06:59 PM Reply

At 20 minutes ago, protoAuthor wrote: since you're all twelve-year-olds,:

That's when I stopped reading.

If you're going to come off insulting then don't bother with a text bomb.

protoAuthor
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Response to Screenwriting 101 Feb. 20th, 2012 @ 07:02 PM Reply

At 1 minute ago, Kirielson wrote:
At 20 minutes ago, protoAuthor wrote: since you're all twelve-year-olds,:
That's when I stopped reading.

If you're going to come off insulting then don't bother with a text bomb.

I made a joke, sheesh, sue me.


I can voice act for you, here's some demos!
Demo Reel 1 Demo Reel 2 Demo Reel 3

ZeeAk
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Response to Screenwriting 101 Feb. 20th, 2012 @ 08:49 PM Reply

At 1 hour ago, protoAuthor wrote: I made a joke, sheesh, sue me.

It was an awful joke that literally opened what you were trying to say, and it turns everyone off. Most of the people in the Writing forum are actually not twelve; there are very few twelves year olds who can write properly. If you'd been dying to make that joke, then first establish a casual rapport through your introduction and make us laugh at it, rather than making us stop reading. I had exactly the same problem the other commenter did.

RedCoin
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Response to Screenwriting 101 Feb. 21st, 2012 @ 03:32 PM Reply

This shit's worth reading, stop being such cry babies because he made a little joke.
Sticks and stones man, besides I lol'd.


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EKublai
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Response to Screenwriting 101 Feb. 21st, 2012 @ 04:37 PM Reply

Personally I think the final draft demo gets the job done fine for rough-ups. Unless you're planning to submit it to someone and don't want the watermark (which I'm pretty sure doesn't get exported with the .PDF anyway) there's no real disadvantage to the demo other than having create a new file every fifteen pages.

Thanks for the post though if you could be a little more concise next time. That was kind of unnecessarily long.


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Smittyblack
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Response to Screenwriting 101 Feb. 21st, 2012 @ 05:15 PM Reply

Bookmarked. :D


~Smittyblack- Twitter

Dr-Worm
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Response to Screenwriting 101 Feb. 21st, 2012 @ 08:57 PM Reply

At 1 day ago, protoAuthor wrote: Hello, all. I was just browsing this section and thought; "I wonder how many NGers have taken screenwriting classes!".

I have, and most of what you're saying here is good, solid, basic advice. Actually, my only issue with it is that it might not be basic enough. You're talking about "beats" already (more on why I put that in quotes later), but you've skipped over an even more basic building block of a story: acts.

Before you even start thinking about individual beats, a classically structured screenplay is made up of three acts:

-In Act One, you set up your characters, their goals, the world, etc., and the act ends with the status quo you've set up being interrupted.
-In Act Two (if you want to get really simple with it), the protagonists set out to achieve their goals and various shit happens to block them from doing so.
-In Act Three, those conflicts are resolved (and resolution can mean success or failure), and a new status quo is established.

My screenwriting teacher described it as putting a guy in a tree (Act One), throwing rocks at him (Act Two), and bringing him down (Act Three). It's within these three acts that you'll find the elements you were talking about in your OP.

Now for some mild pedantic bullshit. What you're describing (exposition, inciting incident, climax, etc.) are important story elements to be aware of, but they are not actually beats. A beat (as I've learned it, at least) is essentially one major point in the story, and there are generally somewhere around twelve beats per act.

Also, if your next post is going to be about character, you might want to tell people to read that one first before moving on to story structure. The first step towards having a "workable idea" is having solid characters. Everything else in the story can (and usually should) come out of that, so maybe character is what people should be learning first.

But that's just my two cents. I think this is a good idea for a thread, and you're doing a pretty good job of it so far.


NG Cinema Club Movie of the Week: Genius Party (various, 2007, Japan) | Letterboxd | Last.fm

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Loki
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Response to Screenwriting 101 Feb. 21st, 2012 @ 10:46 PM Reply

Tsk tsk tsk, you forgot the resurrection.

Every movies have at least one resurrection.

Deathcon7
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Response to Screenwriting 101 Feb. 22nd, 2012 @ 10:03 AM Reply

If you're going to write a tutorial, and I thank you for your attempt, be more clear, concise, and informative; and drop the puerile humor.

As has been said, you hit the "basics" but you didn't hit the real basics. You're showing how to walk, assuming everyone has already learned how to standup. For example, you go into the Campbellian story structure without calling it that. This would be great information to know for study beyond the tutorial.

Also, screenwriting is a very large portion format. This goes beyond how the actual script looks, but how the idea is organized. This is a very basic principle that needs to be highlighted, as well as, ofcourse, the actual format of the script. You went over software which, while useful, does not teach these things. Before hitting items up like software to use, you want to go over what the software will actually be used for.

Either way, thanks for the tutorial. When we start compiling them, I'll be sure to include this.