Thursday, 11 March 2010

A Screenplay, A Synopsis and a...Swanky Do!

Hi!...*peeps around monitor*...I can't believe I haven't blogged in over a month.

The official excuse: I've been hard at work judging my short story competition

The actual truth: I have been hard at work judging my short story competition (along with Sally Quilford and Tamsyn Murray who've worked their socks off and who I can't thank enough. Our job is done now and it's up to the agents/publishers to decide the winners from our shortlist) but I still haven't done any actual writing and admitting that on a blog called 'Writing about Writing' is a bit, er, embarrassing.

Anyway...I have been busy - mostly going to kickboxing and learning how to do a spinning back punch without lamping my partner (or myself) in the face. I also attended Orion's author party at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and very glamorous it was too - they even had the decorations from the previous night's BAFTA awards still up!

Oooh yes - then there's the screenwriting course I'm doing.

Now there's something writing-related to blog about!

Learning how to write screenplays is fascinating. I've always loved films and thought my novel-writing background would give me a bit of an advantage when it came to writing them - particularly the fact that I LOVE writing dialogue and am not so keen on description - but, in actual fact, I'm having to re-learn how to write. Apparently a mistake a lot of beginner screenwriters make is to go heavy on the dialogue when a lot should be shown through visual shots ('show don't tell' also applies in films).

One of the first things I learnt was that a film premise should be written in no more than three sentences (possibly a useful tool for authors who need to summarise their books succinctly).

To write a film premise you should:
  • State the genre
  • Introduce the central character - description, name, age etc
  • State the location/time
  • Mention the dominant antagonistic force
  • Indicate what the central character's dramatic problem is
  • End with a hook
In one of the first sessions I attended we had to try writing the premise for a film we'd seen but without mentioning any of the characters so the other students could try to guess the film we were talking about.

This was my effort:

A children's film about a little boy who lives in a single-roomed house with his grandparents. They're so poor there's never enough food to go around but when the little boy wins a golden ticket to the biggest chocolate factory in the world he's given the chance to change his family's fortunes forever. Can he beat the other children to the prize and survive the strange chocolate factory and its even odder owner?

Any guesses?

Anyway, you get the idea! Can you summarise your novel in three sentences?

The other thing we've been learning about is the difference between narrative, plot and story in a film. A narrative is the totality of a screenplay. Sound, dialogue, colour, locations etc are added to the plot to form a narrative. A plot is the combination of various character/s' stories and/or theme(s) to form the dramatic shape of a narrative. A story is motivational framework for a character. It is different from narrative and plot as it relates to a single character and their motivation.

Story is basically the 'character's story'. In a previous post on this blog I linked to Julie Cohen's posts about character arc. Basically 'story' in a film is very similar and applies to main and secondary characters (in fact, all characters that play a major role in the film have their own story). The handout we received listed the main story types in films and I thought they might make interesting reading if you're currently trying to work out the character arc for your novel.

Here's a selection:

a) The Romance

i. A character is seen to be emotionally lacking/missing something/someone.
ii. Something/someone is seen by the Character as a potential solution to this problem (aka the object of desire)
iii. Barriers exist to stop the Character achieving a resolution with the object of dire.
iv. The Character struggles to overcome these barriers.
v. The Character succeeds in overcoming some, if not all, of the barriers
vi. The story is complete when the Character is seen to have resolved their emotional problem, and united with their object of desire.

Whether or not they stay united is up to the writer. Being united with the object of dire is the end of a romance story, but not necessarily the end of a romance narrative.

e.g. The stories of both Romeo and Juliet in 'Shakespeare in Love', Bridget in 'Bridget Jones' Diary', Mark Darcy in 'Bridget Jones' Diary'. Wallace in 'A Close Shave'.

b. The Wanderer

i. A character arrives in a new place
ii. The character identifies a problem associated with the new place
iii. The character attempts to solve the problem
iv. The character is successful
v. The character attempts to move on.

e.g. Alex in the film 'Snow Cake'

c. The Gift Taken Away

i. The Character is seen to have a gift
ii. The Character loses it
iii. The Character seeks to regain it
iv. The Character reconciles themselves to a new situation, which they discover in pursuit of the gift

NB: The character may not or may not regain the gift

e.g. Lilo in 'Lilo and Stitch', Golum in Lord of the Rings.

The other Character stories are:

d. The Debt That Must Be Re-Paid (e.g. Dell Boy in 'Only Fools and Horses')
e. The Spider and the Fly (e.g. Valmont in 'Dangerous Liaisons')
f. The Quest (e.g. Jason in 'Jason and the Argonaunts')
g. The Rites of Passage
h. The Character who cannot be put down (e.g. James Bond)
i. The Unrecognised Virtue (e.g. Donkey in 'Shrek', Julia Roberts' character in 'Pretty Woman')
j. The Fatal Flaw (e.g. Basil Fawlty in 'Fawlty Towers')

In the last session we had to come up with a premise for our own 10 minute screenplay. We had to read out our 3 sentence premise and then SAY NOTHING while the other people in our group discussed it and threw up potential issues and issues. That was a really interesting exercise as a premise that's crystal clear in your mind may be mud-like to someone hearing it for the first time! Several members of our group ended up totally re-thinking their original ideas.

I'm basing my screenplay on a short story I wrote a few years ago. It was placed in a competition a few years ago but hasn't been published. You'd think having a ready-formed 1st person POV short story would making writing a screenplay easier but noooooo... as there's no internal dialogue in a film (unless you include a voiceover, which is a bit of a cheat) you have to totally re-think how to portray what your character is thinking and feeling.

Anyway, learning about screenwriting is stimulating me as I'm learning a new skill and facing a new challenge but also making me think about how I can apply what I've learned to my novel writing.

In other news... no news on my book 2 edits. They're due any day but I haven't received them yet! I don't know why I'm so keen - I know I'll probably feel overwhelmed the second I read through them.

Edits or no edits this is the weekend I'm finally going to crack on with writing the synopsis for book 3. Actually that should be the synopses as I've got two ideas and I want my agent to give me some feedback on which she thinks is best. I know which one I want her to choose (see excitement in previous post!) but, given my previous history of providing two choices, it'll probably be the other one.

There - I've said it now - I'm going to write my synopses this weekend. I'd better do it!


Tricia said...

All that character arc stuff is really interesting and useful (and actually, just what I needed at this exact moment!)

btw, synopses, I think ;)

Anonymous said...

Oh wow! Do you always write your synopsis before you write the book? How do you do that?!

Chris Stovell said...

I've done some script work and found it really concentrates the mind on showing what the story is about. I found it difficult but stimulating. Great post!

Debs said...

Good luck with the synopses and thanks for the interesting post.

LilyS said...

I bought Story by Robert Mckeee which I haven't got round to reading yet. I am looking forward to it though as it sounds really interesting

HelenMHunt said...

It sounds as though all the screenwriting stuff is really useful for general writing as well. And I'm so excited to hear you're writing the synopsis for book 3. How fab is that?

womagwriter said...

Hey, you are back in the land of the blogging, hurray!

Fascinating stuff re character arcs and screen plays, thank you for that. DO write those synopses this weekend, and come back here and tell us how you got on. Have missed you in blogland.

Karen said...

Really interesting. One of my favourite 'how to' books is Billy Mernit's Writing the Romantic Comedy, which is really about screenwriting but equally applies to novels :o)

Anonymous said...

Your blogging was slowing down almost as much as mine is :o/

Interesting stuff about screen writing. When I write/wrote, I tend to picture things as I would imagine the film of the book to be. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

The plural of synopsis is synopses, though I can never say that after even only one beer.

Bernadette said...

Good to see you back!
It sounds like you've been having a very productive and interesting time.
I hope you get the choice you want when you sub your 'ideas' to agent.
(I can't even contemplate the plural of synopsis - even one of the flippin' things gets me into a tizzy!)

Calistro said...

Tricia - Glad you found it useful. And thanks for the spelling suggestion :)

Xuxana - You often have to once you have a publishing deal, particularly if you've got a two book deal (the publisher wants to know that your idea for your second book is as strong as your first book, even if you haven't written it yet). Although I haven't got a second deal yet I wanted to make sure I didn't waste a year of my life writing a book that my agent didn't feel she could sell to a publisher.

Chris - It is difficult isn't it but fascinating to see story telling in a different way.

Debs - Glad you found it interesting :)

LilyS - Yep, I've got that too and haven't read it. Apart from a quick flick through when I bought it two years ago. I might have to dust it off!

Helen - Very fab! I can't wait to get writing again although fear I'm a bit rusty after 3 months off!

womag - Lovely to know I've been missed :) Synopses done!

Karen - I've got that book. It's brilliant! Must re-read it now I'm about to start on novel 3!

Captain - Yeah, I see my novels visually when I write them too although I do put a lot of the character's internal dialogue in which will be a bit of a challenge to portray in screenplays. I'll give it a go though!

Bernadette - I did get the choice I wanted! See most recent post :) Good to be back btw. Hopefully I won't leave so long between posts now I'm actually writing again.