Tuesday, 29 January 2008

You have to know the rules, before you can break the rules...

I just thought. One of the reasons i started writing this blog (apart from trying to motivate my lazy ass into doing some work, and maybe having a written account of my progress for my uni tutors) was that i've found it so hard to find anything about the writing process on the internet anywhere. So, maybe if i cover a little bit about how i've got to where i've got (which, as you'll discover, isn't very fucking far) it might actually help someone....if anyone actually reads this thing. Which i doubt very much. Anyhow.....

Yeah, like anything else i do, before i get to the meat, i procrastinate. In cases such as this, my procrastination might actually be fairly helpful, because i went out and bought just about every book on screenwriting i could find. It's funny, my girlfriend always takes the piss out of me for reading around subjects, because i think she's come to realise that i sometimes do more 'reading' than 'doing'....which might be true.

The books i've found the most useful have been

Screenplay by Syd Field
The Screenwriter's Workbook, again by Syd Field
Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger

Now, i've read other books on screenwriting, and although some have had useful tips in them, i feel that generally, they've not been worth the money.

Also, i read Story, by Robert McKee, and found it utterly pretentious. Now i know, it's meant to be pretty much close to The Bible for screenwriters, but i just couldn't read the fucking thing. He really goes on about 'story' in the most abstract sense (and having a degree in philosophy, i'm farily used to the abstract), which i didn't find useful to me in any practical sense whatsoever. But then again, he's a guru, and i've written fuck all, so what do you know!

As well, i just want to give a mention to How Not To Write a Screenplay by Denny Martin Flinn, which having read it, is going to be worth its weight in gold when i come to polish up the damn thing...

So, ok. I pretty much followed Syd Field's three act structure, which breaks down something like this

ACT 1- SET UP (PAGES 1-30. PLOT POINT 1 AT PAGE 20)
ACT 2- CONFRONTATION (PAGES 31-90. MID POINT AT PAGE 60, PLOT POINT 2 AT PAGE 80)
ACT 3- RESOLUTION (PAGES 91-120. LAST MAJOR PLOT POINT AT PAGE 110)

All the acts also have specific things which should happen in them, for example in ACT 1 the first 10 pages should set up all the main characters, and the dramatic drive of the script, then about 20-25 pages in should be the first plot point, which spins the story around into the second act.

I won't go into it in major detail, as Syd does a far better job than me in his books.

Once i knew pretty much what would happen in my story in terms of beginning, middle and end, i tried to make it fit into his paradigm- making sure all the plot points happen roughly where he suggests, etc. Don't get me wrong, this took quite a lot of fiddling about. At times it felt like a kid trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole. You'd be suprised what a difference it makes if you make a certain plot point the main turning point of an act, rather than another plot point.

I know there's a certain amount of arguments about imposing such a rigid structure on a screenplay, and you can argue that many of your favourite films don't fit into it, but i felt like it offered me a certain amount of help, this being my first feature-length script. I guess it's the old cliche of 'you have to learn the rules before you can break the rules'...

2 comments:

fan-DAN-go said...

Hey up Mr. P. Glad I found your blog. It's nice and/or demoralising to see that even people studying screenwriting are having a hard a time as me at sitting down and getting on with things.

I have the same problem as you, I read around subjects but never put any of my freshly gleaned knowledge to any use. I have all of Syd Fields books and found them invaluable, however, despite knowing what should and shouldn't work, I still find it impossible to morph my ideas into words on a page.

I highly reccomend getting a copy of "The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Wrires" by Christopher Vogler. It is genuinely fascinating.

I have also started a blog recently in order to get myself writing again. so far, so apathetic. Feel free to check it out at fan-dan-go.blogspot.com

Catch thee later.

Dan

ElleJay said...

I didnt realise I was so famous,there is a reference to me in so many enteries. Keep plugging away and theres nowt wrong with reading around a subject! Lisa x