So last Saturday I spent the day at a screenwriting workshop with Peter J. Fox and it made me look at screenplays, and maybe writing overall, in a brand new way.
This also falls into the panster or plotter strategy choice with this obviously being plotster. Movies tend to be very structured with most falling into a three act type plot, so you have the set-up, the conflict and the resolution. Because screenplays are a unique animal – they need to be around 120 pages – the setup and the resolution each are 30 pages long with the conflict being 60 pages long.
These scenes are built around what is called a beat sheet. So we have around eighty sentences. Eighty short succinct sentences that describe the plot you are building. This is similar to the outline form which many writers use (plotsters, that is.)
How do you know where a story is going before you write it out? You may have a basic idea in your head, but if you don’t spell is out and give yourself some structure, you may have trouble getting there, or you may have a meandering plot that doesn’t hold a reader’s attention.
The beat sheet helps you to get to the point, while keeping you on track. It can also help you when you go to do your rewrite.
So I am starting to follow this new path. Peter’s steps (my interpretation) is to write out a story – a novella – to get things figured out. How are the characters and the story going to work out? I start with a basic chapter outline – so my steps will be 1) chapter outline 2) write novella 3)write out a beat sheet 4) write a treatment from that beat sheet 5) write the screenplay
I didn’t talk about the ‘treatment’ yet. A treatment is a breakdown of the story. Again, this goes back to the 3 act scenario. First act is the set-up. This gets done in three pages with only two paragraphs per page. Then comes the conflict. This is the meat of the story, and it is six pages, still with only two paragraphs per page, then finally the resolution, and – you guessed it – this is again three pages – two paragraphs per page.
Going through these steps makes you hone the story and really figure out what the basic parts are. I have a feeling I’ll be jumping from beats to the treatment – back and forth – until the story is tight.
The final thing, and I’ve talked about this about in other posts; the rewrite. Working on “It’s about time travel agency” has really helped me a lot with realizing that writing is a team process. In the Peter J. Fox workshop, Peter talked us through a sample script which was on Rev 16. Sixteen revisions and you know that was not all done by one writer.
We as writers get really close to our work sometimes and it’s hard to be objective and let things go. Some of my favorite characters may have to be killed off in a story, or even chopped from the story, and that’s hard. Really hard sometimes because my writing is like having another child.. Seeing someone else with your child and molding it, or ‘killing’ it, can be brutal, but in the end it’s all for the good of the story.