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The Substance Of The Story What Fiction Writers Can Learn From Screenwriters
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As we know, Hollywood is all about storytelling, and storytelling in Hollywood means screenwriters. People in the movie business know very well that if you can't keep the viewers interest focused on the screen, the movie is a flop. Thus, it may be a good idea for any fiction writer to pay attention to the basic principles of screenwriting so his story turns out to be energetic and successful.
Screenwriters work according to established six story telling phases. All phases are important and not one phase should be set aside as unimportant.
First, a writer has to create a main character who will drive the story, after the writer has an idea what his story will be about. Before a writer starts putting the first word down, he needs to know at least a few things about his character. Some fiction writers go ahead and describe the visual assets of the character. Although a visual may help a writer to see the character in front of him, a character's psychological traits will be the ones to drive the plot.
All characters have inborn dispositions that are controlled by their genes, life experiences that shape or misshape who they are, what their state of mind is--or in other words, how they see themselves-- and where their maturity or immaturity levels rest. If the main character is a passive one and stays passive throughout the story, the story runs the risk of being a flop. The active or agitated characters make the plot more interesting and easier to develop.
Second, is the conflict. Creating a conflict inside the story begins with setting up a motivation. The question to ask here is what does the character want the most? Motivation is important because it makes the audience identify with the character. This doesn't mean that the character has to be goody two shoes, but what he wants the most--be it to blow off the planet--has to be of interest to the reader or the viewer. When the viewer's curiosity is aroused, he'll stay with the story to see if the character will succeed in his quest.
The screenwriter likes to "create a platform" so he can push forward the motivation of the character. This means creating a scene or a sequence of scenes that state the point of the story clearly, so the audience or readers can penetrate inside the character. At this stage, the character's touch-up characteristics or his shades may be developed that were left out in the initial planning of the story.
In the third phase, the supporting characters are developed. In a story, each character functions in tandem with the main character and key characters have to be given their place in the story. For example, without Hamlet's uncle and mother, there wouldn't be a play. The more different the characteristics of the supporting characters from the main character, the more interesting will be the story.
The story's progression occurs when the characters one by one or all together negate, support, or contrast the main character. At this phase, the inference factor comes into play. This means the interchange between the characters, and also, what the reader or the viewer infers from the tone, point of view, and symbolisms. What the reader or viewer infers--consciously or without knowing--is significant because it will provide the story with originality.
Phase four or the backbone or the process of the story is the toughest part for most writers, because here, the writer will originate the characters and behavior to reflect the ideas behind the story. Backbone develops as the writes continues writing the story. The backbone is the dramatic arguing of the characters in support of or against what the story is about. The backbone of the story binds together the main character, key characters and the conflict, through scenes and sequences. This is where mini climaxes start to surface to illustrate the main character's transformation through a dynamic central idea.
The writer has to establish a theme or, in other words, a basis for the story's premise in order to create the backbone. Backbone arises from the moral or immoral dilemma of the story. In other words, the theme asks the question of "what if"; the characters and their behavior become the backbone. For example: The question 'What if jealousy turns a good man into a murderer?' finds its backbone in the story of Othello.
The fifth phase is the further developing of the backbone--usually called the spine--toward the main climax. The fifth phase is successful only when the writer begins to understand and sense more profoundly the internal conflict of the main character.
At phase six, the depth of the story is disclosed to the readers and viewers. The depth of the story is how we emotionally and intellectually experience the story in our hearts and minds. If the writer has established a good workable foundation for the story up to this point, this last phase should be a successful one. Otherwise, the writer needs to go back to rewrite, alter, and fix the story's construction.
It is said that to tell a story effectively, a writer has to become vigilant of its mysteries from the start as he gains insight into the character and the situations the character finds himself in. Most of the time, infinite layers of meaning are created as sequences or scenes are piled one on top of another, which means the story within the story emerges as it is being written.
It is true that most of the storytelling depends on intuition and right brain thinking; however, knowing how to persevere with the ideas and putting them into an acceptable and comprehensible shape gives a writer his license to write.
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