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Screenwriting Tips And Ideas - Themes And Film (thematic Consistency)
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This article takes an in-depth look at how stories work and what they are made of. It draws inspiration from evolution, psychology, sociology and human behaviour to work out why some stories communicate so much to so many people, from different backgrounds, creeds and cultures, and what makes a universally well-received story or screenplay. Here we will look at something you might not think of when writing your 'masterpiece' script: consistency.
There are many different elements that comprise a screenplay, from characters and their jobs, to philosophical ideas, to objects, props, locations and everything in-between. Something that often helps when writing your script is conceiving a core principle, an ethos, a motif or a theme and applying it to most of the different elements of your script, thereby achieving thematic consistency throughout your story.
But why is consistency relevant and how do we apply it to the different components of our screenplay?
THEMATIC CONSISTENCY EXPLAINED
Stories are an excellent way to communicate ideas with people. However on first watch of a film, or on first read-through of a screenplay, it needs to be simple enough so that it is comprehensive. Often the simplest and most consistent of scripts can be the most impacting and effective.
Consistency helps not only with people understanding your story superficially, but also on a much deeper emotional, moral and subconscious level.
This sounds complicated but in essence it means that, counter-intuitively, the simpler and more consistent your script (the more aligned all of the components), the more complex an idea that you can convey to people.
APPLICATION OF CONSISTENCY TO VARIOUS ELEMENTS
How you apply consistency to the elements of your story is not something that can be taught logically. It has to be arrived at via your own feeling; via your own injection of your subconscious into your screenplay. Here are a few ideas for where to start.
The Job, Speciality, Expertise, Position or Role of your Main Character - The day-to-day life, skills, personality and social standing / social role of your main character heavily influences in which directions the film can go, therefore this is an element that when changed will have a large impact. This is one element which definitely should be aligned with an overall thematic conflict.
Structure - the timeline of your story can also represent an underlying theme. If you character goes insane for example, it would make more sense to have a structure which jumps around and overlaps, rather than a linear, A-to-B timeline (see Memento).
Props / Symbols / Objects - In many films there is an object which all of the characters desire, good and bad. Symbolic objects like trophies, artefacts, money, jewels, weapons etc. and these objects should, where relevant, represent the theme on a subconscious level. The lamp in Aladdin is plain, dull and cheap to look at, but when initiated, the most amazing, magical force is released; consistent with Aladdin's character: nothing to look at on the outside, but on the inside are endless possibilities: "It is not what is outside, but what is inside that counts" - a message anti-materialism and pro-personality.
Location - Just like in dreams, where a scene is set can have a subconscious influence on the audience and more often than not help massively in creating consistency with whatever ideas are being explored. This is why whenever a character feeling sad, it starts to rain, whenever the idea of death is explored it is at night, in a cemetery, there is lightning, etc. Intense themes would be set in the desert, jungle or near volcanoes, emotional scenes would be near the ocean (see dream interpretation on 'beaches'), practical or organised themes might be set in an office block, etc. How you choose to interpret your theme and apply it abstractly to your script components is down to you - you'll know what feels right!
Costume and Physical Descriptions - What kind of clothes your characters wear and what kind of physical attributes they are described as having need to be consistent with the themes - you can't have them wear something or look a certain way 'just for the hell of it'. If a character betrays people and is 'weasley', he should be thin and unattractive. If a character is greedy we imagine him to be fat, etc.
Thematic consistency and an overall simplification of the various ideas in your film all pointing towards one thematic conflict or one goal will penetrate deeper into the souls of your audience much deeper than something inconsistent and overly complicated. There are perhaps two or possibly three ideas, themes or motifs that you can explore in one screenplay, but to start with it helps to have one idea that underpins everything.
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