The Guide for Every Screenwriter: From Synopsis to Subplots: The Secrets of Screenwriting Revealed

The Guide for Every Screenwriter: From Synopsis to Subplots: The Secrets of Screenwriting Revealed

by Geoffrey D Calhoun

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Overview

Screenwriting made simple. The Guide for Every Screenwriter is one of the most efficient instruction manuals on the craft. This book cuts past the verbose exposition, and gets straight to work, delivering sample-driven outlines and templates that anyone can follow. It is quick to use and apply to your work as a side-by-side checklist for the writing process. This is the book for anyone looking to write a screenplay and for any professional needing a refresher.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781733989633
Publisher: We Fix Your Script
Publication date: 05/11/2019
Pages: 132
Sales rank: 582,303
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.28(d)

About the Author

Geoffrey D. Calhoun (Heroes from Heaven - S.O.S. - Lily) is a top 100 indie screenwriter and has received multiple awards from international film festivals including the coveted Louis Mitchell Award for Excellence in Writing. Geoffrey is sought out as a script consultant and a re-writer for various stages of development and production in film. He is known for his fast-paced thrillers but has also won awards for comedies and dramas. Geoffrey believes everyone is a writer at heart and has dedicated himself to help others learn the craft.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

DEVELOPMENT

What is Screenwriting?

Screenwriting: a visual medium conveyed through the written form. That sounds lovely and sophisticated but what does it mean? Robert Mckee in his manuscript Story coined the phrase "Show, don't tell." That's it in a nutshell. We show the character's journey through action and conflict. To truly understand what screenwriting is, it's best to compare it with other forms of entertainment.

Novel:

Prose plays out through a character's thoughts. Conflict is driven through their internal struggles. When you read a book, you are in a character's head and see the world through his or her eyes.

Stage Play:

This is vocal. Yes, it is on stage and we see the actors, a set, and props, but we hear a character's conflict through dialogue. Plays are all about the spoken word. Conflict is expressed verbally.

Side note: Screenwriters like David Mamet and Aaron Sorkin are praised and hailed for their outstanding dialogue in scenes. That's because both of them were established stage writers before they shifted into screenwriting.

The Proof: Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs written by Aaron Sorkin, is a fantastic biopic feature film which has an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, a trusted measurement of quality for Movies & TV. That film is structured as a stage play, with only a few locations used repeatedly. Dialogue drives conflict the entire time.

Screenwriting:

This is visual. We see our character's conflict play out on screen. The best films express conflict visually and avoid the "talking heads" trap, which is excessive exposition delivered from one character to another.

Iconic Scene: Many hail Citizen Kane as the greatest film ever made. One of the best scenes is the reveal of "Rosebud" (spoiler alert). It's his childhood sled and we see it burning. No one talks about it. We don't hear the character's thoughts. Instead, we see that sled on fire. It is a visual representation of his youth, his past, and his future. All up in flames. Truly a Classic.

The "Write" Attitude for Success

Several expert writers have their own secrets to success, they have their magical "if you do this you will make it" slogan. Some people say it's luck, whereas others say it's who you know. I've studied the masters and I can tell you exactly what it takes to survive as a screenwriter and find success.

What is success? Let's tackle this for a moment. I find "make it as a screenwriter" misleading. What does that mean? The phrase itself assumes there is only one path to success as a screenwriter, which is completely untrue. Success is whatever you see it as. It's different for every writer. For some it means making serious bank, for others, it's optioning a script, others still it's joining the Writers Guild of America (WGA). It's imperative that you discover what success means to you. Then hatch a plan to manifest it. For instance, joining the WGA may prove to be a distinctly different path from making a living as a screenwriter.

There have been screenwriters who have won an Oscar for their work. Goal achieved. They never wrote another script. On the other hand, I know a writer who is too afraid to enter into competitions but whose work is brilliant. I hound them constantly, but they don't care. They love to write and to them that is success. I wish I was as humble.

Other writers work as literary mercenaries. Shifting from gig to gig as quick as a wink while they write from the shadows, unseen and unnamed. To them, that is the life. Find what success means to you and work towards it.

Now, if success for you is being optioned, produced, or paid as a writer, then all you need are three simple things. I call them the Three T's.

Time, Talent, & Tenacity

That's it. You don't need a Master's in fine arts or wild unfounded luck. Just time, talent, and tenacity. Let's break them down.

Time

Be aware, it's going to take a while. When I say a while, I mean a decade or so. Why so long? Fair question. Malcolm Gladwell in his bookOutliers: The Story of Success concludes that it takes 100,000 hours – approximately ten years – to truly master a craft. That is a long time and a lot of hard work. But that is what it takes. There have been a few successful writers who've bucked that trend and made it early in their careers, but from what I've observed, they are the minority. Put in the time and see what happens. Plus, do you really want your big break before you've truly mastered our craft?

Talent

You've got to have it, or you are dead in the water. Doesn't matter how long you're willing to wait. Some believe you are either born with talent and come out of the gates really strong. Or else you are hopeless. "Too bad if you aren't a born storyteller?" they'll say. I believe that is ridiculous. Talent can be cultivated. It can be learned and taught with the proper instruction and a good mentor. No one is born a blacksmith. They became one with hard work. So too does a screenwriter.

Tenacity

Definition: "the quality of being able to grip something firmly, being very determined, persistent." This is what separates the winners from losers, my friends. This is what it's all about. No giving up. No quitting. Believing in yourself. Weathering the test of time itself is what leads you to the path of victory. It has taken me over ten years of rejections, false starts, and failed projects to see my work produced. Find the resolve within you to make your dreams happen.

How to Write in Any Genre

"What genre do you work in?" is one of the first things you'll be asked in this industry. The expectation is that as a writer you are limited to what genre you can write in. Throughout your career, you will find people in your life who want to label you and place you in a box. Everyone from your sweet old Nana to a Hollywood producer will do it. Unfortunately, this is the norm in our industry. Many of our peers feed into this by working only on comedy or gritty grind because that's where they are comfortable. This is the wrong mindset. Versatility as a writer is what you need. The ability to push your creative muscles outside of your comfort zone will improve your writing and keep you relevant. Here's an example of why.

The Thomas Crown Affair – Thriller

Mrs. Doubtfire – Comedy

Limitless – Sci-Fi

Three films in completely different genres. All written by Leslie Dixon: she is a powerhouse of a screenwriter who can transcend genre at will. Leslie's had a career for over 30 years in the industry.

Push yourself as a writer. Work outside of the genre you are comfortable with. Do you write splatter films? Then work on a romcom. It will force you to become better at our craft and make you more aware of tropes and clichés you may have been missing. It's deceptively simple to write outside of your genre. But before I show you how, I have to debunk a myth first.

Myth: "Write What You Know"

This is a great expression which is widely used and misinterpreted. People believe this statement means you should write something which is personal to you. That is only partially true. Personal stories always feel authentic because they come with an in-depth level of emotional truth, combined with details of real-life experience. However, writing what you know isn't just limited to personal stories. Anyone can write about anything if they take the time to truly learn their subject. The way to do that is through extensive ...

Research

The internet is your friend, but books are better. Hit the local library and dive in. Read at least three books on the subject you want to write about.

Conduct Interviews

Find experts in the topic you're writing about. This is invaluable. Sitting down with an expert and listening to them talk will not only give you plenty of great material to work with but it will also build your character. If you take the time and pay attention to your expert, you will find they have particular mannerisms and ticks, ways of speech, that you can work into a character to make them feel real.

Outsource

There's no shame in it. Most Indie writers have a day job ... or two ... or three. You may not have the time to do the research. Hire a writer online, from a local writing group, or a college student, to ease your burden. There are even writers who start indie production companies. They hire college interns as assistants and create several low budget shorts and web series to build up their portfolios!

Side note: As a screenwriter, you have the Super-Power of ALL ACCESS. You can literally go anywhere! It's astonishing the forbidden places I've wormed my way into just by offering experts lunch and telling them I'm a screenwriter researching a movie. Doors just open for you.

The Break Down

This is where you will watch and read at least three scripts and movies similar to the genre and style you want to write in.

• Grab a yellow legal pad.

• Take notes and pause each scene of the film.

• Write down what happens and the time marker it happens at.

O One minute of screen time is approximately one written page of a script.

• This will teach you the flow of that genre.

• Practice this technique with at least three films.

It is a surefire way to make you fluent in a new genre and style of writing. You will have this new genre down in no time.

Concept Development

Concept comes first. Every aspect of screenwriting relies upon this foundation. Some believe character is first. They are wrong. Character is important and is very much the soul of the story. However, without a strong concept, you end up with a snooze-fest of a script no matter how great your character is.

The concept is the idea behind your script. It is the spark that ignites your creative process. A great concept can be pitched in two sentences or less.

Example: Taxi Driver

Logline: A mentally unstable veteran works as a nighttime taxi driver in New York City, where the perceived decadence and sleaze fuels his urge for violent action by attempting to liberate a presidential campaign worker and an underage prostitute.

There are two types of concepts the industry likes to focus on. There is the often-mentioned High Concept and the sparsely spoken of Low Concept.

High Concept

This is a popular concept commonly talked about. There are entire seminars dedicated to revealing the secrets of how to make a high-concept film. All it is though is a concept with an easily communicable idea. It appeals to a wide audience which makes marketing less difficult. That's it. No big secrets here. Producers love a high-concept script because it has a greater chance of profitability from a wider demographic.

Example: Jurassic Park

Action/Adventure

Logline: During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaur exhibits to run amok.

High Concept tips

• Keep it simple

• Work on something you have a passion for

• Make it unique and atypical

• Dive into the classics (this works!)

• Add a twist to the idea

• Raise the stakes

• Write about a human condition that is universal

• Master the genre you want to work in then break the genre to make it original

• Take a concept and push it into an entirely different direction

• Push your idea to the extreme. See how far you can take it

Low Concept

Also called "non-high-concept" This is the High Concept's ugly step-sibling no one likes to talk about. The focus here is on character, not plot. The character's inner emotional struggle and unique view of the world are deeply explored, i.e. a "character study."

Side note: Just because it's low doesn't mean it's bad.

Example: Young Adult

A dark comedy

Logline: Soon after her divorce, a fiction writer returns to her home in small-town Minnesota, looking to rekindle a romance with her ex-boyfriend, who is now happily married and has a newborn daughter.

Types of Low Concept films:

• TV Dramas

• Indie Films

• Comedies

• Low Budget

Whether you (inevitably) decide to go with the High Concept and try to hit it big, or with a more niche-based Low Concept, always know that you need to be flexible. Sometimes as writers we tend to be a tad ... let's say fixated. We get stuck on a concept. It has to be this way or that way and we forget that we are in charge of what we write. I knew a writer who was stuck on a concept for three years. Three years! Do you know how many scripts I've written in that time?! Several of which went on to win awards, get optioned or be produced. If a concept isn't working, then set it aside. Try something else that inspires you. Come back to it later. Your mind is an exceptional problem solver. It will work on your script in the background. Return to your concept after a while and you will be astonished by the solutions you'll have. You may end up shelving the script for years, and that's okay. Just continue with your writing, and move forward on a new project. Never being stuck. That's how you break free from the pack.

Concept Template

Answer the questions on the following page to guide you to your next inspiring concept. These will help you define your character, the obstacles which stop them, and the genre in which you will write.

Character • Who is my character?

What do they need?

Obstacle • Who/What stops them from attaining their needs?

How & Why it stops them.

Genre • What voice do I want to use to tell this story?

Does that make it unique/interesting?

If you get stuck and have creative challenges in answering any of these questions, then don't worry. There is a quick and easy solution for you. Simply mind map it.

Mind Map

This is one of the best techniques to free you from bad cliché writing and even break out of writer's block. I've witnessed amateur writers use this and create brilliance. It is powerful and underutilized. This will allow you to access your freeform thought and make your creativity bloom.

Place the question you are having trouble developing in the middle bubble then branch off. Don't be afraid to go crazy. This is your chance to truly let go and have fun. Within fifteen minutes of this exercise, you will see your concept take shape.

Mind Map Tips

• Make it a ritual.

• Use visuals or even sounds.

• Take your time, don't rush it.

• Write down every idea.

• Do not judge your ideas.

• Be bold.

• Push your concept to the extreme.

• Don't get lost in the details.

The Logline

A logline is a brief one-to two-sentence summary of your script. The logline is an expression of your concept and must:

• Convey the premise of your story

• Sell the idea, not tell the entire story

• Be a quick and efficient way to explain a script

• Give an emotional "hook"

• Create interest in your work by grabbing the reader

How to build your logline

Use the concept template to create your logline:

1. Who is my Central Character?

a. Describe them, don't use their name, e.g., a salt of the earth mechanic, a stressed-out lawyer

2. What does my character need?

b. This can be found at the beginning of Act I, i.e. Plot Point I

3. Who/What is stopping them?

c. Include what makes the Antagonist a real threat.

4. What makes my story unique?

d. Make sure to hook the reader.

Example: Taxi Driver

Logline: A mentally unstable veteran works as a nighttime taxi driver in New York City, where the perceived decadence and sleaze fuels his urge for violent action by attempting to liberate a presidential campaign worker and an underage prostitute.

Character:

Who is our character? A mentally unstable Veteran.

What does he need? To liberate a presidential campaign worker and an underage prostitute.

Obstacle:

What stops him? Perceived decadence and sleaze is the real threat. This suggests he wants to save the campaign worker and prostitute from what he views as the decaying state of the city itself.

Genre:

What voice do I want to use to tell this story? Does that make it interesting/unique? The phrase "fuels his urge for violent action" suggests this film will be intense and vicious.

Example: The Avengers: Infinity War

Logline: The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.

Character:

Who is our character? The Avengers and their allies.

What do they need? They must defeat Thanos.

Obstacle:

What stops them? A blitz of devastation and ruin.

Genre:

What voice do I want to use to tell this story? Does that make it interesting/unique? Words like sacrifice, blitz, and end make this feel like a battle-heavy and tragic war film.

Theme

Whereas the concept is the idea behind the story, the theme is what you as the writer express to the audience. It is the meaning behind the idea. Theme is a must. It is not optional. Without a theme, your story will come off as flat. However, if too heavy-handed, your theme will be viewed as too preachy. A good theme is a subtle one. Keep coming back to the theme and make sure it is cunningly expressed throughout the script. Consistently prove/disprove your theme throughout the story.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "The Guide for Every Screenwriter"
by .
Copyright © 2019 We Fix Your Script.
Excerpted by permission of We Fix Your Script.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

  • Part I: Development
    • What is Screenwriting?
    • The "Write" Attitude for Success
    • Time, Talent, and Tenacity
    • How to write in any genre
    • Myth: Write what you know
    • The Break Down
    • Concept Development
    • High Concept
    • High Concept Tips
    • Low Concept
    • Concept Template
    • Mind Map
    • The Logline
    • How to build your logline
    • Theme
    • Theme Variations
    • Theme Template
    • Heavy-handed vs Weak themes
    • Character
    • Sympathetic versus Empathetic
    • Internal Versus External Conflict
    • Designing your character
    • Character sheet
    • 6 Keys to working with a co-writer


  • Part II: Structure
    • 3 act structure
    • Act I
    • Act II
    • Act III
    • The 9 point Main Plot Outline
    • The Inciting Incident
    • The Debate
    • Plot Point 1
    • Pinch 1
    • Midpoint
    • Pinch 2
    • Plot Point 2
    • The Resurrection
    • The Return
    • Beyond the nine
    • Subplots
    • The Heart Plot
    • The Supporting Character Plot
    • The Antagonist Plot
    • Main Plot and Subplots combined
    • Structure tips


  • Part III: Format
    • Reading versus shooting script
    • Passive versus active speech
    • The Title Page
    • Basic Formatting
    • Fade In
    • Primary Scene Header (slug line)
    • Action
    • Character Intro
    • Secondary Scene Header
    • Parenthetical (wryly)
    • O.S. (offscreen)
    • Flashback
    • Quick Flash
    • Phone Conversations
    • V.O. (voice-over)
    • Intercut
    • Insert
    • b.g. (background)
    • f.g. (foreground)
    • Ellipses
    • Em Dash
    • Series of Shots (SOS) Montage
    • Subtext
    • Visual Subtext
    • Formatting Tips


  • Part IV: What Comes Next
    • WGA Registration vs. Copyright
    • Rewrites
    • Coverage and notes
    • Feedback
    • Synopsis
    • Guide for a synopsis
    • Synopsis Template
    • Treatment
    • The Query
    • Agents versus Managers


  • Part V: Networking
    • Branding
    • Building your online presence
    • Online Networking
    • Tips on Networking
    • Awards
    • Film Festivals
    • Full Sample Script - A Mighty Quest
    • A Mighty Quest Analyzed




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