26 August, 2008

So You Want to Write a Screenplay

Ken Atchity:

"The following is an excellent piece by Barry Pearson "16 Ways You Can Create a Better Hero and a Better Screenplay"

Shakespeare created many of the most memorable heroes in the English language. We acknowledge him as an artistic genius. But the Bard was also the most financially successful writer of his time. Even in modern times, tidy fortunes are made from retreading his work.

One of the keys to his extraordinary success is to be found in this trenchant and insightful quote form Dr. Samuel Johnson, who published a definitive edition of his plays in 1765.

The stage but echoes back the public voice
The drama's laws, the drama's patrons give.
For we that live to please must please to live

That one is worth pinning on your wall. It's as true for you as it was 400 years ago when Shakespeare was penning his audience-pleasing masterpieces. Writing stories that will satisfy the desires of your audience can lead directly to your success.

Moviegoers, like the Globe theatergoers in 1600, have definite and strong desires about what they want in a hero. and they vote with their feet and their wallets.

You will write better heroes and better screenplays if you use the audience's desires as your writing "laws." What are those desires? And how can you tap into them? I'm going to suggest sixteen types of audience desires, both positive and negative, that may be helpful. I'll try to illustrate with examples of what audiences want (or do not want) and what you can do about it.

1. The audience wants the Hero to be forced to struggle, change, and become a better, happier, and more successful person.

Professional screenwriters recognize this want and take ingenious steps to exploit it. Have you ever noticed that heroes at the beginning of a movie are stuck in a rut? They're usually in a state of paralysis (literally or figuratively). They're often imprisoned in some way. In Gladiator, for example, Maximus (Russell Crowe) starts out trapped in a miasma of political intrigue, and progresses to a literal state of imprisonment and despair.

By portraying this admirable hero so far from "happy and successful," the writers intensified the audience's desire to see him struggle toward justice and freedom.

Try to imagine how your Hero, at the beginning of your movie, could be in a state of paralysis, unable to act.

Perhaps she might be like Angela Bennett (Sandra Bullock) in The Net. Angela, in retreat from a hurtful love affair shrinks from human contact. She has woven a protective cocoon around herself and forged the bars of her own prison.

Then again, your Hero might be "imprisoned" like William Broyles Jr.'s hero Chuck Nolan (Tom Hanks) in Castaway. Chuck is so obsessed by the deadline culture of his job that he has become a barely human automaton."

Article in full


Tom Murphy said...

Hi Robin - First off, thanks again for providing such a fantastic and inspiring resource.

This article reminds me of a similar lecture we had on my MA course (at Bournemouth), in which we were encouraged to make our stories as universal as possible by focusing on the basic human needs defined by psychologist Abraham Maslow. I'll see if I can dig out the notes and publish them on my blog; in the meantime, this is a similar but less detailed approach:


Robin Kelly said...

Thanks Tom.

I wrote a little something about Maslow on my website here (which probably needs a re-write and an update [which isn't happening anytime soon])