One common mistake screenwriters make is that they start writing as soon as they have an idea. The trouble is that even the best idea will go nowhere if it’s poorly written. Poorly written screenplays typically fail to tell a compelling and intriguing story from start to finish.
There are two ways writers typically tell stories. Some writers like to start writing and through the process of writing, they discover their characters, their plot, and their theme. While this can work, it can take a tremendous amount of time and the end result is throwing away large parts of your writing that no longer fit your story.
The other way to write a story is to plan ahead. Just as you wouldn’t just hop in your car and drive in any direction you wanted in hopes of taking a vacation in Italy when you live in New York, so you should also plan your story in advance so you know what you want to write before you start writing.
That’s what the 15-Minute Movie Method book is all about. This completely revised edition focuses on planning and structuring your story based on your theme, which is what your story is about. Once you know your theme, you automatically know how your story will end because you’ll know what type of person your hero needs to be in the beginning and end.
For example, the movie “Liar Liar” is about a lawyer who consistently lies to get what he wants. Then his son makes a wish that forces him to tell the truth, so the theme of the story might be “Honesty is the best policy.”
That theme immediately tells us that the hero must start the story as a compulsive liar, but by the end, he must learn to tell the truth.
Just this simple use of the theme to define your hero can keep you from going off on tangents with characters who don’t support your theme.
In “Witness,” a cop is forced to hide in an Amish community. This story’s theme might be “Non-violence is a valid way to solve problems.” Thus the hero in the beginning thinks that violence is the way to solve problems, but by the end he learns that non-violence is another way to solve problems as well.
Once you know who your hero is, you automatically know who your villain is because your villain is the evil version of your hero and embraces the negative aspect of your story theme. In “Witness,” the theme is that non-violence is a way to solve problems, that means the villain believes violence is the only way to solve problems.
Plotting a story is easy when you use your theme as a guideline. In every scene, your hero must be torn between the negative aspect of the theme and the positive aspect of the theme. In “Witness,” the hero is constantly torn between accepting non-violence or falling back on his violent tendencies to solve problems.
Once you know your theme, you know your hero, you know the conflict in every scene, you know your villain, and you also know your mentor (who must teach the hero the theme), and you also know your ally who helps the hero.
A mentor represents the theme while an ally lets the hero see themselves. By helping an ally, the hero helps themselves and their ally while demonstrating the theme once more. Allies are just as flawed as the hero so they need to help each other embrace the story theme.
Can you see how everything is connected by the theme? If you simply write in all directions with no plan whatsoever, you risk creating a plot and characters who have little or nothing to do with your theme. That creates a disjointed, unsatisfying story.
However, if you write a story where every element focuses on your theme, you’l create a focused, unified story, and those types of stories are what great movies and novels are all about.
Just look at your favorite movies and ask yourself if every element works together or not. That’s the secret to structuring any story by using your theme as a guideline to shape the entire story from start to finish.
The latest edition of “The 15-Minute Movie Method” explains all this and more. Of course you can get all this information for free on my blog, but the book presents much of this blog information in a more organized, structured format.
Planning ahead is the key to spending less time being lost and frustrated, and more time being productive when you’re actually writing. With “The 15-Minute Movie Method” book, you can learn to identify the key elements of story telling to write the story you want to tell faster and easier than before.
(Kindle edition now available. Paperback version coming soon.)