Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Alexandra Solokoff - Writing

So ran across this brilliant blog by Alexandra Sokoloff about writing (screenplay and novel) Lots and lots of good stuff. Definitely worth a lot of return trips, it's like one of those screenwriting books, in blog form. Anyway, here's copy pastes of parst of some of her posts, worth reading the whole thing of each (I just wanted to consolidate summaries for myself)

Logline/Elevator Pitch That sentence really should give you a sense of the entire story: the character of the protagonist, the character of the antagonist, the conflict, the setting, the tone, the genre. And – it should make whoever hears it want to read the book.

If you can tell your story in one line and everyone who hears it can see exactly what the movie or book is - AND a majority of people who hear it will want to see it or read it - that’s high concept.

the premise is the map of your book when you’re writing it.

- A treasure-hunting archaeologist races over the globe to find the legendary Lost Ark of the Covenant before Hitler’s minions can acquire and use it to supernaturally power the Nazi army.

this premise contain a defined protagonist, a powerful antagonist, a sense of the setting, conflict and stakes, and a sense of how the action will play out... the protagonists are up against forces that seem much bigger than the protagonist.

Visual Storytelling 1 and 2
Humans are visual so tell them what they would see. "Every time I start a chapter or a scene, I think first about the establishing shot and the master shot.

And when I do give the visual, I think about what it says thematically and emotionally about the scene. Is it a confined space because my heroine feels trapped? Then I make sure to convey that claustrophobic sense. Is every tree on the street bursting with bloom and fragrance because my lovers have finally reunited? (Yeah, I’m being on the nose, but my feeling is – be over the top at first to make sure the emotion is there… you can always tone it down later.)

What I do when I start a project, along with outlining, is to keep a list of thematic words and images that convey what my story is about, to me.

Index Card
most movies are a Three Act, eight-sequence structure. Yes, most movies can be broken up into 8 discrete 15-minute sequences, each of which has a beginning, middle and end.

Often a sequence takes place in 1 location with the protagonist following 1 line of action, the climax is getting or losing that piece they're after, then they move onto a new pursuit in a new place. Post about climaxes here

Make 8 columns of Index Cards 5-8 tall. 1st card of 1st column write Act 1 start, last card of 2nd column Act 1 climax, etc. (Act 2 has two parts, both need climaxes.) Okay, go. Brainstorm scenes, all you can think of, write each scene down on a card. Mix and match them up to get a good progression. A movie has about 40 to 60 scenes (a drama more like 40, an action movie more like 60)

Now obviously, if you’re structuring a novel this way, you may be approximately tripling the scene count, but I think that in most cases you’ll find that the number of sequences is not out of proportion to this formula. I write novels of about 40 - 50 chapters each - an exact correlation to the number of scenes I would write in a movie, and I find my books break down into sequences of about 50 pages each: Act One is about 100 pages, Act Two is about 200 pages, and Act Three is a little less than 100 pages. I might have three sequences in Act One rather than two, but the proportions are still almost exactly the same.

Now just write it. 1st draft she thinks of like theater, blocking it out to see the shape of the story. Easier to rewrite then to start with a blank page. Then she goes through in passes adding sensory information, pass for dialogue, pass for suspense, pass for plants and payoffs, etc.

Act One

index cards you'll need:
- Opening image

- Meet the hero or heroine

- Hero/ine’s inner and outer need
- Hero/ine’s arc
- Inciting Incident/ Call to Adventure

- Meet the antagonist (and/or introduce a mystery, which is what you do when you’re going to keep your antagonist hidden to reveal at the end)

- State the theme/what’s the story about?

- Allies

- Mentor

- A mirror character (sometimes)
- Love interest

- Plant/Reveal (or: Set ups and Payoffs)

- Hope/Fear (and Stakes)

- Time Clock (possibly. May not have one and may be revealed later in the story)

- Central Question

- Sequence One climax

- Act One climax (or curtain, or culmination)

Yeah, it’s a lot! That’s why first acts are often the most revised and rewritten sections of the story. It’s also why it’s often the section most in need of cutting and condensing. The answer is usually combining scenes. All these things have to be done, but they all have to be done within such a limited time frame (and page frame) that you simply HAVE to make each scene work on multiple levels.

specific breakdowns of all the pieces are in her post.

It’s useful to think of the story as posing a central question: Will Clarice get Lecter to give her the information she need to catch Buffalo Bill before he kills again? Audience needs to know this question by the end of act 1.

Act 2
Beginning of the 2nd act is usually entry into the "other world". There's often a guardian to give the hero trouble/warning at the entrance, helps raise suspense.

The continual opposition of the protagonist’s and antagonist’s plans is the main underlying structure of the second act.

Another important storytelling and suspense technique is keeping the hero/ine and antagonist in close proximity. Closer they are the higher the suspense.

2nd act often has an assembling the team sequence. One of the delights of a sequence like this is that you see a bunch of highly skilled pros in top form – or alternately, a bunch of unlikely losers that you root for because they’re so perfectly pathetic. The inevitable clash of personalities, the constant divaness and one-upmanship, and the reluctant bonding make for some great scenes – it’s a lively and compelling storytelling technique.

Also often a Training Sequencee, and a Series of Tests. Training sequence often reveals a weakness (plant) that will have to be tested in the hero (payoff when overcome), (Luke not having faith in the force)

Act 2 part 2Climax of the first part of Act 2 is the Midpoint. A major shift in the dynamics of the story. Now it's personal, door of no return, small actions haven't worked so have to commit, sex at 60 (60 pages) changes all relationships. The Midpoint will often be one of the most memorable visual SETPIECES of the story, just to further drive its importance home. It’s a game-changer, and it locks the hero/ine even more inevitably into the story. The Midpoint is not necessarily just one scene – it can be a progression of scenes and revelations that include a climactic scene, a complete change of location, a major revelation, a major reversal – all or any combination of the above. I would also point out that the midpoint is often some kind of mirror image of the final climax (spiritual midpoint of Raiders of the Lost Arc Indy as moses with light and robes finding the right place to dig.)


In the second half of the second act the actions your hero/ine takes toward his or her goal will become larger and increasingly obsessive. Small actions have not cut it, so it’s time for desperate measures.

These escalating actions will often lead to HARD CHOICES and CROSSING THE LINE: the hero/ine very often starts doing things that are against character, self-destructive or downright immoral. Often the hero/ine will lose support from key allies when s/he begins to cross the line.

In standard film structure, the second half of Act Two is two sequences long - two fifteen minute sequences, each with a beginning, middle and climax. A book will perhaps have three or four or five sequences in this 100 page section. But if you concentrate on escalating obsessive actions by the hero/ine and antagonist, and then an abject failure (question of the film answered with no), out of which a new revelation and plan occurs, you pretty much have the whole section mapped out to the ACT TWO CLIMAX

Climax of Act 2 is often answering the question of the film, with a no? Will Hanibal help Clarice catch Buffalo Bill before he kills again? No, Catherine will die.

Act 3
And the third act is basically the FINAL BATTLE and RESOLUTION. It can often be one continuous sequence – the chase and confrontation. There may be a final preparation for battle (1/2 of act 3 can be getting to the battle site), or it might be done on the fly.

above all, in an ending, the reader/audience has to CARE. A good ending has an emotional payoff, and it has to be proportionate to what the character AND the reader/audience has experienced.

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