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Screenwriting to DIE for...YAC

For use in a screenwriting workshop. Plot structure concepts, script to screen choices influenced by Blake Snyder's Save the Cat and Go Into the Story by Scott Myers

Judith Graves

on 13 July 2017

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Transcript of Screenwriting to DIE for...YAC

Myths and misconceptions
Judith Graves
Screenwriting to DIE for...
Screenwriters / their agents can pitch a concept to studio or network executives in several ways: write a spec script and hope someone likes it, write a treatment (a formal synopsis of a script you intend to write), or by submitting a simple logline. Best to have projects on the go in various stages (be writing a few scripts, treatments, and generate a crapload of loglines)
Writing a script, either for the screen, or the stage is different than writing prose / fiction. But the skills you gain in exploring the basics of screenwriting will make your fiction to DIE for.

But the major difference - a script consists of only what is SEEN and HEARD.

A screenwriter is the start of a long process in getting a film on screen. We provide the bones of the story, the rest of the finished product originates with the director, actors, etc.


- look at story starters
- develop loglines
- share in groups of 4 / as class

“A newlywed couple thinks they have found the key to a happy marriage but their friends aren’t convinced.”
“When a newlywed couple thinks they find the key to a happy marriage, their friends attempt to prove them wrong by igniting an all out gender battle.”

Which sounds sexier?

= “is forced” “transports”

“a lonely Kansas farm girl”, “a rookie cop”, “a grizzled detective”


– what’s at stake?

Scripts rely on what we can see and hear - in terms of characters, this means viewers get their cues about character motive, personalities, desires, fears, from what a character says and how they act while they're saying it.

Killer Dialogue

Writing great dialogue is tough. You have to know your characters, know the story, the hidden details you're holding back from the viewer, the agendas, the jealousy - everything from your character's education (or lack of it), upbringing, and personal baggage should shine through in the words they choose. Dialgoue gives you a chance to reveal how each character sees the world through the filter of their own individual life experiences.

A big city lawyer will talk differently than prep cook at a small town, greasy-spoon diner.

No Country
for Old Men

Blade Runner
Formatting Basics
The BONES of the Story
Judith Graves
Scripts rely heavily on:

- Plot / Action
- Characters
- Dialogue
Here are some examples from the opening to the screenplay for SAVING PRIVATE RYAN:

The THUNDEROUS SOUNDS OF A MASSIVE NAVAL BARRAGE are heard. The power is astonishing. It roars through the body, blows back the hair and rattles the ears.

The ROAR OF NAVAL GUNS continues but now WE SEE THEM FIRING. Huge fifteen inch guns.

SWARM OF LANDING CRAFT Heads directly into a nightmare.

MASSIVE EXPLOSIONS from German artillery shells and mined obstacles tear apart the beach.

Hundreds of German machine guns, loaded with TRACERS, pour out a red snowstorm of bullets.

THE CLIFFS at the far end, a ninety-foot drop. Topped by bunkers. Ringed by fortified machine gun nests. A clear line-of-fire down the entire beach.

Notice how the verbs paint a vivid picture. “SWARM of landing craft”. “Tracers POUR OUT a red snow storm of bullets”. We can see the carnage in our heads, and all in very little time and page space.

Also notice how some of the sentences would be considered incomplete, or grammatically incorrect. While it might be a cardinal sin in a book, for screenplays it’s encouraged because we can SEE IT in our minds – which is the point.

Brad’s truck pulls to a stop in the yard. He wipes his sweaty brow and puts his handkerchief inside his pocket before getting out of the truck.

Walking across the muddy fields, he squints, looks back at the truck. He takes his handkerchief out of his pocket and wipes his brow again.

The description is entering too early and leaving too late. Instead it should read:


Brad steps out of his truck, sweating bullets. Walking across the open field, he takes a look back at his truck before trudging on.

So you see how all unnecessary elements are eliminated?
Other differences from prose:
- we'll discuss this later
white space
- you never want the page weighted down with heavy action lines or with heavy dialogue, as this “slows down” the read.
write visually
- active verbs - what we see/hear

More differences:
- enter late, leave early - in prose you fill in all the blanks to create a picture in the reader's mind. In screenwriting, we get to the point. Quick. Then we get out before we have to make it again.
Dialogue Dos and Don'ts
Logline AKA the plot. If someone asks you….so what’s your story about? You have 20 seconds to make an impression. Can you tell them in one sentence?


~ The main character
~ What’s at stake
~ Why he/she might fail

Loglines aren't just used to sell scripts - they are key to making sure you know the story you want to tell.

BEFORE you write one word of your script you must be able to describe it. Get to the bones of the story.

As you write, always refer back to your logline and ask yourself...is this the story I'm telling? Keeps you on track - works for fiction just as well as screenwriting.
Other sample loglines:

Title: Silent Night
Writer: James Luckard
Genre: Thriller
Logline: With a brutal serial killer stalking Nazi Germany at Christmas, the Berlin detective on the case gets reluctantly partnered with a Jewish criminal psychologist released from Auschwitz to profile the killer.

Title: Fast Money
Writer: Angelle Haney Gullett
Genre: Drama
Logline: A young girl with a gift for numbers struggles to stay in private school and pull her family out of poverty by taking her first job – as the accountant for her neighborhood drug dealer.

Title: Girl bites Donut
Writers: Jason Beck and Bruce DeGama
Genre: Black Comedy
Logline: When a struggling pastry shop owner signs away her business to the world’s most evil donut company, she struggles to escape with her recipes - and her life - intact.

~loglines from the Scriptshadow Logline/Screenplay Contest

Industry Tip

Always on the lookout for High Concept plots.

- the idea is so commercially appealing
it sells itself.
Dialogue should: move the story forward,
increase the tension, help define characters, reveal character relationships to one another.
Shifts in tone / pace
Talk like people do in real life
On the nose
Character neutral
Purple prose
Overstatement / Understatement
Talking heads - what's around them / what are they doing
So, what can YOU do?
- best time to be a writer
- screenplay / short film, 24hr film contests
- be your own producer - webisodes / YouTube channel. Work with others. Share skills.
- graphic novel / gaming scripts
- write fiction (novel or short story) then adapt for film
- Calgary / Edmonton / Vancouver / Toronto - film festivals, grants (FACTOR / AB FINE ARTS), associations, organizations (FAVA), film schools or media programs.
- Script Frenzy / NANO - 20k script / novel...whatever, just modify the word count and get to the FINISH line.
- the only limit is YOU
A band needs a blend of personalities to function.

Each member has a role to play - same with your fictional characters, right down to the villian (aka - manager)

R - keep'm real

O - one thing

C - conflict

K - keep it simple stupid

But every band / story comes down to the VOICE of your front man/woman/main character. That's who the masses identify with and adore (sorry bass players - it's not fair!)
Character Foils
In addition to a great lead singer/main character. Great storytelling involves characters that clash - we need FOILS.

When motives / goals / values / histories clash we have conflict.

Conflict drives your story.

Let's look some opposite personality traits...
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