As I’ve said before, the first things I ever wrote were screenplays. They weren’t any good, and that’s okay (see Rule #1: writers write!)
Even though I eventually turned my attention from scripts to novels I’m still greatly influenced by what I learned from that process, and I’ll even say that most writers would benefit from studying that aspect of the craft.
A lot of what I’m going to share in these posts will stem from what I learned in books like Screenplay by Syd Field
This is no exception.
Screenplays are usually thought of in terms of “Acts”. Books too, but you rarely hear the word. So what makes an act? What role does that play in the storytelling process?
I almost remember the moment when I first heard the term PLOT POINT. I was reading Screenplay, and Mr. Field was talking about the big, dramatic moment that marks the point between Act 1 and Act 2.
In short, it’s the moment that hooks into the story and spins it around—taking our character someplace he/she wasn’t expecting.
In movies, that moment usually happens about 20-30 minutes into the film. (Next time you’re watching a movie check it out—it’s eerily true.)
You have a character going about her everyday life and then…BAM!…something happens.
Mia Thermopolis finds out she’s a princess. Four best friends find a pair of magic pants. Harry Potter finds out he’s going to wizard school.
The day that comes after that moment will be different than the day that came before it. That makes that moment PLOT POINT #1. And, more importantly, that makes us want to know what comes next.
If Act 1 is all about the set-up (meeting our characters, getting to know them, etc.) then future acts are all about confrontation—how will they deal with the new challenges and situations that have come their way?
And challenges should come their way!
Think of your story like a trip—driving down a straight highway with no stops or turns is boring.
Now imagine hitting dead ends and backing up, having trees fall in the road and you have to slam on the brakes and off-road through a pasture; you end up on Main Street in a small town homecoming parade; you break down by the side of the road…whatever.
Your characters’ journeys shouldn’t be a straight shot. You need to put roadblocks in their way, and when you do they change directions. Those mini roadblocks, again, are plot points.
Some plot points are huge and some are small—mix it up. Just remember that your story should be building to a final act where your characters either obtain their goals or, at the very least, your story reaches some kind of conclusion.
How do you do this—all of this? Why through scenes, of course.
So that’s where we’ll pick up next time.