Screenwriting is all about telling the best story you can. Here are some handy hacks to help make your plot fly FAST! The following are a few of the most glittering trinkets in that nest, that may be helpful to blocked writers, newbies looking for guidance, or any writer on the lookout for some new approaches to try:
1) Start With An Ending
Half of the posts I see on social media about blockages are getting so far into a script and not knowing where to go.
With an ending in place – and note it doesn’t have to be THE ending, just what you imagine it might be – you have something to work towards, that you can build to, foreshadow, and adjust and come back to as your story unfolds. MORE: How To Avoid Plotting Hell And Save Writing Hours
2) The South Park Method
No, it doesn’t involve poo. This one comes from South Park mastermind Trey Parker – who has plenty of experience in going from story to script with short deadlines.
Very often a story can end up a straight line – “A happens and B happens and C happens and D happens” and so on. But if you change your “Ands” into “Sos” “Buts” and “Therefores” it alters the landscape completely. Your story becomes “A happens SO B happens BUT C happens THEREFORE D happens” and the straight line has suddenly gained some interesting curves that will strengthen your story. MORE: 3 Things To Remember For Act 3
3) The Easiest Story To Tell
One of the simplest plot structures out there is “Someone Wants Something, But Has A Hard Time Getting It.”
This is unbelievably handy to graft onto a set of characters or a concept that needs direction; the basic elements of conflict and motivation are all there, along with a protagonist, goals, stakes and all the other stuff that helps make a good story. It can be applied to most genres and pretty much any audience member will be able to identify with that experience.
It’s particularly effective for short films, where a clear narrative is especially important. MORE: 5 Visual Representations Of Storytelling Structure
4) You Don’t Have To Save The Cat
Much has been made of Blake Snyder’s approach to screenwriting and its rigid moment-to-page method. Some love it, some hate it. Some wonder what exactly cats have to do with the whole thing.
But, much like starting with an ending, it’s equally helpful to set a goal for a particular page for a certain event to occur. If you decide your protagonist and her wife are gonna fall out by page 35, for example, you can lay the foundations for it on page 1 and really focus every scene towards that goal in the pages that follow. It creates a waypoint in your script that urges you to avoid rambling and overwriting in order to hit your mark.
So, while the cat doesn’t have to be saved by page 35, knowing a cat’s gonna be in that area removes a lot of the guesswork that can slow your writing down. MORE: 5 Problems With Structure ALL Writers Have
5) Shroud Your Exposition
Exposition is usually necessary, but it can be the death of a good script when poorly done. Keeping it short and punchy if at all possible is always a good option, but on occasions where there’s a lot of it, you need to cover it up.
How do you do that? Subtext. If your character knows everything, or knows key stuff about part of the plot that they will have to explain, give them a reason NOT to explain it.
Say your protagonist is hunting a killer, and their BFF is going to be revealing the killer’s background to them at some point …. So, you could make it so:
- the BFF knows who the killer is, or learns early on but doesn’t reveal it because it will destroy their friendship, OR
- they have something to gain from keeping the secret, OR
- maybe they don’t know and have a separate reason for finding out??
If you’re able to do any of the above at a critical moment then this is no longer just an info dump on your protagonist. It becomes a character reveal, a goal that drives the plot, or an important discovery, rather than just words that tell the audience things they need to know for the next scene. MORE: How Does Exposition Work? 9 Common Exposition Questions Answered
There are lots of ways to tell a story, and countless more ways to turn that story into a script. Some work better than others, and some work better for different people.
Despite what gurus and even working pros might say, there’s no guarantee that any one method will work. My own experience has turned me into a bit of a magpie: plucking the shiniest most effective of tricks and methods from the pile on offer and decking my writing nest out with them. Finding the ones that best help you to tell the best version of your story make them priceless additions to your writer’s toolkit, and even if these or other hacks end up not working for you, you’ll still learn something you can bring forward to the next project, the next draft, the next idea. And that is guaranteed to improve your writing!