Over the weekend, I coached a couple of young filmmakers in a Google Hangout. Their goal was to create an award winning short story that could be produced as a film. They had a beginning and an end, but struggled to know how to get from one to the other in a plausible fashion for the audience.
I shared five story analysis steps to guide them in how to fill out the middle of their story:
- Review the Logline.
I asked what the film was about and they weren’t able to answer within two sentences, which suggested clarification was needed on the core story. Our first step was writing down the logline to make sure they understood their story and its key elements including protagonist, antagonist or obstacle, setting, and protagonist’s goal.
- Determine Character Development.
The writer and director knew who the protagonist was in the beginning of the story and the end, but didn’t know how to move him through his character development transitions. In this case, the hero starts out selfish and ends up selfless. A simple response could’ve been the following progression: Selfish -> Disinterested -> Apathy -> Selfless.
However, the excellent conflict between the protagonist and antagonist throughout the story suggests the development should instead be based on the character’s relationship. This perspective led to the following progression: Selfish -> Acknowledgment -> Respect -> Selfless.
More information about the process can be found here.
- Make the Scenes Visual.
Motion pictures are about motion and emotions. Something needs to be moving and stimulating. This forces the story to be visual, which opens the door to symbolism, metaphors and allegories. We indirectly discussed what the film would look like if there were no sound, just action.
While the writer feared that the success of the picture would rest solely on the actor’s visual performance (facial reactions), those visualized moments would catapult the story to award winning levels at festivals. Projects that rest on the dialog to tell the audience what’s happening depower the story’s impact.
- Find the Symbolism.
Finding symbolism within a story and attaching it to a physical object for visualization makes for a powerful story. This short story was about a precious commodity that the hero holds dear. The physical element quickly emerged as a symbol on its own merits once the story was sound. Having a key visual element tied in to the story as a symbol always turns the heads of festival judges and most audiences appreciate the added depth brought to the screen.
- Test the Story.
By writing down a sentence or two for each of the story beats, the writer and director can create a mini treatment that will reveal the strengths and weaknesses of the story. Making alterations at this stage is simple compared to reworking several pages of script.
By reviewing the above five items, an obvious outline of the story emerged for both the writer and director to work from. By adjusting their perspective when reviewing each element, more potential scenes came to mind for exploration. This process makes it easy to create numerous scenes from which the best can be selected for the middle of the final script.
Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers