Write Your Screenplay: The Craft of Story, Structure and Script | Joshua Dickinson | Skillshare

Write Your Screenplay: The Craft of Story, Structure and Script

Joshua Dickinson, Writer, Director, Actor

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15 Lessons (58m)
    • 1. Introduction

      1:42
    • 2. Screenplays

      3:33
    • 3. Stories

      3:00
    • 4. Protagonist, Goal & Obstacle

      6:06
    • 5. Theme

      3:56
    • 6. Visual Storytelling

      4:13
    • 7. Development & Logline (Class Project 1)

      6:43
    • 8. Structure

      3:00
    • 9. Acts (Class Project 2)

      4:15
    • 10. Story Beats

      4:12
    • 11. Scenes

      1:49
    • 12. Action

      3:12
    • 13. Dialogue

      3:48
    • 14. First Draft

      3:15
    • 15. Rewriting & Feedback (Class Project 3)

      4:56
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About This Class

Fade in...

"The struggling screenwriter punches the delete button until the page is blank then slams the laptop closed."

Write Your Screenplay aims to prevent this scenario from happening ever again by demystifying the stages of the screenwriting process and showing you how to put them into practice, leading you towards a well developed and complete screenplay.

Learn the language of screenwriting

Phrases like three act structure, conflict and character arc are thrown around the writers' room. This class covers all the main concepts in screenwriting and explains how to use them to generate ideas.

Develop your original idea into a complete story

Great screenwriters aren't mysterious gurus, they just know the development process: how to take an original idea and craft it into something brilliant using the mechanics of storytelling. This class gives you the tools to craft your story.

Complete class projects towards your first draft

Blank pages are intimidating. Completing these class projects will give you to lots to write about:

  1. Loglines - pitch your story in a sentence.
  2. Structure - outline the major events of your screenplay according to story theory.
  3. Showcase Scene - write your first draft and get feedback on your best scene.

Write Your Screenplay is delivered in short, snappy and fun classes by Joshua Dickinson, a screenwriter, actor and director who teaches screenwriting and filmmaking when he is not working on film sets where he has been involved in feature films and TV projects as diverse as westerns, crime dramas and zombie apocalypses.

Transcripts

1. Introduction: I'm Joshua Dickinson and I'm a screenwriter. I started out as an actor and now I also write and direct. I've been teaching film making and consulting on the scripts for the last five years. I've really noticed how breaking the process down into really simple steps helps people to clarify their ideas and go from, I had this idea and I'm thinking about maybe writing too. Here we go, I have a finished screenplay unmanned. I've written this class as a guide to that process. We go back and look at screenplay layout, but we kind of go further back and think about stories and what they are, how they work, how you take an idea and make it into a really effective story. How you provide a really good log line for that story so you can pitch it in a really short, succinct way, then breaking that story into structure. You can get three-act structure and five act structure. How you take all of those ideas and make a beat board out of it. You are writing down all the events of your story. Then breaking that down into scenes. Thinking about how we structure a really good scene, how we write effective action and dialogue, and then tips about how to get your first draft written before looking at rewriting second drafts, third drafts and getting feedback. When I'm learning, I'd like things to be really clear. I've done my best to make sure each class is the next step in the process. If you have a screenplay that you'd like to write, you can follow the classes along, and hopefully by the end, you'll have your finished screenplay. I can be just as bad as anyone else talking about writing and actually doing it. My hope is that someone sees this class and instead of thinking, oh yeah, I kind of get around to writing that someday. Just gets the coffee on, gets a pen and paper and starts writing. 2. Screenplays: After weeks of slaving away at a keyboard, it is incredibly exciting to hold your finished screenplay in your hand. After all, this is the thing that you are trying to make. This is the end product. Being able to open it up and see all the scenes and the characters, the action, and the dialogue and knowing that your story is in here is an incredibly satisfying moment. Of course, it takes a lot of work to get here, and we are jumping ahead of ourselves a little bit, but I think it is useful at this stage to take a look inside a screenplay. Screenplays have a really particular format, and any experienced writer, director, or producer will be able to tell whether the writer knows what they're doing just by looking at it. In order to demystify this mysterious process, I am going to whip through these six rules for formatting screenplays, first thing to get out of the way, fonts. Everyone uses Courier. Perhaps that's because back in the day, every script was written on a typewriter, and since then, people don't really want to see that look of a screenplay change. Don't try and blow people's minds by using Arial or Comic Sans. Stick to Courier and look more professional. Rule number two, scene headings. These are always in capitals and left-aligned. They come in three parts. Firstly, you will write either INT or EXT. There stands for interior or exterior and tells us whether the scene is inside or outside. This is really handy for the crew who have to put together a schedule and bring different kinds of equipment to different locations. The second part of your scene heading is the location, and this tells us where the scene is happening. It could be a car or a campsite or castle or canary mine or something like that. The third part of your scene heading is whether it's day or night. Just leave a dash and write day or night, depending on whether it is day or night. Rule number three, action, which is left-aligned, and here we find a description of everything we are going to see on screen. What the characters look like. What the location looks like. Any movement in the scene. The props, the makeup, and everything else. It's all found in the action. Writing action is a really particular skill, and we're going to be looking at that later. Rule number four, character. Center-aligned and in caps, this tells us who is speaking. Rule number five, dialogue, is in a central column below the character. This tells us what the character says. Rule number six, parenthetical. This is where you can put in brackets how a character is saying something if you don't think it is really clear in the dialogue. You can either put it just below the character or in the middle of a monologue. Rule number seven, transitions. This is right-aligned and in capitals, and will tell you how you get from one scene to another. This is your fade in or your cut to. Personally, I would use these rather sparingly. Transitions are more to do with the edit, so I would only add them if you think it is fundamental to how we experience the story on the page. There are plenty of free websites which will format your screenplay for you, which saves you loads of time and allows you to focus on the creativity. There are, of course, professional screenplay writing apps, but they can be pretty pricey, and remember, it's the content that's important, not the program that you wrote it on. That's screenplay formatting. You now know how your screenplay should look when it's finished. But like I said, we're slightly jumping ahead of ourselves because there is an awful lot of work to be done before we get to that finished product. We're going to jump back a little bit, and we're going to think about story. Because your story and your script are not the same thing. See you in the next class. 3. Stories: Film is a visual medium for telling stories and humans love stories, whether we're watching film and TV, reading a book, listening to a podcast. I'll see your friends what they did on the weekend, finding out from a couple of how they got engaged or asking someone who went traveling, whether they did eventually find themselves. We love to be told a story. We want to know what happened, how it happened, and most importantly, what happened next? Stories, how an amazing almost hypnotic effect on us. It's worth taking a pause to reflect on them. Story is in our DNA, it's something we do that no other animal does. Bees make beehives, beavers build dams, humans tells stories. From the early days of primitive Homo Sapiens, stories have enabled us to collaborate, to share our ideas and survive, whether it stories about the hunt or defending our families, or crossing epic landscapes in search of food and shelter. Stories were a way of communicating ideas to help us navigate the outside world. But humans also have a complex inner world. How we think and feel about our lives, plays a huge part in the decisions we make and the way in which we behave. If I tell you a story about something that happened with me and how I was thinking and feeling at the time. You're going to have a greater insight into the reasons why I made the decisions I did and how I felt about it afterwards. Maybe those are things that can help you, things that you can reflect on in the future. Or maybe you've just had that feeling yourself. Sharing that idea is a way of building empathy. It's a way of understanding each other. It helps us to think kindly about ourselves as well as everyone else. Good stories increase empathy. Stories really do make the world a better place. As a storytelling medium. Film has a lot of tools at its disposal. The earliest storytellers had to speak their stories around a camp fire. But with modern technology, we are able to take a story and have it play out in front of the audience as though in present time. This means the audience is able to witness the action as opposed to being told it second hand. We're much more able to suspend our disbelief and get utterly involved in what is happening on the screen. With the use of modern technology, we're able to edit, add sound effects, music, and ever more mind-blowing special effects. This means that we're able to by-pass the logical left brain and attack the right emotional brain. Film really is the most powerful storytelling medium. What exactly is a story? How do we define it? What is it made of? What makes it a good story that's worth telling and not just something that happened? We'll take a look at this in the next class. 4. Protagonist, Goal & Obstacle: What makes a story? When I ask this in my classes, usually people say a beginning, a middle, and end, or an antagonist, or a surprising twist. Those are really good answers, things that you can definitely include. But when we strip it right back, there are three things that we fundamentally need to make a story, a protagonist, a goal, and an obstacle [NOISE]. The first thing we need for a story to be a story is a protagonist. This is your main character, your central character. They have one very important thing they must do and that is to change [NOISE]. This is what we call the character arc or the character development. This isn't just a superficial change like getting a haircut. This means they have to change on the inside. They have to change their behavior, they have to change their beliefs about the world. The protagonist starts the story with a flaw, a belief about the world that makes them behave in a certain way. As the story unfolds, their understanding about the world changes and this change is who they are on the inside, affecting the decisions they make and the way in which they behave. Essentially by the end, they have overcome their flaw. For example, let's say we have a character whose flaw is that they're incredibly self-centered. Maybe that's because their belief about the world is that everyone is only ever out for themselves. So why should they act any differently? During the course of the story, we might see them meet some more generous people, in which case they see the joy that they bring and decide to change their ways. They've reached a new understanding about the world and so they've changed their behavior. On the other hand, they might meet people who are even more selfish than they are. They witness the pain that that can cause, therefore they decided to become a better person because they've reached another understanding of the world and therefore change their behavior in a similar way. Either way, we've seen that protagonist have that belief tested, changed, and as a result, they've changed their behavior. There are also stories in which protagonists don't change. They're called tragedies and the characters usually end up dead. These stories are reminders that our ability to change is what keeps us alive. Sticking to beliefs that you know to be false can be dangerous. No change equals death. Remember that. It's important that protagonists don't change too easily. In real life, we don't change our beliefs at the drop of a hat. It's actually incredibly hard to get someone to change their beliefs. It means admitting you're wrong, which is psychologically very painful. In order to make our stories believable, we have to force our characters to change. We do that using the other two essentials of story, goal and obstacle. The goal is what the protagonist is trying to achieve. It's function is to drive the protagonist and the power of the story. The audience wants to find out whether we are going to achieve the goal or not and so will carry on watching until the very end to see whether it ends in success or failure. So Frodo has to destroy the ring. Katniss must bring down the Capital and Marlin must find Nemo. The goal has a powerful effect on us. How many times have you carried on watching a film just to find out what happened at the end. We can see the effect of having a goal. If you watch music videos, the ones that are always really effective are the ones with a powerful story and narrative driving it. But take away a goal, and what are you left with? A montage of a pop star looking sad in slow motion. These music videos fail to hold our attention. But the ones with story, those are the ones we keep watching until the very end. But if a goal is too easy to achieve, it becomes quite boring. For example, today I needed milk, so I went to the shop, I was able to find it in the aisle. I was able to pay for it and then I went home. That was not a story worth telling. It's missing the exciting parts of the story, which is the obstacles. Obstacles are anything that gets in the way of the protagonist achieving their goal and their function in the story is to create conflict. Conflict is what powers drama. If you're ever struggling with a scene, then likelihood is there's not enough conflict in it. As soon as you introduce conflict where someone wants something and something is stopping them, you have a much more interesting scene. Obstacles appear in three forms. The physical world of the story, the supporting characters, and the protagonists flaw. The physical world of the story contains all the obstacles that will get in the way of the protagonist achieving that goal, so in a horror film, it might be a haunted house containing all the traps laid by a madman. In a sci-fi film, it might be the poisonous atmosphere and alien plans of a new planet. In a fancy film, it might be the magical objects and weird castle the protagonist is exploring. In a Rom-com, it might be a well that's full of coffee just waiting to be spilled on you before you go into the next meeting or a taxi is blocking you from getting to the airport. In a heist film, those films are literally based on an ever increasingly difficult set of obstacles that you need to unlock or jump over or break into. We haven't even got to the fourth dimension yet, time. If you're ever struggling to get conflict into a scene, put a time limit on it. Hooray! Supporting characters are also obstacles for the protagonist to overcome. This might be the antagonist who is usually the main villain or the main opponent of the protagonist. In a superhero film or a spy movie, it's usually easy to work out who the villain is, and therefore they will be the antagonist. In a Rom-com or a buddy comedy, it's actually usually the romantic interest or the friend of the protagonist who is the main opponent, forcing them to change their behavior by being a difficult person to be around. Supporting characters also come in the form of allies and enemies. Enemies are trying to stop the protagonist from achieving their goal while allies might be encouraging their protagonists do things that they wouldn't do within their usual comfort zone. The important thing to remember, is whether they're enemies or allies, the other supporting characters are there as obstacles to put pressure on the protagonist to change. The protagonist's change should be the most important thing to you as a writer because hidden inside that change is what you are saying to the world. It's the argument you're making, the idea you're trying to communicate. The protagonist's change is the theme of your story, so theme is what we need to look at next [MUSIC]. 5. Theme: Your protagonist's change is the theme of your story and everything in your story should be based on that theme. The locations, the characters, the objects, all should have a relationship to that theme. What is it? Theme is the moral of the story. It's a judgment about how we should live our lives. Films deal in subjects that their target audience will relate to; family, home, friends, coming of age, grief, things we have all, or will all experience. The theme is what the writer wants to say about that subject. It's the writer's view and it's embodied in the protagonist's development, in their character arc as they change from the opposite view to the writer's view of the subject. Let's take The Lion King as an example. The theme in The Lion King is that our responsibilities are more important than our individual desires. At the start of the film, Simba desires to go to the elephant graveyard, despite the fact he was told not to. This leads to a series of events where Mufasa has to save him from the hyenas. The hyenas team up with Scar in order to kill Mufasa in a stampede. Simba believes this to be his fault because of Scar and he runs away. He meets to Timon and Pumbaa who teach him that in life, you should not take any responsibility. They walk across a log singing "hakuna matata". It means no worries for the rest of your days. Simba is quite happy to live like this until Nala turns up. She tells him the pride is going to starve if he doesn't return and challenge Scar and save his family and the pride and the circle of life from certain death. It's death again. It's always death. It's not uncommon for the theme to be stated early on by an archetype or guide who is there to look after the protagonist. Take a point if you recognize these quotes which tell us exactly what the theme of the film is. With great power comes great responsibility. Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up. Use the force Luke. That last one maybe a bit cryptic, but it does work. Luke's Jedi training is all about letting go and trusting his instincts. Moving on. It's really important to know your theme because it helps you develop a conflict in your script. If your theme is about responsibility, there's no point in having obstacles that don't relate to that theme. Let's say you have a theme, fame doesn't bring you happiness. What kinds of obstacles are going to be useful? Locations like TV studios, stages with an audience, dressing rooms, fancy restaurants, supporting characters like agents, fans, other celebrities and they've got the opposite. If your character is seeking fame, how would they react in an isolated place with no reception where nobody recognizes them? Your character's journey embodies the theme so you have to make sure the obstacles they come into contact with are forcing them to have different views about that theme. Writers also used symbolism to engage with the theme. A symbol is a metaphor that expresses something about the theme. In Titanic, the jewel that Rose is given is called the heart of the ocean. It was left on the ship when it sank and her true love, Jack, drowns. Years later when she's an old woman, it is recovered by divers, but she takes it and throws it back into the ocean. Her heart is still with Jack. It's not very subtle, but it's very effective and I cried. Theme always takes some serious thinking about. It's often the hardest part of coming up with your story. Goals and obstacles are easy to come up with. But working out your theme, what you want to say about a particular subject that can be a little bit harder. But working out early on is really important because it's going to affect every aspect of your story. Okay, now we understand how stories work. Now we need to think specifically about how stories work on screen. 6. Visual Storytelling: Film is a visual medium. I don't want to underplay the importance of sound in cinema but we do pay more attention to what we are seeing than what we are hearing. To the screenwriter, this means that their words must describe moving images. So far, we've talked about stories and how they work. Now, we need to think in particular, about how stories work on the screen. Because film is a visual medium of storytelling, the audience is receiving the narrative through the images they are seeing. This is why the golden rule for screenwriters is, "Show, don't tell." If I open a screenplay and only see page after page of dialogue, I already know something isn't right. Long dialogue scenes work really well on stage because the audience there is receiving the narrative through the words that they're hearing. But in film, we pay more attention to the images than dialogue. When we open a screenplay, we should see plenty of action. This has a huge effect on how we understand our protagonist. Instead of having a lengthy monologue that describes exactly what's going on inside the character's head, we need to understand how they're thinking and feeling through their actions, in particular, the decisions they make when reacting to obstacles. Say an elderly person falls over on the other side of the street. What does your protagonist do? Do they rush over and help immediately? Or do they try and walk away? Do they laugh cruelly? Or walk over and pretend to help while secretly stealing their purse? All of these actions tell us something about your character and who they are. We learn whether they're kind, or uncaring, or cruel, or manipulative. Every action reveals something to us about who that character is. This is why silent films were able to travel around the world. All of the complexities of character and plots were able to be communicated through action, through onscreen behavior. It wasn't held back by different languages. This is why it's so important to create truly challenging obstacles for your characters. We find out who people truly are when they're under pressure. When things are going your way, it's very easy to be pleasant and agreeable. But when the going gets tough, that's when you find out who someone really is. When thinking about creating obstacles for your characters, choose obstacles that are truly challenging, that would truly test them and reveal who they really are underneath the mask. One note about creating interesting characters, it's usually far more interesting to create a character who behaves in an abnormal way, someone who shouts in a library, or jumps a queue, or parks a car in the middle of a motorway. These things are all more interesting because they are abnormal. It's the abnormality that creates character, and no one is normal. We can all relate to that feeling of being slightly strange. I'm not normal. I'm not. "Show, don't tell" is also a good rule for revealing character histories or information that we need to know in the plot. What we want to avoid is expositional dialogue. Expositional dialogue is where the characters explains something that really is for the audience's benefit and not really for the characters in the film. Avoiding expositional dialogue by showing us information is more challenging but it's way more enjoyable for the audience. We feel like we get to put the piece of the puzzle together ourselves rather than just be told things. Show us. What does the inside of your characters home look like? What's inside their fridge? What photograph do they have on their wall? Are there any unusual objects they carry around that have particular significance to them? The audience enjoys this. We like to feel like a detective pulling together evidence. Give us that evidence in images and not witness statements, to stretch the analogy somewhat. All of these are ways we can communicate information visually to an audience. I'm sure you'll have plenty of ideas yourself. Okay. We've looked at all the components we need to make a story work on the screen. Now, let's think about how we take an idea and craft it to be ready for an on-screen story. In the film industry, we call this process, development. 7. Development & Logline (Class Project 1): When I started making films, the biggest problem I had was not knowing how to take my frankly amazing ideas and turn them into a successful script. I would start writing on a blank page and find that it would [inaudible] out probably because the idea wasn't fully fleshed out. Now whenever I have an idea, I take it through a process called development. An idea can come to us in many forms. Some people see images, others think of characters or situations. For some people, it's imagining a period of time or an action sequence. Maybe you read an article or an autobiographical story. The list of what can inspire an idea is endless. In the film industry, the development phase is where you take an idea and iron out all the kinks, making the story as strong as possible before you write a single word of a script. How do we take an idea and craft it into a story? First, you need to work out what part of the story you have, and then work out what parts you need. Because as we have seen, different parts of the story serve different functions. By working out what you have, you can work out the other parts of the story that you need based on their relationship to each other. What part of the story do you have? Is it a protagonist, a goal, an obstacle, or theme? This isn't always as simple as it sounds. Being really clear with yourself about which part of the story you have is really important. Once you know which part of the story you have, you can ask yourself some key questions to work out what the other parts of the story should be. If you have a protagonist, what is their floor and how are they going to change? If you notice, you can think of a combination of a goal and obstacles that's going to force them to change. Ask yourself, "What job would they be least qualified for?" Asking this can help you think of a goal that will force them to change. If you've started with a goal, who would be the worst protagonist for that goal? Who would find it the most difficult and most challenging? What would therefore be? How would they need to change? Then choose obstacles along their way that will force that change. If you have an obstacle, what goal would it stand in the way of? Who is the protagonist that would find that obstacle the most difficult to handle? How would they need to change in order to succeed? If you've started with the theme. Think of a protagonist who would have the most to learn from that theme. Think of a goal that would send them into conflict with obstacles that would force them to choose between different views on that theme. Remember that the character takes us towards what you want to be your concluding argument on that theme. It's good to start with someone who has basically the opposite viewpoint. You can start to see familiar questions emerging no matter where you started. Once you have an idea, you need to deconstruct it so you know which parts of the story you have and which parts you then need to fill in. You are looking to create a flawed protagonist who has a goal, who is going to face obstacles that forced them to change. This change is going to be the theme of your story. Getting this right at this stage is so important because it's going to affect every single word you write. In order to clarify your idea and make your story as strong as possible, let's write something the industry will expect you to have for every project. A logline. [MUSIC] The film industry is full of busy people and people who like to look busy. A logline is a really good way of communicating your story idea in the shortest way possible. Just on the off chance you meet the producer or director at a party or in a lift. Your logline needs to communicate everything that he is to know about your story in a short and very engaging way. By the time I've heard it, I should understand who the protagonist is, what goal will be, what obstacles they're going to be facing, and a rough idea about the theme you'll be exploring. Here are some examples [MUSIC]. You can see from those examples that a logline tells you three of the main story elements very clearly, the protagonist, goal and obstacles. If you think about it for a little bit, you'll work out what the theme is. Now it's your turn. We are in the development phase. I want you to take your idea, work out what part of the story you have and what parts of the story you need. Start generating lots of ideas, write them all down, work out what they offer you in terms of locations, supporting characters, obstacles. Make sure you've made a decision about your genre. Make sure you are choosing obstacles that will create conflicts that are right for a horror film and not a comedy. If that's what will make you. Once you've come up with all these ideas, you have to start making decisions about the story you're going to tell. Ultimately that comes down to your creative instinct. Writing a screenplay takes a really long time. Which version of your story do you want to spend the time writing? Which one works best? Which one are you naturally drawn to? Once you've chosen all the story elements? Now's the time to write your logline. Make it simple, clear, and engaging, and then go and tell it to people, see if they're interested. Professional screenwriters spent a lot of time just coming up with loglines and then testing them. Writing a screenplay takes a really long time. Working out your story idea and then gauging to see whether people are interested is a really good idea before you start to spend weeks, perhaps months, or even years working on your screenplay [MUSIC]. It's class projects time, and the first thing I want to see is your logline. You can download a handy logline worksheet from the Project and Resources section below. Once you have done don't forget to upload it for feedback. [MUSIC] Let's say we've got the story all worked out and our logline is ready to go. I'll be ready to start typing. Not yet. Between the story and the script, we have to work out the structure. [MUSIC] 8. Structure: Okay, so we have our story and our log line. Are we now ready to open a blank page and start typing? Not quite. Between the story and the script, we have to look at the structure. Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher who was the first to point out that a story needed a beginning, a middle, and an end. This observation holds true today and it has evolved over time to form the standard structure for the film industry. It's known as the three-act structure, and it looks like this; one horizontal line and two vertical lines. This is the shape our story can fall onto. Three sections called three acts, divided by two lines called turning points in the story. Act one is called the setup. Act two is the conflict and act three is the climax and resolution. The first turning point is called the inciting incident. The second is called the crisis. Let's take these one by one. Act one is the setup. It's where we meet your protagonist. We find out who they are at the start of the story, and most importantly, find out what their flaw is. These scenes show us their world and how they behave with it. It might include their job, their friends, love lives, and family. This is your protagonist in their normal world and we see how their current beliefs affect their behavior. The first turning point is the inciting incident. This is the event that sets the protagonist off in pursuit of their goal. This is when Frodo was given the ring, when Katniss volunteers to save her sister and when the [inaudible] is missing. It shouldn't take us too long to get here. Set up the protagonist quickly and clearly and then get a straight to the inciting incident. In act two, conflict, the protagonist pursues the goal, meeting obstacles along the way. These obstacles forced them to change and make them evaluate their belief about the world. The second turning point is crisis. This is where the protagonist is at their lowest point in the film and they believe all is lost. It is at the second turning point that protagonist is able to reflect and change their beliefs, heading off into act three with a new understanding of the world. Act three, climax and resolution, where the protagonist is armed with this new understanding, heads for the climax of the story and either succeeds or fails in achieving their goal. In the resolution, we find out what happens to the character now they have this new understanding, and we also tie up any loose story threads. If it's not immediately clear how your story fits into this structure, I would suggest going back to your log line and really looking at your protagonist goal, obstacle and theme. The story structure is designed so that the basics of story can fit onto it nice and neatly and should give you a way of understanding what should happen when in the story. If you can clearly see where your story fits into this structure, then you're ready to move on. Each act has a certain structure. So let's take a look at act. 9. Acts (Class Project 2): What is an act? An act is a course of action that protagonist is pursuing in order to achieve that goal. You can think of it like a sub-goal. For example, if you want to pull off a heist, first, you need to build the team. If you want to be a superhero, first, you need to train with your powers. If you want to blow up the Death Star, first, you need a pilot is to take you off of a Tatooine. Once a protagonist completes a course of action or if that course of action is no longer possible, the protagonist hits a turning point and is then spun off into a new act. The three-parts structure of our story, the set up, the conflict, and resolution, is replicated within each act. It's helpful to think of it like a triangle. Each point represents the setup, conflict, and resolution, the diagonal line on the way up represents the rising action, and the diagonal line on the way down represents the falling action. With a course of action in mind, the protagonist move towards this sub-goal, finding the most conflict at the peak of the triangle, then they react, responding to their success or failure in the falling action. We've seen we have an act or course of action where the protagonist is building a team for a heist. In the rising action that protagonist goes around hiring his team members for the heist, meeting the most conflict at the top, maybe someone is refusing to join or needs breaking out of jail first. In the falling action, once the protagonist has the team, they had to train them for the job ahead. In the climax and resolution, it is clear the team are ready for the heist and they hit a turning point where they must pursue a new course of action, carrying out the heist itself. In each act of your story, you should know the cause of action your protagonist is pursuing. What is it they're trying to achieve? Even in the first act before the inciting incident, the protagonist should be pursuing a course of action in then normal life. The third act has the climax at its peak, the rising action is the final push towards the goal, and the falling action is tying up the story afterwards. The first and the third acts are usually the easiest to work out. The second act is a little harder, not only because it's a little longer, but also because this is where the protagonist is going to face all the obstacles that will cause them to change. The peak of the second act is called the midpoint, and it's usually a major moment for the character. After this, there is no going back. It's the combination of the rising action in the first half, where the protagonist is pursuing the goal, and afterwards they are mostly responding to events. As with any big problem, it's always a good idea to break it down, and there are different approaches to do this with the second act. Some people divide it into two with the midpoint in the middle and work out the rising and falling action. Others, myself included, like to divide this second act into three, giving you a five act structure. The benefit of a five act structure, means you can more closely follow your protagonist's journey. In this new five act structure, the second act is where the protagonist is able to experiment with this new understanding under new behavior. This is where superheroes get to try out a new powers without any consequences. In the third act, the protagonist learns that this new behavior comes with consequences, either they or someone close to them gets hurt. This means they retreat back to their old behavior in act four. But in doing so, this causes even more problems and leads to the crisis. At the second turning point, they realize they must adopt this new belief, this new behavior, regardless of how painful it is in order to achieve the goal. I really like the five act structure because it forces you to think about how the protagonist is developing as it pursues different courses of action. That's what an act is and how they work. Now you can go back to your story and work out what happens in each act, what course of action your protagonist is going to pursue in order to achieve that goal. It's time for our second class project, and this time I want to see your structure. You can download a handy structure worksheet from the projects and resources section below, covering both three and five act structure, and once you're done, don't forget to upload it for feedback. Once you've worked out your acts in all your courses of action, you'll be ready to look at story beats. 10. Story Beats: We have our story, which we've broken into a three-act structure, and each act now has a course of action. Now, we have to fill up those acts with the events of the story, which we call story beats. This is a really fun and creative looking stage of the writing process. I would advise getting yourself some sticky notes or some record colored cards in order to map out your story beats. Each beat represents an event in the story and needs four things; a title, the conflict, the emotional change and notes. The title should be a brief description of what happens in that beat. The conflict should outline the conflict within the beat; who wants what and who is trying to stop them. The emotional change tells us how the protagonist changes within the scene, making sure we have an emotional change. Within the notes, I include any ideas I've had for the beat; lines, action, anything else. When you start, get down all the big beats that you've already thought about. The inciting incident, the midpoint, the crisis, the climax, these beats you already know. Write those down and then start placing them in rows according to the acts they're in. Some people like to do this horizontally, some people like to do it vertically, I like to do it horizontally and I also work in five acts, so I'm going to have five horizontal rows. I know my inciting incident will come at the end of the first act, so I'm going to place that over here. I know my midpoint will come right in the middle of the film, so the middle of act 3 on the third row and my climax is going to happen in my fifth act so that'll be just here in the middle again. Then you want to fill in every other beat you possibly can. This is from a screenplay I wrote a couple of months ago, so I'm going to lay them out now, and the final is there. This is what I've done before, so that was slightly cheating. But while you're filling in your beat board, you'll have lots of empty spaces and you're becoming out lots of different beats. When you look at that, you have to look at which act it's in, what course of action your character is pursuing and work out beats in the story that fulfill that course of action. Of course, with the rising action on the left-hand side and the falling action on the right-hand side, you should be able to create the right kinds of beats that will be following your path of your story. How many beat cards do you need? It depends on the person and what works for you. Personally, I found that nine beat cards per each of my five acts worked really well. An odd number of cards means I have a middle card which can represent the peak, the major conflict in each act and I know that by the other side, I'll hit a turning point which will send me back to the next act. Usually, I find I have slightly less cards in the final act because by the time I get to the resolution, I'd just like to wrap things up nice and quickly. Once I'm happy with the layout and think that each beat is in the right place, I will start reading through and adding as much detail to each beat as I possibly can, so getting the conflict in there, the emotional change and adding notes about dialogue or moments I want to see in that beat. It's really useful because then you can read through your beat board as though it's a first draft, going along from act 1 all the way to your final act and feeling the rhythm of your script. Being able to do that is really helpful because sometimes you'll feel a beat is in a wrong place so you can swap it for another beat and realize that actually your story's going to work better in a different order, or you might realize that this beat particularly actually is adding nothing to the story and you can throw it. Another really useful thing to do as you're going through is to look out for when you're introducing supporting characters. When you find one, write a short biography about them, work out how they are an obstacle for your protagonist. What's their relationship to the theme? Having all this information is going to be really useful when you come to writing your draft. At this stage, the more detail, the better. When is a beat board finished? Personally, I like to work on this stage for as long as I possibly can, adding more and more detail until it feels like if I were to add any more detail, I might as well describe the script. I think it's finally time to look at how we write a screenplay. 11. Scenes: Scenes are the smallest unit in your story structure. How many you need and how long they are depends on your story. How do we make sure that the scene is working in your story? You can start writing your scenes based on your story beats. Sometimes you'll have one beat to a scene. Sometimes you'll have multiple beats to a scene, and sometimes you'll want a crosscut between scenes on multiple beats. Each scene is a little story within itself. Just like our acts, it has a set-up, a conflict, and the resolution. Before you start writing your scene, you should know what a character wants, what the obstacles are going to be, and how that will generate conflict and how they're going to change by the end. This isn't a big change like you'd see at the end of the film, but just a small emotional change that is part of the journey. Once I've written down those three things,I will point any other ideas I have seen and that way I'll have all the material I need so I can start writing the scene. A common piece of advice for writing scenes is coming late, leave early. This simply means to get rid of all the boring bits. So we don't need to see the character arriving in the cafe choosing their coffee, paying for it, waiting for it, getting their change, sitting down, waiting for other characters to arrive or that kind of opening dialogue, you get , hi, how are you? I'm fine. Thank you. How you Yes, I'm good. Thank you. We can cover that. Take us straight into the middle of the action. And the same goes for the end. Do we always need to see the character leaving, or can we cut out of the scene as soon as we know what that part of the story is about, there are some common top tips for writing scenes which I'm going to cover in our class on first draft. First, I want to take a closer look at writing action. 12. Action: Okay, we're now getting really close to writing on that blank page. Each scene is made up of action and dialogue. Let's take them one at a time. The action needs to describe everything that the audience sees happen. "Josh opens the door, he sits down at his desk, opens his laptop and types an e-mail." This action is simple and clear, I can see what's happening, I know exactly what the character is doing, but we can make it a hell of a lot better. Remember, show, don't tell. Film is a visual medium and we want to understand what this character is thinking and feeling through their behavior, through their action. In a novel, you could write what was going on inside Josh's head. He might be furious for example, "Josh opens the door, he's extremely angry. He sits down at his desk, opens his laptop and types an email." So that feels helpful. We understand that Josh is extremely angry, but actually it's entirely useless in a screenplay because I can't film that. I can't film extremely angry. Someone might be feeling extremely angry on the inside, but they might not be showing it on the outside. So what do you mean? What is their behavior? What are they doing with their actions? We want to understand the character through their actions, through their behavior. This is why it's incredibly important the verbs, the action words that you use. So does Josh just open the door in a neutral way or does he throw it open, shove it open, force it open, poke it open. There's so many ways to open a door and each way you open it, it shows us how you're feeling. Let's see if we can rewrite the action and use verbs to express that anger without actually having to say it. "Josh throws open the door, slamming it against the wall. He plants himself into his chair and hammers at the keys on his laptop." I haven't said anything about how Josh is feeling, but it's pretty clear he's not in a good mood. So when you're writing your action, see if you can express how your character is feeling with that action. You'll also need to describe locations and objects to us so we can visualize them. Don't write long poetic paragraphs, but give us short descriptions that give us a little bit of a feel of it. So say you're trying to describe Josh's office, "An open plan office with stained carpets and broken filing cabinets." I'm just telling you what the audience will see, not adding long paragraphs about how it all feels. It's in the details that you can communicate the feel of a location. What about action scenes, fights, dances, chase sequences? It's up to you to create a sense of excitement in your words. "He holds his breath, is just not moving. He listens, rattle. He looks at the half open door, rattle. He launches himself passed the giant snake. It snaps at him, the fangs cut his leg, he collapses, turns to look at the snake. It towers above him." The script reader wants to be taken on a journey and grandma dictates the rhythm of their reading experience. A comma keeps a sentence going and it sees denote a pause, a double dash will speed it up. Grammar is like a conductor for the rhythm of the sentences. Give it a try. Okay, that's enough on action. You could write a silent film with that, but I'm sure look at dialogue and would be helpful. 13. Dialogue: Okay, I said we've talked enough about action, but dialogue is action. Dialogue is action. Speaking is something we do in order to get what we want. So every time a character has a line of dialogue, that's something we're doing in order to achieve a goal. If dialogue is action and action tells us about their character, that means the way that characters use dialogue tells us about who they are. So whenever you are writing dialog, ask yourself, what is the character doing with this dialogue? What are they doing with their words? Are they charming, attacking, dismissing, criticizing, deflecting? We can do all of these things with language. So if you're struggling with a line of dialogue, ask yourself, what is the character trying to achieve and who are they? How are they trying to achieve it? To get dialogue the flow, what you need is conflict. To have a look at that, let's write a really bad bit of dialogue and see how we can improve it. Amy, "Hey Ben, will you go on a date with me?" Ben, "Yes". Amy, "Great, see you Friday". So bad, that actually hurt to write. Okay, I think we can improve this. Firstly, you remember our three-act structure. We have our set up and we know our resolution, but what we're missing is the conflict. So the first thing to do is to get that right. "Great presentation today." "Were you in there?" "No but everyone is talking about it." "Are they?" "Is it just me or is this week really dragging? I bet you have big weekend plans. Taking the girlfriend to dinner on Friday?" "I don't have one." "Really? Weird. I was going to check out this new arcade restaurant if you wanted to come along. For company." "Okay. Sure. I've gotta run. I'll email you my number later." "See you Ben." Okay, it's getting better. Now we have some conflict. Amy is shy, so she finds it hard to approach Ben and is resistant. He's noncommittal monosyllabic he's a harder obstacle to get around. What I think it's a big improvement is that we now know what Amy wants but she never actually says it. What she wants is hidden in the subtext. We use the words, text and subtext to differentiate between what people say and what they actually mean. For example, I am cold, could actually mean, please, can you close the window? The text would be, I'm cold and the subtext would be, please, can you close the window? Let's take a look at what the subtext could be in this scene. Great presentation today. I love you. Were you in there? I didn't see you in there. Everyone is talking about it. No, this is embarrassing. Are they? No, they're not. Is it just me or is this week really dragging? I bet you have big weekend plans. Taking the girlfriend to dinner on Friday? Forget what I said. Do you have a girlfriend? I don't have one. No. Really? Weird. I was going to check out this new arcade restaurant if you wanted to come along. For company. Brilliant, I'm so pleased. Will you please come to this new restaurant would be this weekend? I love you. Okay, sure. I'm got to run. I'll email you might number later. This is all good but not terrible. Okay, cool. Let's stop talking about it right now though. See you Ben. Okay she's weirdly still talking to herself at the end there. She comes across as a bit of a pycho. This dialogue is not going to win any awards, but it does have conflict and the text is hiding the subtext, which makes it a reasonably successful scene. Okay, so that was action and dialogue. We have our story, we have our structure and we have our acts, we have our story beats, we have our scenes we know how to write action and dialogue so we're ready to write the first draft. 14. First Draft: Here we go. First drafts are messy, you just have to keep going. The aim is not to have a perfect version of your screenplay the first time is to have a complete draft that you can go back to and edit. We've been talking a lot about writing, but the maxim is true. Writing is re-writing. By the end of your first draft, you'd have transformed as much of your plan as possible into a screenplay that you can go back and edit later. Here are my top tips for working on your first draft. Number 1, stay on story. Stick to the plan. Refer back to your story, characters and events take on lies of their own, and you will want to indulge in some of that intuitive creativity. Some of your best work will come out of that. But ultimately you need to get to the end of the story and sometimes if you follow those lines of thought too far, it'll take you so far away you can't get back to the path. Always refer back to your plan and make sure you're staying on story. Two, conflict. Every scene should have conflict. If a scene doesn't feel like it's working, ask yourself what the conflict is. Add more obstacles, make things more difficult for your characters. Without obstacles, there are no choices, so there is no character. Three, keep going. Don't get held up on things that aren't working. Sometime you can just leave a place holder. A place holder could be a line of action that describes what should happen here. You just haven't brought the perfect way of writing it just yet. You could write it in the dialogue. Just, someone says something here by this, that means, you know what has to happen there, but maybe you're not ready to write it yet. Just write something down and move on. I've already said it, but writing is re-writing. You're going to come back to this. What you need is a complete first draft that you can edit. Finally, work out your individual writing process. People have different methods of getting their writing done. You'll have to work out what works for you. Some people like writing from home, others prefer working in a cafe. Most people I know like to get up really early and start writing before the daily clutter distractions gets in the way. Personally, I like to wake up pretty early, put a pot of coffee on and start working from about 6:00 AM, I will write until past mid day until I get tired, so maybe 2:00 or 3:00 o'clock. At that point, my brain will be burnt out and I will stop and leave it for the next day. The next morning I'll start to get at 6:00 with that coffee pot and I'll read over what I wrote the day before making little bits of edits I go and that just helped me get into the rhythm of the story again, and then I just carry on writing until mid afternoon. I really enjoy writing a first draft. You're really able to get into a creative flow. It can also be incredibly maddening at times and it's incredibly solitary. Also go and see friends in the evening I'll recommend that. That's it. Time to go write your first draft. Have fun. I'll be here. That's everything I wanted to tell you before you go and write your first draft, so either you can go away and do that now and come back to the class or you can join me for rewriting second drafts and feedback. 15. Rewriting & Feedback (Class Project 3): If you are watching this having completed a first draft, well done, that is a massive achievement. The filmmaking process is a really long one and it's worth celebrating at every stage, so what next? The first thing to do is take a break. You need a bit of distance from your work, and frankly, you've earned it. Go out and see friends, go to the movies, read books, do whatever it is you'd like to do. You need to put a bit a distance between you and your first draft. It's really important because when we come back to our first draft, we need to be able to analyze it in an objective and dispassionate way. Otherwise, one of the two things tends to happen. This is amazing. This is awful. We can be our own worst critics and also oblivious to almost obvious flaws. How do we move forward? Rewriting and feedback. After completing a first draft? I'd do a rewrite before I send it out for any feedback, this gives me an opportunity to clear up any spelling and grammar mistakes. But I will also ask myself some very important questions. One, is the story clear? It's all about storytelling. If you hand in your script someone and they take their time to read it and start to feel lost in the story, they will put it down. As you read, ask yourself if the story is clear and pushing along, and if it's not ask yourself why that is: does the scene feel like it's going on for too long, do you need to cut some of it, or have you maybe spent too much time away from your protagonist or their main goal? Question 2, is my protagonist"s development clear? Is it clear who they are at the beginning of the film and how they've changed by the end. Has that change been forced on them through coming into conflict with obstacles, or have they changed for no apparent reason? Question 3, is the action clear and concise? Is it describing what the audience is seeing, Am I saying in 20 words, what I could be saying in five? We want the reader to fly through the script, really enjoying the story, so don't bog them down in unnecessary detail. Question 4, is the dialogue necessary? I always ask myself, do I absolutely need this line of dialog and if I do, can I make it shorter and snappier? We want to be able to fly through the dialogue just as much as the action, and a good, snappy one-liner is better than a huge chunk of text. I also look at each line to make sure I'm using subtext rather than text. Question 5, can I cut this? I'm always looking for things to cut. If it doesn't add anything to the story, then it's gone. In my last first draft, I wrote a 113 pages and my second draft was 90 pages. That's 23 pages of stuff that wasn't necessary for the story, and it made for a much slicker and more enjoyable read. Once you've completed this first rewrite, now is the time to get people to read it. Ask them for their thoughts, what stuck out for them. This is a really vulnerable part of the process, but it's a really important one. Now here's the thing about feedback. People are way more likely to flag the things they didn't like than the things they do. When you're going for a ride in a car, you notice the bumps way more than you do the smooth journey. People are likely to say, "Yeah, I liked it but," and then they hit you with a list of criticisms. They'll be nonspecific on the bits that they did like, but they'll be really painfully specific on the things that they didn't. Of course, they'll have lots of ideas about what you should have done. Of course, all of that is fine. It's a part of the process. Some of their ideas will be great and you can steal them, or they might come up with a criticism that sparks an idea is even better than more than the one you could have come up with independently. But most importantly remember, they're not always right. I can guarantee you this for sure. No one will read your scripts as carefully as you have written it. Ask them the questions you asked yourself: is the story clear, can you explain it to me, did you understand my character, can you tell me how they changed? Once you've collected all this feedback, go back and read it yourself. See which parts of the feedback you think are true and which do you think you can disregard. Once you've collected all that feedback, what we call notes, you can go away and write a second draft. Then you can take that second draft and offer out to read again, and you can collect notes on that draft and write a third one, and you can collect notes on that draft and write a fourth and then fifth, and a sixth, and a seventh, and a eighth, and a ninth and a tenth. This begs the question, when is a screenplay finished? There is a very simple answer to that. It never is. You don't really finish a screenplay, you abandon it. It's time for our final class project. I'm not going to ask you to upload your finished screenplay because you own the rights to that, and it could be very valuable. But what I would love to see is your favorite scene, a showcase scene from your finished draft, after it's been through a first draft and a rewrite. Upload it, get some feedback. I would love to see it.