CREATING YOUR STORY
"Handle Every Story Idea Like a Dog Would
If You Can't Eat It Or Play With It
Just Pee On It And Walk Away"
CREATING YOUR STORY
1) The Givens
2) Location! Location!
3) Finding Inspiration For Your Characters
4) Developing Character Profiles
5) Genre, Theme, (3) Act Story Structure
6) Creating Your Story
7) Help Developing Your Writing Discipline
'CREATING YOUR STORY'
IS DIVIDED INTO (7) SECTIONS
EACH WITH EXERCISES
FOR YOU TO COMPLETE
It's fine to glance over all the sections first. But you won't understand the lesson if you don't take time to do the exercises! Recommended: Do just one section / exercise per study session and really think about it. This is normally semester long class.
Before going on, did you do Lessons:
"YOU DON'T START LEARNING
BY LOOKING FOR A WIN!
So If You've Got A 'Big Idea' For A Film,
Put It Aside (for now) !
'Cause We're Going Early Hollywood!"
1. YOUR GIVENS
YOU SWEAR TO:
Keep Your Script To No More
Than (2-5) Pages!
Your first drafts can be longer, but the finished script must be tightened to 5 pages or less
Have Only (2-4) Characters! NO Background Extras! Your Characters can text or use the phone during the scene, indicating they are in touch with unseen person
Keep Story To One 'SCENE'. Scripts are written in units called a 'Scene'.
"A SCENE HAPPENS IN ONE
LOCATION IN CONTINUOUS TIME!"
(Repeat this aloud 2x !)
You Will Shape Your Story Around Resources That You Have Free Or Low Cost Access To (i.e. location, wardrobe, props, set decor, etc.)
Work At Your Own Pace!
Skip over Parts of the Lesson if you want! Set doable goals. Only you know how to work the Lesson into your mind, life, and schedule:
1. Set weekly goal for how long, and when, you want to work on the Lesson.
2. It you can't do it when you plan, schedule a next time to work on it as soon as possible. If you have to re-schedule again, that's OK. Just keep putting the Lesson back on your calendar
3. Study anywhere. An uncrowded subway with a long ride. Keep the Lesson with you. Studying can ease worries and frustrations about other things happening in your life.
4. It's OK to skip to assignments that immediately excite you. Just later remember: Go Back And Do Skipped Assignments! (Keep track of skips!)
'READ A SCRIPT'
ASSIGNMENT (30 min)
Read and study this (2) page Student Script "MY FAMILIA' (pdf) for an example of how a very short script can have engaging Characters and an intense and believable Story.
(FYI: To come up with his final script, it took Chris, the Writer, five drafts -- after listening to lots of class critiques and suggestions, and watching other students do improvisations as his Characters. Chris was 16 yrs old, in a mixed class of Teens and Adults!)
To Get Good At New Stuff,
1st You Need To Learn About
Things That Don't Interest You!
You Become Good
When You Learn
How To Be Interested!
Last, but not least
MUST BE WRITTEN IN PROPER SCRIPT FORMAT
There is a proper format for writing a Script (or Screenplay):
Specific font type and size
Set space margins and returns
Formatted into units called 'Scenes'
(3) Structural Elements in every Scene
1. Scene Heading
2. Narration (or Action)
It sounds complicated, but it's not. There is free software you can use to do the formatting. (You'll learn about software in Lesson #5: Writing Your Script )
WHY IS THERE ONE FORMAT?
Because a Script is a Blueprint for those who make the film. The technical formatting gives information to the Producer, Director, Actors, and Crew to help them plan the film. Plus a properly formatted Script page equals approximately (1) minute of film time, which you need to know to do scheduling and budget.
(NOTE: If you are shooting your own film, you of course do not have to use Script Format. But then you'll be shooting from a written Story, not from a Script.)
2. CHOOSE A LOCATION
WHY START BY FINDING
A LOCATION TO SET
(Even if you don't think you're
going to actually shoot a film)
You are doing this class on your own, not in an actual classroom. You don't get the energy boost that comes from being in a setting not your home with others also learning. Choosing a location to place your Story will help you get beyond what's in your head and ground you with a sense of physical reality.
Choosing a location will get you thinking about visuals (not just dialogue). Before you start writing having a location clearly in your mind will reinforce that a crucial element of creating your Story will be to imagine a 'real' World. A world your Actors and audience can believe in. A Script is meant to be realized off the page, in a space with physical dimensions and limitations.
The location itself might already have a look or function that will inspire your Story idea.
If you choose a location that you have easy access to walk around in, you'll be surprised how it gets your creative juices flowing. You can imagine how Characters might move in it. You'll be able to envision simple changes to the space that will turn it into it a distinctive Set for your World.
IT IS RECOMMENDED YOU CHOOSE AN INDOOR LOCATION! WHERE UNKNOWN PEOPLE CAN'T WALK THROUGH;
RAIN WON'T MATTER;
AND THERE'S A BATHROOM!
(As Long As It Takes)
If you've reviewed everything on this page, it's time for you to look around your immediate world and find a Location to imagine setting your Script!
Simplest of course would be to use your own apartment or that of a friend. It's fine if you mostly use the existing decor and furniture -- but challenge yourself and imagine changes that will make it more your Characters World!
'MY FAMILIA' Class Shoot Set
"Choosing location is integral to the film: in essence, another character." - Ridley Scott, Director
LOCATION AS CHARACTER
'Friday Night Lights' (6 min Video)
CREATING A WORLD
In a class I taught at the Farragut community center, we did a workshop shoot of the 'MY FAMILIA' Script. In upper right corner of the picture above is the BEFORE photo -- a corner in a large kid's classroom space. The larger AFTER photo shows how we transformed the area into a film set.
We covered the walls with donated wallpaper, hung and taped, not glued. (You can also use contact paper which sticks easily. comes off easily, and can be found at $1 stores. But you'll need lots of rolls.) To make it seem like a small apartment size room we set up in the corner and created a phony wall with a supported flat of sheet rock also covered with wallpaper (not seen in picture).
ASSIGNMENT (3 Hours)
1) READ ARTICLE: "Mastering Set Design On A Small Budget"
3) ARTICLE w/ VIDEOS: "(3) Short Films With A Single Location"
Reviewing the above will inspire your Team as you create a visual World to place your Story.
There are practical things to think about when choosing a Location:
Is there space close by for all of your back-of-the-house set-up (i.e.holding area for actors, equipment, food, etc.)
Will you have enough guaranteed hours of quiet to shoot?
Is there enough electricity?
Is there a bathroom nearby!
NOTE: Find A Location Now
To Help Inspire Your Script.
But When Time Comes To Shoot,
It Will Be OK If You Use
A Different Location !
3. FIND INSPIRATION FOR YOUR CHARACTERS
It would be great if you can base at least (1) of your Characters on a person you know who wants to act
He/she is apt to put time into helping you develop the Script. And after you
write it, if you don’t want to make it
into a short film, maybe he/she will want to take over and get it made.
If you find (2) people you know who want to act, have them brainstorm
with you possible relationships (i.e. friends? family? co-workers? neighbors? strangers? etc.) and
then let them improv different situations. Watch the chemistry between the two and let it help inspire you when coming up with your own Story idea. You can also do improvs yourself with another person.
WHAT IS IMPROV?
Act of saying or playing out something without previous preparation.
Fun ideas for situations
to improv below!
If you don't have someone to improv with, think of someone you know who inspires a Character in your imagination. Watch them and take notes on what they say and do.
CAUTION: Do not try and make a Character exactly like an actual person (that gets too complicated and personal). Rather take vivid bits of what the person does or says and let it be the springboard for ideas for an invented Character. Be free in distorting, twisting, and changing!
From 'THE CREW' Series Workshop
HOW DO YOU
GET INTO A PLAYFUL
RELAXED HEAD ?
Do something silly, something unexpected! It doesn't have to be a big something. It doesn't have to cost anything. You don't have to go outside your house / room.
"THIS IS FOR YOU!"
(5 min - 2hrs) You decide!
Need help being silly? Doing the unexpected?
(32) FUN & EASY EXERCISES drawing, cooking, writing,
singing, walking and more!
And here's more!
There Are Activities To Do Alone Or With Friends and Family!
Do it for even (5) minutes! It counts! That's (5) minutes with yourself in a new way.
Read through all (32) and (23) activities. You don't have to like or get all of them. Just find one you want to try and do it!
Let Your-Happy Become:
4. BUILDING A CHARACTER PROFILE
How old is she? Born where?
How does he talk? His Motto?
How does she dress?
What sets him off?
Her favorite thing to do?
What are his relationships like?
A Writer does similar thinking to an Actor when building a Character Profile.
Actors want to believe their Characters exist beyond the Script page, so they ask themselves lots of non-script related questions about their Characters.
When an Actor (or Director or Production Designer) comes up with answers that conflict with how the Writer (you) describe the Character in the Script, it leads to discussions
and sometimes rewrites. Characters might be born on your page, but it
will take a team of people to make
them come alive on the screen!
If you already have a lot of ideas about a Character, go ahead and write it all down! If you have a conflict you want to explore between your (2) Characters, write it down. If you're flowing, flow.
But afterwards, put what you write aside. Go back, read all the Articles. Do all the Assignments. Then review everything again. You'll understand it differently after you've written your first draft! You will imagine new layers to add to your Characters, and gain insight on how to sharpen and edit what you've written.
If you don't have ideas yet, read the Articles and see how other people create interesting Characters.
CHECK OUT HOW (50)
MEMORABLE TV CHARACTERS
ARE DESCRIBED !
THIS PAGE HAS
(2 - 10 hrs) You decide!
Take notes on Character ideas as you look at any of the (9) Articles linked to throughout this page! Plus here's more:
2) Pick From (8) 'Types' of Comedy Characters
3) VIDEO (4 min): Is There A Formula for Creating A Great Character?
Lots of discussion and brainstorming!
SHAPING THE OUTSIDE
OF YOUR CHARACTERS
Makes them more human to you. It's OK if you come up with better names later.
Wardrobe is a fun way to define them!
Props can outwardly give away what's going on inside the Character!
Choose (1) Character to be your Protagonist / Hero
Choose (1) Character to be your Antagonist / Villian
This doesn’t mean the Protagonist is an actual 'hero'. Rather she/he is who the audience roots for, or at the least follows her point-of-view as the main Character.
The Antagonist is someone who actively opposes or disagrees with the Protagonist, and can simply be a rival (or a parent!).
Make sure as you create their Profiles, you show major differences between the (2) Characters. You want outer ways they conflict, but you also want to know the inner ways they are different.
If you want to have another one or two more Characters (remember max is four!), give them a function to offset the main story between the Protagonist and Antagonist.
ARTICLE: 'Tips On Making
Minor Characters Count'
Read the student script MY FAMILIA again. I've started Profiles below for the (3) Characters you see on screen (a fourth Character is talked about). What can you add to the descriptions below? Describe their relationships? Who is the unseen fourth Character?
Mother, 60s, cooks meals
10 yrs old, respectful of Mama, forcefully expresses herself
30s, lazy and messy
5. GENRE, THEME,
& STRUCTURE OF STORYTELLING
THERE IS NO CORRECT WAY TO START CREATING YOUR STORY!
You can start with:
Idea for a Character
Outline of a Situation
Location, Wardrobe, or Prop .
Or you can start by:
Deciding on the 'Genre' (type) of Story you want to write
Picking a 'Theme' (message) you want to show in a Story
Whatever gets you started, before you're finished with your Script you'll need to know the Genre and Theme of your Story, as well as that it satisfies basic Story Structure.
Start to give a framework to your story by deciding on your “GENRE” . Films in a Genre often share common elements in Plot, Character, and Setting. After you choose a Genre, study other films or series in that Genre!
Do you want to write Comedy, Drama, or Suspense (or a mix of two)? You can write Syfy, but remember you are writing a low/no budget script and you have to be able to create a realistic set, even if it’s a fantasy set.
IMPORTANT: YOUR SCRIPT IS NOT TO HAVE EXTENDED PHYSICAL FIGHTS OR POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS STUNTS ! WHEN SHOOTING YOU WILL HAVE TO DO MULTIPLE TAKES OF EVERYTHING -- NOT POSSIBLE IF AN ACTOR IS INJURED !
After you've gotten excited about your Characters and written lots of pages, can you stand back and tell someone what your story is about - What does it all mean?! (not just all the details of what happens). It's easy to get lost in your writing, even for professional writers.
'Film Themes Explained'
Having a Theme helps bring you back to the heart of the Story. It is a guiding light to help evaluate if something is needed or not. Here are 15 Common Themes in Film, and a long, long List of Themes!
THIS PAGE HAS
(2 - 6 hrs) You decide!
Take notes as you look at any of the (8) Articles linked to on this page. Plus check out Videos by my YouTube favorite - D4Darious:
The theme of the film 'BLACK PANTHER' is ‘Am I my Brother’s keeper?’ Each character answers that question differently, but only one changes his answer -- T'Challa (the Black Panther) -- he evolves!
Since human Storytelling started, orally around campfires and with paintings in caves, it has had basic (3) Act Structure!
1. THE BEGINNING The Character is shown in his ordinary world (that can be a palace or prison). Then something happens to disrupt the Ordinary World. The Protagonist doesn't want to (or know how to) deal with the problem.
2. THE MIDDLE The problem won't go away and it threatens the ordinary world. The Protagonist is forced to figure out how to deal with it. He stumbles over obstacles and is forced to seek help or develop new skills, as the problem threatens to overwhelm him and end life as he knows it.
3. THE END There is a resolution to the problem (good or bad), and the Protagonist is somehow changed, even if he returns to the Ordinary World (or his Ordinary World is changed -- even if he doesn't yet realize it, the audience does).
Even if you tell a Story out of order -- like open with something that happens at the end of the Story. You the Writer (and Director) still need to know the Beginning-Middle-End order before rearranging it.
Short films are often too short to show the Protagonist in his Ordinary World before the problem, and might open in the Middle when the Protagonist is already dealing with the problem. The Writer (and Director) must still know what the Protagonist was like before the problem to know how the Protagonist will deal with and be effected by the problem.
There are major differences between what you can do in a Short Film vs a Feature Film. Short Films can end without the clear endings of most Feature Films (i.e. the Protagonist wins, loses, turns over a new leaf). A short film might end with:
A quiet gesture by the Protagonist shows the audience she has changed
After trying, he hasn’t changed!
Something has changed in the Protagonist’s World (even if she hasn’t noticed it yet!)
We experience an intense slice of life that leaves the audience wondering --- What happens next?!
Most important is that the audience is interested in and believes the Characters! Here other Filmmakers talk about what is Key to Writing a Good Short Film Script.
When you are ready to start, write your Story like a short story with dialogue. Don't be concerned with what is proper for Script Format. Find your Story first.
If you've been going through the Lesson taking notes and jotting down ideas, you might have lots of ideas. Write out the ones you keep thinking about -- and then leave them for a couple of days!
the psychology of it:
Incubation is defined as a process of unconscious recombination of thought elements. These thought elements were previously stimulated through conscious work . After an incubation period the thought elements start producing new ideas.
In other words, if you put a thought into your head -- writing it down helps that -- then leave it, and come back to it, the thought will have grown and changed!
Writing is like planting a seed.
Keep watering it,
even when you don't yet
see proof it's growing!
People who are not use to doing creative projects don't realize how much patience and persistence you have to have, and how boring it can be during the times you don't feel inspired but you keep working!
'The Stages Of Being Creative'
'Teaching Elementary School Students The Basics Of Storytelling'
ADVANCED WRITING AIDS
The Writer's Emergency Pack is a pack of cards that makes a game out of coming up with Script ideas. The Pack costs $19, but money from your purchase goes to education in classrooms! Here's a Video on How To Use The Pack.
The Screenwriter's Bible (get it used for $5) is the book I recommend for Beginners who have enjoyed reading the Lesson and Articles, as well as Writers who know the basics, but often gets stuck and confused when writing.
WHOSE STORY IS IT?
(Endings Can Be Tricky!)
Let's look at the Student Script MY FAMILIA again. There are (3) Characters: MAMA, NIQUA, and JERRY. Whose Story is it? The Protagonist is usually the Character who has a noticeable change by the end of the Script. Which Character is changed by the end of MY FAMILIA?
STOP! SPOILER ALERT!
COME UP WITH YOUR OWN ANSWER BEFORE READING ON!
It's not unusual for even the experienced Writer (and Director) to not be certain about how to end a Script / Film. This can be especially true with Short Scripts. What mood, message, or image do you want to leave the Audience with ? Often in Film (even big budget features) the ending of a Film can keep changing all the way into the final Edit.
At the end of MY FAMILIA which Character changes? MOMA? NIQUA? JERRY?
ANSWER: None Of The Characters Change By The End Of The Script!
1. THE SET-UP:
Each Character's personality is revealed. We learn about their relationships and everyday arguments.
2. THE CONFLICT:
Jerry's behavior conflicts with the values of the other two Characters, and influences the fourth unseen Character.
Alarming information is learned about
the fourth unseen Character, escalating tension and accusations between the three Characters.
...4. WHAT CHANGES IS FEAR ENTERS INTO THEIR REALITY:
At the end all three Characters become quiet and focused out of fear that something has happened to the
It's OK with short films to end by leaving the audience wonder what happens next --- but your auidence has to care about your Characters!
7. DEVELOPING YOUR
Try To Commit To Having
A Couple of Writing Sessions
Each Week (Sessions Can Be
As Short As A Half Hour)
If You Get Stuck
Study Or Do Improvs!
Too tense and full of worries to play or study? Then use the time to try and relax! Ever try a guided mediation? Remember you are trying to get to a place you don't normally go -- so try something different. Below are online guided mediation. To prepare:
Get in a comfortable position, close your eyes and breath deeply as you listen
The person leading the mediation will speak slowly and quietly. As you listen, your thoughts will start to slow down to the pace of the voice
After the mediation write down any thoughts that come to you as a result of the mediation (doesn't have to be about your Script)
If you don't like the voice leading the mediation, you can search YouTube until you find a voice you like
Letting Go Of Fear You Won't Succeed (40 minutes)
If still no Story idea comes to you that you like --
Go Ahead And
Have fun! Write something bizarre or silly. Do a take-off of a Film or Series you've seen. Then put it away and at your next session look at it. If there is one thing you like -- a Character or a line of Dialogue or an Action, use it to start a new Story idea.
OTHER PEOPLE !
If you haven't yet formed a Writing Team, start reaching out to people who you think you'd enjoy working with. At first just ask them to do one half hour session with you brainstorming ideas. If they give you more time than that, it's possible they will help you again -- and then it's possible they will keep helping you and become part of your team.
Remember to compliment the person for how he is helping you: "I love how you speak, and I'd like to shape a Character who speaks like you." Or "I like your ideas about how to use the location".
Don't write your Story on a cellphone -- Go Big!
JUST KEEP STUDYING!
One benefit of the studying is that you will start watching Films and Series with new insight. Analyzing them will in itself become a creative act!
Remember, people take to things at different paces! For weeks you don't think you have any ideas, but you keep studying and taking notes. Then all of a sudden (two months later) you have a Story idea that you can't stop thinking about!
If you have not been doing any creative projects before this, you'll need to recognize that this is not just about writing a Script. This is about introducing a life change -- making creative activity a regular part of your life!
Maybe you will discover that instead of telling a Story through words -- you love telling a Story through Wardrobe or Props or as an Actor, and you want to learn more by helping other people with their low/no budget films. That's OK too.
If you are not use to doing lessons or research online, doing the Assignments in the Lesson will show you how much great informa- tion is available for free online. That's not just for film, that's for anything you are interested in.
MORE FILM RESOURCES
TO CHECK OUT
Purpose of Dialogue (Video)
More on writing dialogue in the next Lesson - 'Writing Your Script'.