The Dynamic Progression of Dual Protagonists (say what?)

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Being normal and following the rules bores the pants off of you, so how do you shake up an otherwise blasé story? Why, you chuck in another protagonist, of course! Two for the price of one, double the bang for your buck, right? Well, I hate to be the one to break it to you, kiddo, but it’s generally not a good idea (unless you’re writing an ensemble/multi-plot screenplay like Crash or Magnolia). Each plot should have a single protagonist—–or Main Character—–whose eyes we see the story through. Une. Unus. Uno. Uma. Eins. Ena. One.

But you’re a rebel, aren’t you? You ain’t gonna have no faceless hack on a blog tell you how to write your story. So, since you’re determined to go the dual protagonist route, why not try thinking of your screenplay in terms of a Dynamic Progression —–having a Main Character who arcs and a Dynamic Character who teaches the Main Character what they need to know? (Pay, I say, pay attention, kid… I’m tryin’ to show you how you can have your cake and eat it too).

THE DYNAMIC PROGRESSION

The Main Character: the main character’s experience or emotional journey is emphasized through his active misbehavior (the way the character acts which affects other people around him/her negatively.)

Example 1: the main character uses violence to solve problems, but then, in the end, works through the main climax utilizing non-violent methods. The active misbehavior doesn’t have to be a negative behavior necessarily, but it does have to affect everyone else around the main character in a negative fashion.

Example 2: In The Apartment, the main character is a human doormat, constantly allowing himself to be trodden upon by others——this is his active misbehavior. Then, he finally learns to stand up for himself at the end.

The Dynamic Character: the central relationship between the main character and a secondary character, with this relationship acting as a catalyst for change in the main character.

Example: Adrian is the reason we care about Rocky. The main character’s active misbehavior affects the secondary character in a negative way. This dynamic relationship is useful in structuring the second act.

The dynamic character may also have an active misbehavior—–most often this is the exact opposite misbehavior exhibited by the main character (violent main character paired up with a non-violent partner; an obsessive-compulsive main character paired up with a laid-back partner, etc). This is true for buddy movies such as Lethal Weapon—–a crazy, suicidal cop is partnered up with a careful, conservative family man—–and on top of this, the conservative, family man cop is retiring in a week.

The 4 Stage Dynamic Progression – in which the main character and the dynamic character are transformed by each other (extremely useful for structuring the second act).

1. Dynamic Introduction: Not necessarily when the main character and the dynamic character meet, but when the nature of their relationship is firmly established.

Example 1: The Sting – Redford meets Newman in scene X, but in scene Y, Redford asks him, “Will you teach me?” and Newman says yes—–the nature of their relationship has then been established.

Example 2: Heathers – when Winona and Christian, together, cover up the accidental death of a friend–they are now locked together in their cover-up. Note that they had met earlier, but the exact nature of their relationship had not been established until the point of said cover-up. The Dynamic Introduction usually happens just before or just after the Act 1 to Act 2 shift.

2. Dynamic Escalation: the deepening of the dynamic relationship, where it becomes more profound, and usually hits The Point of No Return at the mid point.

Example: in Witness—-Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis are locked together when they realize he has to protect her by allowing him to hide out at her place, but their relationship deepens and reaches The Point of No Return when they fall in love (and have sex for the first time–another common Dynamic Escalation). The Dynamic Escalation usually happens halfway through Act 2, at the Mid-Act 2 Reversal.

3. Dynamic Estrangement. The main character and the dynamic character are separated: whether it be mentally, physically, or both. In Star Wars, Ben Kenobi dies, in The Matrix Morpheus is captured, etc. The Dynamic Estrangement usually happens at the Low Point just before the Act 2 to Act 3 shift and is typically the catalyst which begins Act 3 (Neo’s decision that, yes, he is in fact going back into the Matrix to rescue Morpheus, etc.)

4. Dynamic Convergence/Resolution. The dynamic relationship is resolved—–there is closure to the relationship. Sometimes this means the two cannot hope to be together, but they understand at the same time why it has to be this way (Casablanca, Roman Holiday or in Star Wars when Ben Kenobi returns, in a sense, with the sage advice, “Use the Force, Luke” while Luke makes his final run on the Death Star). The Dynamic Convergence takes place in the climax, the battle scene, at the height of Act 3.

See? That wasn’t so painful, was it? Sally forth and be writeful.

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At Loggerheads With Loglines? Try These Trusty Dusty Tips…

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Even if you’re not familiar with the term logline (or log line) you’ve undoubtedly come across them when looking at TV listings or surfing movie info sites. It’s simply a brief summary of a television program or film often providing a synopsis of the program’s plot along with an emotional hook to stimulate interest.

White House Down: A Secret Service agent must fight to protect his daughter, the President, and the country from an attack on the White House.

In ye olden days of Hollywood, the studios stored their screenplays in script vaults and readers wrote a concise one line summary of what the script was about on the title page, allowing studio executives, producers, directors, and actors to scan a great many scripts quickly while searching for a project that met their needs. Loglines were also written on the spine of the script, allowing people to read the summaries of scripts that were stacked without having to unstack them.

Oblivion: In the future the world is decimated from an alien invasion. A drone repairman, one of the few remaining humans on Earth, finds another human who holds secrets that will put the repairman’s faith in humanity in question.

A competent logline–I shy away from using the word good because that’s so incredibly subjective–should contain the following parts (though not all do):

  1. The set-up. Where your story takes places and possibly in what time period. It also includes the inciting incident (the thing that forces the protagonist into action), and may set up your main character (but doesn’t necessarily have to).
  2. Protagonist introduction. Where we meet your main character and the physical/mental/emotional/internal challenges they face.
  3. Antagonist/conflict introduction. Where you establish the major action, conflict and/or antagonist in the story (essentially what your main character is up against).
  4. The goal. You’re not giving the story away, merely hinting at the climax.
  5. The hook. The answer to, “Why should I watch this?” Give ’em something juicy to whet their appetites. You should also work in your story’s genre and tone.

Elysium: In a future where the wealthy elite live on a ring-shaped space platform in the skies above Los Angeles, a slum-dwelling guy struggles to find his way there, first to save his own life but later to bring hope to all of humanity.

Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Well, the truth of the matter is most writers find the act condensing their screenplay/teleplay down to a single sentence that still maintains the the story’s raw emotion and power to be nigh-impossible. That’s because they put off writing the damned thing until the end, when it’s no longer about fleshing out a concept, but whittling a fully formed entity down to its skeleton.

But that doesn’t apply here, does it? Because you, being the smart person I know you are, will construct your logline waaaay before you even think about typing FADE IN: on Page 1 of your script… and I’m gonna walk you hand-in-hand through the rest of the process (who sez I ain’t a proper gen’leman?). In addition to the five points listed above, here are a few more helpful tips:

  • No need to get personal. Keep character names out of your logline, they serve no purpose here. What you should do is use an adjective and/or job title (only if it’s relevant) to add a little character depth.
  • Put the protagonist’s main goal front and center. Your main character’s action drives the logline and its the key ingredient in your story pitch.
  • Give the antagonist equal time. Same rules apply as with the protagonist but in less detail.
  • Make sure your main character is a pro. No, I don’t mean making them the best at what they do (that’s all on you, if you choose to go that route). I mean they’re your protagonist so make them proactive. They are the driving force of your story and this needs to be communicated in your logline.
  • Time and pace wait for no man. Add a ticking clock, if at all possible. Nothing speaks to urgency like an action that must occur by a deadline.
  • Brevity is the soul of wit… and a proper logline. Do not crowd your logline with unnecessary details. You’re not telling the entire story soup to nuts here. Your goal is to sell the story. Pique the crowd’s interest and leave ’em wanting more.

And there you have it, all the basics needed to begin tinkering with your own loglines. Remember, practice makes perfect, so don’t be afraid to jump in feet first and craft a few cringe-inducing logs until you get the hang of the process. I know I said it once before but it bears repeating: Your logline is a crucial element in the selling your screenplay and most often, along with the title, is the first thing a studio, prodco or acquisition exec will read, so make it as brief and mind-blowing as you can.

In case you’re interested in further studying the structure, here are some additional loglines of films released this year:

The Great Gatsby: When Nick Carraway moves in next door to Jay Gatsby, he is introduced to a world of affluence and lavish parties, and ends up striking an odd friendship with the charismatic and mysterious individual.

Frances Ha: An aspiring dancer moves to New York City, and becomes caught up in a whirlwind of flighty fair-weather friends, diminishing fortunes and career setbacks.

The Hangover Part III: While taking Alan to a psychiatric facility, the wolfpack is side-trekked when a mysterious man kidnaps Doug and forces them to track down Mr. Chow, who stole $21 million from him.

Epic: A troop of brave bugs march off to save a garden, where they encounter an evil spider queen and must summon the mythical Leaf Men to save the day.

The Internship: When their careers begin to sink due to the digital age, two salesmen land an internship at Google where they must compete against brilliant college students for a shot at employment.

The Purge: In the near future, a family hides in their home on the one night of the year when all laws are erased and people are allowed to murder without consequences.

Olympus Has Fallen: A Secret Service agent must rescue the President after a group of North Korean militants storm the White House, take hostages, and demand the United States remove military forces from the Korean Peninsula.

World War Z: A United Nations employee traverses the world in a race against time to stop the Zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments and threatening to decimate humanity itself.

Lone Ranger: Spirit warrior Tonto recounts the adventures that transformed John Reid, a man of the law, into The Lone Ranger, an outlaw of justice.

Pacific Rim: In a future where malevolent creatures threaten the earth, the planet must band together and use highly advanced technology to eradicate the growing menace.

Sally forth and be writeful.

Improve Your Screenwriting in 22 Steps

Everyone has at least one good story within themselves to tell, but not all people are writers, just as not all writers are screenwriters. Good news for you, right, you determined and spunky aspiring screenwriter? Well, yes and no.  The current rough odds of selling a screenplay to a major and minor Hollywood production company or within the independent market come in at 1 in 5,000. And that’s only if you’re a good screenwriter with a great script.

Part of your job as the aforementioned determined and spunky aspiring screenwriter is to cut those odds by half or even a quarter (don’t look at me like that, it’s doable). Here are 22 ways to set you on your path:

  1. Write every day.
  2. Read produced screenplays and search for what they did well. Read for a contest and see the difference between the winners and the ones that didn’t make it.
  3. Take screenwriting classes. I can easily recommend a few.
  4. Get feedback on your writing.
  5. Critique another writer’s scripts.
  6. Join a screenwriting group.
  7. Take your favorite screenplay and transcribe it, noticing the choices the writer made.
  8. Select a technique to improve and use it in one or more scenes.
  9. Write the same scene a completely different way: (Reverse a scene or character; Increase the stakes; Change who prevails in the scene; Use a twist to change the end of the scene; Put the characters in a worse position)
  10. Have another writer write one of your scenes in a completely different way.
  11. Take a character to an extreme to see what other possibilities are available.
  12. Take a line of dialogue or description and rewrite it 10 different ways or more.
  13. Stretch yourself: Give your character an unsolvable problem and then solve it.
  14. Pick a scene in a movie you like and write it. Once you have completed it, read the writer’s script for that scene and see how he or she wrote it differently.
  15. Watch a movie, stopping it at the end of each scene. Write down what happened in the scene, how the characters changed, what was the in and out points, and what was the most interesting part of the scene.
  16. Take your best idea and top it in some way! Sometimes, it is not about the writing. It is about the thinking and the breakthroughs and getting used to coming up with fresh ideas. Force yourself to top your best ideas on a regular basis and soon, you’ll have the best ideas in Hollywood.
  17. Find out what a producer or reader wants in a script. This can shift your chances dramatically. It may save you from writing something that has no chance of success.
  18. Take an acting class.
  19. Do a read-through with actors.
  20. Shoot a short on DV. For anyone who has done this, you’ve had the experience of seeing actors bring your script to life. Until you do, you can’t imagine the amount of pride and embarrassment you’ll experience. But directing even one scene will change how you write.
  21. Give yourself permission to write from your heart with no holding back.
  22. Decide that you will constantly improve your writing until you are one of the best screenwriters there is.

I know, I know, you probably won’t get around to doing everything on the list, but you should attempt to do at least one everyday. And that’s one in addition to writing (like I had to tell you that).

Sally forth and be writeful. And sell a script while you’re at it. I dare you.

10 Screenwriting Tips From Billy Wilder

1. The audience is fickle.
2. Grab ‘em by the throat and never let ‘em go.
3. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
4. Know where you’re going.
5. The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
6. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
7. Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
8. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing.
9. The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
10. The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then—that’s it. Don’t hang around.

Tony Bill: “Forget the Mumbo Jumbo and Just Write the Damn Script.”

Get a hold of three or four terrific original scripts. You decide which ones. Read them; analyze them if you want, or just let them wash over you. Notice their format: it’s standard in the industry, no exceptions. Then throw away or erase from memory all the books, articles, and lessons that reference or espouse three-act structures, five- and seven-act structures, “inciting events,” “character arcs,” “redemption,” Joseph Campbell’s name, plot graphs and charts, or supposed “tricks of the trade.” Forget the mumbo jumbo and just write the damn script and finish it in 120 pages or less. If you’re sufficiently talented, original, and inspired, nothing else is necessary. If you’re not, nothing else will help. If it turns out that you lack one or all of those elements, write another script. Maybe another. Give up when you can’t take it anymore. The time saved by not reading all those how-to books should be enough to carry you through the first several scripts at least, with time to spare. Sound cruel? Ask any screenwriter.

Sally forth and be writeful… and enjoy your weekend.