One of the most crucial aspects of a script is the storyline. The storyline is the thread that holds together the fabric of a screenplay, weaving color and texture in and out of scenes in intricate patterns that come together to tell a story. A compelling storyline keeps audiences glued to their seats. It's a careful mix of tension, action, suspense, and mystery that is meant to keep the audience thinking and their adrenaline pumping. Even in more lighthearted stories, there needs to be a sense of excitement and the unexpected. In order to successfully write that mix, your script needs to have a strong plot and subplots. Alfred Hitchcock was a master of plot and suspense and could keep an audience mesmerized from fade-in to fade-out. As a filmmaker, hooking an audience should be one of your goals, but it takes plenty of skill and artistry and a clever script.
The Plot Thickens
Concocting a plot that is original yet commercial is no easy feat, especially if you're appealing to a wide audience. Scripts that contain too many plot twists tend to confuse people, and scripts that don't have enough plot turns tend to bore people. Scripts that can pull off a big shocker can often prove successful. Kevin Costner's 1987 role in
Structure in Three Acts
Screenplays, no matter the genre, are held together by a
What does “high concept” mean?
High concept is an industry buzzword that's used when a screenplay's concept is strong enough to establish an audience regardless of the actors who are cast in the film. For example, a man and a woman fall in love by e-mail, never realizing that they've met in person and hate each other. This is the high-concept idea behind
Act one establishes your environment and primary character, or
A story is nothing without some form of
The least amount of dialogue used in a modern-day film was in the 1976 Mel Brooks film
No matter whether you're writing the script or you've hired a writer, it's important that everyone is clear on the protagonist's initial conflict, how it builds throughout the script, and how it's ultimately resolved. In any film that you view, you should be able to recognize the conflict and the steps taken to resolve it.
For example, in the 1987 film
The Hero's Journey
One of the more historically successful structural elements is known as “the hero's journey.” For as long as people have told stories and throughout motion picture history, audiences have witnessed the triumphs and travails of characters ranging from Charlton Heston's Moses to Katharine Hepburn's Rose Sayer, and from Indiana Jones to Neo of
When writing a hero's tale it's important to remember that his journey is central to the plot. His impetus and motivation is what keeps the storyline consistent and interesting. You want your audience to feel the range of emotions your hero feels, endure his hardships, and stand up and cheer when he finally achieves his goals.
The hero's journey has been written over and over again and in myriad genres. As far as concepts go, it's nothing original. The twist you give it can be unique, so think outside the box. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes and ages, but if there's a single film that sets the mark for a hero's journey, it is George Lucas's
Writing a hero's journey requires careful study of how your character will think, act, react, and treat others, and what he will do to get to journey's end. You want audiences to cheer and not be apathetic about a hero's success.
Subtext and Backstory
A script, whether it's commercial or artistic, must have depth. Revealing what lies just beneath the surface is an aspect of storytelling that should be mastered by both writer and filmmaker. Whether you reveal a character's thoughts and motives directly or indirectly, through action, flashbacks, or subtitles, it's crucial that the audience becomes privy to certain facts about your characters. That means
Is a character's backstory really necessary?
If you don't know where a protagonist has been, then it's likely you won't be able to convincingly portray where she's going. Backstory helps an audience appreciate a character's journey.
Subtext refers to the underlying content of your story, and it can be used in many ways. It can throw a thin veil over a film's political undercurrent, in or cast a light on a character's true motivations. Many period films such as
Moment by Moment
Audiences flock to movies for all kinds of reasons, the most obvious being that they want to be whisked away from their daily existence to explore a new world, experience a love affair, laugh hysterically, or feel the thrill of an action-packed adventure. As a filmmaker, and certainly as a writer, one of your greatest hopes is that after an audience's temporary vacation from life, they will remember certain special moments.
These moments could be a look, some action, or a bit of dialogue. Key moments, whether poignant, humorous, terrifying, or ironic, can make a film memorable rather than forgettable. Sometimes it's the payoff for a long harrowing experience — for example, when Roy Scheider aims his rifle at the great white killing machine in
Many of what are considered to be classic films contain such moments and are written in such a way as to become legendary. Humphrey Bogart in