This is a time of overlap, chums.
The final wrap-up of the western spec draws closer, despite realizing a new wrinkle – I need to show what happens to one of my supporting characters, rather than tossing that info out via a line of dialogue. This will also require a little set-up somewhere in the latter half of Act Two, but I think I’ve found a good spot for it. Then off it goes into the digital waiting room that is my hard drive.
As that door closes, the one into the rewrite of the mystery-comedy spec reopens. As much as I’d like to really jump into it, this is definitely going to require baby steps and lots and lots of planning. Since it’s been a very long time since I read it, I opted to start completely fresh, which meant figuring out my plot points.
I can’t recommend this enough. It doesn’t matter if you’re starting a new story or rewriting an old one: KNOW YOUR PLOT POINTS!
You know that expression about how a screenplay is like a blueprint for a building? Think of the plot points as the load-bearing support beams that hold everything up. Without them, everything will come crashing down.
So get yourself a blank page and, based on how well you know your story, jot down the following:
page 3 – statement of theme. You may not know it when you start, but having a general idea about it can help shape the story AND influence each scene
page 10 – inciting incident. Serves multiple purposes – gets your main story started, shakes up your protagonist’s world, raises the main question of the story
page 17 – a little twist in the action that continues to push your protagonist out of their comfort zone
Act 1 turning point – your protagonist enters a totally new environment; the main story question is once again raised
page 45 – another twist for your protagonist
Midpoint/Point of No Return – your protagonist becomes fully committed to achieving their goal
page 75 – another twist (yes, seems redundant, but each one of these has to make things harder for your protagonist)
Act 2 turning point – ALL IS LOST. Looks like your protagonist has no chance whatsoever of reaching their goal
Climax – your protagonist starts to turn things around, leading to a final showdown with the antagonist
Resolution – main story and assorted subplots are tied up
Denouement – how the protagonist’s life is different now
(For some great examples of these from well-known films, check out Dave Trottier’s THE SCREENWRITER’S BIBLE.)
Something else to keep in mind – MAKE SURE YOUR PROTAGONIST IS THE ONE DRIVING THE ACTION! Why would we be interested in a passive main character who just reacts to things, or even worse, does nothing at all? Your protagonist should always have to go with the harder of two choices – don’t look for the easy way out.
Don’t get frustrated if you can’t figure it all out right away. You’re creating an original story, which isn’t easy to begin with. Take your time and think your way through it at your own pace. Ask yourself “What’s the best way to get from HERE to HERE?”
Once you know your plot points, then it’s on to the fun stuff: filling in the spaces between them.