Getting up to speed – OR – Our story so far…

An informed audience is a happy audience
An informed audience is a happy audience

As work continues with the monster spec, some of the focus has been on figuring out the backstory of how things came to be and working out the events that lead up to where the plot starts.

If this were a novel, I could just include them in the whole body of work. Not so the case for a screenplay.

In as few scenes as possible, I need to educate the reader/viewer about this world, who’s involved and what’s at stake. Once that’s done, we shift gears and dive right into the story.

A recent example – PACIFIC RIM. The opening minutes are all about what’s already happened – giant monsters showed up, we built giant robots to fight them, and we’re off.

Consider the opening crawl in STAR WARS. A few paragraphs floating in space sets everything up: here’s what’s going on, immediately followed by a space battle.

While this kind of thing is necessary for a ripping effects-laden yarn, what if your story is about normal folks in the everyday world?

Same rules apply. We still need to know what’s going on and who it’s about. Give us those parts of the story now, and pepper it with the relevant details as we move forward.

The example I keep coming back to for this is the opening of FIELD OF DREAMS: Kevin Costner narrates a thumbnail sketch about his character over a series of photographs, then we’re on the farm in Iowa.

No matter what genre you’re working in, it’s important to know what happened before page one, both regarding the story and the characters. You don’t have to go crazy with details, but at least know what needs to be known.

The big difference a little something can make

Good by itself, but even better with that little extra step
A metaphor involving sprinkles – tasty and informative

For as much as we talk about crafting a story, developing characters, creating scenarios and other big-picture items, it’s also important we not forget the little things.

By ‘the little things’, I mean those tiny details that add just the right touch at that particular moment, and readers and audiences will notice them.

It might play a pivotal role in the story, but doesn’t necessarily have to. It’s hard to describe, but you definitely recognize it when you write it, read it or see it.

They can be almost anything. A one-time action. A casual line of dialogue. A fleeting glimpse of something, maybe in the background, or even the setting itself. No matter what it is, it has the amazing ability to make the story feel just a little more complete.

Just as an example, I had a scene end with a character asking for pancakes. To me, it was just a fun, throwaway line.  But to my manager’s script guy (who really knows his stuff), it was a “great example of what this character is like,” and something he could “definitely see her saying.”

All that from one line? Who knew?

This isn’t saying your script has to be chock-full of this kind of thing; more like sprinkled liberally, or at least used at your discretion.

Start out by focusing on organizing the main parts of your story so the structure’s in place. Then as you’re putting the rest of it together and filling in the gaps, you’ll discover plenty of opportunities to add in the aforementioned little things.


The dreaded return of a foe most formidable

Who invited these guys?
Who invited these guys?

Ah, writer’s block. So we meet again. It’s been a while.

Can’t say I’m happy to see you.

I was just sitting here, minding my own business, trying to put together the story of my new project (epic pulp adventure monster saga!) when you decided that was your opportunity to make your grand entrance.

Within seconds of your arrival, my creativeness, like Elvis before it, had left the building.

Curse you.

While I struggle with potential ideas and stare at two previous outlines in an effort to construct a third, you stifle my ability to figure out problems, think my way through scenarios and come up with how things should play out.

The ease with which I was able to previously deflect your efforts is no more. You’ve made the process tougher this time, and I do not like it.

The longer you stick around, the more frustrated I get, which makes it harder to develop a strategy that will see me triumphant and you soundly defeated.

What makes your presence even more aggravating is the off-the-charts levels of excitement I have about this project. Once the story is solid enough to my satisfaction, I will become a veritable writing machine and crank out material at a pace you wouldn’t believe.

Taunt me all you want, but I have worked way too hard and put in too much effort to let the likes of you stop me. I may be down, but I am definitely not out.

It may take a little longer than I’d like, or I could find a solution five minutes from now. Either way, I will work my way through this. I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again.

And when that moment occurs, I will gladly show you the door and send you on your way, hoping it is a very, very long time until you even consider the idea of returning.

I’ll take a mulligan on this one

Today’s post was originally going to be about peppering your script with little details to give it more personality.  But I didn’t like the way it turned out, so I trashed it.

Rather than make a second attempt, I’m instead opting for an impromptu survey.

-What page are you up to for the draft of your latest project?

I’m at 104.


Out, damned trope! Out, I say!*

Do whatever you can to avoid falling into this perilous situation
Do whatever you can to avoid falling into a similar perilous situation

(*A slight variation on the actual line from MACBETH – Act V, Scene I. We’re all about accuracy around here.)

The more I work on the story of the monster spec, the more I realize how flimsy the villain’s plan is. I know what their objective is, but the biggest roadblock is figuring out HOW they’re going to accomplish it.

Part of the original story included a monster with shape-changing abilities taking the place of a high-ranking figure in world politics. At the time, it seemed good.

But now it just seems tired and stale. It really is something we’ve all seen before, which totally goes against what I’m trying to do. Coming up with a fresh, original story is one thing; telling it in a fresh, original way is another.

How often have you read a script or seen a movie or TV show and thought “Seen this before” or “Saw that coming a mile away”?

It’s easy to fall into the trap of using something that’s been used or done many times before. Cliches. Tropes. Clams. Call ’em what you will.  There’s nothing wrong with them, but it’s lazy writing.

Why would you go through the trouble of working so hard to create something new and exciting, but fill it with material that isn’t?

Read through what you have. Does anything come across as too familiar, or at least expected?

Look at that tired old chestnut as purely temporary, then go back and brainstorm a few alternatives which are totally opposite (or at least really different) but also accomplish the same thing.

Take a look at scripts and movies similar to yours. Can you see how they did it? Maybe it’ll inspire an approach you hadn’t thought of.

Feeling stuck? Ask for help. Twitter’s usually pretty good. You’ll soon discover that writers have the amazing ability to easily come up with ideas when it’s for somebody else’s project.

You’re a creative type, so get creative. You know there has to be a better way out of this. It may take a couple of tries, but you’ll get there.

In the meantime, I’ll be busy figuring out a new way for monsters to take over the world.