An associate of mine is in the early stages of developing a low-budget film. Call it pre-pre-pre-production. The script is part of that (as in “about to be written”), and I was asked to take a look at the outline and offer up my two cents on it.
It wasn’t bad. The structure was a little wobbly, but not too far gone, and a few other minor issues, but overall, I’d call it a fairly solid attempt.
I totally got what kind of story they’re trying to tell, but reading this outline definitely raised some important questions.
Two, to be specific.
First: why is this happening?
I don’t mean this is in a negative way, like “why are you even bothering?” Quite the opposite.
More of a “does what happens in this scene adequately follow what’s come before it, and does it do an equally good job leading into what comes next?” sort of thing.
As it reads now, it felt more like a lot was happening because the story required it to, rather than letting it all unfold smoothly and organically. There wasn’t enough setting things up in order to pay them off later. Almost like each scene is saying “This MUST happen HERE, logic be damned!”
A should lead to B, which leads to C, and so on, but then you also find out that not only did A lead to B, but it also resulted in H.
Second: why is this happening now?
This applies more to the primary storyline. Things are taking place, but I never really got a sense of how or why it all started. A lot happens after whatever event triggered it all, but there’s no indication of exactly what that trigger was. When I asked the writer about it, even they admitted they didn’t know and were having trouble trying to come up with something.
A writer needs to know every part of their story; what things were like before it started, how it started, what happens, and how it ends. Sometimes you can even throw in what happens next. No matter what approach you take, all of these elements play a key role in the telling of that story. If one of those elements isn’t there, it just gums up the whole works and you’re left with an incomplete story.
The writer was very appreciative of my comments and was looking forward to finishing the latest draft in order to provide answers to the questions I’d raised. It’s probably safe to say we’re both quite interested to see how it all turns out (although I suspect I come in a close second).
One thought on “Why, and why now?”
Thanks for reminding us about these two most important questions that all writers should ask when starting and writing screenplays!