Hardhats required beyond this point

Safety goggles are optional, but typing in work gloves is darned near impossible
Safety goggles are optional, but typing in work gloves is darned near impossible

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.

The subconscious storyteller does it again!

How could I have missed that?
How could I have missed that?

When I start a new story, one of the first things I do is figure out the major plot points – statement of theme on page 3 (or at least thereabouts), inciting incident on page 10, and so on.  After that, it’s coming up with the most effective way to get from one to the next.  It’s how I’ve always done it, and it works for me.

One of the key purposes of the end of your first act is to get your hero off on their journey. This includes raising the central question of your story – will the hero accomplish their goal?  For example, in STAR WARS it’s the scene after Luke discovers the smoldering corpses of his aunt and uncle. He tells Ben he wants to go with him to Alderaan, learn the ways of the Jedi, etc.

Since I’d started working on my western outline, a lot of the plot points were pretty firmly established. I knew what I wanted to happen and when. For the most part, they’ve stayed the same this whole time.

I filled in the gaps between those points with scenes and sequences that I felt did the best job of moving the story forward, including some that needed to have the proper amount of emotional gravitas.

Jump ahead to the present. The churning-out of pages continues. Some scenes are easier to write than others, but progress is constant.  I work my way through Act One, wrapping it up with a sequence that really changes things around.

But then I realized Act One really ends in the scene right before it.  This short, dialogue-free scene still moves the story forward, but has a more significant impact on the story itself – moreso than the rousing sequence that follows.  The hero’s situation completely changes direction, and you can’t help but wonder how she could possibly accomplish her goal after this. No matter what, her situation is going to get worse before it gets better.

Working all of this out during the outline stage was a huge benefit. It seems very doubtful I would have discovered this if I had just dashed off a quick outline and dove into pages. Further proof why it’s important to take your time and fine-tune your outline.

So now I’m a few pages into Act Two and as this sequence kicks in, things get changed up even further.  Only negative that came to light: my hero isn’t the one making things happen. She has to be more active and less reactive.  I may spend a little time on it now, or come back to it during the rewrite.

And if I’ve done a good enough job on developing this outline, the answer may already be right there in front of me again.

I just don’t know it yet.