Monday, July 12, 2010

How I Write a Script by Scott Myers, Part II

I am so afraid of not being able to write with an interesting voice like my favorite authors that I am beating my story's structure to death. A friend asked me Thursday when I was going to actually begin writing my work-in-progress, Bon Secur. I replied, "When I have the story completely figured out."

My thinking is, "If my story's structure is good enough my reader might forgive the greenness of my prose." That’s my hope anyway.

When I first started reading books on how to write a novel, my biggest problem in understanding how to write a novel was the answer to the question, “How do you structure a story?” I could grasp point of view, voice, setting, character, and conflict. But how you tell the story evaded me. Then, I discovered Larry Brooks’ blog at  where he introduced me to the idea of using screenwriting story structure for a novel. Bingo! I had my answer.

Larry Brooks labels the way writers approach creating the story as planning or 'pantsing'. A 'pantser' creates the plot by the seat of his pants making it up as he goes. A planner organizes, outlines, and plots the story before writing. My personality makes me a huge planner. And, I am fascinated about how others approach the planning process.

Yesterday, I commented on the first four parts of a ten part blog series posted at Go Into The Story by Scott Myers in June, 2008. Today I’d like to tell you about his post on Plotting. You can read his complete blog at:

In his blog, Scott Myers describes how after analyzing his brainstorming list which was augmented by scenes and moments that arose as he was generating characters, he writes down what he thinks are interesting beats, scenes or dynamics on index cards – one per 3x5 index card. “After I’ve written all the beats, scenes, and dynamics onto individual cards, I divide them into three stacks: Act I, Act II, and Act III. Basically if it feels like something that has to do with setting up the story, that goes into the first stack. If it feels like something that has to do with the final struggle, that goes into the third stack. And everything else goes into the second stack.”

“I take special care to see if I can find four major plot points….You gotta know four things before you start to write a script. What's the beginning? What's the end of Act One? What's the end of Act Two? And what's the ending? If you know those four things, you can write a script."

“Then I go through the three card stacks, sorting and re-sorting the cards. I’ll read through the beats to get a sense if a narrative flow is starting to emerge. If I’ve done my job right, really brainstormed, really researched the story world, really dug into my characters, then the plotting process can be a pretty smooth one. I pay particularly close attention to the Protagonist's transformation [assuming the story has one], what I look at as four movements Disunity (Act 1 - Deconstruction (Act 2A) - Reconstruction (Act 2B) - Unity (Act 3), as that almost always provides an emotional spine to the story.”

“Every screenplay paradigm seems to have a certain number of "plot points": My own approach (Narrative Throughline) has ten. Before I move on, I want to identify those ten major events. If I know I need to have a major plot point, but haven’t come up with the specifics, then I just write “Something Happens Here” on a card, and include it in the stack. Of course, I have to do some brainstorming to try to come up with a great sequence to serve that narrative function, maybe more research or spending time with characters, but eventually I try to uncover those 10 plot points.”

“Then I like to tack the cards up on a wall, so I see the plot unfolding left to right. I may shift cards around as the story can feel different when looked at in a linear fashion. When I feel comfortable with the plot, I know I'm ready to go to the next step -- outline. “

In my next post, I want to share with you Scott’s approach to outlining.

Many how-to-screenwrite books describe the story board / 3x5 card method of organizing a story.  I like the way Scott describes it.  If you need another software program, there is a cool storyboard application sold by Save The Cat.  It gives you a great way to digitally organize your story and print 3x5 cards that you can post on the wall or a bulletin board.  I purchased it and am using it for Bon Secur. 

Other than not being able to locate the Avery 3x5 cards that will work with my printer at my local Office Depot, I have no complaints.  For now, I'm printing onto plain paper and gluing to 3x5 cards.

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