How Writing Screenplays Can Help Your Writing

Ever wonder how movies are written? Aside from the obviously extensive research, planning, and creativity that goes into writing a movie, did you know that most movies follow certain story formulas?
Movies are designed to set up the main characters and central question of the movie very early. Also, there’s usually an “inciting incident” to start the whole thing off. This is something visually interesting or shocking that draws the readers in. For a James Bond film, its usually a cool Bond song and then an elaborate action scene in Europe. Those scenes lit the fuse and viewers spend the rest of the film captivated by the how the story unfolds. It may be part of a formula, but it all serves a specific purpose: to entertain you.
Not only is it a bit interesting to spot these “turning points” in movies, but it should help you with all of the writing that you do in your life, or at the very least how you tell stories at the dinner table. My writing has improved a lot since learning this a few years ago. Understanding this structure can help. We’ll start with the blueprint:
For the typical 2 hour movie, if you’re attentive you should be able to spot these points
1. The Central Question- 3 Minutes- What is the point of the movie? What is the goal?
2. What’s it about- 10 Minutes- What is the movie about? Who are the main characters? What conflict do they have to deal with?
3. Turning Point- 30 Minutes- Something happens to turn the story in a new direction. The main characters must figure out a way to deal with it.
4. Clue to Resolution- 45 Minutes- There is often a clue to the resolution at this point, or some hint that it may be OK.
5. Point of no Return- 60 Minutes- The main characters are too deep into the story. There is no going back.
6. Not going to achieve goal- 75 Minutes- This is the point in every buddy movie where the friends get in a fight, and they must forgive each other before they can move forward. It may seem like they are not going to achieve the goal, but it is only temporary.
7. Different Outcome, Resolution- 90 Minutes- This is where the resolution happens. The story is resolved, but often with a different outcome than the viewers were led to believe.
So how can this improve your writing? It can improve your writing in a few ways:
Set up the essay- Introduce your readers to the point of your writing immediately. Whether its an interesting anecdote, a question, an interesting character, or maybe a problem to be solved, there must be a reason for the reader to keep reading.
Relate to the reader- Let them know what is in it for them, especially in copy-writing or sales letters.
If you’re writing a piece that supposed to inspire, unravel the turning points at strategic areas (books you read, actions you took, changes in your perspective, mentors you met, etc..)- your readers will clearly link up how these influences led to success.
Your reader shouldn’t know the outcome of the story midway through.. hold your cards close to your chest then surprise them.
Keep coming back to the main conflict that you set up in the beginning. Whether its entertainment, worry, learning, or whatever else, your reader should be wondering how it will be resolved. Perhaps there is a deeper lesson you have embedded?
Never move backward. Keep the story moving forward. There’s nothing worse than someone telling you a joke and then they say, “Oh wait but I forgot to say that…blah blah blah.” It ruins the joke
How is the central question resolved? Every story should have a central question to be answered, but make sure you don’t make the fatal mistake of not putting closure on the story.

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