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By Michael Schilf · January 21, 2010
Imagine we put a carpenter out in a field with a hammer, some nails, and a bunch of wood. He would most likely build something not half bad. However, what if he had a blueprint to follow? What he builds will be better. Screenplays work with same way. Sure, you can have developed a character and just start writing, but where are you going, what is at stake, what does your character want, what are the obstacles, etc…? You need a plan, a blueprint – an organized story with clear plot pointsAnd sometimes a great story grows out of a standard type of scenario. Obviously, not every story fits neatly into the nine scenarios we feature here; however, this is a great place to start watering the seed of a potential story.
Objective: Explore a feature film scenario and write a brief outline for a cinematic feature film.
Scenarios: Select one of the nine scenario assignments to develop and write a complete story in three act structure. (Limit the outline to 3 PAGES single spaced.)
Remember: Imagine how these kinds of stories happen, or might happen, in the worlds you know and draw upon those people and situations. Fight the urge – if you get it – to work with material out of your realm: prisoners of war, captains of space ships, etc…
Hints: Write the outline in PRESENT TENSE PROSE – not in screenplay format. Though you aren't writing an actual screenplay, remember that you are describing a story that will be filmed – so think in scenes and use the screenwriter's tools. WRITE SO WE CAN SEE, HEAR, AND FEEL IT.
So check out our SCENARIO ASSIGNMENTS, they might just be the key you are looking for:
Act One: We meet a character and learn his/her routine. Suddenly, this routine is broken by some supernatural occurrence (can be a person, a thing, an ability, anything…). You'll find it easier if you choose something that strikes the character in an essential part of his/her routine – a baseball player's ability to hit, a cook's sense of smell, a psychiatrist's hearing! The occurrence keeps intruding, making it impossible for the character to live his/her life. Act I ends when the character must do something about the occurrence.
Act Two: The character explores his options in the face of the growing problems caused by the supernatural force. What might he do? What are the ramifications? Act 2 ends when the situation becomes desperate and the character chooses what he must do.
Act Three: The resolution. What happens? The character has taken a stance and done what he must do. What are the consequences?
Act One: Create a character that feels oppressed, repressed, bottled up. Get the routine of the character and make the audience feel the oppression. Choose an interesting, worthy source for the character's feeling of oppression. Finally, the character can't take it anymore and decides to rebel against his-her oppressor(s).
Act Two: The character plans and executes the rebellion. What are the complications and consequences of the character's efforts? Act 2 ends with the rebellion.
Act Three: Resolution. What happens after the rebellion? What is the result of the fight? How is the character different?
Act One: We meet a character in his routine. He gets an idea to perform a caper. How did he get the idea? Who gave it to him…? You must show the germination of the idea, however it happens. Act 1 ends when he decides what he's going to do.
Act Two: Preparations, planning… you must show a lot of detail here: the putting together of a gang, if a gang is necessary, the components of the caper, how will things go? What will work and what will get them caught? Detail and specifics. The second act ends when everything is in place.
Act Three: The carrying out of the plan. Did they make it or not? Is there an unexpected occurrence. A twist? The resolution…
Act One: A character is confined – some sort of imprisonment (psychological, physical). The character makes a decision to escape. Act 1 ends with his/her discovery of an opportunity for escape that sets up a deadline.
Act Two: The planning and preparations – obstacles and setbacks… e.g., steals a knife, sharpens it, only to have it found. The escape is supposed to happen at the end of Act 2 – that's when the deadline arrives, but something screws up, and the character is forced to adjust his plan.
Act Three: Execution of the escape. What happens? Resolution. Did the character escape; is he okay? Was the escape a total success?
Act One: We meet a person who is always the brunt of practical jokes. (You'll probably want a scene in which he's the victim of one.) Finally, he can't take it anymore and decides to play a joke of his own. Who is the target: one of the perpetrators, a person more helpless than he, a particularly difficult victim that would impress his tormentors, e.g., a teacher, a boss, a cop? The first act ends when he makes the decision to play the practical joke.
Act Two: The preparation and setting up of the joke – recruiting accomplices (if any), securing locations and resources for the joke, etc. This should be difficult: the scenes full of obstacles, surprises and feelings of anticipation. We should hope that he's going to do it and fear, vividly, that he might not be able to pull it off. The second act ends when the joke is all set to go.
Act Three: The resolution and repercussions of the joke. If you've prepared us well for this joke, you do not necessarily even have to show it. But if you choose this route, you must have made what might happen so clear that we can imagine the joke exactly. What are the results for the joker? This can be made surprising, e.g., a twist – the joke has some undesired (not necessarily negative) effect.
Act One: A character experiences some offense. He feels an overwhelming need for revenge. What is the motive for revenge? What as been offended: his pride, his sense of dignity, his professional reputation? You must know the character's Achilles heel. (Think of people whose buttons you know how to push). Who is his target: a customer who has publicly insulted his cooking, a painter whose mural sized portrait of the character is less then flattering? And what does the character want to accomplish – specifically? The first act ends when he makes the decision to act.
Act Two: The preparation and setting up of the revenge – recruiting accomplices (if any), securing locations, equipment, etc. This is the meat of your story – where we see how determined and resourceful your character is. Make it hard for him to set up the revenge – lots of obstacles and surprises. And make us anticipate the outcome – we should be dying for the revenge to happen. The second act ends when the act of revenge is all ready to go.
Act Three: The resolution and repercussions of the revenge. What are the results for the person seeking revenge. This can be made surprising, e.g., a twist – the revenge has some unexpected (not necessarily negative) effect. How do you want us to feel about the character's efforts? All in vain? Misguided? Justified?
Act One: We meet a character who is submissive, always willing to compromise. It is seemingly impossible that he would revolt. Then something hits him. Something happens to change his view of his situation: a person, an occurrence, a death. The first act ends when he or she realizes the situation he's been in – all the compromises, all the unrealized ambitions or dreams.
Act Two: He can't take it. Present the routine as still going on, but it is becoming progressively more difficult. At every turn that he would normally have compromised, he feels more keenly the desire to break free. Finally, the character's emotions take over, and he makes a declaration of what he's going to do.
Act Three: The character does it. The revolt. Again, what happens? Is it successful or does the revolt fail? What is its impact? On him? On the people and circumstances around him?
Act One: A moment of routine is suddenly broken by a trip. Introduce a character in his routine. Something happens that compels him to take a trip somewhere. Establish the necessity – the strong need for the trip and the destination. Also establish what the character expects to find when he arrives. Act 1 ends with departure. (Plant some weaknesses of the character – things that will challenge the character on his trip. Does your character have bad eyesight? A fear of high speeds? The wrong outfit?)
Act Two: Three stops along the way, each with a new set of people or different circumstances, each increasingly dramatic. Each stop makes it harder for the character to get where he is going, until finally, y the third stop, the audience figures that it's impossible for the character to make it…
Act Three: The character does make it and the arrival should be surprising, not what the character expected… Some twist. Our character has learned something along the way. He now views his earlier expectation in a different light.
Act One: Get your character in his/her routine. The “point of attack” is the presence of another character whom your character realizes is a present danger to his/her isolation, e.g., he or she is falling in love. He's forced to love. Your character feels threatened. (Note: the new character must be REAL to be able to break down the defenses of your character.)
Act Two: Your character fights with the realization that he's in love, fights the feeling. The other character continues to pursue your character and so hampers his attempts to block the feeling of love. The other character may be motivated by love, by curiosity, by the desire for a job, whatever – but it must be specific. Finally, something must be done, they can't go on the way they've been. We have the confrontation between the two.
Act Three: The resolution. What happens? Is your character able to change? Or does he lapse back into his shell?