Place & The Economy of Words

When I’m writing a story, I like to get descriptive. When I’m writing a screenplay, I try to narrow that long-winded drive into shorter sentences with fewer words. This gives the production crew an easier time in bringing the script to screen.

The Exercise

Go somewhere you want to write about.
List ten words that describe this place.
Narrow it down to three that truly capture the essence.
Write one descriptive sentence that shows where you are.

Place as Action

Have you ever seen Ghost in the Shell? There’s a contemplative movement in the second act where the main character watches the city go by. It’s a perfect example of place as action. The pensive main character is taken away by place in a moment that gives the viewer a chance to reflect on the action and philosophy in the movie. Are there other examples of place as action? Can place move the plot forward?

The Exercise

Brainstorm five movie scenes where place is a defining factor in the scene.

The 3-Act Structure

The three-act structure has been one of the most influential tools for screenplay development. An understanding of its history and applicability is essential to the burgeoning screenwriter.

The Exercise

Write a four-page essay on the three-act structure. Where did it come from? What is it and how is it used? What are some of the challenges against it? What are some of the movies that use it? Has it developed over time? How?

Editing Practice

Editing our own scripts is sometimes wrought with our own defensiveness and inability to let go of what we originally put on the page. Practicing with other scripts can improve our skills and help us see that no matter how done we think a script is, it can always use a little more work. Your Task: Download and read someone else’s script. Answer these questions: What opportunities have the writers missed? What loose-ends have not been tied up? Does this seem important to the writer? Why or why not? How would you make this script better? Explain each element you would change in detail. To go even further, share your notes with someone who has read the script or seen the movie. What do they think of your comments?

Take Someone Else's Word for It

It’s time to listen.

The Exercise

Poll a few people with the following questions:
What’s your favorite action movie?
What are two specific things you like about this movie?
What’s your favorite scene?
What’s your least favorite action movie?
What are two specific things you disliked about this movie?
What scene(s) made the movie bad?

Find and watch a couple of these movies. Pay close attention to the specific scenes mentioned.

Journal

What are your impressions of the movies you saw?
Do you share the opinions of the people you polled?
What have you learned about writing action?

Exposition

Expository dialogue builds our characters personality. It gives the audience a chance to learn more about who our character is. For example, in the movie “Adaptation,” much of the voice over that is used is built as an internal monologue that gives the audience an idea of the main character, Charlie’s intense inner critic. Your Task: Identify one scene in a movie where expository dialogue is used. Now, write your own 1-page scene that involves this kind of dialogue.