The Screenplay’s Dramatic Structure
I. Anticipation and surprise
1. Patterns, wholes, completeness--the making of any story
A. Cognitive mental processes--constantly testing hypotheses and revising previous conclusions
B. Spectator--anticipates, feels curious, suspense, surprise, hunches, feels satisfied or cheated
2. Goal must be struggled toward
3. Clues are implanted, stages indicated
5. Viewer wants satisfaction of having questions answered, knowledge completed.
6. Viewer wants to know that the film gave an experience that is finite and complete. After movie, look back on it in retrospect.
b. Dramatic causality
1. How different from real life
2. Rule of threes
3. How coincidence is used
A. Happens early
B. Worsens a character’s plight
C. More common in melodrama [e.g., romance, family sagas]
4. Screenwriter must arrange cues
5. Dramatic causality seems to make things inevitable
6. "Finger pointing" devices are implanted in film at every level of construction
c. Dramatic progression
1. Crises build in importance.
2. Build in tension
3. One scene leads to another.
4. Series of highs and lows escalate in intensity.
5. Script plants questions so as to gain momentum.
6. The progression provides a satisfying pattern of mental questions and answers, key moments of discovery, a climax.
7. Withholding key information to intrigue and tantalize the audience allows for later presentation of that information dramatically.
8. BEAT = point at which something new is introduced: information, dramatic action, new element or character
II. Catharsis and identification
A. Use of a protagonist is essential
1. A single individual whose problems and behavior we get emotionally involved with.
2. We “bond” with a character who is our emotional proxy.
3. Individual characters are set up to be the narratives causal agents. Their decisions, choices, traits cause something which then shapes the flow or outcome of the narrative
4. Character is not a real personality but scripted. In sum, a character is a collection of traits--those necessary for the narrative, and revealed in order that the narrative needs the revelation
B. Emphasis on strong and painful emotions, on actions that have a clear consequence
C. Empathy for person with a problem, underdog, heroism, handicap
D. How to create a good villain, someone we empathize with
E. Audience's kinesthetic responses
1. New and constant sensations
2. Sex and romance
3. Soundscapes and feeling
4. Agility, speed, aggressiveness
F. Convention as source of emotional response
1. What becomes boring.
2. Using the heterosexual couple as a source of predictable identification.
G. Designing the emotional roller coaster: the design of the emotional ups and downs which the audience experiences while watching the story
1. The audience wants to feel there is an overall pattern and design.
2. Only the big picture allows the audience to have the satisfaction of real catharsis.
3. There is a relation between catharsis and knowledge and emotionally experiencing an event by reliving it or experiencing it vicariously.
4. Plot events are made relevant to my life on a primal or mythological level.
5. Warnings, encouragement, lessons, learning to handle change.
H. Pleasure of fantasies and adventures we do not have in real life
1. Test situations, save way to take new risks
2. Heroism, risk grave danger, triumphal survival
3. Anger at social problems
I. The dramatic center--the approach that you have the most passion for
1. Provides you with a crystal clear understanding of the central dynamic of your story
2. It allows all the components to merge into one specific whole
3. The emotional essence of the story, drawn from what the writer finds attractive about working with this topic, and for which she should have some new insight to offer
4. It is what is being climaxed at the big moment at the end.
5. It is the concept's biggest hook and engaging element.
III. Conflict creates both expectation and anxiety about the ending, necessary for dramatic tension
a. Problem, obstacle, threat, decision, choice, pressure, tension, challenge, imbalance, conflicting values, clash, disharmony, discord
b. Back and forth motion, actions and reactions
c. Needed for dramatic action, climax
d. Deep structure--one sentence, can be about myth or primal conflict, or about characters in conflict
e. Use of the word "vs."
f. Find climax to define major conflict--what is being climaxed? Whose story is it?
g. Also conflict with self, environment, or the uncanny or supernatural
1. Psychological conflict is hard to visual, need external “signs” of it.
2. Environmental problems, poverty, work problems shape and test characters, and provide good visuals.
H. Characters in conflict
1. The odd couple, bound to clash even in friendship
2. In fundamental, strife-filled disagreement
3. Hidden warfare in built into a situation
4. Audiences like to guess the characters’ next moves
V. Dramatic structure
b. Beats = points where story moves
c. Dramatic progression and mini-climaxes--constant escalation, both as a whole and within each scene
d. Scene construction
1. Odds and obstacles
2. Actions, show rather than tell
3. Dramatic economy in dialogue
4. Use of setting
5. Tag business at end of scene
e. Reversals, surprises, and revelations
f. First and second act climax
1. A problem to solve
2. A new experience
3. Start with a situation, a premise
4. Win attention. Begin in medias res.
5. Involve the audience emotionally
6. Meet main characters
7. Seeds of the ending
8. Background through exposition
A. Good and bad exposition
B. Tell necessary information, especially in act 1
C. The "spine" = a two to three paragraph summary
9. Diegesis or film world
10. Tone, style, atmosphere
11. Initiating incident, set off major problem
1. Change, growth
A. Major character's traits, decisions revealed only gradually
B. Gain in knowledge--search, investigate
3. Characters' goals, strategies--may change via reversal
4. Time indications--often indications of something happening soon
5. Intensify expectations, narrow down causality, path of action
6. Thwart answers, incompleteness, make us doubt any easy resolution of the problem
7. Ruses, lead viewer astray
8. Subplots, parallelisms
A. Different spaces
B. A and B storylines
C. Minor characters
10. Confrontations and squaring off between opposing characters
11. “work” all the major dramatic elements and characters
A. Do not just introduce them
B. e.g., The protagonist’s lover should be developed as a character on his/her own, with a work life, family, point of view.
C. Pace out how you work the dramatic elements
i. Tag end, denouement, falling action at end