Is your script missing something? Does your story meander? Or maybe you can’t seem to find your rhythm? Join the club!
CPR for your script: form and structure
I’ve been working on the same *insert-swearword-here* manuscript for nearly three years.
My draft has been through a zillion carnations and reincarnations. It’s been called The Cockroach Book, The Half-witch Wars, Exploits, Ranger and now Short-changed. It’s been edited to within an inch of its pathetic over-edited life: in fact, there are no longer any cockroaches — or indeed half-witches — anywhere to be seen in the manuscript.
The result is a lot like an Egyptian mummy: so much band-aid, you can’t see what’s underneath.
Help! Where’s my novel?
Enter the Australian Writer’s Guild, with another of their super-useful workshops. This seminar is on structuring a feature film, and it’s run by UCLA graduate Barbara Connell, now pursuing a PhD at Murdoch’s School of Media, Communication and Culture. I know a feature film isn’t a novel, but writing for kids is a whole lot of action, dialogue and fast-paced fun. Feature film, anyone?
I sign up for Barbara’s seminar because deep down I am hoping she might have a secret potion or magic word or infallible technique that can unwrap my mummy and reveal the novel inside. She does.
And the secret is…
“Writing is not about manuals. It’s about manual labour. The only thing that’s going to get you there is sitting down and doing it.”
Argh! I know this. But ouch, it hurts to hear.
Barbara admits craft and technique have their place alongside hard work. Over the morning she runs through the script structures used by a dozen different screenwriting textbooks, and there’s something useful in each one.
But, says Barbara, there’s no need to go overboard.
“For me it can sometimes be too much,” says Barbara. “It can do your head in.”
I quite like the science of all that theory, but if your story is drowning in formulae, Barbara says go back to basics: watch and analyse movies like the one you want to make, and ask yourself the big questions:
Three-step CPR: Grab, maintain, reward
A great film is basically “a good story, well-told, with heart and substance,” says Barbara. It’s that simple. So, if your story needs urgent medical attention, start with its three vital signs:
Grab: Is it a good story? Is it worth telling? Is it a story someone wants to hear?
Maintain: Do you have the craft and technique to keep the audience in their seats?
Reward: Does your story have heart? Does it have substance? Does it satisfy the audience?
Barbara says nailing the reward is often the hardest. “How do you want your audience to feel at the end of the film?” she asks. “Form and structure is about architecting the story so the audience has an emotional experience.”
And that’s my problem!
I’ve dissected the heart right out of my story. I’ve created a sort of Frankenstein’s monster, and it’s wandering the page — functioning quite nicely, thank-you-very-much — but it’s missing a few essential organs.
Perhaps it would be more sensible to bury this thing deep in a pyramid somewhere, and begin on a new creation. I say no!
Breathe, damn you! Breathe!
I’ve had enough of half-finished projects. I’m going to bandage and sew and cut and glue until this thing works.
Watch out world: this story lives!