Screenwriting Fundamentals

By: Mark Tapio Kines

Highlights and Notes by Hani R. Eskander

What I found interesting and worth taking away from this book is a lot. This is by no means a plagiarism or an attempt to summarize the entire book. This is simply my notes during my reading of this book.

HE

FINDING FILM SCRIPTS ONLINE

www.simplyscripts.com

www.scriptfly.com


A writer’s submission script is different from a shooting script. Not much technical details within. Simple English.


STAGE PLAYS emphasize DIALOGUE

NOVELS emphasize DESCRIPTION

SCREENPLAYS emphasize VISUALS


Every good story is a suspenseful story. SUSPENSE1 is keeping your audience wondering, what happens next?

Keeping a story suspenseful needs to be the number one thing on any writer’s mind.

DRAMA2 happens when someone is wanting something but obstacles keep coming in the way.

CONFLICT3 is when you want to do something, but there’s something or someone keeping you from doing it.

SUSPENSE, DRAMA and CONFLICT are of super importance.

When building characters, don’t delve too deeply in their past. Potential to turn out into therapy movies with so much past and not much present or future.

Character: Age? Job? Relationship? Money? Is usually enough for starters. Let their reaction to conflict and obstacles dictate their personalities instead.

DON’T BE TOO DEFENSIVE. Unlike novels, screenwriting is only a jumping board for a long creative process.


The idea that Mark presents is to write those 13 STICKY NOTES, which will help map out the first draft of the feature film screenplay.

HE

Three-Act Structure
useful to track where those 13 STICKY NOTES will be.

STICKY NOTE #1: EVENT

DRAMATIC STRUCTURE

Always think of Ending first. The Ending (ACT III) is the EVENT1. Think of it as a news headline. What would it read? What is the title to explain what just happened?

Format: Character/Action —> Who? Does What? Clear and Concise.

ACT I (The Build Up)

  • Protagonist is status quo. Nothing special is going on. Show what life is like before that twist. Protagonist doesn’t have to appear in every scene but remains at the heart of the narrative.
  • Define the character of the Protagonist.
  • It’s best that the status quo shows an active Protagonist.
  • Choose an action that is still routine, but shows identity.
  • Characters are identified by their interactions with other people. Use that to your advantage.
  • Prologues are optional. They are separate from the main drama. An event that would trigger the drama or have an effect on the character, later on in the film.
  • Figure out what your protagonist’s unique talent (super-power) is and their unique weakness (kryptonite). This makes them prone to success or failure, thus creating suspense.

STICKY NOTE #2: STATUS QUO

  • Sometimes that super-power is basically the ability to help the right person at the right time, and that would pay-off sometime ahead when the Protagonist needs help.
  • It is setting up a story for a positive pay-off later on.
  • Both super power and kryptonite need to be introduced early on in ACT I.
  • Super-power is usually introduced before the Kryptonite in ACT I.
  • Kryptonite pay-off comes towards end of ACT II.
  • Super-power pay-off comes somewhere at the start of ACT III.
  • All desires fall into either, eg. A desire for change vs. no change.
  • This applies whether it’s the Protagonist’s scene desire, story desire or lifelong dream.
    • Lifelong Dream is fundamentally non-dramatic, as it is related to someday something happening. There’s no urgency.
    • Story Desire is specific, urgent and tangible. It’s what drives the Protagonist through the story. It’s the Protagonist’s number one goal at all times. Turn intangible desires for your character into tangible ones. eg. Being Happy —> Getting Married.
    • Scene-by-scene Desire is the building blocks. Imagine an actor asking: “What’s my motivation?” Always keep that in mind when writing.
  • All main characters must be introduced in the first half of the movie. Also, don’t forget to add bit parts to give a sense of the world at large.

WHO ARE THE MAIN CHARACTERS?

THE FOIL

Best Friend or Side Kick. Serves as a a contrast to the Protagonist. Also he/she are the ones who ask the: “Why don’t you just…?” questions on behalf of the audience. An elegant way to get exposition out of the Protagonist.

THE LOVE INTEREST

Reveals the softer side of the Protagonist and makes them more human. Remember to develop them as real people and not just eye-candy.

ANTAGONIST

An Obstacle with his/her own agenda. The antagonist sees themselves as the Protagonist of their own story. There are story antagonists and scene antagonists. The Antagonist doesn’t have to be the villain. It’s someone who stands in the way of the Protagonist’s desires.


STICKY NOTE #3: ROUTINE KILLER

A piece of news that surprises the Protagonist and sets the story’s action disrupting the status quo AKA call-to-adventure, inciting incident, unexpected event. Defined as unexpected, sudden and inflexible.

Refusing the call-to-adventure is a normal human reaction, its identifiable. This refusal before heading (heeding the call) creates suspense. The Protagonist has fears and obligations. It’s not easy at first for them to leave their comfort zone. As a writer, create reasons to go. But also, create reasons to stay.

The remainder of ACT I, the Protagonist continues to fight the existing obstacles to start the journey or as in James Bond, prepares himself physically for it: buy car, buy gadgets, doing his research…etc. Thus, there obstacles are important to set up AND obliterate one-by-one.

STICKY NOTE #4: ONE MAJOR OBSTACLE / SEVERAL OBSTACLES

Obstacle #1 —> Solution #1

Obstacle #2 —> Solution #2

STICKY NOTE #5: SOLUTION / SOLUTIONS


STICKY NOTE #6: ACT I PLOT TWIST

The ACT I plot twist has to be bigger than the routine killer. It’s basically: sticking a one-way ticket into the Protagonist’s pocket. This is the scene where they realize that the adventure is inevitable.


ACT II

Also known as, The Confrontation, The Conflict or The Journey. Also, The Adventure, which involves existing events. It’s not aimless wondering. It is a mission. This mission usually clarifies in the Routine Killer or the end of ACT I.

i.e. ACT I: Comfort Zone, which ACT II: Adventure

STICKY NOTE #7: BEGINNING OF ACT II

Different set up than ACT I. Include your Protagonist’s emotional state. This is establishing a new status quo.

ACT II usually starts with the Protagonist leaving his/her comfort zone.


THE IMPORTANCE OF STAKES

Common question: “So, what’s the big deal?

  • The higher the stakes, the higher the tension, which means a lot of juicy suspense.
  • If a story, by its nature, doesn’t have high stakes (life or death), develop the character’s most important thing, their story desire, then put that at risk, and make your audience believe that the character could lose this thing forever.

HOW TO RAISE STAKES

Through the Antagonist, Treacherous Obstacles or Kryptonite.

As a writer, be sadistic. Turn on the heat constantly on your characters.


STATUS

UNIVERSAL STATUS: Based on societal pecking order.

RELATIONAL STATUS: How individuals relate to each other.

STATUS SHIFTS: It doesn’t matter who is right or who is wrong. What matters is, who is winning and who is losing. Plot twists are a perfect place for these shifts to occur.


PLOT THICKENERS

When obstacles new appear, stakes rise or a reversal of fortune takes place.

You could add many more plot twists in between plot twists in ACT II.

Always be the wise guy and ask: “Why don’t they just…?

And try to come up with a logical and concise answer. That is why obstacles provide explanations as to why the character doesn’t do the easiest and most obvious thing.

Obstacles add clarity to your story.

There are obstacles that are impossible to overcome, and those that must be overcome, the harder it is for the character to overcome them, the more suspenseful and unpredictable the story will be.

One of the most useful and most common obstacles in drama is another character’s resistance.

PLOT THICKENER #1

Protagonist’s first trial. It will test them, frustrate them, and maybe disappoint them.

STICKY NOTE #8: PLOT THICKENER #1


HALFWAY POINT

Usually doesn’t include change of scenery OR passing of time. Could be anything that spins the plot around. But it typically takes the form of a reversal of fortune. It is pulling the rug from under them with some, usually, surprising and unhappy news OR vice versa, if the Protagonist has been suffering in the first half of ACT II.

STICKY NOTE #9: HALWAY POINT


PLOT THICKENER #2

If the situations and things are already spiraling out of control, the 2nd plot thickener is the last straw OR if the Protagonist thinks they have finally gotten a hold on this situation, the 2nd plot thickener makes the whole house of cards fall down. Make it something that deepens the conflict into a crisis.

STICKY NOTE #10: PLOT THICKENER #2


All obstacles faced lead the Protagonist to learn a lesson, all of which lead up to making the Protagonist a wiser person. There should be a pay-off for every lesson learnt.

Mark Tapio Kines

ACT II PLOT TWIST

Usually is either the victory moment or the great revelation. An a-ha moment in the midst of the Protagonist’s most frustrated state. OR vice versa giving the Protagonist the biggest and final obstacle of the whole story. If the event in the light at the end of the tunnel, then this plot twist is when we see that light.

STICKY NOTE #11: ACT II PLOT TWIST


ACT III RESOLUTION

Usually accompanied with a change of scenery and a little jump in time. Also, accompanied by a clear change of pace. Goal is to deliver your Protagonist to your story’s climax. Climax aka Decisive Confrontation, is the scene that leads to your event STICKY NOTE #1. Think of the beginning scene of ACT III, try to give it a bit of contrast to the last scene in ACT III.

STICKY NOTE #12: ACT III BEGINNING SCENE

THE DECISIVE MOMENT (THE CLIMAX)

This is when the Protagonist has to stand their ground and fight for what they really want. When you write it down, do it in a way that it doesn’t become just one fight or confrontation, but a series. Draw it out and make it suspenseful. Think of the status quo changes to gauge your climactic scene.

Ask yourself: “Does a lot change?

The event could now not make sense or feels out-of-tone with your story. Tweak your event so that it feels like a logical conclusion to the story you just laid out.


EPILOGUE

Allowing the dust to settle and the characters to decompress, is the epilogue (if after some time from the event) or aftermath (if its right after the event). Put some care into it and make it emotionally satisfying. Recalling an old memory (character that appeared in ACT I) or (minor bit of unfinished business) acts as paying tribute to the audience’s intelligence.

Optional: A twist ending is instead of the event. But, it has to make sense otherwise it is not emotionally satisfying.

STICKY NOTE #13: EPILOGUE / AFTERMATH


.the end.

By:


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