True confession: I have not always been a good writer. Am I now a good writer? It depends on your judgement of how far I have grown from writing a story about dancing yams when I was eight to writing the craziest screenplays and novels today… (on a side note, who wants to read my childhood story, The Dancing Yams? 😊 )
Let’s skip the debate and get straight to the point. In fact, let’s skip all the way to the point in the Rules of Engagement screenplay where we write FADE IN.
In a feature film, you have a minimum of 70 minutes to tell your story; the idea is not for you to take all the time in the world spelling out the history of your characters but for you to skip, skip, skip, until you get to the delicious part…the part where your film really begins.
Note that your film can begin at the middle or end a story…sometimes, the use of flashbacks and several other techniques are introduced. In Looper, the movie started somewhere you would not expect.
It does not mean you wouldn’t visit the past or at least attempt to recount the past. You will, but you will have to find creative ways to dribble-drip your story. Think of it like eating sweets on Christmas day when you were young…you’d never want them to finish.
How do you decide where to start a story?
Again, it depends on the creative liberty you allow yourself and your writing strength. You don’t want your plot to be all over the place, no. You want to ensure your plot makes sense, no matter where you begin.
For Rules of Engagement, it begins with the heated debate between our co-lead, Ikenna and his elder brother, Ugo, where Ugo announces that Ikenna will be forced to work with a stranger he has never met, to put his tumultuous life in order.
…especially when Alice, the supposed unwanted stranger, walks in a few minutes later with a broad smile on her face, well ironed (midi 😊 ) black pencil skirt and an outstretched hand ready for a handshake…
…and Ikenna ignores the outstretched hand, whips around to face his brother and bellows, “Who the hell is she?”
This quickly brings us to the heart of the movie and the dilemma we will spend the entire 90 or so minutes solving and introducing subtly our backstory.
In writing a feature film, you do not have the luxury of time, like you do when writing a novel. In the first 10 – 15 minutes, you must achieve the following:
- Introduce your main character(s)
- communicate their personalities in the clearest way possible (and no, it’s not always by lengthy descriptions of what they are wearing)
- Put your characters right in the middle of trouble or their dilemma
- Provide a justification for why the character will make choice number 1 or 2 or 10
So in the very brief scene I outlined above, we get a sense of Ikenna’s disposition – he is a resentful, somewhat bitter man. I also already gave a few insights into Ikenna’s goals in the previous post: How I created the character, Alice Eno Henshaw, in my latest romantic comedy screenplay.
It is safe to assume that Ikenna will of course not easily take the decision to get ‘this random chic’ to arrange his life. Of course, there is a reason why he will eventually cave in. He’s got mad respect for his elder brother and well, we need the story to go on, don’t we? 😊
A few pages down the script, Alice whips out her little black notebook and proceeds to give a wary yet amused Ikenna the terms of his new life orchestrated by her.
Rule one, when in doubt, say nothing. Rule two, if you are caught with your pants down, still say nothing. Rule three…
…what if I am caught with my pants down…on the couch…and I’m cuffed to a girl…that kinda looks like you?
He folds his arms, smiles and waits. Long pause.
Chaos number 2.
Of course, Ikenna is not going to take Alice’s rules easily. In fact, Ikenna’s new goal emerges – frustrate the living daylight out of Alice so she can leave him alone to keep nursing his wound.
We then have conflicts. Both have different goals.
How one person frustrates the other person becomes the story, especially as we unravel the little mysteries surrounding Alice and then Ikenna using the 3-act story structure.
As for what happens after that, no, I am not telling you everything. That will be a sacrilege! :D
But I will share with you a little about dialogue next week, so please subscribe above or below (top of the page) to get notified of new posts.
By the way, I will give the first twenty people who indicate their interest, the first 10 pages of my very first screenplay, just for keepsakes.[contact-form-7 id="308" title="Giveaways"]
Guys, have you done any writing recently? Please share your experience below.