The first thing I always do when I have a concept I want to write is start with the ending. If I don’t have a great ending then there isn’t a story there. If I don’t know where I’m going I don’t know how to compose a road map to get there.
Why You Need A Great Ending
Let me explain the road map in more detail. Every plot point and scene in your story should more you closer to that ending. You do this be either enlightening the audience to the characters and their journey AKA motivations or you move the plot forward. If a scene doesn’t do that then it’s doesn’t sure a purpose and should be eliminated.
Once you have that great ending then you need a beginning. There is a ton of information on writing the first 10 pages. I like to keep the idea of Indiana Jone in mind. Think about the first sequence in Raiders of the Lost Arc. That mini adventure told you everything you need to know about the story. It was Indiana in his ordinary world as an adventurer and archeologist in the field. That’s a great introduction. Usually on about page fifteen something very important happens. This is one of the plot points you want to start with. They call this the inciting incident. This is the plot point that starts the story or puts it in motion. It happens usually midway into the first act.
The next important plot point is the middle. This is important because something happens that changes the reality that our characters know and they face new conflict.The second act is twice as long as the other acts and notoriously tough to write. In the words of Syd Field “An important scene in the middle of the script, often a reversal of fortune or revelation that changes the direction of the story.” Field suggests that driving the story towards the Midpoint keeps the second act from sagging. Blake Snyder of Save The Cat Fame says this is the key to cracking any story. He recommends raising the stakes at this point or installing a time clock. Oh yes the great ticking time bomb that Alfred Hitchcock talks about. See how all this stuff fits together.
Let’s look at a great example of a midpoint from one of my favorite science fiction stories. I know mostly panned by reviewers but I love it and it did make over $300 million in the box office. Passengers the story of getting trapped on a deserted space ship for the rest of ones life. Think Roberson Crusoe but you are never going to leave this island. You woke up too early and you can’t go back to hibernation to survive the journey. Great movie with Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. The midpoint of this story is when it is revealed that Chris Pratt woke her up because he was lonely. She will never forgive him for taking away her dream of being the first journalist to document humanities life on a new world. See how that raises the stakes and changes the reality that our character thought they knew. It moves the story in a new direction. IT’s a major revelation that changes the direction of the story.
So now that you have a beginning middle and an end. You want to lock down the concept. I do this by coming up with a log line. This is one or two sentences that tell you what the story is about. This is the elevator pitch. You want to get it out before the door closes on the elevator and you need to capture someones interest so they stick their foot in the door, wanting more. You want them to say give me the pitch. Normally I revisit the log line a few times during development. I start by writing ten versions of the log line. Tweaking a word here or there until I get one I really like.
According to Blake Snyder a logline needs to do three things.
- Irony – antagonist sets out to do something until confronted with X. This sets up the conflict of the story.
- Audience – the longline should give a clear picture of who the story is for and what kind of budget the film would require
- Promise – a longline tells the entire story and promises big things in the story. Promise lots of valuable entertainment
A GREAT TITLE
The the other thing you need to do is have an amazing Title. The title should be built into the concept and say a lot about what the story is about. Star Wars is a war in the stars. Or passengers is about getting trapped as a passenger on a 200 year voyage. Or Pretty Women is about a hooker that finds her soul mate. I include that one because the title itself implies irony. Let’s look at a great low budget indie film that won Sundance. Fruitville station. That is the story of a police shooting that took place in Fruitville station.