where it all begins
It all starts with an emotion, which wants to be heard, shown and shared by the creator. I use the word creator to generalize the fact that the creator can be anyone, a screenwriter, a director or a producer. The creator’s goal is to connect through emotion with other like-minded people or even seduce opposing minds into sympathizing with emotion. The industrial name of the emotion would be “Theme”.
Once the creator has decided on the theme or the message, there are only two paths left from here and there, either to develop the plot or the character. This is where the creator decides whether to make a movie or a movie, before creating a story and turning it into a screenplay.
I would like to draw the line between a film and a film before moving forward. Although both refer to cinema, but they reside on separate sides of the same medium, a series of images creating the illusion of movement when projected onto a screen. A film is crafted by the creator to share their emotional journey, ending with a statement about the emotion that satisfies their audience. As a film explores emotion that ends up pushing far beyond its creator’s artistic endeavor, leaving audiences to seek their own conclusions.
Let’s go back to our two paths of plot or character development. Usually the plot is developed before the characters when the creator has already experienced the journey and decides to make a movie to meet the needs of the audience. Once the creator is happy with the plot, the characters are developed accordingly, where they are influenced by the plot and drive the story to the climax designated by the creator.
On the other hand, the characters are first developed when the creator decides to make a movie to invite the audience to embark on the journey together. Once the characters are developed, the creator decides the plot and drops them into the world of his emotions where the characters behave according to their own will, leading the story into the unknown.
After developing the plot and characters, the creator ties the characters and plot together in a connecting line, a phrase where a flawed hero with an external plot goal is opposed by a flawed enemy. The connecting line is to identify the hero, nemesis, and subject of battle at the climax of the story.
And then the creator tests the logline with a question about the plot of the story, whether or not the hero will triumph over the sworn enemy and achieve the external goal. The story plot question is a great way to test any connection line to determine if the connection line is working or not.
As an example, the MCU’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness movie line would be: “A nefarious self-centered wizard must stop a grieving murderous witch from retrieving the diabolical book called Darkhold and destroying the balance of the multiverses. .” If we take this logline and test it, the plot question of the story would be, “Will a nefarious self-centered wizard be able to stop a grieving murderous witch from retrieving the diabolical book called Darkhold and destroying the balance of the multiverses? As we can see in this logline, Dr. Stephen Strange is the flawed hero who must stop Wanda Maximoff, the flawed villain at the climax from destroying the multiverse and all of act two will be about Wanda trying to reclaim the Darkhold and Dr. Strange try to stop it. The story plot question testifies that the connecting line gives us enough information to understand what the plot is about, without spoiling the movie. So our connection line works.
Once the connecting line is set, the creator begins to work on the outline of the script. The plan is created according to a three-act structure although there are many European and Asian films that have only one act on the exploration of the emotions of the protagonist. The three-act structure has been broken down into stages or turning points by gurus like Syd Field, Michael Hauge, Robert McKee, Linda Serger, John Truby, Christopher Vogler and Joseph Campbell. There’s an urban legend about Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey that saved the structure in Star Wars Episode 4 – A New Hope. If we compare, all of their seven story paradigms follow the same three-act structure even though they have different names for each stage. Of all these gurus, I have always tended to follow Michael Hague’s “Six-Stage Plot Structure”.
According to the three-act structure, a story begins with the ordinary world of a flawed hero who is disrupted by the flawed enemy where the hero is offered a new opportunity or experiences an incident prompting the first act.
At the start of Act Two, the hero decides to change his plans to confront the nemesis, either acting on the new opportunity or causing an incident. Then, in the middle of act two, the hero comes to the point of no return, where he realizes there is no turning back or decides to continue his journey towards his goal. At the end of Act Two, the hero faces a major setback or defeat by the nemesis, where the hero feels all hope is lost. This is where the hero usually faces a big loss, for example in superhero or romantic movies they lose someone dear to them. Then the hero decides to embark on the final push, where the hero bows down and overcomes their internal struggle or flaw with the help of the mentor.
Act three begins with the hero facing off against the nemesis and the two join in an epic battle of wits. Depending on act two, the quality of our hero’s character arc determines the outcome of the climax and then the aftermath where we find our hero back in his ordinary world with a new perspective.
Amazingly, any storytelling medium can be explained through this format, even Quentin Tarantino’s cult classic Pulp Fiction. Tarantino, being the brilliant storyteller that he is, broke the format by simply writing it backwards. The film has the three acts with the six scenes but put together in a different way.
The writer is producer and screenwriter, Los Angeles, California, USA.