Ready to try your hand at writing a screenplay? Check out these helpful tips from New York, NY tutor Lauren P…
Whether you have too many ideas or you don’t know where to begin, these storytelling tips will help you outline the framework for an unforgettable screenplay.
Don’t Remake the Wheel
While all stories include some level of conflict, the arguably best stories all seem to include components of what Joseph Campbell calls the Hero’s Journey. If you are not familiar with this storytelling formula, begin to brainstorm as you review its basic components:
1. The protagonist is living an ordinary life with some level of tension, dissatisfaction, or indecision.
2. A person or event pressures the protagonist to step outside his comfort zone.
3. The protagonist ignores or refuses the temptation due to fear of the unknown.
4. Someone arrives to help the protagonist find courage.
5. The protagonist steps outside his comfort zone.
6. The protagonist meets enemies and allies.
7. The protagonist and his allies prepare to conquer the challenge ahead.
8. The protagonist meets death or his greatest fear but is reborn a new man.
9. The protagonist celebrates and receives a reward after conquering his fear or death, but there is still fear the reward may be lost.
10. With urgency, the protagonist flees danger to bring his reward safely home.
11. The climax: The protagonist faces a final sacrifice in another moment of death and rebirth but this time on a more profound level that completely resolves the initial tension of the story.
12. The protagonist finally returns home or continues his journey with some form of his reward that has the power to transform the world as the protagonist has been transformed.
If you recall the most famous and inspiring movies, they all conform to Campbell’s formula — Star Wars, Braveheart, Gladiator, The Lord of the Rings, even Harry Potter all follow these 12 steps. Play with different protagonists and plots to create your own masterpiece.
Do Rewrite the Story
While many famous films have followed the above storytelling tips, there are many stories left untold. These hero protagonists have been almost exclusively white males. It is your turn to change the story. Create a protagonist that is female or one of many underused cultural or ethnic backgrounds. Similarly, brainstorm unexplored settings, or geographic barriers that have yet to be explored. Pair unlikely characters together in unlikely places. Let your imagination run wild.
Keep it in the Realm of What You Know
In order to make the story engaging and memorable, you need to write about experiences, people, landscapes, and lifestyles that you know. This does not mean you need to write about modern-day suburbia. Tap into the sensory and emotional details of your memories. While you have most likely forgotten a significant portion of your life, there is a reason you remember certain moments. Every memory is a record of a time when you are completely aware and present in that moment. What keeps you fully present during an experience is a strong sensory or emotional impression. In this writing exercise you will write down your strongest memories and the sensory or emotional details that made them so unforgettable. Write down the following:
1. Three earliest memories
2. Saddest moment
3. Most challenging moment
4. Most hopeless or fearful moment
5. Angriest moment
6. Moment of greatest betrayal
7. Happiest memory
8. Most adventurous or unexpected experience
9. Proudest moment
10. Moment of greatest peace or relief
Depending on your level of comfort and enthusiasm, feel free to write down more than one memory for each category. Once you have the basic memory written down, label it as sensory or emotional. Fill in details about the memory that stuck out to you. Was it the physical or emotional component that left such a lasting impression? The reasons these memories stick with you are the same reasons your scenes will stick with an audience.
Tie it All Together
To draft your story, apply the Hero’s Journey formula to an unlikely protagonist and unexplored circumstances. Then draft specific characters’ internal and external realities using details from your own sensory and emotional memory. Good luck!
Lauren tutors in various subjects in New York, NY. She has her Master’s Degree in Education (with a concentration in students with learning disabilities), and is a certified NYC Special Education teacher. Learn more about Lauren here!
Photo by Joe Flood