The Sum of All Parts

November 8, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Writing Method

The Sum of All Parts

A fractal is geometric shape that can be broken apart into infinitely smaller versions of itself. They look like this:

Photo by Idea go.

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

They show up in land formations, on some animals, in lightning and in frost patterns. They should show up in your screenplays.

How does a screenplay work like a snowflake, you ask? Well, apart from the fact that it’s unique and its existence requires you to often be cold and transient, the 3-act structure that guides your whole screenplay should also guide each scene.

Your characters should be different at the end of your screenplay than they are at the beginning. At the beginning of your movie, an inciting incident forces the character to act. At the first act turn, they should make a choice that fundamentally changes their trajectory. At the end of the second act, they should, because of their own actions, be at their worst so that they can be redeemed by making a new set of choices through the third act.

Each scene should work this way as well.

The changes and choices will be on a smaller scale, but the same emotional movement should apply.

Your character should be different at the end of each scene than they are at the beginning. If they are not different in some way that means that they’re not changing. And that’s boring. If your character is happy at the beginning of a scene and then, regardless of what happens, is happy at the end of the scene, that indicates that either nothing happened or that your character doesn’t have the ability to react to things that are happening. Also, if your character isn’t changing from scene to scene, then it is unlikely that they will be able to change as a person when you look at the whole screenplay.

Each scene should have an inciting incident—something that makes this scene necessary. Whether your character is answering a phone call, introducing themselves to a new customer or planning how they’re going to jump off a bridge, there must be something new that is happening that your character is reacting to.

Your character should take action. Even if the character chooses to be inactive, the character must do something. The character can choose to answer the phone…or not. They can choose to be nice to the customer, ask the customer a question or throw food in the customer’s face. Or they can use tripadvisor to find the perfect bridge.

Something must happen in each scene that is new or different. The phone call can be from someone unexpected, or from someone expected but who’s delivering unexpected news. The customer can deliver a present, detonate a bomb or propose. All the bridges in the country, your character learns, have been washed away.

Your character must have a physical and emotional reaction. They may hang up the phone, call the police on the customer or decide to start building their own bridge. Whatever they do, they must feel differently at the end of the scene than they did at the beginning. If they were happy before the phone call, they must now be embarrassed or defensive or scared. If they were bored before the customer, they must now be titillated or sad. If they were content before the bridge searching, they must now be determined or vengeful. Whatever the change is, it needs to happen so that the larger change can happen by the end of the screenplay.

Comments

2 Comments on "The Sum of All Parts"

  1. Ilya on Wed, 11th Jan 2012 12:50 am 

    Great stuff! Thank you.

  2. cindy on Wed, 11th Jan 2012 10:11 am 

    Thanks Ilya! We’re glad you’re enjoying Writing Method!

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