In a recent video, script consultant Jill Chamberlain says 99% of screenwriters miss the boat on an essential part of storytelling.
As writers, we all make mistakes together. I've found that when I'm struggling with a particular aspect of screenwriting, I know I can count on my friends having been there before. That's why this recent interview with Jill Chamberlain and Film Courage caught my attention.
In it, she claims that 99% of screenwriters do a certain thing...and tells us why it's wrong.
Then we will break it down after the jump!
What do 99% of screenwriters do wrong?
So according to Chamberlain, 99% of screenwriters fail to tell a story; they just present a situation.
In layman's terms, it means that while you have scenes with interesting characters and dialogue, they fail to fit together the way a story should. Stories need to be linked in a "because" chain of reactions. Situations are just a bunch of things happening after one another until an ending is achieved.
I think this is a pretty general statement, but one we should heed.
Chamberlain calls this the "Nutshell Technique," which she describes as "a method whereby writers identify eight dynamic, interconnected elements that are required to tell a story successfully."
Instead of putting a number on it, I call it a "because tree" and I can explain it using the squirrel from the Ice Age movies.
Becasue the squirrel is hungry he forages for food...because he's foraging he finds a nut...because he finds the nut he tries to grab it...and so on as his attempted to secure the nut lead him into more and more insane hijinks.
When you get into screenwriting, you can tend to just think of funny or cool scenes and lay them out, without having a dramatic reason for them to fit into one another.
But every action has a reaction, and those reactions drive conflict and the story.
I love a good hangout movie as much as the next person, but movies need a driving force behind them to keep the story going. While movies where random things just happen, like Forrest Gump, are entertaining and certainly some of my favorite of all time, they usually are the exception, not the rule.
When you start out writing, try to focus on the WHY behind every scene.
It's not enough to cause problems for your characters; you have to have the reason behind the problem.
Think about the excellent plot of There's Something About Mary.
Every single zany thing happens in this movie because Ted is in love with Mary. And his actions in this movie drive the "because" again and again. Because of the prom mishap, he hires a sleazy investigator. Because he's driving to Miami and tired he picks up a hitchhiker. Because he's nervous about his date with Mary he...well, you get the picture.
So when you build your story, think about what's driving the actions, and the reason behind each set piece or new scenario.
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