I listened to a podcast today on screenwriting, called On the Page (it’s great), and they were talking about loglines. It seemed like a few of them were “must” statements, meaning that the protagonist must do something, and that’s the story of the film. In Star Wars, Luke must save the princess. In Finding Nemo, Marlin must…find Nemo! In Fellowship of the Ring, they must destroy the Ring and save the world. In King Kong they must save the girl. It might not necessarily work for all films, but it can really help to sit down and write out what your main character has to do.
That’s where this is all going. It’s figuring out character motivation. When you boil it all down to one sentence, what’s the story? With Gunslinger it works pretty well, and helps really clarify the point of the movie: a rejected son must track down his brother’s killer in order to redeem himself. In Shadows, the story is probably: a brother must find his sister before time runs out. Okay, well that one needs some work. But do you get the point? For every character – especially the protagonist – ask yourself, “What must he do?” Stating what he must do automatically brings up the questions, “Why?” and “How is he going to do it and what’s going to happen along the way?” The why is your first act, the must is the choice leading into the second act, and the how/what happens is the second act. The third act is implicitly mentioned because at some point the protagonist will reach the point of accomplishing his goal, and the question there is, “What happens?” What happens when Luke finds the princess? What happens when Marlin finally gets to where Nemo is? What happens when they get the Ring to Mordor? What happens when Traicen finds his brother’s killer? What happens when Jonathan confronts whatever took his sister? That right there is your third act. So asking yourself what a character must do will boil your story down to a clear focus and help ask questions that will lead you toward the right execution of the idea.
To use a current example, what must our friend the sailor do? Deliver the bundle. But does that must change? Hmm? Oh, I have a hunch it might….
So, the word: excitedly. (With excitement, in an excited manner)
The sea lay flat and gray under the low clouds. Flat that is, according to sailor’s terms. One gets used to the rocking of the waves, that swaying back and forth that becomes the motions of the cradle. To the sailor the waves were flat, no higher than the sides of the boat, and for that he was glad. Last night a thick storm had poured hard on the village and he had feared what the sea might be like that morning. But when he awoke in the pre-dawn darkness he could tell by the sound of the waves that they were at bay this day, lulled by the covering clouds and a quiet morn. And so, after a quick mug and bowl, he had walked to the end of the deserted docks and slipped like a shadow from the bay. The hulls and masts had risen like trees about him, a forest that swayed and creaked with rope and tar amid the idle fog. With a swirl and pull he had passed out into the open sea and turned north, staying a short distance from the shore.
Yep, there you go. Sorry, didn’t get to what I wanted. My little brother was texting me. See! Environment is important! But anyway…. Something changes in the sailor as he rows north. Something beguiles him, turning him to its will…but perhaps next time that story shall be told. Until then – farewell!
(oops – just realized I forgot to use excitedly. Oh well. Maybe next time)