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First Draft: Five Criminally Underrated Elements of Successful Screenplays

First Draft: Five Criminally Underrated Elements of Successful Screenplays

First Draft

3. Small Story Windows

Less is more. That is a mantra that all screenwriters need to embrace. While most apply that to scene description and dialogue, it is also strongly applicable to stories as well.

The original Star Wars offered us a glimpse into that galaxy. We didn’t need to see Luke Skywalker’s childhood unfold before he stumbled upon two droids on a fateful day on the desert planet of Tatooine. We didn’t need to see the buildup to the space chase that exploded onto the screen after the opening crawl. We didn’t need to see the world of Han Solo and his smuggling ways.

Instead, we were offered a glimpse into the colliding stories of those characters—until the impending sequels, prequels, and spin-offs obviously.

The element of telling a story using small story windows offers the reader the ability to have less to remember and envision. And when they have less to remember and envision, they can more easily experience the cinematic core concept and story that you tell.

The more you add to the premise, the greater the risk you will face of losing the reader.

Instead of having your screenplay tell the dramatic story of your alcoholic character trying to go sober over the course of a year, why not focus on the last day of the last step in their 12-Step program?

Instead of having your screenplay tell the epic story of a historical World War II battle, why not focus on one soldier as they deal with the overarching conflict?

Instead of having your screenplay tell the horrifying story of a serial killer stalking and killing multiple victims, why not center the story on a single victim in their house watching the news reports of the killings and then hearing a floorboard creak from above? The opening of Wes Craven’s Scream alone could have been a single contained horror movie.

When you write within the confines of smaller story windows, the tension, suspense, drama, and conflict are bigger and more present.

Note: It’s also more attractive to Hollywood. The fewer set pieces and locations there are, the cheaper the film will be to produce.

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