INT. SCREENPLAY STRUCTURE - DAY OR NIGHT

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SCREENPLAY STRUCTURE--A QUICK REFERENCE

by
Barry Pearson

In my screenwriting seminar, Create Your Screenplay, I deal extensively
with the creative and structural nature of the screenplay. That takes two
seven-hour days. Nevertheless, I'm going to lay out the Quick Reference
version here. (Watch for my e-book which comes out later this year,
and which will detail the principles and techniques that I teach.)

Please note that I created some of the terms I will be using here, so
they will be unfamiliar to you. Here's a short glossary:

BONDING CHARACTER - the second most important character in your story,
the character who carries on a relationship with your Hero.

BONDING EVENT - the event, sequence of action, that brings the Hero and
the Bonding Character into contact and into a relationship with each other.

LOCKING EVENT - the event, sequence of action, that radically alters the
nature of the Hero/Bonding Character relationship, so that it becomes very
difficult for them to disengage from each other.

ESCALATING EVENT - the event, sequence of action, that dramatically
raises the stakes in the Hero/Bonding Character relationship.
In my
seminar, I tell the writers not to be a "slave to the page count."

That said, almost every successful screenplay accomplishes typical
developments in a specific order, which just happen to fall approximately
on or near certain pages (assuming you're using standard screenplay
formatting).
For the purposes of this article, I'm assuming a 100 page
screenplay. Adjust the approximate page counts if your script is longer.
The page numbers are only meant to be a rough guide, anyway.

The Guiding Principle - almost every screen story is MAINLY ABOUT ONLY
TWO CHARACTERS.

One of these is the HERO, the other is the second most dominant character,
whom I call The BONDING CHARACTER.

To oversimplify:

SETUP:
In the first 10 pages one of these two characters will be introduced and
detailed. Not all movies begin with the Hero. Many begin with the Bonding
Character.

Sometimes this Bonding Character is the villain, or the monster, or the
potential love-interest.

BONDING EVENT:
Somewhere between pages 9 and 18 roughly, an event will occur which
brings the Hero into contact and interaction with the Bonding Character.
This event I call the BONDING EVENT.

For example, in "Witness" the Bonding Event is a murder witnessed by
the son of Rachel Lapp (Bonding Character, played by Kelly McGillis).

This event brings Rachel into contact with John Book (the Hero, played by
Harrison Ford).

THE OPPOSING/ATTACKING FORCE.
It is important to understand that the Bonding Event is typically the
culmination of a sequence of backstory events set in motion and
propelled by the evil or negative force in the story
, which I call the
Opposing/Attacking Force.

This force can be a human villain, a monster or alien, a force of nature, a
cartel of evil persons -- in other words the total combination of outside
forces that the Hero has to contend with in your story..

LOCKING EVENT:
Following the Bonding Event there are a series of scenes which detail
the developing relationship between the Hero and the Bonding Character.
These scenes lead up to a second important event, the LOCKING EVENT.

This is the second major event in your screen story. It introduces a turn of circumstances that alters the relationship between the two major characters,
so that they cannot easily disengage from each other.
Their desires and
their situation change in a way that forces them to stay in contact with
each other.

This applies equally to two central characters who have a hero/villain relationship(Sleeping with the Enemy, Alien), as to characters who have
a hero/ally relationship (Witness, Terminator), or a hero/love-interest
relationship (When Harry Met Sally).

This Locking Event occurs somewhere between pages 20 to 35.

ESCALATING EVENT:
Following the Locking Event there is a development that raises the
stakes for the Hero and Bonding Character, the ESCALATING EVENT.
Often this development is one which raises matters to a life-and-death
issue. This Escalating Event occurs somewhere between pages 40 to 55.

SENDING YOUR HERO TO HELL:
Following the Escalating Event there is a sequence of developments
which comprise the portion of the script wherein the Hero tries to
accommodate, adjust to, and escape from the situation of jeopardy in
which he or she finds himself or herself.

Until a moment arrives when the Hero is in such a hellish situation that
he or she starts to go on the offensive and fight back. In essence, the
Hero is driven to state of mind like Peter Finch in Network who yells,
"I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!"

This sequence typically occupies the pages from 60 to 75 or thereabouts.

THE PLAN THAT FAILS.
Next there is a sequence of scenes in which the Hero plans to defeat
the forces opposing him. The Hero put a plan into motion and locks horns
with the opposing force or forces in an effort to defeat them. This is the
"plan-that-fails" segment of the script.
This sequence will fall somewhere
around pages 75 to 85. (Again, I caution you not to be a slave to the page
count. Use page numbers very approximately).

At this point, I should mention the issue of how much screen time you
should be spending on each aspect of the storyline. Obviously if you find
your Hero being "mad as hell" at page 45, your script is out of whack.

As a sidebar, in the scripts that I see from writers, a common weakness
is that the writer has skipped either the Locking Event or the Escalating Event.
That error will throw the whole shape of the story out of balance.

THE HIDDEN WEAKNESS.
When the Hero's plan has failed and he or she looks to be utterly, finally
defeated, there is a sequence in which he or she discovers what appears to
be a hidden weakness in the opposing force or forces. This of course is a
weakness that you the writer built in when you created the Opposing/Attacking
force of your story.

THE PLAN THAT SUCCEEDS.
This revelation (when the Hero has discovered the hidden weakness of
the opposing forces) initiates the "plan-that-succeeds."

The ensuing sequence -- the one in which the Hero battles and defeats
the opposition - occupies pages 85 to 95 approximately.

THE WIN AND THE PRIZE
Following the Hero's victory, there is a final sequence in which the writer
dramatizes the Hero's new status and situation, and allows the audience
to vicariously savor the Hero's victory, even if it is bittersweet, which it
often is.

That covers pages 95-100 approximately. A parting note: You would do
well to analyze a number of your favorite movies to see if you can recognize
this structure. Try to study the nature of the features I have outlined so
that you can apply them to your own work. There is a teeming variety in the
way writers have used this typical structure, and it does not always jump
out at you when you watch a movie purely for enjoyment.

©BP 2002


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