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SimplyScripts Screenwriting Discussion Board    Screenwriting Discussion    Screenwriting Class  ›  Screenwriting Palette Moderators: George Willson
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George Willson
Posted: November 25th, 2005, 8:31pm Report to Moderator
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This is a series of Checkpoints from The Screenwriter's Bible. I have been working through these with a few of the scripts I've written and found them to be immensely useful and thought-provoking. As many people on here know, the Screenwriter's Bible is the one I swear by when it comes to screenwriting, and for those who don't have this invaluable piece of material, this is an excerpt from Book 2 called a Screenwriter's Workbook. I basically trimmed out all the valuable information given in the steps and left you with the questions. If you go through and answer every single question, you'll have a hell of a script. The last script I wrote using this was amazing (but only 60 pages long -- doh!), but it had a great character arc. I will admit to skipping a few steps last time too...shouldn't have done that.

The way I do this is I have all of these question in a Word document and I just go down the list answering as best I can. Remember that this whole thing is like a diary; it's just for you. No one else will probably ever see anything in here, but the fact that it exists will shine through like a blinding light once your screenplay is done. I've got stuff written about characters and situations in some scripts that never come out, but the fact that it's there somehow makes the character more real.

Anyway, I thought I'd make a worthwhile contribution on here again. However, if you Dave's full everything he puts into this workbook, you still need to fork over the $20 for the book. This is what I call my screenwriting palette. I'm currently running another script through it, and the coolest stuff is coming out as a result.

As a final note, some may argue that some of these points touch on marketing which isn't our jobs as writers. However, we have to write marketable material, and we have to market it to prospective agent and producers, so we can't figure out any way to present it, why is it good enough to pick up?

Post 1


Step 1 -- Summon your muse


Step 2 -- Dream up your movie idea


1. Put your mind in a relaxed state.
2. Rely on the inspiration cycle: Input, Incubation, Ispiration, Evaluation.
3. Stimulate the senses.
4. Stir your creative desire by inventing writing rituals.
5. Reflect on it and dip into your past.
6. Carry around a tape recorder or notebook. (always a recommended tip)
7. See movies in your genre.
8. Steal. Shakespeare did, and are you a greater writer than he?
8a. Read fairy tales, folklore, mythology, and history.
9. Visit parks, airports, court rooms, crisis centers, or other places where people are likely to congregate or be in some kind of transition.
10. Read the news.
11. Understand dramatic structure.
12. Be open to radical change.
13. Write what you care about, have a passion for.
14. Try clustering.
15. Confront your blocks.

Checkpoint 1
  • How solid is your story idea, premise, or concept?
  • Will it appeal to a mass audience?
  • Is it fresh? original? provocative? commercial?
  • Does hearing it make people say, ?I want to see that!??
  • Is it large enough in scope to appear on the silver screen?
  • Does it have ?legs? -- stand on its own as a story without big stars?


Checkpoint 2
  • Do you have a working title that inspires you?
  • Will this title titillate the audience? Is it a ?grabber??
  • Does it convey something of your story in concept or theme?
  • Does it conjure up an image or an emotion?
  • Is it short enough to appear on a marquee? (Not always necessary.)


Checkpoint 3

Imagine how your movie will be advertised. Then on a sheet of paper, sketch out the one-sheet (movie poster) for your movie.
  • Is there a striking visual image that will stop passersby?
  • Is there a headline that plays off the title or conveys a high concept?
  • Will people want to see this movie?


Step 3 -- Develop your core story

For info on the structure definitions herein, reference "The 3 Act Structure Explained" thread in the Screenwriting class by Clicking Here.

Checkpoint 4

Write the TV Guide logline for your story.
  • Who is your central character?
  • What is his/her main goal? (This is the goal that drives the story.)
  • Why is the goal important to him/her?
  • Who is trying to stop your character from achieving the goal?


Checkpoint 5

Identify the parameters of your story.
  • What is the genre? (Action/adventure, thriller, romantic comedy, etc.)
  • What is the time and setting?
  • What is the emotional atmosphere, and the mood?
  • What, if any, story or character limits exist?


Checkpoint 6
  • What is the Catalyst that gives your central character a direction?
  • What Big Event really impacts your character?s life?
  • Is there a strong, rising conflict throughout Act 2?
  • Does the conflict build? or just become repetitive?
  • Is there a Pinch, a twist in the middle, the divides Act 2 in half and more fully motivates your character?
  • What terrible Crisis will your character face?
  • Will the Crisis force a life/death decision, and/or make the audience fret about how things will turn out in the end?
  • How does your story end? What is the Showdown?
  • In the end, does your character learn something new?
    ? ? ? o ? ? Or, is his/her growth (positive or negative) made apparent?
    ? ? ? o ? ? Or, does he/she receive any recognition in the end?



Checkpoint 7

Now write out your core story in three paragraphs, one for the beginning, one for the middle, and one for the end. Paragraph 1 will end with the Big Event; paragraph 2 with the Crisis. Obviously, you cannot include all of the characters in this brief synopsis. Once this is done, re-evaluate your story.



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George Willson  -  March 25th, 2006, 8:48pm
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Post 2


Some of this I've posted before, but it fits into the scheme of this whole thing, so apologies to those who have read it before.

Step 4 -- Create your movie people

Checkpoint 8

Does your central character have the following?
  • An outside goal that the audience will care about?
  • A powerful, personal motivation for achieving the goal?
  • An opposition character in a position of strength, capable of doing great damage?
  • The will to act against opposition, and to learn and grow?
  • Human emotions, traits, values, and imperfections that people can identify with?
  • A particular point of view of life, the world, and/or self, giving rise to attitudes?
  • Details, extensions, idiosyncracies, and/or expressions that are uniquely his/hers?
  • A life and voice (dialogue) of his/her own?
  • A key event from the past that has given rise to a character flaw?
  • An inner need that he/she may be unaware of at first?


Checkpoint 9

Evaluate your other main characters (and especially your opposition) by the criteria of Checkpoint 8. Each should have at least a goal or intention in the story. The more depth you can give them, the more interesting they will appear.

George's Note: Not only this step, but I personally recommend every character that has any screen presence to go through Checkpoints 8, 10, and 11.

Checkpoint 10

Your movie people should have sociological, psychological, and physiological characteristics. Use the following to provoke your creative thought.

Sociology
    Occupation                        Education               Criminal record
    Birthplace/upbringing          Ethnic roots            Religion
    Past/present home life       Political views          Social status
    Hobbies                            Affiliations              Private life
    Work history                     Work environment    Personal life

Physiology
    Height/weight               Build or figure               Attractiveness
    Appearance                  Hair/eyes                     Voice quality
    Defects/scars               Health/strength             Complexion
    Clothing                      Physical skills                Athletic ability

Psychology
    Fears/phobias               Secrets                    Attitudes
    Prejudices                     Values/beliefs          Inhibitions
    Pet peeves                   Complexes               Addictions
    Superstitions                 Habits                     Moral stands
    Ambitions                     Motivations              Temperament
    Personal problems         Imagination             Likes/dislikes
    Intelligence                   Disposition              


Checkpoint 11
These are questions to ask of your movie people:
  • How do you handle stress, pressure, relationships, problems, emotion?
  • Are you extroverted or shy? intuitive or analytical? active or passive?
  • What’s your most traumatic experience? most thrilling experience?
  • Essentially, who are you? What is at your core?
  • What is your dominant trait?
  • What do you do and think when you’re alone and no one will know?
  • How do you feel about yourself?
  • How do you feel about the other people in the story?
  • Who are the most important people in your life?
  • How do you relate to each?
  • What’s the worst (and best) thing that can happen to you?
  • What are you doing tonight? tomorrow?
  • Where do you plan to be ten years from now?


Checkpoint 12
  • How does your central character grow or change throughout the story?
  • How is your character different at the end of the story?
  • What does he/she know at the end that he/she did not know at the beginning?
  • What is your character’s perception of reality?
  • Does that perception change by the end of the story?
  • Is your protagonist likable?
  • Will the audience identify with your central character on some level?
  • Does your central character have depth, with both strengths and weaknesses?
  • Will the two key roles attract stars?


Checkpoint 13
  • What is the theme or message of your story?
  • What are you trying to say?
  • Will the end of your story say it for you without being too preachy?
        (The theme may not be evident to you until later in your writing.)


Checkpoint 14

Revise your three paragraph synopsis to incorporate any changes to your story.


Step 5 -- Step out your story

This is where you find out if your story is going to work or not. Here, you outline your story. This work will make the actual writing much easier than it would ordinarily be.


Checkpoint 15

Plot the action of your story. Identify your central character’s action plot and emotional subplot. Look at your other movie people; identify their goals. Their goals will drive their individual plots (actually subplots). Do these various plots lines intersect, resulting in adequate conflict for drama or comedy?


Checkpoint 16

Write a four-page treatment (double-spaced). Summarize the beginning of your story in one page, the middle in two pages, and the end in one page. Focus on two to four main characters, the key events (plot points), and the emotional undercurrent of the story. Although somewhat difficult, this exercise will help tremendously in laying a strong foundation for your story. Now answer these questions:
  • Is the central conflict of the story clearly defined?
  • Are the character’s goal and need clear?
  • Are the stakes of the story big enough for a commercial movie?
  • Does the story evoke an emotional response?
  • Will the audience cry, get angry, laugh, get scared, fall in love, get excited, etc.?
  • What makes this story unique, fresh, and original?
  • Is your story too predictable? Have we seen this before?
  • Are the facts of the story plausible? (They don’t have to be possible, just plausible.)
  • Will people be emotionally satisfied at the end?


Checkpoint 17

Step out your script. This is a crucial step. Traditionally, the step outline consists of a series of 3” x 5” cards, one card for each scene or dramatic unit. Consider attaching these cards (or post-it notes) to a wall, table, or cork board to see the entire story at once.

At the top of each card write the master scene heading, then summarize the action of the scene in a sentence or short paragraph, emphasizing the essential action and purpose of the scene. Some writers like to list the characters appearing in the scene in the lower left hand corner of the card. That way, they can see who is where at a glance.

You can use the lower right hand corner for pacing and tracking plots. Some writers use a highlighter and identify plots by color. Blue is the action story, red is the love story, and so on.

You can identify scenes as fast or slow, action or dialogue. If you discover that you have four dialogue scenes in a row, all with the same characters, you can adjust the pacing problem by moving scenes around, cross cutting with action scenes, condensing, or even omitting an unnecessary scene.

If additional ideas come to you, jot them down on blank cards. You’ll end up with 30-100 cards, depending on the nature of the story.

Of course, you don’t have to use 3” x 5” cards. You can step out your story on your computer -- whatever works for you. Once completed, your step outline will become the basis for writing your script.


Checkpoint 18

Now that your step outline is complete, ask yourself these questions:
  • Are your scenes well paced?
  • Do the major turning points come at about the right time?
  • Do things just happen, or is there a cause-and-effect relationship between character actions?
  • Do the subplots intersect with the main plot, creating new complications?
  • Are your characters’ actions motivated, or do they exist just to make the story work?
  • Does action, conflict, and dramatic tension build, or just repeat and become static?
  • Are your central and opposition characters forced to take stronger and stronger actions?
  • Does the conflict rise naturally to a crisis/climax?


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Post 3


Step 6 -- Write your first draft

Write your first draft from the heart. Keep your head out of it as much as possible. It’s okay to change the story. It’s okay to overwrite. It’s okay to include too much dialogue. Everything goes, everything flows.

Once this draft is completed, you may wish to register it with the Writers Guild of America. This is optional since you will register it again after your final polish.


Checkpoint 19

It is absolutely imperative that you do the following upon completion of the first draft.

1. Take at least two weeks off from your script. Let it ferment for awhile. You will be much more objective for the pre-revision analysis (Checkpoints 20-24). During this time you may want to read a book, go to a seminar, see movies of the same genre, or read scripts, or turn your attention to other things.

2. Reward yourself in some way that makes you feel good about being the next great screenwriter.


Step 7 -- Make the necessary revisions


Checkpoint 20

Review Checkpoints 1-19. Do not skip this checkpoint.


Checkpoint 21 (the script itself)
  • Is your script too technical, too complex, or too difficult to understand?
  • Will you script require a huge budget with unshootable scenes, such as herds of camels crossing the San Diego Freeway? Other possible big budget problems: special effects, period settings, exotic locations, too many arenas or locations, large cast, water, and animals.
  • Is your scripts budget about right for its market?
  • Have you followed the rules of formatting and presentation?
  • Have you written thoughts, feelings, memories, or anything else that cannot appear on screen?


Checkpoint 22 (dialogue)
  • Is the dialogue “too on the nose”?
  • Do your characters say exactly what they feel?
  • Does each character speak with his/her own voice, vocabulary, slang, rhythm, and style?
  • Is the dialogue crisp, original, clever, compelling, and lean?
  • Are the individual speeches too long or encumbered with more than one thought?
  • Does the story rely too heavily on dialogue?
  • Are your dialogue scenes too long?
  • Are there too many scenes with talking head?
  • Are you telling when you could be showing?
  • Is the comedy trying to be funny, or is it naturally funny?


Checkpoint 23 (exposition)
  • Are you boring your audience by telling too much too soon?
  • Are you confusing your audience with too little information?
  • Are you giving your audience just enough exposition to keep them on the edge of their seats?
  • Is your exposition revealed through conflict or through static dialogue?
  • Have you used flashbacks as a crutch or as a means to move the story forward?


Checkpoint 24 (character and story)
  • Will the reader root for your hero?
  • Will the reader have an emotional identification with the hero?
  • Are your characters believable? Are they humans with dimension?
  • Do your characters come across as retreads whom we’ve seen before?
  • Do any of your characters grow or change throughout the story?
  • Is there a moment at the end when this growth will be recognized by the reader?
  • When will the reader cry?
  • Is the story too gimmicky, relying too heavily on nudity, violence, shock, or special effects?
  • Will the first 5-10 pages capture the reader’s interest?
  • Do the first 20-30 pages set up the central conflict?
  • Does the middle build up in intensity toward the Showdown at the end?
  • Is the story, plot, or ending too predictable?
  • Are all the loose ends tied up in the denouement (the resolution after the Showdown)?


And that's it. Even if you've finished your script, and are stuck in revisions, these checkpoints might help to give you the insight you need to do some solid rewrites. No, it's not for everyone, and it's very, very hard to do...but in my opinion, it's worth it. After all, if you can't answer some of these questions about your own script...well, I figure that's enough said.

Oh, and a big thanks to Dave Trottier for writing The Screenwriter's Bible and coming up with this list.



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George Willson  -  November 25th, 2005, 8:48pm
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Martin
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Great stuff, George.

It's always good to have this checklist handy. This is about as thorough as it gets and will definitely help people improve their scripts.
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George Willson
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When I come to work, I carry three things. My lunch bag (terribly uninteresting but I find it important), a zippered notebook, and The Screenwriter's Bible...sometimes I carry the Holy Bible, but that's usually when I'm reading it.

I refer to it a lot. This list is helping me in a project that I was completely stuck on. If you use it right, it's very, very insightful.


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about the time i first came to these boards, i had seen a few post by George Willson, in a few of them he was prasing this thing called "The ScreenWriters bible", after seeing that  George was a pretty well respected member of this communtiy and could be trusted on what he said i went out and picked up a copy. Bar none this is some of the best money i ever spent on a book, George does know what he is talking about, so to any new members,trust in him and don't worry about it...you'll be more than glad you did.


BTW i owe George a thank you for mentioning the good book to me, $22.00 well spent.
thanks George.


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George Willson
Posted: November 25th, 2005, 11:56pm Report to Moderator
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I know this is a short post, but I gotta respond: You're welcome.

Mr. Trottier should totally pay me off for advertising. It's just a great resource.


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I don't think a lot of writers care about...

Checkpoint 1

   * How solid is your story idea, premise, or concept?
   * Will it appeal to a mass audience?
   * Is it fresh? original? provocative? commercial?
   * Does hearing it make people say, “I want to see that!”?
   * Is it large enough in scope to appear on the silver screen?
   * Does it have “legs” -- stand on its own as a story without big stars?

This stuff right here hurts about 20% of the scripts on this site and or in story on the work in progress board.

Especially the fresh, original, provocative parts.

These are some good points though, I might have to check out Coles (Local book store) and see if "The Book People" carry this book.

My question is does the book also work for series writing or is it more looking at feature length film ideas/script writing?


Practice safe lunch: Use a condiment.
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greg
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I've reviewed this a few times in the book and it's very helpful.  That book has helped me master the formatting and is giving me the technical pointers to develop a story.  All aspiring screenwriters should check this book out right away.


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George Willson
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Quoted from W
I don't think a lot of writers care about...

Checkpoint 1

   * How solid is your story idea, premise, or concept?
   * Will it appeal to a mass audience?
   * Is it fresh? original? provocative? commercial?
   * Does hearing it make people say, “I want to see that!”?
   * Is it large enough in scope to appear on the silver screen?
   * Does it have “legs” -- stand on its own as a story without big stars?

This stuff right here hurts about 20% of the scripts on this site and or in story on the work in progress board.

Especially the fresh, original, provocative parts.


They should be the most important questions you ask before you even bother to write. That's probably why it's checkpoint 1. It's ok to have an old, old story, but unless you make it fresh, we'll just go rent the 1943 version. They probably did it better anyway. I admit to being guilty of skiping this checkpoint...  


Quoted from W
My question is does the book also work for series writing or is it more looking at feature length film ideas/script writing?



While the main aim is screenwriting (three act structure and all that), many of the points in the screenwriting would translate well as story and character arcs throughout a series. The workbook covering the writing of the screenplay dos not touch on the structure of a TV show at all, though adapting it is not out of the question.

There is a section in Book III (pgs 146-154) about formatting TV scripts that gives a brief overview of the structure of movies of the week, pilots, dramatic series, and situation comedies.

For TV shows, it would make a great supplement, especially in some of the basic overview questions, but you would need more information about writing series than this book provides if you're just getting a start on it.


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Fantastic post again George. I'm happy to say I follow a lot of it, but it's reassuring to actually see it in print

I'll be picking it up this weekend.


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I agree
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I feel like this will help me lots with the idea process for me personally. I might actually start over on a short story and go through those steps before writing it. Thank you sir.
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Wow, what a great post.  I've always had trouble with the "pre-writing" phase because once I get an idea I jump right into it.  Hopefully this will help me out a ton.

Thanks, George.


Newest Scripts

To Pay The Price  - (Short/Drama)
Unconditional - (Short/Comedy)
All Or Nothing - (Short/Drama) -- Post-Production
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You know george this book is impossible to find... I went into the book store and they are backordered and sold out, I didn't know people in my little town actually read books let alone wrote screenplays but somebody must.


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