In Part 1 of this series, we discussed how in writing character arcs, your protagonist should be shaped by all the other elements of the script. Structure and supporting characters should all play a role, having an impact and encouraging the protagonist to change.
Being able to write character arcs is a key skill for a screenwriter. Not only is it a mark of good characterization, it also gives your script a sense of progression and shape – but how exactly do you go about creating one?
The Art of Writing Sequels – TERMINATOR: DARK FATE will ignore all but the first two films in the series
The TERMINATOR franchise has undergone some turbulent times of late. The first two films in the series can only be counted as classics, featuring some of the greatest action sequences, characters, lines, and concepts ever put to film. All the films since? Not so much.
So in some ways, it’s unsurprising that the upcoming TERMINATOR: DARK FATE – the first in the series to feature the direct involvement of original creator James Cameron – will ignore all the TERMINATOR films that came after the second one, relegating them to being set in an “alternate timeline”.
“Alternate timeline”, of course, being a polite way of saying “we don’t like these and we’d like to pretend they don’t exist”.
It remains to be seen whether DARK FATE will truly manage to reinvigorate the franchise or just ends up on the scrap heap with the rest of them. But what was it that went wrong with the other sequels, and what’s the best way to go about writing a sequel?
The best approach to take when writing a follow-up is to do the same thing again, but… different. What this means is that you need to keep the key elements that made the original so good, while also innovating to give people something new that they haven’t seen before.
In short, give audiences the things they love while also making it seem fresh! But how did this apply to TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY do to make it such an effective sequel…?
Well, you had the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 Terminator – but turned from a villain into a hero, keeping the badass character but with new objectives, relationships, and dynamics. So it was something the same as the first film – but different.
And he was replaced as villain by Robert Patrick’s T-1000, a Terminator even more relentlessly unstoppable than the first thanks to being a liquid metal shapeshifter. Again, this was the same kind of antagonist as in the first film – but different enough that it felt fresh.
Similarly, the other TERMINATOR sequels didn’t work precisely because they got this wrong – particularly the most recent ones. TERMINATOR: SALVATION abandoned time-travel for a post-apocalyptic hellscape – but that was never what the series was about.
And the attempted reboot TERMINATOR: GENISYS just threw together a bunch of elements without any understanding of what made them work in the first place. Honestly, the less said the better.
So if you’re planning on writing a sequel, keep these things in mind. Remember exactly what it was about your first instalment so good in the first place, and don’t throw those things away. Just do the same thing again – but different!
Here’s hoping that TERMINATOR: DARK FATE does this too…
The WriteMovies Horror Award 2019 is almost over! With just two days until the contest closes, your chance to submit – and to become the first ever winner of this brand new prize – is fading fast. We’re saying goodbye to it with one final article celebrating the genre: our insights into zombie films!
Horror covers a lot of different bases. Monsters, ghosts, aliens, demons, serial killers, the devil himself… There’s a whole array of things in the genre that can scare you to death.
Speaking of death though, if there’s one thing horror keeps coming back to, it’s the living dead. Traditional horror stories were based on the idea of people reanimated after having died, and coming back as more animalistic version of themselves or mind-numbed, slow-motion versions of themselves.
Part of the success of zombie films is because they thrive on one of the cornerstones of horror: our innate fear of strangers and of being made to conform to the way that other people are, losing our personalities and individuality in doing so.
One zombie on its own is often not that dangerous. Being mindless, the individual is pretty easy to out-think! But they overwhelm through sheer numbers, relentless. It doesn’t matter how many you take down, there are always more still to come.
And so it should be with the films they feature in; this is a genre that will never die (or if it does, it will come back again!). Modern versions of zombie stories in the 21st century have brought them up to date and re-energized them with new dynamic energy, through such examples as World War Z and the rage virus that powers 28 DAYS LATER .
Stories like these have dynamized the previously slow moving zombie world, making for new kinds of fear and modern storytelling experiences and energy levels to put into films.
No matter whether they’re slow or fast, though, there are still key elements to zombies. They always come in hordes – and they always want to make you just like them…
If you’ve got a zombie story for us – or any other horror script! – don’t forget to submit to the WriteMovies Horror Award by this Sunday, September 29th. Stand out from the crowd by becoming the first ever winner of this prize!
If you can’t write dialogue, you can’t make it as a screenwriter. In a medium where it’s all but impossible to show thoughts and feelings, it’s dialogue that drives the plot, demonstrates who the characters are, and makes up most of the word count.
Okay, there are films that have succeeded, against the odds, using only a few spoken words: ALL IS LOST is a great example. But for the most part, knowing how to write dialogue is a key skill for any screenwriter. Here are our tips…
- Give each character a different voice. A lot of scripts have characters that all speak exactly the same way – usually the same way as the writer! But if you make your characters talk in their own unique way, not only is it more realistic but it also gives us a better idea of their personalities.
- Avoid exposition. If the audience needs to know something, find a natural way to get the information across instead of throwing in a conversation that feels contrived. There are no worse words to read in a screenplay than “As you know…” If the character already knows it, why are they being told again?
- Listen to how people actually speak. Record a conversation and pay attention to the rhythm and style of real speech; when you write dialogue, that’s the kind of style you want to replicate, although you can cut out all the “um”s and “erm”s!
- When writing a foreign character, don’t turn them into a cliche. Treat them the same as all your other characters – as real, rounded people! Just because their grasp of English may not be perfect, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to just use a stereotype.
- Don’t overuse parentheticals to describe how a line should be delivered. A screenwriter’s job is to write the screenplay, not to direct the film itself; actors and directors won’t appreciate you trying to control how things are said. A lot of the time it’s unnecessary anyway – unless something is being said ironically, it should be clear from the words themselves how to say the line!
So there you have it – now you should know how to write dialogue in your screenplay, and make it stand out over the competition. But of course, this is just one of the skills you’ll need. There are a great many more things to learn…
The fundamental thing that a script should do is tell a great story. Hopefully, that’s not a contentious point – we go to the movies or turn on the TV because we want to be entertained! Whether it’s an adventure, an emotional drama, or a horror, the story is what keeps people hooked. With that in mind, it’s easy to focus on the things that are always visible: plot points, characters, and dialogue.
But it’s important not to forget that the very best stories have layers. Underneath the surface, they have something more to say about life. If you ignore this second layer – if you ignore themes, and forget to include one (or more!) in your script, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice. They might not be visible or obvious, but they’re extremely important.
At the end of the day, it’s the theme that will most touch an audience and make them remember your film long after they’ve seen it. Anyone can string gunfights, explosions, arguments, and witty dialogue together, but if you can say something unique and profound that no-one else can say, it’ll really make you stand out.
It’s important to note that the theme is not the same as the concept of your script. Your concept or premise is the idea that drives your story; your theme is the message that it is trying to convey through that idea.
So for example, in David Lean’s classic film THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, the concept is that a rule-obsessed British colonel helps his Japanese captors to build a railway bridge, while being unaware of an Allied plan to blow it up. The themes, however, revolve around the absurdity of the idea that there can be rules in warfare and that honor can exist in such a situation.
These themes are never explicitly stated, but they’re clear from very early on, as soon as Colonel Nicholson (Alex Guinness) takes out his copy of the Geneva Conventions and attempts to show it to the uncaring commandant Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) to protest that his officers can’t be put to work because it would be in breach of law. And later on, Nicholson even forbids his men from trying to escape the POW camp because, having been ordered to surrender, escaping would be in breach of their orders!
This theme – of the absurdity of the rules of war – is difficult to express in a single, memorable sentence. It’s always there, though, in every scene of THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI. It leads us through the story from start to finish.
Knowing what your theme is before you start writing (or at the very least, during writing) is immensely helpful in this regard. If you don’t know what message you want to express, your story can end up wandering all over the place because it doesn’t have any guidance; a strong theme, on the other hand, can help to keep it on track.
So there are a lot of good reasons to make sure your screenplay’s themes are clear. It will help audiences to remember your work, making you stand out as a writer with something unique to say, and keep your story on track.
It will also help to keep us script analysts engaged. Make us use our brains rather than just dealing with things on a shallow level, and we’ll keep reading – and if you can get people to keep reading your script, page after page, then unsurprisingly you’ll achieve success in this industry!
Writing a script is hard work, but getting a script turned into an actual movie can be even harder. There are all sorts of obstacles standing in the way, not least the key decision-makers and producers who will actually be responsible for the whole project. So how do you get these people to say yes to your work?
One of the most important things that a lot of writers forget about is making sure that their script is commercially viable. Caught up in so many great ideas, they write whatever comes to mind with no thought for cost – but if the film unlikely to make a profit, then a producer is unlikely to want to back it. After all, their job may well be on the line!
Here are some tips to make your script more commercially viable…
- Ask yourself who is going to go and watch your film. Who is this going to appeal to? Who is your target audience? These are the kind of necessary questions that producers ask all the time; if you find that you’re not certain of the answer, then it might be time to have a rethink.
- Reduce the number of locations. By having all the action take place in only a few places, you’re massively reducing costs. A great example of this is RESERVOIR DOGS, which was predominantly set in an empty warehouse.
- Another way to reduce costs is to tone down the action. You might have some great set pieces planned out in your head, but every stunt takes time and money to plan and perform. Can you cut the helicopters out? Can you have only one explosion instead of three? The scene doesn’t have to always to be loud to be exciting!
- On a similar note, cut down on the crowd scenes. Extras have to paid and fed – each and everyone of them is costing the production money. If possible, even having a small cast of two or three is even better – that means paying even fewer actors!
- A lot of Hollywood blockbusters seem to be overloaded with special effects these days, but they don’t come cheap. They might be an unavoidable cost in science-fiction and fantasy, but see if you can find a way to cut down on them.
In short, when the budget is small and there’s a clear audience, producers are much more likely to say yes to your work. A small cast, a handful of locations, small-scale action (or none whatsoever) are all things that can help on this front, and give your script the best chance of thriving in a competitive industry.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY is a great example of film that does this well. There is always an audience for horror films, and by keeping its costs so low, it became the most profitable film ever made based on return on investment, making an impressive $193 million off a budget of just $15,000.
So when you sit down to write, make sure you think first about the commercial side of things – specifically, whether there’s enough of an audience for your script to claw back the money that will be used to make it. That’s part of the key to making your way as a successful screenwriter!