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Pre-production

this page

concept | pitch | treatment | script | production lists | shot list

how to write a script


Before you turn on a camera, you must plan and prepare. Write a script, make lists, and think through all the scenarios. Get all your equipment and materials together and your people committed.

Wikipedia’s Pre-Production

The script is broken down into individual scenes and all the locations, props, cast members, costumes, special effects and visual effects are identified. An extremely detailed schedule is produced and arrangements are made for the necessary elements to be available to the film-makers at the appropriate times. Sets are constructed, the crew are hired, financial arrangements are put in place and a start date for the beginning of principal photography is set. At some point in pre-production there will be a read-through of the script which is usually attended by all cast members with speaking parts, all heads of departments, financiers, producers, publicists, and of course the director.

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Pre-Production
Concept

The concept or premise of a property is the fundamental core idea that drives the plot and sustains audience interest. A “high concept” is an intriguing idea that is so simple and pure that it can be stated in ten words or fewer, one sentence at most, and is easily and completely understood by all. “Scientists discover that an asteroid the size of Texas will hit Earth in 48 hours” is high concept.

High Concept Defined Once and For All
by Steve Kaire

Yours will probably be closer to the more common: a potentially intriguing idea that is still forming and can be stated in fifty to a hundred words but can’t stand alone. It needs you there to explain it.

The classic situation is the elevator pitch. You find yourself alone in an elevator, going up, with someone who has the power to make your dream come true, and he/she seems willing to listen to you at least until the elevator stops.

In this case, it would be a producer with a lot of money or a star actor who you’d love to play a part. You have 30 seconds. Pitch your concept.

At the other end of the process, this concept is the short description that will appear on the YouTube page to entice viewers to click and watch.

It is most important to remember that you can change this concept at any time, although the longer you take to do that, the harder it might be to catch up.

Risky Business

Most of all, a concept is short. It can be said quickly.

In 25 words or fewer, what are you going to do for your video? It’s perfectly OK if you write, “The first scene of the Odd Couple (female version) exactly as Neil Simon wrote it.” I would also encourage you to do something that seems different, risky, ridiculous, impossible, beyond yourfear1 abilities, or just downright silly.

riskybizVisualize and describe.This is a time for divergent thinking, so go for it! I recommend that you write this pitch off-line and save it. Then copy and paste it into an email to me.

The audience for this concept pitch is the people who could fund it, work on making it, or watch it when it is finished. Your job is to present it to them enthusiastically. It’s exactly like getting a job and having to enthusiastically represent a product or service to customers, suppliers, employees.

In the real world of media development, an agent often plays this role. The creative person — the writer or director — develops the proposal, passionately, and then the agent delivers it, dispassionately but enthusiastically.

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Pitch

The pitch is the gateway to the next phase of the process. A concept is pitched, as is a property. After the video is finished, its trailer (aka preview) is a pitch for the distribution of the video. A pitch will be issued as a press release. The written pitch is the database metadata info at IMDB.com as well as the blurb for the movie listings.

Wikipedia’s Pitch

A pitch is a concise verbal (and sometimes visual) presentation of an idea for a film, generally made by a screenwriter or director to a producer or studio executive in the hope of attracting development finance to pay for a screenplay to be written. Pitches are usually made in person, although they can be made over the phone or, occasionally, pre-recorded on audio or videotape.

A good pitch is generally between five and ten minutes long and lays out the premise, hook and essential beats of the story, along with thumbnail sketches of the principal characters (often including the names of actors who might play the roles), and a clear idea of the genre, tone, likely audience, and budget level.

What you do in class on September 20 will be somewhere between a concept and a short pitch.

Concept Pitches

This idea of pitching a concept is not just for arts projects. For many professional projects to proceed in any industry, they go through a series of checkpoints or gateways. Inside the organization, these checkpoints often involve competition. There’s X amount of budget available, and the bosses ask for 2X or 3X worth of ideas to choose from. Outside the organization, these gateways involve venture capitalists, loan officers, and other people whose money or other resources you would like to use.

Your ability to not just survive in a job, but to thrive, may well depend on your ability to succinctly explain your ideas to others.

Demo video archives

Ideas are, in reality, cheap and easy to find. The media capitals of the world are full of folks pitching concepts and properties. Your life is full of pitches (trailers, ads) for the finished songs and movies. Part of the function of the pitch is to keep you from having only one egg in your basket and too much depending on it.

How to Pitch Your Movie Successfully

If you fear pitching your stories to agents and producers, you’re not alone. Many writers find pitching difficult. If they wanted to perform for an audience, they would not have chosen a solitary profession like writing….

Working writers often pitch their stories while they’re in the midst of writing their screenplays. Even after they sell the script, they have to pitch it to the director and the actors. All successful screenwriters learn how to pitch effectively, it’s part of the job description.

Transcript of a Successful Movie Pitch

Pitching a movie or television idea in Hollywood is murder. A screenwriter walks into a room and has 15 seconds to tell what may be a feature-length story to a bunch of grown-ups who listen to stories all day long, told by the world’s most talented storytellers. While the screenwriter talks, the grown-ups check their e-mail, their stocks and their makeup. And when it’s all over, the screenwriter can only hope that the grown-ups will hand over a suitcase full of money and send the writer home to write it all down.

We’ll try to avoid the murder part, but the 15 seconds is real. Make it short!!

After seeing BARACKY II, this was Zach’s pitch:

Obama vs. McCain 08 (rocky redone) – The character of Rocky will be played by John McCain and the Apollo Creed will be played by Barack Obama. There will be live scenes from debates and campaign speeches as well as video from Rocky that has faces of each candidate pasted over the characters from Rocky.

The video he ended up with is on the course YouTube channel.

Examples of concept pitches

See GEN 230 student pitches from previous sections of this course: Matteo Ricci’s Channel

How to Pitch Your Movie Successfully

If you fear pitching your stories to agents and producers, you’re not alone. Many writers find pitching difficult. If they wanted to perform for an audience, they would not have chosen a solitary profession like writing….

Working writers often pitch their stories while they’re in the midst of writing their screenplays. Even after they sell the script, they have to pitch it to the director and the actors. All successful screenwriters learn how to pitch effectively, it’s part of the job description.

Transcript of a Successful Movie Pitch

Pitching a movie or television idea in Hollywood is murder. A screenwriter walks into a room and has 15 seconds to tell what may be a feature-length story to a bunch of grown-ups who listen to stories all day long, told by the world’s most talented storytellers. While the screenwriter talks, the grown-ups check their e-mail, their stocks and their makeup. And when it’s all over, the screenwriter can only hope that the grown-ups will hand over a suitcase full of money and send the writer home to write it all down.

We’ll try to avoid the murder part, but the 15 seconds is real. Make it short!!

The pitch for a dramatic movie would summarize the plot.

The Women

2008 trailer

The story centers on a group of gossipy, high-society women who spend their days at the beauty salon and haunting fashion shows. The sweet, happily-wedded Mary Haines finds her marriage in trouble when shop girl Crystal Allen gets her hooks into Mary’s man. Naturally, this situation becomes the hot talk amongst Mary’s catty friends, especially the scandalmonger Sylvia Fowler, who has little room to talk – she finds herself on a train to Reno and headed for divorce right after Mary.

 

1939 trailer

Wealthy Mary Haines is unaware her husband is having an affair with shopgirl Crystal Allen. Sylvia Fowler and Edith Potter discover this from a manicurist and arrange for Mary to hear the gossip. On the train taking her to a Reno divorce Mary meets the Countess and Miriam (in an affair with Fowler’s husband). While they are at Lucy’s dude ranch, Fowler arrives for her own divorce and the Countess meets fifth husband-to-be Buck. Back in New York, Mary’s ex is now unhappily married to Crystal who is already in an affair with Buck. When Sylvia lets this story slip at a country club dinner, Crystal brags of her plans for a still wealthier marriage, only to find the Countess is the source of all Buck’s money. Crystal must return to the perfume counter and Mary runs back to her husband.

The pitch for other genres would similarly summarize what the media consumer will see when the project is finished and what it’s appeal will be.

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Pre-Production
Treatment

Treatment

storyboards, flowcharts, mock-ups, outlines, and site maps

Storyboards Inc.

Wikipedia’s Treatment

A film treatment (or treatment for short) is a piece of prose, typically the step between scene cards (index cards) and the first draft of a screenplay for a motion picture. It is generally longer and more detailed than an outline (or one page synopsis) and shorter and less detailed than a step outline but it may include details of directorial style that an outline omits. They read like a short story.

In many ways, the treatment is the most important document that you will produce for this course. If you get this “right”, it will make everything else possible in the next two months. I put the “right” in quotes because I want to emphasize that there is no One Right Treatment. It is certainly something you can change, but it is not something you would “correct”. So don’t be afraid.

If I gave your script to two of your classmates and asked them to make a video from it without consulting each other, they would come up with different videos. Both would be based on the same script and would contain the same dialogue, but almost everything else about them would be different. Why? Because of the two different ways that the two different directors “treated” the script. Your treatment document is your description of what you are going to do that other directors would do differently. Don’t worry about them when you write it. Concentrate on what you are going to do.

Start with your concept. Now think it through, imagine, envision. It’s the end of the semester, three months from now. We’re all sitting in the Lecture Hall. Your video is up next. There’s this pause while everyone turns expectantly, hopefully, curiously toward the screen.

What will we see?

Use words, as many as you need, to help us now to see what you see. Complete sentences are good, but you can use lists of them or within them. You can write what looks more like a paragraph.

How to write a treatment for a script/screenplay

In a nutshell, a treatment is a detailed outline of your film from start to finish – including all of your clever twists and turns. Some writers love them whilst others (usually the lazy ones) loathe them.

No matter what your view on treatments is, there is no mistaking that they are an immensely powerful tool for scriptwriters that force you into thinking about the path your story will take rather than focusing on the “cool scenes”.

For the writers that prefer to skip this step and dive straight into the 1st draft of the screenplay, they tend to write really shit scripts which in turn make god-awful movies. It makes good sense to have a good, long think about your story before writing a script for your story.

Free Hugs Amsterdam – high concept, low-budget, but takes a couple of special actors

Treatment ideas for projects with lots of still images

Videomaker’s Treating Your Video Right

Trivia note: From Joe Halderman’s point if view, he sold a treatment to David Letterman.

Letterman Blackmailed
by Kevin Allocca
Oct 02, 2009

Halderman approached Letterman outside his home on Sept 9th offering to sell Letterman a screenplay treatment.

At the beginning of every media project, there is a need to define a desired treatment. Any concept can lend itself to a wide variety of successful treatments. A treatment outlines what the finished project will be about. For example, a music video could show, as a concept:

  • the artists performing the song in front of a live audience or by themselves
  • a story line with actors and sets
  • compelling images to complement the music in a more abstract but still purposeful way

Each of these concepts implies a different treatment. The treatment describes:

  • look, sound, and feel, visual and aural design
  • each location or setting; where and when; indoor/outdoor, day/night — list them all
  • each situation — storyline at this location; what’s happening there?
  • cast: characters/actors, costumes, props
  • crew: camera placements, microphone placements
  • pacing
  • tone, color, lighting
  • images, music, text (to be added in post-production)

Even though most treatment writers don’t follow specific guidelines or structures, a well written treatment is one that can successfully communicate complete ideas to the other people, especially the money people, involved in the project.

Well done, a video treatment underlies the process of creating the production budget where items identified in the treatment are included in the budgeting process. It is a planning document.

In short, the treatment is a necessary phase of every project. It allows the production company — that’s you — to communicate its ideas to the artists and it allows artists to make decisions regarding the direction of the project. The treatment also helps you write production budgets and gives artists clear expectations when committing to your project..

For someone who is inexperienced with making videos, the treatment will save time and help ensure consistency, and thus watchability.

examples: two treatments

At YouTube, look at the two videos eventually made from the treatments:

Kym Marsh’s Sentimental (no longer available)

MC Harvey’s Get Up and Move

The quotation below from Egan and Barry mentions “mock-ups or animatics”. They are also known as storyboards.

Wikipedia’s Storyboard

Storyboards, Inc.

Music Video Treatment Basics
by Jeff Clark
MVWire.com

Writing Music Video Treatments
by Maureen Egan and Matthew Barry
MVWire.com

Once the treatment is exactly where we want it to be, we work on mock-ups or animatics, which are the visual blueprint of how the video will go. truth is, no matter how great your descriptive style may be, a lot of folks really dig the added visuals to help them really get behind your idea. so knowing a little photoshop, grabbing some clip art from the web, and drafting up some rough visuals can be really worthwhile. once thats done, we send it all to whomever has approached us – the label, manager, band members, or all three. then the waiting begins….

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Pre-Production
Script

Script

The script is the foundation — the verbal description, the dialogue and instructions — for a creative project that will involve many people over a long period of time. The script will change and evolve and develop, of course. But after listening to the pitches, the people who will be involved in the project want to read the script. They want to be guided verbally through a visualization of the finished project to help them decide whether to commit to it.

If you don’t have a script, we will not be able to plan your part of the production phase of the process. A script will let us find potential problems before they occur during shooting or when it is too late to solve them.

To use an architectural analogy, the script is like the floor plan and the sketch. You haven’t actually built the thing, but the script shows the intention: the structure, the characters, and the overall movement. And all the dialogue, of course.

What does a script look like? It can look and read like an essay, paragraph following on paragraph. It can look more like this web page, with lots of short sections with subheadings. It can have lists. It can look like a Shakespeare play, all dialogue with a few stage directions. It can be a poem, with short lines.

It can be a combination of all the above. It doesn’t matter what it looks like as long as the format is consistent and it uses words to help the reader see and hear the final project.

We are going to take several class days to look at your scripts. That will give us about 15 minutes per script, on average, though some will take more time than others. It is important that you understand the value you can get out of listening to a discussion of someone else’s script. If you’re listening, you will get far more out of the 290 minutes we talk about everyone else’s scripts than during the fifteen minutes that we talk about yours.

On or before Monday, September 26, send your script to me via email.

The script specifies what will be audible and visible on the screen when people watch your finished video. This document will have all the words that the actors in your video will speak, including voice-overs. It will also have any text, if any, that will appear on the screen. It may also have some stage directions.

Starting at the beginning, after the title sequence, what will we see and hear?

In addition to the voices — dialogue or narrative voice-over — a shooting script will also note instructions about technical and dramatic elements such as sound effects or use of props.screenplay

The rule of thumb is one page of shooting script per minute of screen time. That’s “page” in the old-fashioned sense of an 8 1/2 x 11 inch piece of paper and “script” in the format on the right — lots of white space so that the actors can more easily pick out their lines.

If you are aiming for a four- or five-minute video, you should write a script for about five or six minutes that you can tighten when you edit. Aim then for five or six pages (if it were printed out).

As with all our documents for this process, your script can be edited at any time.

Script formats

Your scripts will probably be best expressed by using one or several of these formats:

  • straight paragraphs as you would in an essay, article, or report

This format will work well for a documentary video or video essay that relies largely on a voice-over narrative.

  • traditional dramatic play format for dialogue (example on the right and your Odd Couple script)

This format will work well for a scripted video with multiple characters interacting.

  • lists and tables. For example, your table could have these column headers: scene number, scene name, time, setting, actors, action, basically an expanded shot list (see below)

This format will work well for a music video where the music determines your structure and the lyrics are half your script; the other half is the images we’ll see on the screen: setting, actors, action

  • storyboards – especially if you are doing a mash-up, your script may resemble or be able to use storyboarding techniques. Here’s what the Wikipedia has to say about them:

Storyboards are … graphic organizers such as a series of illustrations or images displayed in sequence for the purpose of previsualizing a motion graphic or interactive media sequence. … A film storyboard is essentially a large comic of the film or some section of the film produced beforehand to help film directors, cinematographers and television commercial advertising clients visualize the scenes and find potential problems before they occur. Often storyboards include arrows or instructions that indicate movement.

In creating a motion picture with any degree of fidelity to a script, a storyboard provides a visual layout of events as they are to be seen through the camera lens. And in the case of interactive media, it is the layout and sequence in which the user or viewer sees the content or information.

Note this phrase: “find potential problems before they occur.” If you can’t draw, you are welcome to use words to describe the scenes.

Sample scripts

the Odd Couple script that you will rehearse

sample script from Wikipedia

Simply Script’s movie scripts

narrative coherence
Does the story hold together and make sense in our world? Is it probable or at least plausible? Is it implausible but enjoyable or interesting?

narrative fidelity

Does the story match our own beliefs and experiences? Does it portray the world we perceive that we live in?

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Pre-Production
Production list

How how to start thinking like a maker of media instead of just as a consumer of media.

Video Maker’s Pre-Production (note the article on voice-over techniques) –

Before you begin shooting, I should have approved the following list of information about your video. This list will go on the table lower down on the reports page. It will also be the basis for the Genny Award nominations. Send me this list via email ASAP.

  • writer / director (you)
  • working title of your video
  • 15-word concept – the blurb on the TV listings settings / locations
  • cinematographer (camera operator)
  • actors
  • production managers: lights, sound, sets, props, costumes, continuity. One or more people.
  • budget – if any
  • shooting locations
  • shooting dates other than your one in-class day
  • any special considerations?

Along with your script, these lists will give me the information you and I need to move into the production phase prepared to make the best use of our time.

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Pre-Production
Shot List

Where the actors have their scripts, the director and camera operators have their shot list, which is their best friend during taping and editing.

A shot list breaks the script into short segments of dialogue or action and adds meta-information about each shot.

Your shot list is a crucial, required document. I will not pass you through the first gateway without it. To produce it, you will have to visualize your video down to the most detailed level that you can imagine.

Break your script into scenes, the scenes into sequences, and the sequences into shots. For example, let’s say that the second scene from So You Think You Can Dance is the judge’s table right after a dancer has finished his routine. The third sequence is where Judge 1 disagrees with Judge 2 and jumps up from his chair. The first shot of that sequence is the two of them together from the front while Judge 2 talks. The second shot is a close-up of Judge 1 reacting to something Judge 1 said. The third shot is Judge 1 jumping out of his chair. The fourth shot is the reaction of Judge 2.

The format:

Shot number

Scene 2 Sequence 3 Shot 1

Action

Judge 2 talking, Judge 1 turned toward Judge 1, listening

Camera instructions

MCU of Judge 2 with Judge 1 on right. No pan.

Dialogue

JUDGE 2: That was the most terrific dance I’ve seen in years!

Other audio

Contestant gasps, audience shrieks

Visual effects

none

The final two will be more useful during editing than during taping.

Depending on your situation, it may make sense to arrange your shot list in the order in which the shots will be taped, not the order in which they will appear in the final video. The numbering may still be in the order in which the shots will appear in the final video.

Either way, you have a list to follow when you get all the actors and crew ready at the location. What do you do next? Follow your shot list.

Types of shots

Don’t forget to shoot “noddies” (from the verb “to nod”), which are medium close-up shots of all the actors listening and non-verbally expressing a variety of emotions. During editing, you will cut to those reaction clips to cover jump cuts.

shot list for the first scene of the Odd Couple

Shot List with storyboards

This example from AdShack is organized by location. Steelcase/NEOCON Promo Video SHOT LIST AND SHOOTING SCHEDULE

Media College

Media College’s Abbreviations for and examples of camera shots

Media College’s Terms for camera moves

Email these lists to me by October 8. If I approve it, you will be finished with the pre-production process and ready to begin the production process. You will be in excellent shape to make good use of everyone’s time during production, when on stage, studio, or location.

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How to write a script

Tip | Go someplace where you won’t be bothered for a few hours. Turn off your cell phone.

assemble the pieces

  • who, what, when, where?
  • why? cause and effect. He died. She died. Tragic but not as interesting as this: He died because she died. Cause and effect. Stories have it and real life often doesn’t, or doesn’t seem to. Real life seems more random and arbitrary where a story is purposeful and controlled.

plot

How to Tell a Story
by Gary Provost and Peter Rubie
Writer’s Digest Books, 1998

Once upon a time, something happened to someone, and he decided he would pursue a goal. So he devised a plan of action, and even though there were forces trying to stop him, he moved forward because there was a lot at stake. And just as things seemed as bad as they could get, he learned an important lesson, and when offered the prize he had sought so strenuously, he had to decide whether or not to take it, and in making that decision he satisfied a need that had been created by something in his past.

What decisions do you need to make?

Time:

Place:

Here’s the character:

This is what s/he wants:

This is the obstacle:

This is the outcome:

It leads to:

action/description vs dialogue

A script is all dialogue with notes for scenery, props, and action implied.

A novel or short story is the dialogue plus descriptions of things and actions. A narrator (3rd person) or character (first person: “I”) is telling the story in a voice that we like listening to or are compelled to listen to.

show vs tell

Even though we say “tell a story”, there is a difference between showing and telling. More accurately, the narrator should “show the story” in the sense of let it unfold, let it reveal itself like a movie does. Don’t write an essay.

Show, don’t tell

example of telling:

war brings great suffering, especially to children

example of showing (from Baghdad Exceeds Its Object):

Make haste, Safia, you little scamp, you pig-tailed qasida,
put that fat flap of scalp back on your crown,
now’s not the hour for teenage pranks,
it’s time to go to school!

“OK, I’m sitting at my keyboard ready to start writing a story. Now what do I do?”

make lists

Look at all your backstory material. Make lists of characters and other types of information. Start to make groups.

let it grow out of the backstory

Place the photos of your characters next to each other in pairs, think about their biographies, and get them disagreeing about something. What are they saying to each other? Listen and write it down.

Wikipedia’s Backstory

the history behind the situation extant at the start of the main story. This literary device is often employed to lend the main story depth or verisimilitude. A back-story may include the history of characters, objects, countries, or other elements of the main story. Back-stories are usually revealed, sketchily or in full, chronologically or otherwise, as the main narrative unfolds. However, a story creator may also create portions of a back-story or even an entire back-story that is solely for his or her own use in writing the main story and is never revealed in the main story. In role-playing games, a character’s back-story is usually called his or her background.

ring the changes

“ring the changes” (origin of this phrase)

Model another story; repurpose other media

Retell another story. First, re-situate a story from its time and place to your time and place. Reverse the gender of all the characters. Now re-write the story, word for word, making the changes you need to to fit the new time, place, and people.

Example | If the model story has two old women in 1980 in a New York City penthouse drinking vodka tonics while talking about their husbands, you change it to two young men in 2007 in Delaware Park jogging while talking about their girlfriends. Where the model story has two sentences describing the penthouse, you write two sentences describing the park. Where the model story has a sentence describing the vodka tonic, you write a sentence describing the guys’ running shoes.

Do the same thing with a movie. Re-situate and retell. In another class, the students watched Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, which takes place in Norway over a hundred years ago. Resituate it to South Buffalo in 2007.

For example, illustrate/film on of these old-time radio shows

plant a seed

Let the story grow organically.

Let’s ring the changes on the Gary Provost quotation above. First, we’ll change it from 3rd person to first person singular.

Once, something happened to me, and I decided I would pursue a goal. So I devised a plan of action, and even though there were forces trying to stop me, I moved forward because there was a lot at stake. And just as things seemed as bad as they could get, I learned an important lesson, and when offered the prize I had sought so strenuously, I had to decide whether or not to take it, and in making that decision I satisfied a need that had been created by something in his past.

Now first person plural.

Once, something happened to us, and we decided we would pursue a goal. So we devised a plan of action, and even though there were forces trying to stop us, we moved forward because there was a lot at stake. And just as things seemed as bad as they could get, we learned an important lesson, and when offered the prize we had sought so strenuously, we had to decide whether or not to take it, and in making that decision we satisfied a need that had been created by something in our past.

Now let’s ring the changes, layering in your backstory.

Example | The way this season could have turned out.

This year, we got a new coach and we decided we would aim for winning the conference championship. So we devised brutal conditioning and practice regime, and even though we played some strong teams, we got into the play-offs as the eighth seed. Then our freshman point guard and second leading scorer got cut from the team for violating the rules of the brutal regime that we had all agreed to …

a triggering incident

Write out from the center.

Example | Hurricane Kaminski is the trigger. Take a snapshot of Joe looking up and seeing the Freon 113 beginning to blast from the sprinkler head. There’s the center. Make lists of who, what, when, where, how, why. Then make a timeline of what led up to that snapshot moment and also what happened because of it.

Then you have two choices:

  • give yourself permission to lie, to change what really happened to what could have or should have happened
  • tell it as it really happened and then ring the changes (see above) on it

write backwards from the ending

Example | Start with the wedding and work back to when they first met.

start with a timeline (aka outline)

Especially good for historical events

make storyboards

Sketch it out, sort of advanced doodling. Sketch out flashes and snapshots of action, then assemble them chronologically.

Tip | Don’t even think about a “thesis statement” or “topic sentence” or “theme”. Think conflict, think people under stress.

The Thirty-six Dramatic Situations – short list | expanded list
by Georges Polti

http://www.smalladdictions.com/Skateboard/articles/NFW-031.htm

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