Marcel Proust wrote a story called REMEMBRANCES OF THINGS PAST that took up seven full-length books (almost 3,500 pages!)... you may have read it in college (or just read the cliff notes). The story is really several different stories all concerning the same character... they pulled out one of the stories several years ago and made a movie called SWANN'S WAY.

A couple of years ago we had our final chapter of THE HOBBIT, the prequel to the massive hit LORD OF THE RINGS movies... in the case of those films, Tolkien's story was so long (1,216 pages) and so dense the publisher cut it into thirds and turned it into a trilogy. If that wasn't enough, they have decided to cut the prequel (THE HOBBIT) in half and make it into three epic length films... and now that they're done with that, there's a sequel to the RINGS trilogy!

Stephen King writes big fat books... THE STAND is 1,168 pages long and contains a huge cast - each one becomes the hero for a section of the book. It's one of my favorite books, probably took me a month to read. Dude gets a bit wordy, and loves his subplots - some of his more recent novels seem like a bunch of subplots tied together.

William Goldman may be most famous as a screenwriter, but he began his career as a best selling novelist. His 704 page book BOYS & GIRLS TOGETHER has about a dozen characters who are connected in odd ways - kind of a six degrees of separation thing.

In a novel you can have as many characters, as many story lines and as many pages as you want... but in a script we have 110 pages to tell our story (less than 1/30th of what Proust had to tell his story). That means we need to focus on one story, one central conflict and one protagonist (two if you're writing a rom-com or buddy movie). We just don't have enough pages to successfully pull off a sprawling multi-story cast of thousands tale. When William Goldman writes a screenplay, he usually has a single protagonist (like GREAT WALDO PEPPER) or a pair of buddies (BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID) involved in a straight forward story (in THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS Val Kilmer has to kill a pair of lions before they eat all of the workers trying to build a railroad in Africa). A screenplay has to be FOCUSED - a novel can be sprawling.

One conflict. Focused. So JAWS is about an ocean-phobic Sheriff tracking down the shark who is eating his townspeople. The book has a swell romantic subplot between Brody's wife and the Shark Expert character Richard Dreyfus played in the film... but that has nothing to do with the shark eating people, so it's not in the film. Like a shark, a film script is streamlined.

CITIZEN KANE is all about the search for the meaning of Kane's last words "Rosebud". While interviewing ex-wives and ex-friends, we dig into Kane's past, looking for "Rosebud"... finding out what the words mean at the end. Are there any characters in KANE who didn't know Kane? Only the reporter who is searching for the answer to the "Rosebud" question. Every character in the film is *connected* to the story.

GARDEN STATE is about a guy who returns home for his mother's funeral and has to make peace with his stern father... who blames him for her death. It may seem whimsical and scattershot, but the film is a journey with a definate destination. One story, one central conflict. A novel has room for a million subplots, but a screenplay has *one* central conflict, and every subplot grows directly from that central conflict. When you only have 110 pages, you don't have enough room for anything that doesn't directly relate to that streamlined story.

One conflict, usually one lead character... and all of the characters need to be connected to the central conflict... and the story. If the story is about a boy who comes home from college for his father's funeral only to discover that his father was murdered by his uncle... and his mother was an accomplice, you have three main characters that the conflict revolves around. The bulk of the story will be about those three characters, with the college boy probably in almost every scene because he's the protagonist. Any scene that includes two of the three will contain conflict and drama (because you have protagonist and antagonist). Since conflict is fuel for drama, every supporting character will be connected to the conflict in some way. By focusing on the conflict, you automatically remove extraneous characters and give yourself more time with the important characters. Less characters means more time spent on developing each of them. If your script has 30 characters, that's only about 3 minutes spent on each character... how well can you get to know someone in 3 minutes? More time for the audience to get to know the character means less confusion between characters ("Is that Karl or Sam? Her husband or the gardener?") Every character has to count!

The more removed your character is from that conflict the less important they are to the story. The Mother's hairdresser's boyfriend is a completely extraneous character. They may be the funniest character in your script, but they have nothing to do with the story you are trying to tell. The Mother's hairdresser is an important character only if the Mother gives him story information. Then the character has a connection to the story. If the Mother just gossips with the hairdresser, that character is completely unimportant - cut him! Save that character for your novelization... they take up too much time for the script version.

Stage plays usually have limited casts. I can't find my copy of THE FRONT PAGE, but there are three main characters, plus the escaped convict and the other guys in the press room... that's a limited cast. GLASS MENAGERIE also has a limited cast. SLEUTH has two characters (or maybe 3, if you count the fake cop). The fewer the number of characters, the closer you get to the conflict. The deeper your characters become. The more focused the story. The better your script. The characters need to be connected to the conflict.


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Every thing in your screenplay is connected to that main story strand, or it's unnecessary. Your story is focused - streamlined - for a screenplay. All of the characters have some connection to the conflict or are maybe one level removed. A few weeks ago I was at the Three Rivers Screenwriting Conference with Christoper Lockhart from WME, and one of the things he sees as a major problem with people's *pitches* is that they are often all over the place and have elements that don't seem to fit the story - a problem of unity. Some of the characters or scenes or subplots seem like they belong to some other story. The example that he uses is a Tod Browning silent film called THE UNKNOWN which stars Lon Chaney - and I haven't heard him talk about the film is years... I *have* seen the film recently, so here's my version...

THE UNKNOWN is about a carnival sideshow performer known as The Armless Man (Lon Chaney) because he has no arms. Obvious, right? But it's actually amazing. He eats, plays the guitar, smokes, and everything else *with his feet*. His sideshow act has him *throwing knives* at a Hot Carnival Chick in a sexy spangled bathing suit... with his feet! She stands against a wall, just like any Hot Carnival Chick in a knife throwing act, and he grabs the knives *with his feet* and throws them at her - doing the usual balloon popping and cigarette slicking. It's amazing! (Lon Chaney was an actor who puts DeNiro's weight gain and Christian Bale's weight losses for roles to shame. Chaney did *crazy* things in roles - like learning how to use his feet for everything so that he could play this role. Chaney was the ultimate actor - and no one else has ever topped his odd physical performances.)

The Armless Man is secretly in love with the Hot Carnival Chick (an impossibly young Joan Crawford). The Hot Chick confides in him - she tells him she hates men because they always put their *hands* all over her, grabbing her ass and tits, but the Armless Man doesn't do this... that's why she can confide in him. She spends much of her time in his trailer at the carnival, complaining about those handsy men - as if he's a eunuch.

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The Armless Man's #1 rival for the Hot Chick is the carnivals' Strong Man - who has massive arms. He's always flirting with her - but when he tries to put his big arms around her she always pulls away. When he comes to the Armless Man for advice on how to approach the Hot Chick, the Armless Man (jealous and devious) tells him that she loves having men put their hands all over her. Even if she doesn't seem like it, that's really what she wants. So if she pulls away? Just keep trying to put your arms around her!

The police come to the carnival to interrogate everyone because there have been a series of burglaries - a master safe cracker - and the towns these crimes have occurred in are the same towns the carnival has been to. But the master safe cracker has made a mistake - left behind his fingerprints. The police are fingerprinting *everyone* at the carnival. When they come to the Armless Man he waves with his feet and asks if they want his prints. The police laugh and say no. But no one in the Carnival has prints that match - and the police move on, looking for other suspects.

The Armless Man shares his trailer at the carnival with the Dwarf - they are best friends.

He trusts the Dwarf to undress him every night... takeing off his truss... exposing his *arms*! The Armless Man has arms - and is the master safe cracker! Clever! The perfect cover - the police never suspect a man with no arms of being the master safe cracker.

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He tells the Dwarf that he loves the Hot Chick, and wants to hold her in his arms. The Dwarf tells him that can never happen - the minute the Hot Chick finds out he has arms, she'll hate him for lying to her. He can never marry the Hot Chick because when he takes off all of his clothes - she will see his arms. You can't exactly hide that from your wife. He wants to hold her in his arms... but can never do that. The love he has for her must remain unknown - hidden like his arms.

Okay - just from that part of the story, do you see how the armless element is connected to the story - is critical to the story. Every part of the story connects to it. The safe cracking? Hey - this is the perfect disguise! The romance? The reason why she confides in him is that he isn't trying to put his hands all over her! But he wants to put his arms around her! His rival - a man with huge arms! Those arms make him ultra-masculine. Everything in this movie from the safe cracking to the romance is about the *arms*. The idea has *unity*. The pieces all connect logically, no explaining to do and no confusion as to why *this* character and not *that* character. Every piece relates to every other piece. Every character and subplot and scene is connected.

In THE UNKNOWN the Armless Man realizes the only way he can marry the Hot Chick (and share his fortune from all of these safe cracking jobs) is to have his arms surgically removed. But then, he will *never* be able to put his arms around her. Is it worth it? This is one twisted love story! Bring on the bone saws!

Look at your story idea and the characters - are all of the pieces part of a whole? Are the elements all connected naturally and logically? Does it add up? Is there *unity*? Are each of the characters connected to the conflict?






Most screenplays are about a 50/50 split between dialogue and description - which means your description is just as important as your dialogue. It just gets less press because the audience never sees it, the same reason why screenwriters get less press than movie stars. But your story will never get to the audience until readers and development executives read your script... so it is a very important factor. Until the movie is made the screenplay is the movie and must be just as exciting as the movie. So how do you make your screenplay exciting to read? Description is important in a novel as well, and the “audience” does read it... how do we write riveting description?

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bluebook E BOOKS: New Blue Books and Novelettes!
I am expanding all of the Blue Books from around 44 pages of text to around 200 pages! Some are over 250 pages! See what is availabale and what is coming soon!Also, I've been writing Novelletes and there will soon be novels.

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Cult Films, Exploitation, Bikers & Women In Prison, Monster Movies.

Producing my own scripts, investment possibilities, pipe dreams.


Naked Class The NAKED SCREENWRITING CLASS ON CD! The 2001 London Class on 8 CDs! Recorded *live* the morning after the Raindance Film Festival wrapped. The two day class on 8CDs, plus a workbook, plus a bonus CD with PDFs.
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