We don’t do that often enough on this blog, and it’s something we should form Deep Thoughts on as we are pretty much all writers here.
Screenwriting has a very clear formula that one must follow in order to write a screenplay that is going to be accepted by the establishment and made into a movie.
There needs to be an inciting event in the first ten pages to propel the story into action. On page thirty, at the end of Act One, there must be a turning point that makes the conflict in your story clear. Page sixty is the Act Two turning point, and your story takes a twist, the odds seem to be working against your protagonist, and your hero makes a declaration or decision to move forward. When the Third Act begins on page 90, your hero is at his lowest point, things look grim, and perhaps the bad guys are going to win.
The hero spends Act Three redeeming himself, saving the day, and giving us all the happy ending we desire (or expect since going to the movies is supposed to be an escape!).
The hero’s journey is different in every story, but it basically follows that same formula in every screenplay. Think about your favorite movies, and then plug in all the set points that I listed above. They are all there, right?
I make no secret that the protagonist in my screenplays is always a very thinly veiled version of me, if not just me. The hero of The Retirement Party is literally me, as the screenplay is about one of my past relationships.
If you think about my life since I started this blog as a screenplay, my hero follows a path that falls right in line with the rules of screenwriting.
The inciting event is that The Girl I Love moves away to go to school. The First Act turning point is that even though she is 1400 miles away, I realize that I still love very much and I’m willing to make this long distance thing work even though I’m lonely and miss her way too much to be happy.
The Act Two turning point is that she comes home for Christmas Break, is very distant, and returns to school telling me that she thinks it’s better that we go out separate ways.
The hero then decides that there is no way he is going to accept that, and works his tail off to not only get her to change her mind, but also to fall more in love with him. When he achieves this, all seems well with the world.
The Act Three low point was this past Christmas when The Girl Who Moved Away came home, said she couldn’t way to see me, and not only never showed up, but has also never spoken to me since.
I thought my Third Act was going to be spent winning back The Girl Who Broke My Heart. That would be the typical hero’s journey and story arc: boy meets girl, boys loses girl, boy gets girl back. It’s the ending the audience wants and everyone lives happily ever after. It worked in The Retirement Party, I sold that screenplay, and it was made into a feature film.
So why mess with success?
Because in real life, the good guys don’t always win, sometimes the girl falls in love with someone else, and every once in a while, the hero has a revelation.
In my Third Act, I’ve realized that my hero’s journey was not to win back The Girl With the Adorable Dimple, but rather, to find myself again.
It was time to stop being someone’s boyfriend, the second half of a heart, and the guy who didn’t think he could make it on his own.
Sure, if you stuck a microphone in my face and put me on the spot in front of a live studio audience, I might have done the typical hero thing and declared I would win back her heart. I know that’s what the crowd wants.
Instead, I looked at the above photo and realized how much I’d changed. I had crazy eyes and had put on so much weight. What had happened to our thinner, healthier, confident hero? What could I do to get him back?
And so the Third Act of my hero’s journey has an unexpected twist. I’m running five days a week, lifting weights, and eating healthier. I’m going on dates and working on accepting that a hero doesn’t always need a sidekick.
As my waist is getting smaller, my self-confidence is growing by leaps and bounds.
This is perfect for this Modern Philosopher because my scripts always have a Third Act twist. I love nothing more than surprising my audience, challenging them, and making them realize that the ending they thought they wanted wasn’t actually the best one.
As is always the case with my screenplays, I never know how it’s going to end, and I’m simply letting my characters take me where they want to go.
Personally, I think stories are a lot more exciting when the conclusion is anything but obvious.
Hope this post on writing was informative. Please let me know if you have any questions!