Screenwriter’s Bible

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Deleted member 207

Guest
Running through the final tweaks to my pilot and polishing off a series Bible at the moment.

With these final tweaks I’ve been making sure to just lay out a central screenwriting tenet: save the cat. You’ve probably heard of the phrase and the book it comes from. Essentially the rough summation of the principle is that, when introducing your lead character, have them perform a humanising act so we connect with them i.e saving a cat from a tree. It doesn’t actually have to be a positive or heroic act, it could be deplorable, but it ought to show something of the character’s humanity early on. We ‘get’ them in that moment.

Another way of putting it it would be to give your character a ‘dog and trumpet’. That is, show them been kind to something and show they have a skill. These let the audience connect from the outset, but can also direct and inform your character’s later motivations and actions.
 

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
Running through the final tweaks to my pilot and polishing off a series Bible at the moment.

With these final tweaks I’ve been making sure to just lay out a central screenwriting tenet: save the cat. You’ve probably heard of the phrase and the book it comes from. Essentially the rough summation of the principle is that, when introducing your lead character, have them perform a humanising act so we connect with them i.e saving a cat from a tree. It doesn’t actually have to be a positive or heroic act, it could be deplorable, but it ought to show something of the character’s humanity early on. We ‘get’ them in that moment.

Another way of putting it it would be to give your character a ‘dog and trumpet’. That is, show them been kind to something and show they have a skill. These let the audience connect from the outset, but can also direct and inform your character’s later motivations and actions.
I don't know if you have had a look at our S05E04 outline and/or script, but that is probably the most clear use of that trope we've used in recent memory.
 
D

Deleted member 207

Guest
Sent a final draft of my series bible and full episode one script over to supervisor today. Will hear feedback but largely that project is put to bed now. Next will be working on a horror feature script that is far more personal and a much looser adaptation of far more basic source material.

Future learnings I pick up will perhaps be less Tolkien relevant but may still have some interesting nuggets I can pass on
 
D

Deleted member 207

Guest
If people are interested in reading what I’ve put together I’m happy to share.
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
Just to jump back into this (as I am in fact the infamous Deleted Member 207 himself), I have wrapped up my initial Beren & Luthien exercise and have put it to bed to work on my own original projects which I plan to do more with. If people are interested, I have two episodes and a complete series Bible I'm happy to share. The pitch is different as it's for a multi-season series of just the Beren and Luthien story and so a lot of wider worldbuilding has to be done within that narrative. And I've made some personal choices with characters that very much clash with what I think is the generally preferred interpretation of some characters. But it was to fit the story I was crafting. So if you do go into it, please don't think of it as a Season 6 pitch. It's not meant to be that. But it's an interpretation of one way to tell the Beren and Luthien story. If folks want to read it.

Both scripts run long at 70ish pages but I made my peace with it as they are really personal exercise not pitchable documents. So be warned lol
 

Ilana Mushin

Active Member
I
Just to jump back into this (as I am in fact the infamous Deleted Member 207 himself), I have wrapped up my initial Beren & Luthien exercise and have put it to bed to work on my own original projects which I plan to do more with. If people are interested, I have two episodes and a complete series Bible I'm happy to share. The pitch is different as it's for a multi-season series of just the Beren and Luthien story and so a lot of wider worldbuilding has to be done within that narrative. And I've made some personal choices with characters that very much clash with what I think is the generally preferred interpretation of some characters. But it was to fit the story I was crafting. So if you do go into it, please don't think of it as a Season 6 pitch. It's not meant to be that. But it's an interpretation of one way to tell the Beren and Luthien story. If folks want to read it.

Both scripts run long at 70ish pages but I made my peace with it as they are really personal exercise not pitchable documents. So be warned lol
I‘d love to see what you’ve done Rob. I have little experience with scriptwriting apart from a couple of episodes of Blakes 7 that a school friend and I wrote to continue the series after its crushing Finale in 1982, so I’m enjoying learning how it all works.
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
Backstory*: Generally a single incident that shapes their status quo. This could be established in an opening scene/flashback/revealed in dialogue or implied by where we find them. It presents a problem, but not a problem the character is likely to act on without an external force as this is the established status quo. Depending if you are telling a happy ending story or not, this could be reversed as the character is transformed by the end. (Elsa stays within her room, afraid of her power in Frozen/David Dunn's marriage is on the rocks in Unbreakable)
Wound: What pain do they carry and why (Luke Skywalker not knowing his place in the universe, Jessie the Cowgirl being left on the swing in the park)
Flaw: What is their main weakness (Indy's fear of snakes, Woody's insecurity about being Andy's favourite toy)
Emotional Goal: This is something your character wants internally, it may well be at odds with other goals. Whether it is or isn't can add drama, it could be in conflict to your action goal or one could depend on the other (Meg Ryan's Sally wants to find true love, Elastigirl wants to keep her family together)
Action Goal: This is the MacGuffin, the job that needs doing (In Twins, Danny DeVito's character needs $20k, Flick needs to find warriors to fight of the Hopper and his gang)
Need: What problem does the character have that must be overcome (Sally needs to stop looking for perfection, Elastigirl needs to let her family be who they are meant to be, Danny DeVito in Twins needs to overcome his wound of abandonment and stop being cynical. I'm having trouble pinning down Flick's need. I almost said, needs to prove himself, but really that is an emotional goal. He needs to stop lying? That is more an choice he makes that adds tension and drama, but it is not a deep rooted internal need? He needs to be valued, is what it comes down to I think. And therefore, his emotional goal to achieve that value, is to prove himself. He also has the action goal of getting warriors to save the village, and you can see how that plays into his emotional goal of wanting to prove himself. But his wound of being belittled by his colony actually hampers his action and emotional goals as he has not found warriors (because his flaw is that he is basically a screw-up). So has to lie to it in an attempt to satisfy his need. Okay, well, that all leads me on to
How Emotional Goal Impacts Need:
How Action Goal Impacts Need:
How Flaw Impacts Need:
How Flaw Impacts Emotional Goal:
How Flaw Impacts Action Goal:
How Wound Impacts Need:
Strength/Why Do We Like Them:
(Leia is feisty, Joey Tribianni is a wiseguy with a heart of gold)
Who Do They Think They Are: Harry Potter thinks he's an unloved orphan/Andy Dufresne thinks he is an innocent man
Who Are They Actually: Harry Potter is secretly a hero/Andy Dufresne IS an innocent man (sometimes your protagonist can know exactly who they are and proving it to others is part of the goal)
Quirks And Idiosyncrasies:
What Is The Worst Thing That Could Happen To Them:
If this isn't the big event that starts your story, then fear of it should be.


Character established, you then built the narrative structure:
1. *Backstory (technically this is your first piece of structure, but I like to pull it into my character sheet also)
Ants collect grain for grasshoppers
2. Catalyst (this isn't the same as the inciting incident that gets your character out the door, but it is the spark that triggers it. In Sixth Sense, it's the protagonist getting shot. That is not the Big Event. The big event comes next and creates the clear action goal. But the Big Event is generated by the catalyst.
Flick wrecks the crop
3. Big Event (this changes everything and starts your story. It gives your character clear action goals. It could also at the same time set up the emotional goal in the same moment. In Sixth Sense, it's meeting Cole. in Bug's Life, it's the grasshoppers coming and giving their ultimatum. Crucially the character has to choose to rise to meet this, otherwise they are really just passive in events that happen around them. In Wizard of Oz, the Catalyst might be Dorothy running away from home, the Big Event is the house being blown away, but Dorothy rises to the challenge by taking the yellow brick road in the next step, the...
4. Midpoint (point of no return, the stakes are laid out, at least some of the cards are on the table and we know what the direction of the story is. Dorothy needs to follow the yellow brick road to get home. Luke leaves Tattooine. This is where you kick it all off.
5. Crisis (long dark night of the soul, all seems lost. Hero has tried and failed. Maybe caused by your characters choice and tension between goals. Need to weigh up what path they will choose. They may announce it but we may not actually know what they will do until the...
6. Climax (everything comes to ahead. Can goals be achieved. Doesn't need to be action if it's not an action story. It can be a meal around a table, but the stakes have to be big. In Sixth Sense the Climax as Cole admitting to his mom that he sees dead people. His emotional goal is for his mom to not think him a freak. His action goal has been to make the ghosts go away. He has already given up his action goal by making peace with it and speaking to them. Now he has to speak with his mom and risk the bigger emotional goal. The message is that communication is important and saves us
7. Resolution (the character grows or doesn't. Maybe they fall back into the status quo. Maybe the galaxy gives the medal. Maybe they go from being a good young man to a crime boss - doesn't need to be positive growth.
Just throwing this up again as we are discussing story structure and character arcs. Other structures include Blake Synder’s Beat Sheet (from the industry standard Save The Cat). The above is a good basis and hits all screenwriting points but I suggest Save The Cat for a different view on what these points are and represent. Same ideas, different language.
 
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