September 24, 2018

Gauging the Storyline-Part Two

By Shelly Frome

If you missed Part One it appeared last Friday on SWM's Suite T you can view via the archives. All in all, you could say that the key to successful screenwriting, may very well lie in the very beginning as the writer polishes the basic situation until it’s compelling, promising and in a certain sense rings true with no preconceived message. As though the writer himself or herself is on a quest. Given the backdrop of war, will Ilsa and Rick be able to rekindle their romance or will they give way to a greater good? Then again, put in the simplest terms, will Dorothy and/or Lassie ever find their way home?  

In screenwriting parlance, the potential of the project can be found in the logline. Or the ability to succinctly create a premise in order to gauge whether or not, at the outset, this story is worth the candle. You put aside getting caught up in non-essentials like, Will the roles attract bankable stars?

Does it fit the bill for producers looking for a low-budget vehicle? Does the story line comply with trendy genres like super hero action tales or slacker comedy disasters? Instead, you take your time until you come up with a one or two sentence intriguing venture that can’t help being self-generating.

In lieu of naming the movie and/ or the screenwriter, here are two prime examples:

1.) During a prolonged fraught in the 1930s in the west, a con-man rainmaker comes across the Curry ranch, replete with circumstances that appear to be just ripe for picking. The members of the distraught family include Jimmy, a slow-witted gullible youngster, and Lizzie, his disenchanted older sister who is on the verge of spinsterhood.
2.) Two New Yonkers estranged from their spouses decide to room together. The hapless duo include Oscar, a sportswriter as carefree and sloppy as can be and his counterpart Felix, a compulsive fussbudget.

Given each of these dynamics, putting aside any contrivances, it becomes relatively easy to imagine the possibilities as you allow the circumstances to run their course.

In closing, I’m always reminded what happened to Edward Albee when starting to devise Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? according to a plot, he had in mind. In his imagination, George and Martha, his principal characters, told him one day that if didn’t stop interfering with their lives they would no longer appear. He then completely backed off and gave them carte blanch. As a result, you can view the film starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor and judge for yourself. 
Shelly Frome is the film columnist for Southern Writers Magazine. He is also a member of Mystery Writers of America, a professor of dramatic arts emeritus at the University of Connecticut, a former professional actor, and a writer of crime novels and books on theater and film. His fiction includes Sun Dance for Andy HornLilac MoonTwilight of the Drifter and Tinseltown Riff.  Among his works of non-fiction are The Actors Studio and texts on the art and craft of screenwriting and writing for the stage. Murder Run, his latest crime novel, was just released.  He lives in Black Mountain, North Carolina.


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