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WRITER'S LIFE
Screen & Stage
January, 2008


The Shy Writer

7-14-7: Stick To The Script
Clear scene structure is the ticket
By  J.R. Kambak

The 7-14-7 script writing rule ensures clarity, structure and easy-to follow scenes.
I
've found this 7-14-7 rule an excellent scenario formula to build your scene structure. That means seven scenes for act one, fourteen scenes for act two, and seven scenes for act seven.

As an example, I'll use a university students' original synopsis, Natural Law, that he sent to me for help in writing a script for his class final.

Opening scene, Eric and Ben, two university botany college students are in a remote mountainous outback, above an affluent valley community.

They are on what they call the Capstone Project in search of the illusive Mariposa Lily that blooms at this particular time of year along the timber tree line. They hear a gunshot and a truck engine revving up, rapidly fading away. They run back to the trailhead to discover their pickup truck has been stolen and Ben sees shoe prints that lead them to a motorcycle with a shotgun strapped to the handlebars.

Things get muddled in the synopsis from what I call, "tilting at windmills."

They see the sheriff standing next to a dead woman near their pickup truck, and overhear Uncle Marshall asking the sheriff what he's gonna do about capturing Ben and Eric.

Ben is shot, discovered by Eric, who picks up the trail of the killer Jeb. The sheriff finally figures out that Jeb is the killer and shoots him. But we don't know why the woman was shot in the first place, and in the closing scene, Eric is asking Ben if he thinks they can get an extension on their project.

My rewrite, using the 7-14-7 format:

CAPSTONE RIDGE

ACT I

1) Evan and Amy, lovers, head out on the snow-packed trailhead at sunrise. There is tension between them, because Amy went to Mexico without Evan.

2) Evan checks his GPS. Amy wants to talk about her trip, but Evan ignores her.

3) Local town newspaper office. The do-it-all editor, Daryl, is typing up a story when our antagonist, Jeb drives by in his shiny Hummer with a gun rack carrying a high-powered rifle. Daryl grabs his coat and runs out to follow Jeb.

4) Evan and Amy have an argument over their research. Even feels that she's gotten ahead of him in completing their academic studies.

5) Road to trailhead. Jeb is talking on a portable radio to local Sheriff Wiles, who has implicated Evan's running a drug smuggling operation.

6) Amy asks him if he's been backpacking up the area while she's been gone. He says, "No," but it's a lie.

7) Sheriff Wiles gets into his patrol car.

ACT II

1) Evan and Amy on steep snow-packed trail. Weather is clouding up around the mountain peaks.

2) Hummer turns off to side road. Jeb gets out with high-powered rifle, snowshoes, bowie knife, military binoculars, geared up to go hunting.

3) Daryl arrives at the trailhead only to find Evan's pickup truck.

4) Sheriff Wiles gets dispatch call that a cow is blocking traffic in town.

5) Evan thinks of turning back. Amy argues that this is the last time they have a chance, since it's their senior year. The Mariposa Lily only blooms for one week in the spring at the mouth of a cave on Capstone Ridge. No one has ever obtained one for the university's collection. Evan reminds her that her calculations have been off for the past three years.

6) Through a high-powered rifle scope in the crosshairs is Daryl, trudging through the deep snow pack. He instinctively turns toward the rifle scope's POV.

7) Evan and Amy nearing Capstone Ridge. Suddenly, the CRACK of a rifle echoes through the valley. Evan mumbles, "Poachers."

8) Same time: Sheriff Wiles hears the rifle shot. Gets on the radio to hail Jeb.

9) Daryl's body being flung into the back of Evan's pickup truck. We hear Sheriff Wiles hailing Jeb on the portable radio strapped across Jeb's chest.

10) Evan and Amy taking a trail snack break. It starts to snow. Insert: Jeb telling Sheriff Wiles he thinks the rifle shot came from Capstone Ridge trailhead. Sheriff Wiles says he thinks he'll take a drive up that way.

11) Jeb uncovering a snowmobile, hidden under a tarp off in the woods.

12) As Evan and Amy near Capstone Ridge they hear a snowmobile engine approaching.

13) POV (point of view) of high-powered binoculars watching Evan and Amy trudging through snow, close to Capstone Ridge.

14) Sheriff Wiles at trail head. Finds Daryl's body in back of Evan's pick up truck.

ACT III

1) Evan and Amy approach Capstone Ridge cave opening. Out of nowhere, a snowmobile comes flying over the snow-covered ridge, nearly running them both down.

2) It's Jeb who tries to run down Evan. Jeb shifts direction toward Amy, chasing her towards the edge of Capstone Ridge.

3) Amy leaps off the cliff edge, disappearing from sight as Jeb makes a near miss on the edge, turning the snowmobile around at full throttle towards Evan.

4) Sheriff Wiles discovers something suspicious, a military boot footprint that wasn't covered up and lightly dusted by the falling snow. Sheriff Wiles calls for backup and a helicopter. "We have a killer on the loose."

5) Evan runs into the cave opening. Jeb gets off snowmobile, taking out his bowie knife. Trying to find a weapon, Evan discovers cases of smuggled caviar and stumbles knocking his head against a crate, a deep gash, momentarily dazed.

6) Jeb has Evan at knife point and drags him out of the cave to toss him over the ridge's cliff. The rescue helicopter looms up, catching Jeb off guard, giving Evan the chance to turn and knock Jeb out with one punch.

7) Evan by Amy's hospital bedside. He takes out a clear plastic bag with the Mariposa Lily in it. Kisses her on the forehead and mentions that there was a big reward for capturing Jeb, presenting Amy with a tin of caviar as a gift.

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J.R. Kambak is a regular IN correspondent and award-nominated screen-playwright, award-winning videographer, and former corporate communications/media relations executive. E-mail: zentoro@fastmail.co.uk

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Screen & Stage
IN This Issue
Novel To Screenplay: Adaptation 101
Learning The Lingo
Elevator Exposure
Who Profits?
On The (Back) Lot
Lingua Scriptus
Part II: The Script's Key Plot Points
Part I: The Script's Key Plot Points
Origin Of The Screenplay
Scriptspeak: Writing Dialogue

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