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WRITER'S LIFE
Screen & Stage
January, 2008


Mark Levine The Fine Print

Part I: The Script's Key Plot Points
Building your blueprint
By  J.R. Kambak

"Screenplay format is as complex as designing a blueprint for a house."
The basic plot category development of screenplays has left many scratching their heads, wondering how to break it down into a coherent format. The screenplay format is as complex as designing a blueprint for a house, but follows the basics of storytelling. As a novice scriptwriter, you only need to understand the rudiments of screenplay structure to transmute your writing imagination and creativity into a screenplay.

In this article, I will incorporate a fictional script layout of examples from my own work for you to follow. Each step is called a "plot pillar," and each one ought to vary in intensity, gradually building a complex but enthralling story.
 
First, the title must be the metaphor for the theme of your story. For this example, I'll use TETRIS, a suspense thriller that relates to the Russian video game and evokes a sense of checkmate computer intrigue. Also, just about everyone knows the game Tetris, so it has a universal audience marketing appeal.

ACT I

A) In the beginning, page one, you introduce your Protagonist, setting him in his world – symbolically invoke the appropriate atmosphere, and provide something that gives him a rub, friction in his life, by revealing what the Protagonist is willing to accept or not accept.

In the opening scene, Jake is the world's smartest computer hacker and works for the good guys. We see him in a gigantic mainframe vault, under the biggest security surveillance system in the world. Jake's just found out someone new is joining him. He fears he's being phased out.

B) Moving on, the Protagonist's allies are introduced. These are characters that might be instrumental later on with helping the Protagonist, or they define him further. How they interact will set the mood. These additional characters will provide the mood, foreshadowing, and context I want to set up for the action to come later.

Enter Nina, sultry Russian. Every conversation with her is like playing rugby. She's a wiz-kid engineer light years ahead of everyone else, especially Jake. Jake's reputation precedes him as Nina portrays. Jake doesn't trust her. We don't trust. But she just might be his last hope later on.

The foreshadowing will show that Nina worked for a secret military research project during Soviet times.

C) Next comes the adventure. This involves some planning, or event, that will cause our Protagonist to have to enter the Antagonist's world.

Jake and Nina are sent to China to work on a high-security Internet system for the Chinese government. China is still a communist country. Jake suspects Nina might have former contacts, living in a safe haven there. Jake's is an old school, Cold War mentality. Nina's is new school: Western "cool" capitalism.

D) A new ally appears. This can be someone who gives advice, helps in resolving the major issue of the story, or who appears from time to time in carrying along the story thread.

Jake and Nina meet Liu, the assigned interpreter, and Jake trusts her more than he trusts Nina, which Jake shows while they meet with China's top brass in a secret meeting. He's playing into Liu's hand.

E) Now comes the Point of Attack (POA). The Protagonist can witness or experience something that will challenge the protagonist's character. This can be a sufficient gain or loss.

Then, Liu seems to prefer Nina more, leaving Jake out of an important meeting.

This brings about the second portion of the POA: Reaction and response from our Protagonist. This scene is written with intensity, so the audience starts to enjoy the roller coaster ride, which is vitally important for a suspense thriller.

Jake doesn't want any part of the project. He decides to abort and return to the U.S. Nina persuades him to stay.

F) In the next plot point, the Protagonist is now committed to the Antagonist's world. This is called "crossing the threshold" and the Antagonist's allies appear. At this stage, the Antagonist's motives ought to be revealed, thought the Antagonist is not exposed.

Jake and Nina are taken to a very remote location in China where a military installation operates global surveillance. Jake is impressed with the high-tech operation. Nina becomes aware that Liu is an ally of the Antagonist. She tries to warn Jake, who doesn't believe her.

ACT II

It is crucial that you have a transformation arc between Act I and Act II, because this is the turning point of the story. The plot doesn't change here, but continues with emphasis on location.

G) The Antagonist's allies test the Protagonist to start the learning process, providing the character arc for the Protagonist to start shifting.

Chinese military officials show their surveillance of Jake. They show how they tracked his less than honest hacking of their computer systems year before. Confronted with this evidence, Nina questions Jake's integrity. Liu has been leaking everything Jake confided with her, which is now exposed.

H) The Antagonist's motives appear. Finally, the push and pull and challenges facing the Protagonist are put directly in front of the Antagonist's plot.

The Chinese test Jake's ability by forcing him to crack a certain code, a code that is familiar to Nina. It is a hybrid binary code that runs like a very familiar video game Jake played as a kid.

I) The Protagonist's crisis has finally come. This ought to be the near-triumph point for the Antagonist.

Jake fumbles the test in cracking the code. He's frustrated. The Chinese are delighted. Nina was afraid to help Jake , because she recognized the programming style. Her hesitation confuses Jake.

Up till now Jake has gone along with the challenges, looking the other way at the militaristic culture, the communist regime's intolerance for Jake's American mannerisms, the censorship of the media and people, and especially Nina's competitive nature. This is his last straw.

Now it's your turn to write out your own storyline using this format. In Part II, you'll bring it all to a nice resolve.

The script example, TETRIS, is proprietary property of the author.
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J.R. Kambak is a regular IN contributor and award-nominated screen-playwright, award-winning videographer, and former corporate communications/media relations executive. Contact J.R. Kambak for more information and resources: 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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