Writing: So, as Shakespeare said, “The play’s the thing.”

By Richard La Motte

There are maybe hundreds of books out on how to write: Write well, write scripts, write short stories, write novels, story structure, story analysis, famous writers, genre writing, writing the horror movie… Wow.

Is writing really that tough? Maybe. Is there a way to simplify writing for film? Maybe. I want to remind you about two writers who wrote about the same time – 800 or so, B.C.E.

The first writer was Aristotle; the Greek Philosopher who said that the difference between a ‘story’ and a ‘great story’ was unified action showing cause and effect.

The second was the religious prophet, Zoroaster. He was the first person to postulate a cosmic scheme that included the belief in two gods. He wrote the Zend-Avesta, and his theory was simple. There was a ‘Good God’ (Ahura Mazda), and an Evil God, (Ahriman). These two cosmic powers fought for control of reality, and your soul. If you understood this, you would choose to join Ahura Mazda and goodness, because not to do so, would see you fall to the ‘dark side’. Eventually reality would end in a climatic, ‘end-time’ battle with the forces of good prevailing.

Now, without too much trouble you might see: ‘Star Wars’, but you can also see a relationship to almost every film and novel ever written, including ‘The Wizard of Oz’.

A person or group against – another group, a force of nature, their own passions, a lie, a revelation, a Tyrant, dire circumstances, evil corporations, corrupt morality, physical handicap, racism, sexism, zombies… Pick your enemy. Combined with an act three denouement showcasing a successful ‘end time struggle’ results in a ‘life affirming ending’, when the protagonist, overcomes incredible obstacles to defeat the menace, (‘Rocky’ to ‘Rambo’, ‘Jaws’, and just about every other film).

(I remember talking about all this on the set where a ‘happy ending’ was considered a ‘Hollywood ending’, and a bitter or ambiguous ending was called a ‘New York’ ending, as in ‘The Pawn Broker’.)

This story structure, when combined with the steps of the ‘hero myth’ as described by Joseph Campbell, give you a pretty good place to start thinking.

To organize the story elements, most people use the ‘Three Act Structure’ – simply put: Beginning – Middle – End.

(I know this is well known, but I’ll summarize it anyway.)

The ‘Beginning’, Act #1, introduces the main characters and the ‘field of action’. It, too, has three parts with the third part leading us into:

Act #2: ‘Crisis’, where the protagonist undergoes some adventure, or a series of difficulties (also in three parts) which are resolved in:

Act #3: ‘Resolution’, where we win, or maybe not.

The challenge now is to disguise this structure with good writing. To make the central characters and their battle genuine and recognizable to an audience, engendering empathy and concern. When the hero wins – we all win. That’s what gets an audience on their feet, clapping, at the end.

There is another part-

Deciding on your script, you have to choose, is filmmaking a hobby (and an expensive one at that), or is it a commercial venture?

If commercial (which means, its display is intended to garner sufficient monetary returns to allow you to continue as a filmmaker), then, before you start, you might want to look at: audience demographics, and national box-office returns. And you might want to organize a publicity campaign around ‘trailers’ and out-takes…but that’s another story.


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