Resources for Writers
Into the Depths: Plotting outwards – the bigger picture (Part 3 of 3) by Lindsay J Sedgwick
Having opened the story up and shuffled the plot points around until you have an idea of what you really want to include across your various storylines and character arcs, now it’s time to put them in order.
The pattern you end up with is a useful visual map that can help you to not get lost when you’re writing the actual script. Some will have a clear and natural order but if you’re uncertain, now is the time to move them around and see which points you really need to include.
- Do you need them all?
Some will clog the story down because they’re not adding anything new to the story.
Others might make your story move too fast by revealing too much too soon.
Sometimes the solution is to leave them out, for now. Alternatively, it might be a matter of placing them elsewhere, merging several together or adding additional character/ story information.
For example, when do you reveal that your central character’s friend, Alice, is working against her? The position of this plot point will determine how important it is to the story and to your central character’s quest.
Where it happens and how may also be critical. If it happens in a public place, when she’s alone or when Alice is in the same room will change how she can or can’t react.
- What do we need to know before each plot point?
While plot pillars are moments in your story that cannot be changed, the scene or sequence of scenes preceding it absolutely can be. You choose what we see and hear dramatically in the minutes leading up to your crucial scene.
- What do you need to hold back?
Let’s take that scene where your central character discovers Alice’s betrayal. What happens immediately before this discovery and in the sequence of scenes leading up to it will have an impact on how powerful the reveal will be, both in terms of plot but also of emotional impact on your central character and the reader.
This is regardless of whether the events in these preceding scenes may or may not involve Alice.
Questions to ask:
- What do you want us to know before we find out about Alice’s betrayal?
- How much will you choose to reveal to your reader in relation to Alice’s motivation, to her relationship and history with your central character and with the antagonist?
- How much has Alice revealed or has she refused to reveal?
- Have we even seen Alice with the antagonist or is this a total surprise to use too?
Take In The Name Of The Father. Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis) is arrested in Belfast. He’s flush with money and has no alibi for the night of the bombing, as is necessary for his arrest. That’s your plot pillar.
In the scenes preceding it, Gerry and Paul Hill (John Lynch) have to leave the squat and therefore have no convincing alibi for the night. They meet up with Charlie Bourke, the tramp who will (eventually) be their alibi. Gerry gives him their last coins. They find keys to a hooker’s apartment. Gerry decides to go inside and accidentally finds a large amount of cash.
Those are the choices the writer made. The duo could have found money lost in a public or private space, thieved it or begged. (Borrowing might have given them an alibi.) The hooker’s apartment could have been an open car, a family home, a business, a train station, an ATM with cash left in it.
In other words, it was essential to the internal logic of your plot that Gerry was back in Belfast, flush with money he couldn’t explain and with no alibi for the night but there were any number of options regarding how these elements were dramatically achieved.
In a screenplay, everything leads to or has an impact on something or someone else. Even if it feels random to the characters, it isn’t in your narrative.
In this case, luck (the dropped keys) and character (Gerry opting to use the keys, messing around and finding the money accidentally but then stealing it) helps Gerry and Paul. They can now sleep in a hotel, buy new clothes and Gerry can afford to visit Belfast.
It works against them in that it leads to their incarceration.
Tip: If you’re feeling stuck when looking for plot points to keep your script building, play with the idea of the best and worst thing that can happen to your characters.
(c) Lindsay J Sedgwick
Lindsay is an award-winning screenwriter who published Ireland’s first comprehensive guide to screenwriting, Write That Script in 2018. She is the creator of the ground-breaking series series Punky, which has been recognized as the first mainstream animation series in the world in which the central character has special needs (Down’s syndrome). Two series later, it is available in over 100 countries with circa 5 million hits on YouTube.
Crossing genre, searching out the best stories to tell, Lindsay has worked in live action and animation, written for kids and adult, film and TV, games and apps and had 14 plays staged in Ireland and the UK. As well as delivering masterclasses and courses throughout Ireland for two decades, she has worked with a wide range of production companies in Ireland and the UK as screenwriter, creator and creative consultant and is currently developing a children’s series.
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