In a previous post, Great Beginnings, we talked about how to grab the attention of the judges. While it is important to capture our attention, you need to keep it through the longest part of the screenplay; the Second Act.
Writing a script is as much a journey creating it, as it is for the judge to join in for the ride. But the task doesn’t have to be an uphill battle if you’ve created interesting, three dimensional characters and put them into an easy to understand quest. It’s better to tell a simple story well, than a complex one poorly.
Here are a few relevant and timely examples of good story telling. Many of you may be avid fans of the Olympics, World Cup or some other major sporting event. In between the events and awards ceremonies, there are always news packages profiling the various athletes. Their stories were a template that you, as a screenwriter, could use to tell a story. This isn’t to say, “Go out and write a script about the life story of an Olympic athlete.”
Instead, look at the structure of these brief snippets to understand why they are able to grasp the attention of the world. One that will always stand out to me is the story about how short track skater Apolo Ohno’s mother left him when he was an infant. Having to work long shifts, his father was concerned that his son would be a latchkey kid as he got older. Apolo did indeed hang out with the wrong crowd.
His father took it upon himself to get Apolo involved in sports, namely – you guessed it – short track skating. Despite being one of the youngest people accepted at the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center, he didn’t qualify for the 1998 Winter Olympics. Apolo got serious and proved himself in the 2002 Olympics, performed even better in 2006 and eventually, he became a legend. Through all this, there were constant conflicts with the world-class skaters of South Korea.
This story has conflict, well developed characters, further setbacks and victory. Whose eyes didn’t tear up when the cameras would switch to Apolo’s father in the stands?
But Apolo’s story wasn’t the only interesting one. There was a Dutch distance skater who was on his way to not only a gold-medal, but setting a new Olympic record. He was disqualified for an improper lane change when his coach barked at him to take the inside lane. Talk about shattered dreams, and hard feelings. This is a great Second Act moment. In the following Olympics, he came back to win a silver, and a gold medal.
Some other dramatic moments behind the scenes at past Olympics: A figure skater’s mother died three days before she performed, but she secured a bronze medal; there were rivalries within the US Women’s Ski Team; a tragic luge death on the first day of competition. The Olympics were full of incredible stories of perseverance. What did they have in common? All of them were simply told, enthralling and left you wanting more.
Again, this isn’t to suggest that you run out and write a story about Olympic athletes so you can win the next screenwriting contest. You can if you want, but the point is this; write the story that has a second act full of setbacks and successes. Give them a small accomplishment, but knock them back a few steps. Have them dust themselves off, and do a little better so you can set them back again.
It’s this ebb and flow of the character that makes the story so interesting. If Rocky Balboa had walked off the street and defeated Apollo Creed without breaking into a sweat, it wouldn’t have been interesting. You want to see how he got to where he was.
As you delve into the Great Journey, keep the judges on course by showing them the gems that you’ve crafted. Make them interested in your characters, their efforts and who (or what) is behind their struggles. Sometimes the main character is their own worst enemy.
Although it may not be easy to write, the concept is very basic. Keep the story simple, keep the struggle universal, keep your writing concise.
Coming up in our next post: Ever feel like you’re spinning your wheels? Ever get the sense that the whole world is against you? Read Why Can’t I get What I Want. It’s all about how you perceive your writing process and how you approach screenwriting contests that is the culprit holding you back from victory. It’s more than focus, it’s a new concept in how you structure your mindset so you can start winning, and stop whining.