Write Time with Tony McHale - episode 2: the plot thickens
07 May 2020
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Developing the idea
Last session I talked about the need to solidify your idea before you actually started writing a script, a play or a novel. During the past week hopefully you’ve given serious thought to what you want to write and have formulated what that ‘idea’ is. Then you’ve allowed that idea to ferment, you’ve spoken to a confidant and then set about encapsulating that ‘idea’ in one or maybe two paragraphs.
This is the ‘idea’ we’re now going to develop.
The next stage is a variation of the first. When established writers sell their ideas, there are various stages they might go through. If they’re lucky they don’t have to, but most writers have to go about the process of selling the idea. This could involve just one or any combination of the following, all written in prose:
- The One Page Pitch – just as it sounds, a page laying out the idea. The idea is to capture commissioning editors' attention.
- A Synopsis Outline – a longer more detailed version of the One Page Pitch.
- Treatment – a detailed version that should read like a short story, covering even more detail, and could outline major characters, major locations and directorial style.
Each of these documents would normally have what is called a logline. A logline is really a version of the one or two paragraphs you’ve already written. Here are a couple of film loglines:
- During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaur exhibits to run amok.
- A screenwriter develops a dangerous relationship with a faded film star determined to make a triumphant return.
The reason this type of logline is useful at this stage, is to keep you on track. It’s very easy to wander off-piste and suddenly the piece of work becomes a meandering mess. It’s important to keep focused.
Now you know what the piece is about, you can start jotting down notes. This could be of anything at all you think is related to the ‘idea.’ It could be the climax of the story, or the beginning, it could be a scene, a location, an incident, a plot twist, a character – whatever.
Suddenly there is no such thing as a blank page or pages, they’re filled with ideas about the story you want to tell.
AT THIS STAGE NOTHING IS SET IN STONE.
These are just ideas that can be kept, discarded, altered; they might be ideas about scenes – plot twists, characters – anything; put them down, remembering they are not set in stone but can be moved around or altered, or they can be discarded.
You’re starting to have a basis for your piece of work.
The answer to the two loglines earlier:
- During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaur exhibits to run amok. – JURASSIC PARK
- A screenwriter develops a dangerous relationship with a faded film star determined to make a triumphant return. – SUNSET BOULEVARD
Also, to help you keep focused, think of a tagline. A tagline is a short dramatic phrase, different to a logline, normally used for marketing, but we’re using it to help us keep on track.
Here are three taglines for three films:
- "They were 7... and they fought like 700."
- "They're young, they're in love, and they kill people."
- "You don't assign him to murder cases. You just turn him loose."
See if you can work out what the films are – answers next session.
And never forget:
- Writers write
- Simple isn’t easy
- There are no rules
Weekly assignment: Turn your ’idea’ paragraph/paragraphs into a logline.
Start writing down notes about anything and everything to do with the story you want to tell. These notes are going to be the basis for your story/plot and are totally flexible. Try arranging the notes into some sort of order, remembering a story consists of a beginning, a middle and an end.
To help focus, come up with a tagline.
Slowly the story is taking shape whilst at the same time being committed to paper.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.
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