How To Establish the Dramatic Premise of your Screenplay and Beyond
So, you began your screenplay with a visual metaphor. You’veintroduced your main character, the setting, the time, the theme, andyou’re introducing other major and periphery characters. You’regetting to like your story pretty well, when all of sudden you hit ablock. What is your story about?
This question is asked many times over each day in the film business.So, you’d better be prepared for it. Your story is about a characterwho reacts to something that causes him (I’m using the male genderbecause I honestly don’t know what is correct when writing articles.Someone please tell me how to deal with this so I can begrammatically and politically correct.) to begin acting instead ofreacting to what is going on around him. The first step in your maincharacter’s transformation (you’d better have one if you want to selland get your screenplays produced)is when he reacts to theintroduction of the dramatic premise. Until this time in yourscreenplay, you should have established your main character whoshould be in a setting and time interacting with other characters whoshould all be showing (I emphasize “showing” instead of “telling”since all great writing “shows” instead of “tells”) different aspectsof your theme. You should have established all of these elements byabout page 10 of your screenplay.
On or about page 10 in your screenplay, you show something thatoccurs that is out of context of what you have set up so far. Thisturning point in your screenplay is when you have your main characterreact to something that establishes the dramatic premise of yourscreenplay. This dramatic premise will be the plot of yourscreenplay. Something happens to your main character that begins histransformation arc because he is forced to react to something he hasbeen avoiding, but he must react to it until he overcomes it, or ithis life will never change for the better.
In the $56 million MGM screenplay I was a writer/consultant for,”Warriors of Virtue”, Ryan, the main character is shown in school,with his friends, with his family and how he reacts to these peopleand this setting. Problem is, Ryan wears a leg brace, a defect in hisleg he inherited with birth. Kids push him around. He can’t play onthe football team. He argues with his parents. His dog barks at him. He has a lot ofproblems until he’s challenged to leap over this rushing water toshow other kids that he’s not a wimp. Then, his real problems begin.He leaps and falls into the water. He is swept into an alternateuniverse where he has to change or he’ll never be able to return tohis home. The evil Komodo and his army, a village of “people” andfive Kung Fu Kangaroos who need his help stand in his way. This iswhere his transformation arc begins. This is where the dramaticpremise for the movie is established. From this point on, Ryan beginsto change, and to never be the same again.
This alternate universe (no different than what your main charactershould be experiencing at this point in your screenplay)”attacks” Ryan.He survives the plunge, but now he’s being threatened by the evilKomodo’s soldiers in a forest. When some Kung Fu kangaroos rescue him, hebegins to see that someone cares about him, and he doesn’t even knowwhy. And miraculously, he discovers that his leg is healed.
Fearful of the village, which is made up of a loving community of people, at about page 45, Ryan foreshadows he is going to be at the end of themovie. He meets a girl, Princess Anne and he isn’t afraid of her. At midpoint, the villageis attacked by Komodo and his soldiers. Though fighting valiantly, the KungFu Kangaroos are outnumbered. They manage to drive the invadersaway, but, they know, that unless they come up with some kind ofmiraculous idea, Komodo is going to take over the village and killeveryone. And now, Ryan has a stake in the outcome. Where before, hecared little about himself, now, he not only cares about himself, but hecares about Princess Anne as well. But, Komodo has kidnapped her to hold her for ransomin order to force the village leaders to give in to his demands and give upthe village (Komodo desires the village because of its love and its peace because this kind of behavior terrorizes him).
At about page 75, Ryan tells the village leaders and the Kangaroos that he believes he can talk Komodo in releasing Princess Anne. Interested,he tells them how.
At about page 90, Ryan, under the protection of the hidden Kangaroos,Ryan confronts Komodo about releasing Princess Anne. Komodo, struck by Ryan’saudacity, challenges him to a duel with swords. Only Komodo knows his soldiersare near to back him up, but unaware of the hidden Kung Fu Kangaroos.
Komodo, by far the superior warrior to Ryan, is about to take Ryan’s head withhis sword, when some of the soldiers show their faces. At that point, the Kangaroosshow themselves. An all out battle ensues.
Ryan races to rescue Princess Anne. The battle is so fierce, the out-numbered Kangaroos, are exhausted and about ready to admit defeat, when Ryan, grabs a sword and disarmsKomodo. The Kangaroos take over and defeat Komodo’s soldiers. Ryan rescues Princess Anne and saves the village.
In the closing scene, the village priest creates a mystical and spiritual avenue for Ryanto travel so that he can return to his parents and other life. After a tearful goodbye toeveryone, Ryan leaves.
Upon his return to the town where he lives, his parents, friends, and the kids in school,see that his leg is healed, and so is Ryan. Even his dog accepts him.
So, you need to take your character on a journey, by establishing the dramatic premise,then roughly timing turning points in the story and in your main character. Page 1, a visualmetaphor that defines the theme of the story. Page 3, a line of dialogue, or an actionthat directly pinpoints the theme of your story. About Page 10, establish the dramaticpremise. At about Page 30, something extraordinary should happen that spins yourcharacter and story around 360 degrees and sends it off in another direction. Atabout page 45, foreshadow how your main character is going to be at the end ofyour story. Just a small action, something your character does to reveal this, like whenRyan meets Princess Anne and he is unafraid of her. From this point forward, you musthave your main character creating all of the action. In other words, he/she must bepro-active in all events. At about Page 60, midpoint, you must show that about all is lost for your main character regardless of the new strength he/she is showing. By about Page 75,have your main character change the way he/she is trying to accomplish his/her goal. Atabout Page 90 of your screenplay, your main character should have a direct confrontationwith the villain (villain represents evil in fiction) or antagonist (doesn’t necessarilyrepresent evil so much as representing the opposing force to your main character’s goal).This confrontation results in your main character winning and sets up how the storyis going to end. For the next several pages, your story should build to a climax whereyour main character goes nose-to-nose with the villain or antagonist. Here, yourmain character should have an epiphany. For Ryan, it was his discovery that hemust overcome Komodo in order return home to his family and friends. It is here whereyour main character’s fatal flaw (the flaw that has caused your main character topursue a solution to it because it is more overpowering than any other flaw)comes tothe surface and must be overcome by your main character. With Ryan, it was his fear, and he overcomes it.
After the climax, wrap up all loose ends and end the screenplay as soon as possible.
And there you have it. Nine easy to steps to writing a screenplay.