CJ Powers is an author/speaker
residing in the Chicagoland area. As a Writer/Director/Producer he
is an international script consultant and conducts screenwriting
workshops. His films released internationally and television programs
aired on CBS, PBS, ABC, the Family Channel, and various syndicated
stations. The majority of CJ’s directing awards, including the Silver
CINDY and Crystal Communicator of Excellence, were for family films. He
received additional honors from the U.S. and International Film and
Video Festival and the New York Film Festival. He is a guest writer for
Singles Connection eNewsletter and has also been an Arts &
Entertainment columnist for the DuPage Christian.
Developing a Great Story
Writer’s block is something of a myth born through isolation. Brainstorming with a friend or observing unique behavioral qualities of a person you’ve yet to meet can clearly spark plenty of creative ideas. Writer Willa Cather, while arguing about Nebraska being a “storehouse of literary material,” shared that there is an abundance of inspiration available for writers whose “only need is the eye to see.”
Every filmmaker I’ve met desires to tell a story. The problem has been finding the audience that wants to see it. To find and endear the audience to the filmmaker’s art, some focus their story ideas on niche markets, while others try to create a universal story that will appeal to a larger general audience. Regardless of how market specific the writer becomes, he eventually learns that no matter how brilliant the filmmaker, a miserable story is still bad.
To help improve the quality of a story, five things are needed to make a story great.
Act two is filled with many complications and growth for the protagonist to help him prepare for the climactic battle in act three. Many screenwriters divide act two in half, with the first part being more humorous and the second more dramatic. Act two concludes, around page eighty-five, with another turning point that sends the protagonist back into his thesis world for the main battle.
Act three is filled with the main battle and climax, followed quickly by the conclusion or resolve, around page 105 to 110, where the protagonist emerges into a new ideal thesis world. With 60 percent of a film’s page count taking place in act two, it is imperative that the story idea has enough facets to drive multiple complications and emotions.
Not all stories play well on screen, and it is the writer’s job to know what will work. Some topics must be tossed if the audience can’t find it plausible, no mater how realistic it is or how much the audience is able to suspend disbelief. Spielberg’s E.T. and Lucas’s Yoda were well received, but Lucas’s Howard flopped for its implausibility, because we know what a duck is supposed to look like versus an alien.
SEX AND VIOLENCE
My various columns have allowed me to hear the most common question raised among Christian filmmakers: “Why are Christian films so bad?” The answer is simple. Most Christian film producers have a commitment to tell stories as cleanly as possible, so cleanly that they avoid conflict, sex, and violence. Because the industry is in its infant stages, the Christian producers aren’t willing to pay out the big bucks for great locations, forcing the directors to capture talking heads on few sets.
In talking with Christian screenwriters, I’ve learned that most find their messages far more important than story structure. That leaves only the element of visualization as a tool for the Christian filmmaker to tell a story, which, unfortunately, most lack the experience needed; therefore, it is expected that most Christian stories told on film will be bad.
Content Copyright © 2010 by CJ Powers. All rights Reserved.
CJ Powers can be reached for script consultation and translation work at cjpowers7[at]gmail [dot] com.