Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Most screenwriting books are written by writers who aren't industry professionals. Or if they were industry professional screenwriters, their experience is so old its no longer relevant to the way movies are written and produced today.

I earn a living to this very day as a professional industry screenwriter.

I've written a series  of books on screenwriting that I believe will be very insightful for those looking to learn the trade or for those looking to step up to another level.

The first book -- 20 BASIC RULES for Professional ScreenWriting -- has just been published!



At the end of the first act, a “Plot Spin” needs to occur within the framework of the storyline. The point of this screenwriting technique is to “spin” the main storyline in a different direction. this plot spin often times changes the direction of the narrative in a surprising way that excites the audience experiencing the first act.

With this rule, we’re at the part of the screenplay structure I believe is the cornerstone to great storytelling in movies. I also believe it is the key narrative component for a teleplay, novel, or any “narrative” format where the storyteller has the goal of deepening the engagement of the audience.
Frankly, this is the creative step that usually begins to separate those who write and those who write stories where a reader wants more. It is also the fundamental step that separates those who create professionally… and those who end up creating for family and friends.
Even veteran screenwriters mess this step up (or skip it altogether) and the screenplay they’ve authored takes a beating when it is read by industry professionals. Others who read the script (or see the movie) won’t be able to articulate why they are responding negatively to a story after the first act, but more times than not their misgivings are based on the lack of plot spin (or a bad plot spin).

This is the crucial step to laying out a plot that will help your audience double down in their interest on the story you’ve set up in the first act. In the three-act structure, the first act plot spin occurs at the end of the first act, and is a calculated narrative development that takes the plot established up to that point, and “spins” the story off in a different direction. The mark of a great first act plot spin is how clever, original, or expectant the narrative has changed directions.
Consider a protagonist who is working for the Roman Empire as a loyal centurion, but then, after the plot spin, loses his career, family and land because of a change in leadership. This first act plot spin in Gladiator (screenplay by David Franzoni and Josh Logan) occurs after the character of Maximus performs heroically in a battle against the last Germanic tribe, but then resists the will of the new emperor who takes over after Marcus Aurelius has died (actually killed by the same man who has become the new emperor).

The first act plot spin is a narrative “game changer.”

The mark of a good first act plot spin is one where the previous pages have set it up, perhaps even hinted at the possibilities of this new direction, but haven’t necessarily given it away. The key as the writer is to establish such a well-written first act that the audience is open to several possible ways the story could end up going, but that when the first act plot spin is finally revealed the direction is more than just consistent with what preceded it; the storyline has now gone off in a direction that is potentially exciting, intriguing, and engaging for the audience.
Many screenwriters fail to come up with a screenplay that has a quality first act plot spin and also fail to realize how important this omission is to the way their script will be received. Scripts without a first act plot point start with the setup – the setting and the introduction of the main character – but then proceed forward, usually in a narratively “linear” way, with the same setup and main character doing exactly what has been foreshadowed in the first act.
An example of this kind of shallow storytelling can usually be observed by watching a “Lifetime” cable movie from the 90s. The first act in those productions usually consist of a protagonist falling in love with some guy with the hint of danger introduced before the first commercial break. And by the second act the heroine ends up stuck in a marriage with an abusive husband. The rest of the narrative is about her surviving the turmoil of an abusive relationship.

The first act plot spin is meant to “re-engage” the audience in a way that becomes even more profound than the beginning of the story. This is the goal, no matter the genre of the story.
In Star Wars: A New Hope (screenplay by George Lucas), the main character, Luke Skywalker, is introduced along with many other characters (Princess Leia, Obi Wan Kanobi, and Darth Vader) in the initial setup of the story. During the first act we discover that the universe has been torn apart by a galactic civil war, but unfortunately for Luke he’s on the sidelines working on his uncle’s farm.
Then, at the end of the first act, comes the first act plot spin – the discovery of a droid by Luke, which pushes his character to accept the mission of fighting for the rebel cause. His meeting with Obi wan Kenobi and the slaughter of his adoptive parents only makes his decision to fight for the rebel cause a mission he can’t refuse.

The first act plot spin is a narrative “game changer.” It re-energizes the story and prepares the audience for what the movie is really all about. A screenwriter must get this step right in laying out their storyline. If one fails here, an industry professional, (producer, studio executive) experienced in telling commercial stories, will be able to immediately spot the flaw in the screenplay. 

The second book in the series -- 19 TECHNIQUES for Professional ScreenWriting will be published next week!