The four Ps – Plot, Protagonist, dramatic Problem and Premise – are interlocked in a seamless whole that may be thought of as the framework or structure of the story. This invisible structure is like a house of cards: if one of the Ps is not in order, the rest of the structure will collapse. For instance, the writer can never really consider the protagonist without also considering the dramatic problem. This problem, in turn, will affect the events in the plot. Finally, each of these structures is determined by the premise, which provides the writer with a sense of the big picture, or an overall logic that guides the story.
Now that we’ve defined the key structural features of the screenplay, you can begin some activities to advance your screenplay. These will be the basis of your blueprint. Consider what is motivating you to write by asking yourself these questions:
What kinds of locations and characters do I want to write about? Is there a particular set of human problems or themes I need to dramatize? Which aspects of human behavior and culture would I like to capture on screen? Remember—you are not writing a novel. The script format is about action and behavior. If you find yourself writing dialogue or stage directions about a character’s state-of-mind or emotions, stop and think. The characters’ inner world must be demonstrated (not discussed) in action and behavior. You are reporting on action that represents emotion, after all. The actions must speak volumes, which leads to the axiom, “show, don’t tell.”
Ensure that the audience gathers more intelligence at every turn. In your outlining process, consider each and every scene: n Identify both the high point and purpose of the scene.
Each scene should reveal something about the protagonist’s conflicts—both internal and external.
Ensure that there is new information (set-ups, revelations, obstacles, pay-offs) so that the story continues to move forward. Aim for the highest point of the drama, not for details that can clutter the crucial moments.
One good rule to remember is that if a scene reveals nothing new, cut it. Remain focused on the main plotlines that emerge from your four Ps — Plot, Protagonist, dramatic Problem and Premise.
Outline your story ideas using the protagonist and the other key structures as pivots for the process. Read a lot of screenplays and keep a journal of notes, including character biographies— especially for the protagonist and the two key supporting characters who form the central triangle of the story. Remember that conflict is the very definition of drama, and orchestrate the plot around key moments as the protagonist moves toward his or her goal.
While the technical process of screenwriting is complex and time-consuming, the real learning is in doing. Get into the habit of writing daily. Buy a reputable book for tips on the outline of the three-act structure. Chris Vogler’s “Writer’s Journey” and my own “Writing Your Screenplay” each provide a solid template for this complex process. When you have two or three polished scripts in hand, the time will be right to find a producer. In the meantime, keep generating pages and remember to keep stoking that fire in your belly!