Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Another T.L.A

Yes in the land of the three letter acronym here's another one. DOE.

I think I just made it up. It means Don't Overthink Everything.

I was shooting the shit with a writer mate this afternoon, just this and that, and one topic of conversation was the scripts I've been sent and currently reading. One of the posters was kind enough to point out that my notes are largely devoid of any guru speak. It's not something I really go in for. I kinda know about MDQ's and USP's and arc and dilemma and POV and ....blah, blah, blah....... but I can't get away from the fact that 'hey, we're telling stories here, people!'

When you tell fairy tales to your kids are you thinking about act breaks and mid points and P.O.N.R's and MDQ's? Of course not. Story telling is instinctive. To me, dressing it up with fancy names is just a way for gurus to appear more intelligent and sell more books and for execs to trot out to try and make people think they know what they are talking about! Unfortunately it means writers have to learn the language too so they can communicate with them!

I kid ....... a little. But it seems like a layer designed to add mystique to the process. There is so much information out there, and while it is easy to say ''keep what works, discard what doesn't'' how do you know what works unless you try it? Sometimes I wonder how anyone who has read half a dozen of these books can write anything. I'd be frozen to the spot.

I only have one golden rule. Don't be boring. Because that works on every level. Pace, tone, character, action, dialogue, narrative....... everything. It's a mantra I try to keep to on every page, heck every line.

A story generally has a begining a middle and an end. The key is to have story moving all the way through the acts to reach an inevitable conclusion. Cause and effect. Cause and effect. Cause and effect. Each scene relating to the spine of your story. The stakes getting higher, the jeopardy greater. Yes you throw in twists and reversals and complications but you can't lose sight of the fact that what you are doing is telling a story.

Because that is what story telling is. Someone goes on a physical and/or emotional journey to attain a goal and we want to go with them. They meet obstacles and face jeopardy. And end up with a resolution that is happy ever after.....or not.

How you actually structure that can make your screenplay live or die. But think about it? If the story is told appropriately then good structure will happen anyway.

''Someone goes on a physical and/or emotional journey and we want to go with them?'' There's your first act right there. You've set it up so that we're invested in the character so when they are propelled into the second act by the inciting incident [ doesn't count as guru speak because I use it!] we duly follow.

''They meet obstacles and face jeopardy'' Sounds like a second act to me. Nice big reversal half way through and a bigger one at the end to take us to.........

A resolution that is happy ever after .....or not.

Okay that all sounds pretty simple, but it is my honest belief that it actually is. Sure the hard part is coming up with an original story. But that is what being a writer is about. Almost anybody can read a book and trot out 110 pages of what looks very much like a screenplay. Story telling is instinctive though. Everyone can do it, so long as they don't get bamboozled into thinking it is some mysterious black art with a few mystic gurus holding the keys. Read a lot of scripts. Write a lot of scripts. Hone your talent and your craft.



Schmucks with Underwoods said...

Hi ED! So WTF is an MDQ BTW? ;-)

English Dave said...

It's three quid a metre from Homebase I believe lol

wcdixon said...

Shouldn't your closing be DBB (Don't Be Boring)?

Or thinking more proactively, how about ABE (Always Be Entertaining)?

I'm with you though...most all the gurus and books are saying the same thing, just are trying to find ways to make it sound unique or 'special'.

English Dave said...

lol Will, I think the time has come to create a one pager of acronyms holding all the secrets of screenwriting.

Anonymous said...

Dave am I too late for the script reading? I have two actually?


English Dave said...

Oldboy email at It should be okay.

Danny Stack said...

So, what is a MDQ??

English Dave said...

Lol allegedly it is the Major Dramatic Question.

I think that means 'what's it about'