Screenplay Story


The simple truth is that to write a good screenplay, that will be made into a good movie (if it's made into anything at all), you must be more faithful to the 'cinematic story' than to what actually happened. This applies to autobiographies, biographies, real-to-life stories, adaptations of other works (fact or fiction), et cetera.

So what is the 'cinematic story'? It's the movie you want to get going in the head of the reader in Hollywood, so he'll keep turning the pages, and refer it to his boss. It's everything we're talking about here, and everything you're learning elsewhere about how to write a great story for the screen. It's a story with a beginning, middle, and end. It's a story with a set-up, launch, rising action, climax, and resolution (see elements of Story Dynamics). And it's got a theme. It's all that, and whatever magic creeps in.

The truth is that sticking to the truth of exactly what happened gives you a series of episodes, usually, which do not grab. They do not satisfy dramatically. Sticking solely to the truth won't get you produced, or keep people in their seats. Try to work the story around the elements of dramatic structure. Or extract a love story or other important relationship inside the story and focus on that. Or zoom in on an intense series of events in the story. Or, if all else fails, derive a theme to hang the story elements on.

For an excellent example of being more faithful to the "cinematic story" than to what actually happened, first read Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafiathen see DONNIE BRASCO (1997). What do you notice about the climax of the film?

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