Catalysts for change and deconstructing great scripts.

I’ve been toying with an idea that stemmed from a question I asked myself a few days ago. What could be the catalyst for change that would turn a widower escaping his grief by obsessing with his work into a dedicated family man who is committed first and foremost to the needs of his son and finally healing from the death of his wife? I might not have asked it in quite such detail but in essence I wondered, why does he change? The answer has taken days to really come together and it transforms some of my earlier ideas.

In Expanding the cast, juggling the spotlight, and pictures not words, I mused that the location in Washington D.C. lends itself to sinister warehouses and CIA conspiracy. I couldn’t quite justify that dark angle. It wasn’t coming together in vivid imagery beyond the idea of dingy warehouses and dark suits. So, when I tied the concept together with a catalyst for change I started to see new pictures. I asked myself, what is it that must happen for this father to change so drastically. Now of course the answer seems pretty simple. He’s lost his wife, so what would bring him back to his son? The potential loss of the son, of course.

There are numerous ways this could come about. With the alien angle, abduction was a definite maybe, but while I’ve got a science fiction slant, what I really see here is a drama. I didn’t want to make the story too E.T. heavy. Besides, there are enough earth-bound threats to a child in our reality that we don’t have to look beyond this galaxy for danger. I need to flesh out the details of the kidnapping more but I’ve got a definite sense that aliens are not to blame. The father might assume that they are at some point but ultimately they’re not.

What I really saw transform when this idea started to become real for me was my CIA agent. Remember, I talked about her in some detail because I do have a starchy image of her in my mind. It was interesting to see how malleable that picture became when challenged. Rather than CIA, she became FBI. Rather than being a stiff and straight-laced CIA agent, she became a gritty, much-too-much-heart, head of an elite Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) team. It’s easy to imagine that these agents grow detached from the crimes they investigate. It must be heart-breaking to deal with families grieving, children battered and broken, and the dark violence of the criminals who exploit children. It would be so easy to make her aloof and untouchable because how else would you cope with that emotional gauntlet every day. But I can’t feel her that way. Instead, she comes across almost the complete opposite. She’s a little too attached, a little too caring, she’s an inch away from getting stuck on a desk because she takes chances and pushes too hard to save these kids. And that’s what makes her instantly likeable. It’s also the kind of heart Graeme needs to see, raw, wounded, but still fighting the good fight.

I think the biggest trouble for me with this new twist is that it requires a further stretch for cast. I now need to give this woman a team of agents, each with their individual personalities and technical specialities. They need to be cohesive to show that they work together very well. They need to show obvious rapport that says, “We’ve done this before, let us do our job.” Again, I face the challenge of juggling so many faces; so many personalities. I have to remember where the spotlight shines and avoid getting lost in the stories within the stories.

Speaking of stories within stories, I’m daunted by this current stage. I feel like I need to be filling in plot points and trying to fit my ideas into some sort of formula. Some writers talk about beats. Others talk about their outlines. We have The Hero’s Journey; Three-Act Structure; and probably a thousand other techniques for getting the parts of a story to come together. I still haven’t really worked out what works for me or what works for me when writing a script. When I wrote the first draft of FoT I got a bit lost in too many cards. I tried to gel together all of these ideas and it felt too busy. I don’t want Funny Signs to feel busy, but at the same time I feel like I need more structure. This story needs a sense of shape and timing.

It’s times like this I feel the need to get out scripts of my favourite t.v. shows and favourite movies. I want to sit there and mark up those scripts. I want to write in the timing from the scenes. Pay attention to what constitutes a scene change. Break down the number of locations; the number of characters; the number of beats. See what sorts of changes occur, note the timing of the movie, and what sort of shape these shows become. I want to really rip apart these programs and learn how they were put together. But all that is time consuming and that nagging voice in the back of my head says, “you’re supposed to be writing.”

How do you draw that line between what is writing? When is it too soon to start writing? Would doing these kinds of deconstructions and analysis but constructive use of my time?




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