How To Write Your Own Blockbuster Movie
Many people think writing a story requires a lot of commitment and a clear sense of the big picture. They’re right: it’s important to not get lost in what you’re writing, and it’s even more important to keep the reader’s attention – that means you’ve got to be detailed but not too detailed. If you’re going to add a twist, you shouldn’t make it too twisted unless you want the reader feeling stupid; if you’re going to keep things simple and light, you shouldn’t keep them too simple unless the reader thinks he’s reading about a painting by Claude Monet – then again, you can do those things once you’ve established yourself in the field and no longer care about your books selling (like Stephen King).
What I’ve noticed after reading all those story books that have sold and all those movies that have won Oscars is that there are some directives you could use offhandedly to end up with something you can sell. I’ve classified them into a series of steps that correspond to the structure of a story you might be writing, or want to write.
Define your protagonist. There are 3 general types of heroes amongst men and 3 amongst women. For the chauvinists,
- The Good – He is the epitome of all things righteous and justified; a paragon of virtue; he never shuns from a fight to defend the wronged and the incapable, and he somehow manages to make it alive and unscathed. If you’re from south India, you might know him as Rajnikant; if you’re from anywhere else, you might know him as Superman. It is unbecoming of The Good Hero to have had traumatic experiences from his past haunting him now, and any problem in his lifetime must be no more than 1 hour old. He may not know the villains or what they’re up to – but never mind, he can deal with it.
- The Bad – Not exactly the anti-hero, but more like someone who’s been forced to become a hero amongst his people. He knows what the villains are capable of and he doesn’t exactly want to be there before it happens – otherwise, let’s face it, there won’t be a moment of I-don’t-want-to-be-a-hero-sort-of-heroism, would there? There are two classical examples from history: Bruce Wayne/Batman and Albus Dumbledore. Both of them have made lots of mistakes, are constantly uncomfortable because of the power they have, and can’t speak in their original voice no matter how jovial the talk is.
- The Ugly – He is the most flexible of the lot simply because he, the writer and the reader all know there’s not much he could have done anyway. There may have been mistakes in his past but they’re of no consequence, and the mistakes he’s going to make he’s also going to be very sorry for, but never mind… there’s not much he could have done anyway. Very few writers have managed to make a hero out of this guy, and one of them was JRR Tolkien with Samwise Gamgee (no matter that he was a little too fag-like). The single most important silver lining is that you can dedicate a whole chapter to guys like this climbing up just one side of a mountain, and you can smoothly use the next 2 chapters to describe his journey downhill.
And now, for the ladies.
- The Beauty – She is the lady, a most beautiful, a most elegant, a most pain-in-the-ass-like French b***h but without the b***hyness. It won’t look good to have her bumping around tables or toppling flower vases, and it won’t look good to have her talk loose around men. Even if she’s single, you’ve got to keep her away from either sex because, God knows, she’s innocent. The advantage with this sort of a heroine is that she can be the damsel-in-distress and the one who inadvertently ends up rescuing her. Of course, if you’re a radical feminist, you might want to call her Wonder Woman.
- The Boy – She is the quintessential anti-heroine, the one who is always pissed because of something or the other, and the other could very well have something to do with daddy issues. She will stand up and fight in the face of danger irrespective of whether she’s fighting the good guys or the bad guys – what ultimately matters is that she fought, and what matters even after that is that she won. Depending on the bend of your thoughts, you can either write a whole book about how she changes in character from The Boy to The Beauty, or you can keep her the way she is and end the story quickly.
- The Blonde – I don’t think this needs any explaining.
So, there you go: you have a protagonist and a starting point. There’s not much to say about the settings – whether your story is based around the time Jesus died (the first time), in 60s or way ahead into the future, the general description I’ve given of the characters should hold.
Define your antagonist. This shouldn’t be hard; to make it easy to remember them and their defining traits, I’ve used the names of well-known villains.
- Gollum/Two Face – He is not a born villain but circumstances have forced him to become one. Although not necessarily a Darth Vader(explained later), they both share many characteristics that define their behavior and, more often than not, their appearances, too. This is a villain who will not give up simply because there’s not much else to do, and he will persevere till the end or die trying. His is a breed very difficult to get rid of and he will always come in the way of things – with good timing and operatic music for good measure. The only way to get rid of them is to kill them accidentally or somehow keep them in the same room as the real villain and a bomb.
- Lord Voldemort – These are the real pain-in-the-ass kind; you, the writer, are allowed to pack their past with as much trauma and disaster as you want to and they will still be as good (or bad) as they were before. They can be real masterminds or a bunch of jerks that got lucky – but no matter, there’s no way around them. They have to be faced sometime or the other. Another thing about them is that they usually have quirky weaknesses – and finding out about them usually entails going through another villain. The LVs are not interested in raping women or stealing your children, but only power, and more often than not, they’re gay, too.
- Darth Vader – This type of antagonist is my favorite in every sense of the word, including a voice that beats Christian Bale’s best attempts at a baritone. They are definitely masterminds and will not kill indiscriminately (unlike the other two). Make sure you’ve defined their goals to the last intricate detail because if they’re going to get there, they’re going to get there all the way – the only things they’re willing to lose are their limbs. Another easy thing about such villains is that any past-events in their lives are of little consequence, or of none at all if you’ve taken care to present a gripping plot in the present. Last but definitely not the least, they can be persuaded to give up, but the persuasion has to be a really,really good deal. Classic example: Luca Brasi.
Define the style of your plot. Now, the antagonists and the protagonists are going to be bounced around by the plot and you have the overwhelming liberty to play around with their lives as you see fit. The good storywriter will write a balanced story where both sides take damage, and a bad storywriter will win awards. You choose.
The good plots, first.
- Quid Pro Quo – What the protagonist deals, he will soon receive without pause. In this case, the plot carries no distinct mood of its own by seems only to illustrate Newton’s third law. The hero hits out at the villain, the villain hits back, the heroine is in distress, the villain hits out at the hero to press his advantage, the hero retaliates, all seems to be well. Add salt to taste. However, even in this tit-for-tat mess, two variations can be discerned: damped – where the extents of multiple retaliations gradually decrease – and accelerated – wherein the magnitudes of the retaliations increase until they hit a final crescendo.
- Chums Of Chance – Here, the majority of the twists and turns are dictated by chance occurrences. The author can do so as he wishes and run a zigging and zagging line of thought from start to finish, at all points keeping the reader glued to the script. On the downside, this plot-style presents two dangers: the first is, you could end up writing a book like HHGG – which are good as books or as a topic of discussion but not so much as movies; the second is, if you try to go the other way, you could end up with something Dickensian.
- The Ringmaster – All you need to do to execute this style of plotting to the T is describe very little of very little: all you need to do is take a very small section of the story that’s in your mind and describe it to great lengths, and then write the following chunk as if you don’t give a damn how it’s interpreted. Repeat. Also, make sure your characters are dull and/or dim-witted and that the damsel is at the other extreme. Good examples include many of Hitchcock’s and Kubrick’s movies and, interestingly, the third law of thermodynamics.
The bad plots, next.
- Fat Man On A Seesaw – The hero keeps screwing around, the villain keeps sucking it up, the heroine keeps getting impressed. There’s nothing more to say on this subject except that this style died out when Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf were born.
- The Juvenile Payback – When you’re writing something for the silver screen, you have the monumental liberty to simply ignore a logical inconsistency or two: as more and more action gets packed into the script, it becomes hard for the viewer to pause and ponder on what just happened. However, don’t take this too far, you might just end up with Plan 9 From Outer Space. Apart from just ignoring the inconsistencies, you can introduce a couple of your own. As for the template, use one of the better plot-styles.
You’re all set to start writing, now, so before you do, here are some last minute tips on spicing up/dumbing down your manuscript.
- Using philosophical standpoints from the 1920s to the 1960s could attract a large crowd.
- More than two adjectives per verb means you could write this as a musical, too, and since so many adjectives rhyme, you can postpone retirement by a few weeks.
- Allowing any two characters to get very, very intimate would mean you’re after wanting to explore sexual tensions as well. Beware, this is scorched-earth territory: once you go in, it’s very hard to come out. However, there are a few ways out, for example having the couple talk about the bigger picture of the plot with erotic analogies; e.g. Atlas Shrugged.
- It’s good to describe the characters just as much as you describe the world around the character. Don’t spend four pages on the sky and then one on the character if you don’t have any metaphors to establish.
- Write the script page-by-page. Use a separate set of notes to indicate the different chapters, but within each chapter, knock yourself out with the little details. If something doesn’t connect even a little bit, chuck it. If something connects just a little bit, leave it open to interpretation. If something connects a lot, use it to guide the plot.
- For controversy’s sake, go after wars waged in the last two centuries, political assassinations and the capitalism-versus-communism charade. They always work.
Now, you’re set.