to Limit Extensive Research for Your Screenplay
you ever spent months or even years doing research
for your story? Have you ever felt that you have
a great story idea and you just need to do a little
research to get more ideas, get the facts, get
the time period, etc.? Then after all that time
spent researching all you have it a cluster of
facts and no real story. There is a more efficient
do we do extensive research?
it's a good excuse NOT TO WRITE your story.
How much research is enough?
you spend more than two weeks and more than the
gas to your nearest library, that's too much.
Who wants to spend their time researching when
you could be writing?
What about writing science fiction, period
pieces, historical events and biographies?
can't write a story without having one. Excluding
biographies, gathering research material is just
going to give you a bunch of facts and after you
write your story it will read like a manual.
you're writing about aliens, the renaissance period
or the civil war-you're not really writing about
those things. They're just genre and tone. What
you're really writing about is people.
you're writing about Shakespeare... that's a person
and it would take a different research approach.
Writing a screenplay based on someone's life would
require heavier research and heavy event editing.
You still need to create the story you want to
write, but this approach would take another article
What comes first, the research or the story?
you're writing a period piece, science fiction,
heavy industry-related stuff, period, or historical
stuff, the story always comes first.
say you've decided that you want to write an original
story about the civil war. That's a broad subject.
You don't know much more about it then movies
you've seen or textbook lessons.
where do you begin your research? The library...
the Internet... the bookstore...
of the above. The best place to start is to ask
yourself a few questions.
I have the civil war backdrop, but what do I really
want to write about?
love story... maybe a Union troop falls in love
with a southern woman whose family is confederate?
--A man's struggle against his demons... maybe
a gung-ho adolescent goes against his father's
dying wishes, joins the army, kills hundreds in
the name of the Union, but finds peace with himself
in the end.
--A friendship... two opposing men from different
backgrounds meet in the trenches and learn to
respect each other's differences.
could be anything. Remember, this is a story about
people, not the civil war. A story needs people.
People need their own story. You're not writing
a documentary with a bunch of stale facts. You're
writing a story that you want people to shell
out $8.00 to see. That means it has to be personal.
you choose the love story. Next, you need to create
these characters. You can make their inner personality
and traits whatever you desire or need, because
people's desires are universal. However, remember
that the facts about the war and the society in
which your characters live should be accurate.
you have a story premise (Great love conquers
the conflicts of warfare) and a backdrop (The
civil war). Next you need to work out who are
main characters are.
are the main characters' journeys? If he is to
fall in love with a woman of the south, you can
start developing his character. Opposites are
used because they work. So, he is adamantly opposed
to slavery. Her family owns four slaves. Maybe
he's trying to live up to his father's high expectations.
She can do no wrong in her father's eyes. He's
engaged to a woman from a well-to-do family because
it elevates his family's social status. Her family
is financially well off, but are losing everything
due to the war. What do they have in common? Secretly,
they both want to be loved. The first thing on
his mind is to become a hero; the last thing is
to fall in love. The first thing on her mind is
saving her family and surviving the war, the last
thing is to fall in love with her enemy.
thing to develop is the timeline. If you're going
to get two people to fall in love, they have to
interact. So maybe you'll introduce your hero
in his northern environment, quickly get him into
the frontlines, and settle him in the south for
the bulk of the story.
your main character is promoted and sets up a
command post using a confederate house-your love
interest's house! Here he gets to know her and
falls in love, causing conflict between his love
and his duty. He could grow to know her, meet
the slaves and see things from a totally new point
of view. The slaves fear freedom because they
don't know any other way of life. Maybe she's
hiding her wounded father in the attic and your
hero finds out about it. Maybe he's ordered to
burn the house and move forward. All sorts of
conflicts could happen.
here you can work out your main plot points.
point is that you need to develop your story-fully-having
written an outline or even a rough draft before
you write your story, keep notes or blank spaces
at the points that you absolutely need to research.
Once you're done with an outline or draft, you'll
realize that there really isn't much to research.
You may need terminology, actual places, mood,
tone, and certain events. Maybe reading about
a battle scene might help with your battle scene.
bottom line is that you now have your complete
story. So now when you do your research it will
be specific and take less time. And most importantly
your story and characters will be organic and
not read like a textbook.
can apply these principals to any original story
that you think is too big or needs a lot of research.
Script Fly 2010