Drafting the Short Screenplay...
Drafting the Short Screenplay: Determining the Structure
Once we have the germ of our story, we still need to work out its structure. What happens to these characters that turns situation into story?
As we stated earlier, a good story needs to have an archetypal storyline and a big idea. So what sort of story is this going to be? Will we write a story about two people who fall out of love? Will we write a morality tale about a man who sees the error of his ways? Or will we write a coming of age story, about a boy who comes to terms with the hopes and disappointments of his parents?
The archetype we choose depends in part on whose point of view we want to explore. We were most interested in the boy; accordingly, we decided to write a coming of age story.
Once we've chosen this archetype, we've committed ourselves to a certain plot development. Coming of age stories begin with a young person who lacks the wisdom or power necessary to right the wrongs in his current situation. He sets off on a journey - emotional or otherwise - in order to gain that wisdom or power. On this journey, he encounters and overcomes several obstacles. By the time the story ends, he has achieved (partially or wholly) his aims.
Still, in order to move from archetype to story, a writer needs to think of how the archetypal situation will unfold in this particular character's life at this particular moment in history.
To recount how we structured our story would be tedious. It's enough to say that we faced two challenges: we had to arrange several dramatic moments (taken from life) which occurred between the boy and his father, so that they would function as one dramatic whole; and we had to place this sequence of moments up against some immediate need. After all, in a short film you can't just ramble through the relationship between the boy and his father, you need to have a reason why this alcoholic binge is more important, more dramatic, than the others that might have come before or after.
And so we determined that the father would go on a binge the night before an important cello recital, placing the boy in the precarious position of failing his mother. The immediacy of his need serves the short film format well: the boy's goal is clear and immediate, providing the audience with the dramatic tension they need to stay interested in the film.
If you're interested in how we structured Because of Mama, please see our Step Outline.