Screenwriting : Today's Wish and Creative Tip by Laurie Ashbourne

Laurie Ashbourne

Today's Wish and Creative Tip

Every World Has Rules Clearly stories with a fantasy component need time to establish the rules of the world so we know how characters are ‘supposed’ to behave. Pixar does a great job in setting up world rules in a subtle way. NEMO: the drop off is forbidden, THE INCREDIBLES: the opening news reel tells us all about the world and the characters, UP: Balloons can take you anywhere. TOY STORY: Toys come alive, but not when humans are around. Recently, THE MARTIAN did this fairly effectively with Matt Damon recording his journal of what he had to do to survive in this world -- and PAN… not so effectively. I could go on for days about PAN but one of the key places it failed was in setting up the rules of the world. In the opening sequence Mom, in a dress and trench coat, with a baby in her arms, scales a tall iron gate like a ninja. My son turned to me and said, “that was random.” This was followed a bit later by the ship going to never land and Peter reaching out to the planet Saturn, again I bring you a 10-year-old’s perspective who knows every iteration of Peter Pan inside and out; “That doesn’t make any sense, he’d need a space suit… I can see why it got bad reviews… why are there fish in bubbles in the sky?” Near the end, it was clarified that Peter’s mom was a warrior and my son turned and said, “well that explains how she scaled the fence.” (But the fish in bubbles never got explained nor did they ever appear again). Pan can be summed up like this: Gratuitous VFX that jacked up the budget for no justifiable story reason. Not all stories have complex fantasy rules of magic and powers, but even small dramas have rules of the story world that need to be established. A spouse can’t talk to friends on the phone when s/he is home because the other half will assume they are having an affair so s/he keeps their phone in the car. When the fourth plug in the outlet is used, the whole block loses power. I see dead people… These rules are also the setups that you get to pay off in a big way. So establish them in creative, visual way that is more than talking heads. Even in the case of ‘I see dead people’ where it is just talking heads, it was built up for quite a while, and it’s finally told in a panicked whisper. Set up your world as early as possible, but that doesn't mean cram a laundry list in on the first page, if you have to do it in the first pages, do so with a compelling visual. Hitting us with characters yammering on and on before we even know their names will be hard for anyone to retain. Today, be where the people are, (Up where they walk, up where they run, Up where they stay all day in the sun, Wandering free…) Wish you could be, part of that world…

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