My brother is three years younger than me. When we were kids, the perception was that I was way smarter than him.
But he would beat me at chess and I hated him for it.
How was this possible?
Unlike my brother, I received good marks at school because I could easily store stuff to my short-term memory. My brother, however, had patience, razor-sharp focus and a nagging determination to beat his competition.
So he did.
Soon I learned that a good short-term memory doesn’t necessarily get you very far.
On the other hand, I’m sure my brother would make a great screenwriter, should he ever sell his restaurant.
Consider the three qualities I mentioned above.
- Determination to win
Each individually will help you achieve a lot in life.
Combined, they are dynamite. As a matter of fact, I consider them essential to making it in screenwriting. But that’s a different post.
Back to chess.
As you may know, one of the key strengths of a good chess player is to forward-analyze potential moves. Plus the consequences of those moves. Plus the consequences of those consequences.
With each move that you think ahead, an exponential number of counter-moves is added to the speculative game plan.
Creating a screen story is like playing a chess game. A good game.
At the beginning, a seemingly infinite amount of options is possible.
As the game progresses, the options reduce but great players keep seeing creative openings.
In screenwriting, make your Hero perform any action and from it follows a number of potential counter-actions by the Antagonist or other characters. Now speculate into the next scene of your script: the options have just multiplied to an amount that could comprise the plot of an entire TV season.
You can’t possibly keep all this in mind while you’re writing, or else only chess pros would be paid to write for Hollywood. Fortunately our subconscious does most of this work for us.
However, when you’re re-writing it helps to be able to see the logic and decompose it into its various components.
Now what can’t you do with a chess game that you can in writing…
Once you have a fantastic finale, you can work back from it and see what necessary steps must be taken to get you there.
The great thing is that you can’t lose. The options are real options and as a matter of fact all you are doing is limiting those options all the way to the starting point.
The not-so-great thing is that this approach is counter-intuitive.
One thing is for sure: it will provide you with powerful ammunition against those who will attack your screenplay from the angle of plausibility.
Yet, you won’t beat my brother.
Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.
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