COVERSCRIPT TIPS – The Audience Has Left the Building-Part One

Exactly when was that?

Let’s find out.

Screen stories are more than just stuff happening… they are more than this happens… then that happens… and then the other thing happens. They’re very different from such casual narratives.

They are tightly structured affairs.  As William Goldman wrote in his book Adventures in the Screen Trade,Screenplays are structure!”

The entirety of screen story structure revolves around one basic concept… the Central Dramatic Question.  That’s the question that gets to the heart of your story in twenty words or less, no matter what the genre.

A few examples of central dramatic questions:

Will Frodo succeed in returning the one ring to Mordor, or will the Dark Lord Sauron gain possession of it and use its power to enslave the world? (THE LORD OF THE RINGS)

Will Miss Daisy grow beyond the prejudices with which she was raised or die friendless?  (DRIVING MISS DAISY)

Will Harold and Kumar finally break out of their loser mentality enabling them to make it to the White Castle for sliders and fries, or will they remain starving losers? (HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO THE WHITE CASTLE).

The central dramatic question is set up and posed in act one, explored and exploited in act two, and is at last answered in act three.  It’s the audience’s desire to know how the central dramatic question is answered that keeps them tuned in throughout the film.

Once the question is answered, the audience’s attention is set free; and for them your movie has ended.

So wrapping up any loose ends that carries on for more than one, two or maybe three pages (which equals one, two, or three minutes of film time) after you’ve answered the central dramatic question is pointless as, just like Elvis, your audience has already left the building.

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