Advanced Plot Construction: The Craft of the DramatistTeleconference
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Once you've figured out the basics of your idea, it's time to develop the full story in a comprehensive outline before you write the script. This is the craft of plot construction, which is harder than it seems. Jeff Kitchen's three-part process, Sequence, Proposition, Plot, is so effective at this that development executives at all the major Hollywood studios (to whom he's taught it) consistently say it's the most advanced development tool in the film industry. Not only is it a remarkably powerful outlining process, but it helps tighten and dramatize the material as you develop it, by focusing on cause and effect as well as conflict.
You tend to want good cause and effect because it gives your story a crisp forward momentum, such that plot point A causes plot point B which causes plot point C, and so on. You create this by working backward from your ending, chaining back from each effect to its cause. By creating this tight linkage, you separate the necessary from the unnecessary; a crucial skill for a dramatist because dramatic writing demands total economy. By asking what caused each effect, rather than what merely happened before it, you isolate the chain of events that constitutes the story's forward action.
Once you've got tight cause and effect, you then focus on the conflict. You set up a potential fight near the end of Act I, and then touch off a fight to the finish near the end of Act II, which gets the audience up on the edge of their seats since they don't know how it will turn out. There's a highly specific question in their mind about how the fight will turn out, and if that question is weak, it's an indication that the conflict you've set up and touched off is weak. You can experiment with the mechanics of the conflict to amplify its power and get it right before you proceed. The overall story needs conflict, as does each act, each sequence, and each scene.
Sequence, Proposition, Plot is a powerful outlining tool that helps you get the big picture right first. If the story as a whole doesn't work then the details do no matter. You then construct each act, developing a bit more detail, keeping the cause and effect tight and the conflict gripping. Next you develop each major sequence, fleshing out a bit more detail and keeping it tight and dramatic. Then you develop the first scene using Sequence, Proposition, Plot-and then you write that scene. Then you structure the next scene and write it, and you keep on that way until you finish your working draft. So each scene is tight and dramatic, and is nested inside a tight and dramatic sequence, which is nested inside a tight and dramatic act, which is nested inside a tight and dramatic overall story. Every part of the script is charged with dramatic action.