Home Learning Learning Series Lesson #2: Orienting Your Story

Learning Series Lesson #2: Orienting Your Story

by Celtx

Welcome to part two of the Celtx Learning Series! In lesson one, you learned how to encapsulate your story within a compelling logline. Now it’s time to lay the groundwork for your script outline by identifying your target audience, genre, and theme.

You certainly want to be able to describe your script idea to other people, but at this point you want to be able to describe it to yourself. You need to understand your story before you write it.

It’s no good to try and discover what you’re trying to accomplish with a script after you write it. Don’t go off half-cocked. Or, to stretch that metaphor a bit, if your creative energy is a pistol, it’s time to aim it.

What aspects of your story should you consider before you start your outline? To keep things simple and effective, we’ll focus on four:

  1. Length
  2. Target Audience
  3. Genre
  4. Theme

Length

While it certainly gives you an end-goal, that’s not really why we advise picking a page count in advance. Your proposed script length gives you an easy way to approximate when major plot points should occur. For example, if your script is 90 pages then the midpoint of your story should be occurring at around 45 pages. If it’s 120 pages, you should probably dedicate 25-30 pages on your first act. If noting major happens in your 90 page script by page 10, you’ll know you have a problem.

Target Audience

Choosing a target audience will hep to inform the tone and content of your story. For example, a movie targeted at 2-11 year olds is going to use different language than a movie targeted at 18-24 year olds. Generally speaking, most movies are aimed at the following age groups with the bulk being marketed at the coveted 18-39 year old range:

TARGET AUDIENCE AGE RANGES

You can combine a few of these groups, but it is rare for a film to successfully encompass all of them.

Genre

Genre is obviously going to be a major factor in your script. It influences your plot, style, tone, and theme – but how?

As Barry Keith Grant puts it in Film Genre Reader IV, “…genre movies are those commercial feature films that, through repetition and variation, tell familiar stories with familiar characters, in familiar situations.”

Choosing a genre provides a template for you unwritten film. It will influence the audience’s expectations of how your film will look, how the characters will behave, who the antagonist will be, and so on. However, look back at that Grant quote and take note of an important word: variation.

It is in the tweaks and changes that you make to the tired plotline, the oft-used archetypal character, or really any genre convention that will set your script apart, and set your audience’s imagination afire. The subversion of expectation is key to an engaging story.

Theme

To paraphrase an old adage, “Theme is your assertion of a truth about the world.” It can’t simply be a broad concept like “love,” but instead should be more specific like “love conquers all.”

Your theme will permeate all aspects of your film, and will be the thesis that informs your main character’s actions. The conflict will centre around a challenge to it, and often your antagonists will act directly against it.

For example, in Moulin Rouge!, the theme could be put simply as “love conquers all,” and is even summed up in the repeatedly used refrain “come what may.” The hero believes this theme wholeheartedly from the beginning. The conflict arises when he falls for a courtesan who pessimistically ‘sells’ her love, not holding it in high esteem. He changes her mind, but the pair must still contend with the villain, who believes that money conquers all.

You’ll need to constantly assert your theme throughout your script, so get it down before you start writing.

Nothing too complicated here. Create a document (or even use a notebook!) and write out your chosen logline from lesson one at the top.

From there, add a section for your Length, Target Audience, Genre, and Theme. For each of these factors, come up with five broadstroke points that will connect and justify them to the premise established in your logline. This is where you should start experiencing the initial sparks of of knowing how you want your story to flow, what types of things you want to happen, and what the characters will do.

If you find yourself having trouble with this, try picking five of your favourite movies and attempting to define their themes and genres based upon things like character decisions, style, and plot. Note when major plot events happen in relation to runtime. This is especially effective if you choose films that you’d consider to be influential to the script that you plan to write.

Understanding your length, target audience, genre, and theme will go a long way into helping you ground your script. But before you begin your outline, you’ll have to take some time to develop the most important story component of all: characters.

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