Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Screenwriting “Rule of Threes”

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.

FADE IN:

Carson Reeves over at ScriptShadow has a great article about the 13 things screenplays need to have in order to become great. He’s asked for additional ideas toward getting to the most complete list there could be. What about this...

In business presentations (and sometimes in certain forms of advertising), there is a concept called "The Rule of Threes":

Business professionals understand that people often have other things on their mind when they’re watching or reviewing a presentation, so they take steps to ensure that the key messages are heard and retained.

At the start of the presentation: tell them what you’re going to tell them. Then: tell them. At the end of the presentation: tell them what you just told them. This will greatly increase the chances that your audience “gets it.”

So, let's adapt that to screenwriting. To me, at least at first glance, it works for your theme.

The screenwriter would first present the need for the theme in some primary way, not "preach" it as a statement or piece of dialogue, but "present its need in action," so that it's communicated, but not stated. This should likely fall in act 1, probably in the first 10 - 20 pages.


Then it would be presented in action, again, not directly through statement, but rather through metaphor or allegory or implication. This would fall in act 2, probably in the 50 - 80 page range.


Then it would be re-stated in a concluding epiphany tied to the climax at the end of act 3.


This has the effect of driving home that elusive quality in stories that make them relevant to audiences, worthwhile as stories to which they want to go back, again and again. But if the theme is merely stated, as in "the moral of this story is..." it becomes overstatement. Only as indirect implication, something to be inferred or never really even seen at all, does it gain its power.


And that recalls Robert Mckee's concept from his book, Story, regarding "image systems" in films. Once you see it, it has failed. But if it is there yet its value and function are unseen, it has the effect of boosting the story itself, giving it a quality of unity, making it an organic whole. And that, in turn, moves it toward greatness. #


FADE OUT


Lee A. Matthias

Quote of the Post:

          When your work speaks for itself, don't interrupt.

          ---Henry J. Kaiser

2 comments:

  1. Love this point in your timely article:
    "This has the effect of driving home that elusive quality in stories that make them relevant to audiences, worthwhile as stories to which they want to go back, again and again."

    This must be memorized by all screenwriters.

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  2. Thanks. Multiple views of the finished film, should be the goal in screenwriting. It signifies richness, more to know and see.

    ReplyDelete