Tonight a few of us gathered around a big screen at the Clayoquot Sound Community Theatre to learn screenwriting techniques, as part of a free workshop sponsored by the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust.

At the free screenwriting workshop tonight

A photo posted by McMullan (@erinlinnmcmullan) on

Who could have imagined by the end we would have concocted our own idea for a movie involving everything from a washed-up Bollywood star to a K-pop phenom to Heath Ledger — all attempting an escape from a majestic island laboratory? Cool stuff indeed.

For all you out there who fancy yourself a writer, here are a few of the secrets I picked up from the class. I hope you can make use of them, too…

  1. Try using a “logline” to sum up your project. A logline is a sentence-long description of the film’s plot used to hook people into helping your idea become a reality. Here’s the formula: When [inciting incident occurs] a [specific protagonist] must [objective], or else [stages].
  2. When you’re seeking clarity of purpose, another good trick is to summarize your project with a What if? statement. So if you were writing the movie the Martian you could say, “What if you had to survive on Mars using only your wits and spirit after being left behind?”
  3. Put your characters “up a tree” and throw rocks at them. Conflict and challenges create drama, which keeps the viewer interested.
  4. Set up a ticking clock: Give the hero a deadline to raise the stakes of the movie.
  5. A “reflection” character can be very useful. This person is closely aligned with the hero, and helps him or her achieve the thing that’s motivating their actions.
  6. Introduce love story. Viewers want to be drawn in to your story with something they can relate to. A love story is a tried and true way to achieve this. You don’t always have to cater to what people are hoping for. But that brings us to the next point.
  7. You should always give the audience what they want in a way they would never expect it.
  8. What’s happening to your hero is an outer result mirroring an inner change.
  9. The audience’s imagination should be part of the movie-making process. Start thinking about this as you’re planning your screenplay.
  10. Always set up what’s going to happen later. For example, you could use the reflection character to fail at a challenge your hero will face later in the story. This ups the tension when the situation arises.

Big thanks to Erin McMullan for facilitating the workshop and keeping the creativity flowing.

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