Q&A: KEEPING IT SIMPLE
[Though this question is from a screenwriter, the issue it raises is just as critically important to novelists, speakers and internet marketers.]
Q: Having recently completed the first draft of my screenplay, I find the 2nd act is a real drag. The movie is about a person told from three distinct memories. Each narrator is the hero of his or her own story, but with one common villain. These characters can’t narrate their own stories simultaneously, but they know bits of each other’s stories, which are revealed through voice-over. To attain a narrative flow, the dialogue driven scenes, matching transitions and similar framings are very complexly interrelated. Yet I still have a feeling that my 2nd act, where the second story unfolds, loses its pace. What can I do?
A: I’m afraid I can’t help with your 2nd act without reading at least a short outline of the story to give me some sense of who these characters are, what they want and what obstacles they face. But I can tell you that your story sounds WAY too complicated, and that you are adding “artistic” touches that should be left to the director, editor and sound mixer. Your job as a screenwriter is to tell a simple, emotionally involving story that is easy for readers and audiences to understand, and for distributors to advertise.
I’m sorry if this is bad news, but take heart in the fact that the single most common weakness I find in the stories I receive from storytellers, whether they are screenwriters, novelists, speakers or marketers, is that they have made their stories too complicated. I strongly recommend you streamline this script into something you can easily explain in no more than 2 sentences. Such clarity and simplicity will also greatly strengthen your second act, which right now is probably collapsing under the weight of all the convoluted plotting, narration and points of view.