Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Plot Points and Character Arcs

Brief anecdote: several years ago when I was still using online sites to get feedback on my writing one of the people reviewing a script of mine congratulated me for hitting the first pinch point on exactly the right page. He then proceeded to take me to task for not getting all the other points on the right pages.

One of the things I could have pointed out to him at the time was that due to my funky formatting, what he was taking as page 27 was probably closer to being page 25, so I missed the initial pinch point too. I didn't bother to mention it though.

A recent thread on Wordplay has been concerned over a different screenwriting term - whether there's a need to have a character arc in every story. I'd like to question whether there's a need to use the term 'character arc' at all, let alone have one.

There's a lot of terminology that gets thrown about regarding screenwriting especially, other writing not so much. Much of it seems to derive from self-help books that are more often written by screenwriting analysts rather than successful screenwriters.

As a result I'd put much of it on the Helpful to Writers Scale at somewhere around 3/10. Character arcs, plot points, pinch points, or whatever new terms the latest writing guru has created to sell his/her book are all useful if applied AFTER the screenplay has been finished and taken with a pinch of salt when doing so.

And that's only if you know you have a problem with the story but can't quite put your finger on what's wrong. Although frankly if that's the case then I'd suggest ditching the script and starting on your next one because you probably either need distance or more experience to solve the problem.

Where all these wonderful terms should be ignored (I'd say must, but that starts to sound like I'm inventing rules instead) is in actually writing the story. It's certainly important to understand how to pace a story, how to create compelling characters and so on - but slavishly ensuring that you tick off every single box in the Screenwriter's Workbook is not going to guarantee anything more than the appreciation of the other terminology slaves.

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