Posted by: steveonfilm | September 19, 2011

Today, Tomorrow, Next Week, Who Cares?

It’s been a rough few weeks. Just sort of one of those times where you do what you can do, and hope for the best. It wasn’t anything horrible or life changing that went down. It was just a period where there wasn’t enough time, or energy, to get everything done. We’ve all been there. We’ll all be there again. It’s part of life.

Each day I still wrote at least one line for a screenplay. Cold. Stress. Work. Migraine. It didn’t matter. I still got out at least one line. That kept me tethered to my hobby and passion. But now, with my work mess and a cold behind me, I was able to start back on the next draft of ‘The Prey’ in earnest this past weekend.

One of the things that Michael brought up when giving me notes was the timeline for the story. In the most recent complete draft the events of the story take place over roughly three months. Did it make sense for that to happen? Sure! In real life what happens would take a while to develop and go down. But screenplays aren’t real life. They’re stories that are supposed to appear like real life, and in some instances they don’t even have to do that.

Bottom line, I needed to condense the timeline down into as short a period as possible. That meant doing something that I hadn’t done thus far, come up with a formal timeline. This suddenly became extremely important because there are a lot of references to events and dates in the story. I’m not talking characters going “At three fifteen on April the third Jonny shot Abby in the face, which means that the next time he kills will be at eight thirteen on June ninth.” I just mean uses of words and phrases like yesterday, last week, tomorrow, a few days, and last month.

When you don’t have to worry about timelines you can use terms like that pretty easily without serious thought about continuity. However, if you have to condense events that originally take place over three months into the span of ten days, things can be tricky. You screw up just once, and the reader can be pulled out of your story when they realize the error, or worse, get confused. This is bad. REALLY bad. You don’t want to take your reader out of the story at all costs.

I took a good hard look at all the key beats that happen in the story. I needed to know if how I approached character deaths and plot points could work in a condensed manner. I mean, was there anything I was doing that had to happen, say, two weeks after something else or it just wasn’t plausible?

When everything was said and done I didn’t feel like there was. After looking at al the beats, and what events needed to happen on what days, I was able to condense the timeline into ten days. Three of those ten are implied, meaning nothing actually happens in them, they simply elapse. When you’re dealing with a funeral, you need a few days to occur after the death. That’s just reality, and something that can’t be sped up unless you’re playing with very specific religious observations. Also, people don’t go out for a drink the day after a funeral. I don’t know, maybe some do. But a likable lead character doesn’t. So you need at least day of padding in there as well. Should there be more? Sure. But I think if you show the mourning taking place appropriately, the audience will let that slide a bit.

The timeline thing was a new and unique challenge that I hadn’t encountered before. But after going through the experience I can see significant value in it. Most movies we see take place over a VERY short period of time. Most a few days. Some a week. Less a few weeks. And fewer than that a few months. Try to remember as many movies as you can that take a few years to play out. I’m sure you can only come up with a few.

When writing in a condensed timeline, events and references need to be spot on. Because I can assure you, if yours aren’t, there are THOUSANDS of aspiring writers who’s are.

Until next time, keep writing!
-Steve

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