What Makes a Movie?
The truth remains that there are bad and good movies in spite of the budget expended on them. While a good or bad movie can be down to a number of things involved in the filmmaking process, the plot of a movie carries a significant portion of how good or bad a movie is.
To create a plot, it is important to know how a movie works or how to make a movie. How a movie works simply refers to the parts that make a movie whole. On a general note, there are three important features across all movie types and they are:
- The subject or Protagonist
Since a movie is basically a visual story, then the story must be about someone or something. The protagonist in a movie is the focal point of the movie; this means all actions or inactions in the plot affect the protagonist in one way or the other.
- Location Where the Plot Develops (Settings)
Every story needs a location(s), a place(s) where the story develops and comes to a conclusion.
The conflict in a movie plot is basically the obstacle the protagonist has to surmount or succumb to. The conflict can be a love interest, winning a war, migration, e.t.c.
Identifying and listing out these three features for a plot is the necessary skeletal system for creating a movie plot. Other things to know about how to make a movie includes
- Identifying the Elements for the Plot
After highlighting the three key features that make up a movie, the next step is to combine elements that will form the plot. Elements in this instance refers to the different scenarios surrounding the subject or protagonist throughout the plot. To keep things simple, it is advised to stick to just three elements. Examples of movie elements are travel, romance, arguments, heroism, sports e.t.c.
The combination of different elements in a plot eventually determines the movie theme. Even though some elements are more obvious than some others when coming up with a movie idea, the dominant element in the movie plot will make the bigger chunk of the movie theme, and in extension, the genre of the movie.
- Picking a Genre
It is always advised to pick a familiar movie genre. Familiar either through watching, reading, or writing. While the genre of a movie can sometimes not pop out till the plot plays out, it is advisable to choose a genre of the movie plot right from the start. It’s little wonder most accomplished movie writers stick to a particular genre because it is obviously their strength.
Also read: How To Make A Movie
Ways to Come up With a Movie Idea
There are a number of ways to come up with a movie idea. The beautiful thing about this process though is that inspiration can be drawn from anything and everything. Movie plots can come from well documented, real life experiences to absolute figments of the imagination, and everything in between. Here are some of the best and popular ways to come up with a movie plot:
- Using Real Life Scenarios
Real life scenarios are a wonderful way to come up with a movie plot. It is probably the broadest and most used approach to creating movie plots. Plots can be built around biographies, people’s stories, learning how to do things like how to create a music video, and even things considered inconsequential in our day-to-day activities.
It’s no surprise that using real life scenarios as a source of inspiration has led to a lot of movie plots because the twists and turns are endless. Also real life scenarios are not as rosy as portrayed in movies, so it makes for interesting conversations and ideas.
An integral key to writing a good plot is to take on the characters in the plot, it helps to bring the characters to life. Making the characters feel real is having them make mistakes, fall in love, have aspirations, strengths, and weaknesses.
- Genre Switching
Another way to get the juice flowing when it comes to creating a movie plot is to try switching the genre mid-plot. This method has worked for many writers and has even resulted in some of the best movie plots around. A genre switch in the plot creates a sort of excitement that can make readers glued to the script for what happens next.
- Experimenting With The Plot of a Movie
This technique is very interesting and a good way to get the powers of imagination working. It is an imaginative twist that has helped a lot of movies to develop plot or backstories for otherwise ordinary characters. A good example is imagining what happens if the protagonist doesn’t exist or what happens if he dies early in the movie instead.
- Use history
History has always been a gold mine of information on how the past people overcame challenges or what can be done better now. Using history as an inspiration for a movie idea can help provide and solve the necessary conflict in a plot.
Another way of exploiting history for a movie plot is trying to provide a backstory to different figures in history. The opportunities here are endless. An interesting fact about building plots around historical figures or events is that there is already a known ending to the subject. This can be an opportunity to provide an alternate ending to historical events.
- Think of the Audience
Another way to build a movie plot is targeting the plot towards a specific set of audience. Good examples of such plots are plots of cartoons and children movies. Also, plots can be built for a particular location or sometimes composed to address a concept. It all involves thinking of the intended audience.
Steps to Building a Movie Plot
Having the correct details for a plot is one thing, making it film worthy is another. The truth remains that a lot of plots are not film worthy. Sometimes, the reason for bad plots is the arrangement with which the plot is presented. There is a preset way of writing movie plots and the following are the necessary steps to building a film worthy plot.
Step 1: The set up
This part is the introductory part of a movie plot. It sets the background for the movie plot. It identifies the protagonist, the setting (location) of the story, the premise of the story, and some other important information that is necessary for the developments of the characters. This part of the plot should not take more than a few pages. Long set up pages risk boring the reader.
Step 2: Conflict
This is the part that explains the challenge the protagonist is facing, or has to face to develop in the story. The conflict is what brings the protagonist to life in the plot. At this point, the protagonist’s aim is to resolve the conflict in the most ideal way possible.
Step 3: Point of No Return
This part of the plot follows the conflicting part and it is the actual place a life changing decision is made by the protagonist. The decision usually conflates with the value of the character. At the point of no return for a character, it can no longer resolve the conflict in the easiest way possible and now has to make a decision that will affect him and other characters.
Step 4: Major set back
The major setback is the main hurdle the protagonist and other characters have to cross. The antagonist or a scenario has mounted the odds against the protagonist. At this point, both the audience and characters are heavily involved in the plot. The plot is at the latter stages now.
Step 5: Climax
The climax is the part of the plot where the characters have to give it their all, good or bad. The audience and characters are heavily involved and this part eventually decides the fate of the characters going forward. Most protagonists make it past this stage while some don’t.
Even though the elements and key features of the movie have been highlighted and written out, it is absolutely important to be mentally prepared for fleshing out the skeletal plot. It is very important because what comes next (writing out the plot) can be very mentally exhausting.
Creatives deal with all sorts of mental blockades that won’t allow them to be able to move forward with the plot. These mental blockades(1) are usually caused by distractions, and sometimes they last for large amounts of time. Fortunately, different writers over the years have found ways to overcome these blockades. Here are some popular ways to prepare mentally for writing a plot
- Brainstorming Sessions
One of the best ways to get the best out of one’s day as a writer is to set aside a daily brainstorming session targeted towards completing the tasks ahead. Great plots don’t appear from thin air, and most of the plots that have garnered wide acclaim came about through serious brainstorming sessions.
- Move Around with Writing Materials
The funny thing with creatives is that inspiration can hit anywhere, and at any time. A concrete way of holding on to an idea is to put it into writing, and as a writer, every idea should be documented. Of course, it’s not every movie idea that will make it into the final plot, but having them in writing can at least make them useful for future plots or sequels.
- Use Loglines
Loglines(2) are a very simplistic way of conveying a plot to people. Loglines help plot creators to cement the idea they are working on, and also to stay on track. Examples of loglines are the movie descriptions used on the IMDB website.
- Allow Mistakes
Allowing mistakes implies having patience before getting the final draft. A lot of blockbuster movie plots have been edited and re-edited for one reason or the other. A perfect first attempt is rare when it comes to plot development, and although editing and re-editing will take time, quality plots are worth it.
Storytellers often mention how they allow the plot to develop naturally. Trying to picture a perfect plot on the first attempt is a surefire way to enter a writer’s block, and this is very common to budding novelists.
Writers are different and what is easy for one person is difficult for another. With that said, Rom-com and action plots are more popular, not necessarily easier to write though.
It all depends on the person writing. The popular ways of getting inspiration have been discussed here but they are not limited to them alone. There are an endless number of ways to create a movie plot and one method is not necessarily better than the other. In fact, authors combine a lot of methods to make the process easier.
Movie plots are the nucleus of movies and a good one can never be over appreciated. Although creating movie plots can be rigorous, getting an idea of what a movie entails, being mentally prepared, and learning how to build a movie plot can make the task easier. One just needs to start. You may even enjoy the whole process of bringing characters to life.
What are your favorite sources of inspiration? How do you overcome a writer’s block when writing a movie plot? Drop your thoughts in the comments.
- Purdue University Global. (2019 Jan). 7 ways to overcome writer’s block. Retrieved from https://www.purdueglobal.edu/blog/student-life/7-ways-overcome-writers-block/
- Noam K. (2014 Jan). How to write the perfect logline..And why it’s as important as your screenplay. Retrieved from https://www.indiewire.com/feature/how-to-write-the-perfect-logline-and-why-its-as-important-as-your-screenplay-31710/