Screenplay as a Series of Event-Reactions

“A movie is — in a way — simply a continuous series of event-reactions / moment-responses.”

Image for post
Image for post

One of my favorite writing quotes derives from Anne Beattie: “People forget years… and remember moments.” That’s totally my experience with movies. Ask me what I did last year for my birthday? Not a clue. Ask me about a movie I’ve only seen one time like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, and I can call to mind 10–15 moments just like that. I think a lot of people tend to connect to movies through moments.

Even more, from a story-crafting perspective, this idea of zeroing in on moments and seeing what impact they have on a character is very much aligned with what I teach and preach: Character Driven Screenwriting.

There is the event which happens in the moment: External World / Plotline.
There is the reaction which happens in response: Internal World / Themeline.

A movie is — in a way — simply a continuous series of these event-reactions / moment-responses. And they aren’t just random, rather each event causes a character to react and in so doing change. So you can look at the series of event-reactions and see an arc. In most movies, a positive one where a Protagonist goes from Disunity to Unity.

The moments may be big (we call these plot or Plotline Points) or small (something which happens in virtually every scene), but each of them shove, push, or nudge both the Plot forward and the Protagonist’s psychological metamorphosis.

Think of The Wizard of Oz. Here is an off the top of my head recitation of event-reactions:

E: Dorothy comes home complaining about Miss Gulch, but the adults don’t really listen to her
R: She sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” expressing her discontent (Disunity: She doesn’t really feel like her home is a home)

E: Miss Gulch takes Toto
R: Toto escapes

E: Toto comes home
R: Dorothy runs away with Toto

Image for post
Image for post

E: Dorothy meets Professor Marvel who ‘sees’ Auntie Em in his crystal ball, worried about Dorothy
R: Dorothy runs back home

E: Tornado
R: Taken up to Oz

E: The house has killed a wicked witch
R: The Wicked Witch of the West vows to steal Dorothy’s red slippers

E: The Good Witch tells Dorothy to go to Emerald City to seek help from The Wizard
R: Dorothy and Toto take off (Dorothy’s goal: To get back to Kansas)

E: She meets Scarecrow, Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion
R: Dorothy invites them onto her journey (Note: They go on to become her friends)

E: There is some back and forth between Wicked Witch and Dorothy group
R: With some help from Glinda the Good Witch, the group makes it to Emerald City

E: Wizard sends them off to retrieve the Wicked Witch’s broom
R: Off they go on another adventure

E: Wicked Witch has Dorothy and Toto captured by flying monkees
R: Dorothy separated from her friends who set off to rescue her

E: Dorothy sees Auntie Em in Wicked Witch’s crystal ball
R: Dorothy desperate to get back to Kansas

E: Rescue effort
R: Dorothy douses Wicked Witch who melts

Image for post
Image for post

E: Group goes back to Wizard
R: Toto reveals that Wizard is no wizard, but a fraud

E: Wizard provides awards to Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion
R: “But what about Dorothy?” (Note: The trio of friends show off their loyalty and concern for Dorothy)

E: Wizard flies off in balloon
R: Dorothy hearbroken — she’ll never get home

E: Glinda: “You’ve known all along”
R: “There’s no place like home”

E: Dorothy wakes up back at home
R: She vows never to leave again / “No place like home”

Each of these events (moments) moves the plot forward, but also edges Dorothy’s psychological transformation forward, going from Disunity (she doesn’t feel like her home is a home) to Unity (there’s no place like home).

One big key: Bonding with Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion who are her Attractor characters. By making that emotional connection through their moments together, they serve as a bridge to home via their alter egos (Hickory, Hunk, and Zeke).

There are many attributes which make movie moments memorable. One key is the unfolding chain of events which elicit reactions on the parts of a story’s primary characters. Something to consider in the story-crafting process.

Written by

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store