In this post I combine a fun exercise to keep you from the urge to mumble under your breath at your friends and family as the eggnog flows, and what a better story to frame it around than IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Regardless of what seasonal holiday you celebrate, much like the golden rule – this one has a message for everyone and a plot and hero we all can sympathize with.
The fun little activity is a storyteller’s YULE LOG. In writing for screen and page the most neglected aspect is the creation of the logline, that single 20 to 30 word sentence that tells prospects what the story is.
Regardless of whether you subscribe to Blake Snyder’s beat sheet formula or not, at the start of his 1st Save the Cat book, he gives a writer’s most important advice on the creation of the logline. If you as a writer can craft this element better, economically and more creatively you have increased your chance of success substantially and by doing so you simultaneously make your story better – which is why he insists it be done before page one.
Now for our YULE LOG spin, I propose taking these celebratory folks and crafting a logline for them – this will help in your character development particularly secondary characters. Many writers have a backstory for the protagonist but few for the supporting characters.
I’m not suggesting you write a holiday story, just practice crafting a logline for the residents of your own personal Bedford Falls. It will stop you from saying something you’ll regret AND it will help hone your craft of character, so that you too can create loglines faster, more economically and creatively.
Sticking with the IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE story here’s an example.
Your Family and Friends as Logline
Uncle Billy (I’ve got at least 3 of these – literally and figuratively)
LL: After his gracious brother hires a desolate and near alcoholic man, he accidentally misplaces the company’s bankroll and becomes dangerously close to destroying his brother.
Now for the breakdown of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE – 1st 10 pages:
Even though this is a 185 page screenplay there are many things these screenwriters adhered to that make it so successful, and a lot of it has to do with the first 10 pages.
Pg. 1 Prayers going out for George Bailey. Not only do we know that someone is in desperate need of a miracle, we know he is our hero.
Pg. 2 The tone is quickly set with the angel banter, so we know it’s drama with comedy thrown in for a breather here and there. As we are now introduced to our hero’s assistant, Clarence.
By the bottom of pg. 3 and into pg. 4 we roll through the set up George Bailey’s life (as he saves cat after cat.) The important thing here, is each and every set up of our hero’s early life pays off as we near the climax and it is revealed how these set up would have been altered (or non-existent) had George never been born.
Pg. 6 We meet our bad guy – Mr. Potter.
Pg. 7 We meet Mary
Pages 8 and 9 we learn who George wants to be
Page 10 Our hero, George, gets the crap beat out of him by the druggist, Mr. Gower.
We meet most of our secondary characters in addition to those mentioned, with the exception of Bert and Ernie, and Martini.
And even in 1946 the screenwriter knew to bookend the opening with the end to provide a satisfying arc of character and plot.
The link to the entire screenplay can be found online HERE.
May all your angels get their wings.
Have a Happy and stay tooned…