11 Plot Devices You Should Definitely Consider In A Script For A Movie


George Bernard Shaw once wrote that story plot was the creation, maneuvering and destruction of relationships between characters. This applies to your screenplay.

Screenwriting plot is derived from character and its sole purpose is to drive the story so the character can attempt to achieve their goal. Every scene in your script must either reveal something about the character or advance the story. Flat scenes become boring and lose your audience. This is essential in learning how to write a script.

Here are some plot devices that can pique your script writing plots:

1) DANGER

It can be moral danger such as deciding to cheat on your spouse, or physical danger such as being trapped in a burning house. Raise the stakes and make your movie characters earn their goal and pay for their mistakes.

Give them insecurities, flaws, problems and issues we can all relate to. Make them fall into a ditch that they must crawl out of. A common plot device in action films is to either have multiple things go wrong at once or sequentially with increasing intensity.

The victim tries to escape, but they can’t find the keys to the car so they break in. Then there’s a flat battery so the can’t hot wire it to start. Then there’s no cell phone coverage…

What’s needed may not arrive in time or not arrive at all. Oftentimes, dramatists use a Deus Ex Machina (literally God from the machine) whereby some life saving event occurs just in the nick of time before all is lost. Make sure this isn’t a lucky co-incidence or your audience will never forgive you. And don’t use more than one per screenplay. Your audience will notice.

2) TIME BOMB

Give your characters a ticking time clock where something seriously bad will happen if they don’t achieve a goal in your film script. Maybe there isn’t enough time to defuse the bomb? Perhaps the main character doesn’t know how to defuse the bomb. Maybe the main character isn’t even aware of the bomb. Does the audience know? Giving either the audience or the main character such a superior position adds intrigue and interest. Alternatively, the main character can simply run out of options to achieve their goal rather than out of time.

3) CONFESSION

After deep humiliation make your characters confess to a secret, shortcoming, wound or a deep seeded fear or shame. Maybe they realise the error of their ways and take responsibility for their actions. A confession should equate to the theme of your script and to the character arc. You’re the movie script writer, so get creative about this.

4) MORALITY

Consider your audience. Being born out of wedlock is generally not considered a shameful act in the Western world. Forcing a pregnant unwed couple to marry may be acceptable is some cultures, but not in others. Play with morality in your plot. The beauty of it is that it’s never clearly right or wrong like a maths problem. Is it wrong to kill someone? What if they killed your family? What if it is in self defense?

5) BETRAYAL

The hero’s buddy changes sides or is revealed as a traitor. What if the main character doesn’t realise this, or does so when it’s too late? What if the traitor leads them into a trap?

6) DILEMMA

The hero is forced to make a choice between two equally bad alternatives. Consider the family with premature Siamese twins who must decide which one survives and which one doesn’t. What if the main character consciously decides not to act because they are faced with issues of duty for the higher good? Or even love?

7) OBSTACLES

External influences such as bad weather or natural disasters forcing them to stop. Car or other vital piece of machinery breaks down and a replacement part is not immediately forthcoming. What if their progress is stalled due to injury, illness or other physical condition such as pregnancy or diabetes? What if someone in their team is killed or kidnapped? Running out of bullets, money, food, air all add to the excitement of danger.

8) DISCOVERY

The element of surprise and shock always jolts your audience. Examples of this include a cover been blown of an undercover cop, the presence of an intruder being noticed, an escalating lie has been revealed. A discovery must pivot your story into a new direction, not simply act as a minor irritant. Remember the scene in “Mad Men” where Betty discovers Don’s true identity by opening a locked drawer? She didn’t sigh and carry on, she left him. Discoveries can also be wild goose chases. Following the wrong lead, the wrong map or the wrong advice.

9) LOVE

Due to its universality, love will always add to a plot. What if a past lover returns? Consider Jodie Foster in “Sommersby”, when she tells her returned “husband” that he’s not the man she married because she didn’t love him like she loves the impostor. Add a love triangle; one bride versus two grooms. Add gender swaps, such as “Tootsie” who had enamored a man who thinks she’s a woman. Also consider the third wheel. The buddy who suddenly becomes the bride’s love interest when he reveals his true self. Love is also used to tame a savage, misanthropic heart.

10) TRAITS

Give your character some endearing traits so the audience can partially overlook their negative ones. Give them courage, give them love. give them scruples so they are fighting for a good cause where the collateral damages justifies the cause, make them perform a good deed, make them desirable such as handsome, physical and funny. Make them spiritual, generous and wise. Ensure it all emerges from a place of truth and authenticity. Audiences retract from phonies. Give them fears, traumas which block their growth, masks which prevent other characters from seeing their real self.

11) LIKES

Make your characters like children, animals and art. Give them great taste in cars, partners, houses, music, fashion, food and overall lifestyle. Audiences tend to admire what they aspire to be or what they perceive to be desirable.

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