Non-Linear Screenwriting

Please read this article from the Writers Boot Camp on non-linear screenwriting.


Can you enter the process at almost any point with confidence?  Whether you’re developing an idea from the inspiration of a title, a character, an arena, a theme or an adventure, can you clone the arc of a story from any detail?  If you’ve got a hundred scenes in your horizontal, can you write just the fun or thrilling scenes first?  That keeps the energy flowing.  That gives you incentive to keep going.


The tools are designed to help you articulate your creative goals, not to strangle the life out of your story.  The tools help you to develop what you want instead of getting lost in the words and the plot.  Can you move fluidly through the levels of script development from the concise expression of concept to the increasing levels of detail, and skip comfortably to evaluate from level to level?


Non-linear means not to be “plot-driven,” not to be focused on simply the transportation of your characters through the story or about information.  To make sure that we’re on a ride while we’re watching those characters doing those things.


Non-linear is also about “Second Act Emphasis.”  Since 2nd and 3rd Act problems usually reveal 1st Act set-up issues, it’s an improbable task to know the 1st Act until you’ve orbited the entire journey. Like in your life, if you could redo the past ten years, knowing what you know now, you’d probably be more effective and have more fun doing it.  Wouldn’t it be better process to be less rigid with the pages while you write them instead of clinging to writing chronologically, and then finally having that V-8 moment, like a slap to your head: “Hey, I can compress the first 60 pages down to 15!”


It’s important to take a non-linear approach to realize that scenes need breadth.  A character inhabits a story, rather than being forced by the plot to do things.  That doesn’t mean that your scenes should serpentine or zig-zag, but linear feels very thin and straight and what you’re looking for is sort of the “soul” and “juice” of what a character’s experiencing and fleshing that out.


Non-linear also means that the script is not about words.  It’s an experience. It’s wonderful when a script can read lyrically and often in sitcom writing the turn of a phrase in dialogue makes a difference.  But it’s more important to be crafting moments and creating a rhyming process throughout the whole story, throughout that journey, than to be focused so much on what words are going where.  It’s what the words are conveying that matters.  The words are more like points in a pointillist vision.


Relating to dialogue, you can be more non-linear by realizing what the characters’ agenda require and motivate rather than speaking in direct response to the words.  What are the emotions?  What’s the state of mind?  What’s the awareness?  What’s the point of view of that character?  What’s at stake?


One Comment Add yours

  1. mjanevalquist says:

    Great article! I may try writing my next screenplay this way.

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