Reverse Engineering Your Script

I recently heard Jeff Kitchen, script consultant and working writer speak.

Many pundits, including Jeff, have suggested writing your script backwards to help iron out plot kinks. By doing so, writers can remove extraneous scenes from their scripts which don’t serve the main plot. However, there needs to be strong outline or scene breakdown in place for this process to work. Don’t try it too soon or else you’ll stifle your creativity.

There are many preceding events to a plot point. However there is only event which truly affects the next event. This is called a CAUSE and EFFECT relationship. This paradigm relates to raising the stakes in your story as one event causes an escalation in conflict. It also relates to motivated actions. A previous event must be the reason for a future event.

This technique helps to remove the spectacle scenes. They eye candy with few cinematic calories. The cool looking scenes which don’t really advance the story. It also helps eliminate scenes which aren’t crucial to the central dramatic question or theme.

Start the reverse engineering process using broad strokes. Revel in the chaos before you nail down your story. Don’t limit your exploration too early. You can prune back your story later.

Once you have decided on a backbone for your script, break it down into the following:

  • 3 acts
  • 2-5 sequences per act
  • 2-5 scenes per sequence

In terms of reverse engineering, consider these elements are included in each scene:

OBJECTIVE – Where is this story headed? What is its final destination?

FINAL EFFECT – Combination of the story objective and emotional growth overarching the entire story.

IMMEDIATE CAUSE – Is each scene the logical thematic precursor of the next?


3 Comments Add yours

  1. xxjboundsxx says:

    I have Jeff Kitchen’s book. I bought a few years a go and helped me to not only do this but create better and believable characters. Good book.

    1. Yes Jeff’s a great script instructor.

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