Friday, November 25, 2005

Readers Taking Sides

Maybe this should be one of my "mysteries of life" posts, but it does have a screenwriting perspective because it's really not about sports, but about a formula I need to master in my screenplays.

(1) I turn on a football, baseball or basketball game that I have absolutely no emotional stake in but decide to watch anyway because there's nothing better on television and whadya know? It turns out to be an awesome game!

(2) By the end of the first quarter, inning, or period, I have a mild interest and am secretly pulling for one the teams.

(3) Halfway through the game, I'm desperately, but quietly, pulling my hair out and gnawing on my thumbnail, unless the phone rings, in which case, heaven help the person on the other line if he/she isn't giving birth, being transported by helicopter ambulance, or collecting a lottery check.

(4) By the two minute warning, final inning, or last minute on the clock, I am screaming at the television, shouting encouragement, and damning those officials who are one more bad call away from meeting my cousin Guido's dark hooded friends.

(5) When it's all over, regardless of the outcome, I am exhausted and sooooooooooo glad I didn't change the channel. Then I talk about the game with everyone I know who likes baseball, football, or basketball.

How does that happen? I need to recreate this formula!

Maybe a reader picks up my script because it's his job, he's judging a contest, or his production company was interested enough in my logline to accept my script. He has no particular or vested interest in it, but hey, it's in his reading pile and whadya know? It turns out to be an awesome screenplay!

The reader doesn't know my characters in the first scenes but by the end of the first act, he has a vested interest in my protagonist.

By the end of the second act, the reader cares desperately about what's going on.

By Fade-Out, he's either been holding his bladder for the last forty five minutes because he couldn't put the screenplay down or he's been sobbing in his hanky for the past ten or fifteen pages.

When he finally does put the screenplay down, the reader is so glad he read my screenplay that he talks about it with anyone who will listen.

Now that I've identified this "ballgame" formula, all I have to do is figure out how to make readers take sides the way ballgame viewers do. I guess I'll just have to keep watching ballgames until I figure it out.

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