BACK STORY - A KEY TO GREAT (AND EASIER) SCREENWRITING
Recently, I was asked to speak on the topic of adapting the novel Saints at the River into a screenplay, as part of Clemson University’s “Literature for Wisdom Project.” In preparation for the talk I went back through the process. Even though I was not the screenwriter, as the producer I was working with the screenwriter to help determine the dynamic of the novel that had to be retained for a successful screenplay.
Saints at the River Promo Video at Highway 29 Motion Pictures - click here.
One of the key elements that was cause for concern was the amount of back story used in the novel. The novel is filled with the main character’s flashbacks to childhood, and, if these had been used as frequently as they were in the novel, the movie would have been “broken up” by flashbacks. Of course there is nothing wrong with a movie that uses a lot of flashbacks, but in the case of Saints at the River there was a need to keep the action linear. The action on the river itself serves as a through line for the story.
But for the purposes of this blog, I simply wanted to touch on the importance of back story. Every writer knows how important character biographies are, but it is oftentimes helpful to create a history of place, community, and family. Ron Rash does a great job of this in Saints, and the screenwriter was dialed in to the importance of managing Maggie Glenn’s (the main character) back story.
I encourage every serious screenwriter to carefully consider the deeper story of each and every main character and supporting character in their screenplay. Do the demanding work of writing those back stories, and, as a result, the screenplay itself, and your character motivations and arcs will fall into place much more easily. At times, a “well prepared story” will almost write itself.
ABOUT LES BUTCHART: Les is a filmmaker and novelist, the co-founder of Highway29MotionPictures.com, NewRiverReleasing.com, and FugitivePoetsPress.com.
PHOTO CREDIT: Susan Butchart / Les Butchart speaking at Clemson University’s “Literature for Wisdom Project”
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An interesting way to go about releasing a film. If anyone can find sales stats for Abduction we’d love to see them.
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