Such a fun week! I had the pleasure of reading the completed screenplays of three of my talented and hardworking NYU students. Congratulations to Dale, David, and Steve. Bravo all!
In my SVA class, we were lucky to have Alexandra Nevins, who works for Cablevision, who taught us about how the business of cable TV works. We gained many insights on how programming has been affected by the physical aspects of a cable network. Thank you, Alex!
Exercise: How To Create High Stakes For Your Character
In my private coaching work, I found myself helping my students wrestle with versions of the same challenge, which is how to create the highest personal stakes for their imaginary characters. I also wrote an episode of our half-hour adult animated TV series, and worked hard to achieve high stakes for my own character.
Here’s an exercise that will help you:
- Set a timer for 15 minutes.
- Pick a favorite movie.
- Write quickly, telling the story as simply as you can from beginning to end. If you need to refresh your memory and watch some of it, stop the timer.
- Complete the story.
- Take a break .
- Read what you wrote aloud to yourself looking for and listening for the moments where the highest stakes occur. For example, if you were using the film, The Godfather you would notice many moments such as when Michael pretends to have a gun in order to save his father from being murdered.
This is a critical moment in the story because the stakes are so high: Michael has to commit to doing whatever is necessary to save his father’s life. He must pretend to be a gangster, the thing he most fears, which is to be like his family. As the film progresses, he’s faced with one hard choice after another. Your goal is create a way for your imaginary character to have to make a different but equally difficult series of choices.
By reading the story of the favorite movie aloud, we activate a different, less critical part of the brain, and our creative mind can offer up better choices. My students will often look at the stories of the movies they’ve written down and break up the action into the 4 Magic Questions of Screenwriting, which helps place these moments on a timeline.
Committing to creating the highest possible stakes for your characters will ensure greater reader interest, and help you to polish your craft.
Here’s to your successful writing!
Professor Marilyn Horowitz