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Twitter Screenwriting Tips: 3 Mistakes Writers Make in Act I

Michael Hauge explains the three most common mistakes screenwriters make in Act I that make a story fizzle fast.

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Twitter can be an incredible source of learning, if you stay away from the political outrage. If you're looking for screenwriting tips, try searching hashtags, like #scriptchat, #PipelineWriters, #screenwriting, #screenwriter, #amwriting, #writingcommunity, #nanowrimo, filmmaking, filmmaker... you get the point. The hashtag is your friend.

In my morning search, I came across another great Film Courage video of Michael Hauge. I've met Michael in person many times, and he's even helped coach me on pitching. He's incredible. So, when I see his face pop up on Twitter, I always listen. 

In this video, he shares tips on the three top mistakes writers make in Act I. 

Here are the highlights: 

1. Create a clear finish line for the protagonist, so we know what we're rooting for. If you’re having overall story problems, stop writing and go back and identify your hero's motivation. All roads of story lead back to the hero’s motivation. You have to set up a visible goal that your hero needs to achieve, and not get too distracted from that. 

I often write about character wounds, and the importance of their emotional evolution. I love crawling into their heads so much that I can sometimes forget I'm telling a story, not writing about a therapy session. Yes, you need to evolve your character, but you can't get so wrapped up in their emotional evolution that you aren't keeping your eyes on their main outer goal. 

Getting too caught up in a character's inner goals can make your story complicated and confusing. Believe it or not, most Hollywood stories are simple. Michael gives a great example of how simple Inception is, which definitely did not feel like a "simple" movie when I watched it! 

"A group of people wants to penetrate a person's dreams down to a layer where they can change his behavior without him knowing it." 

Wow, that really is simple. It's the execution that got complicated. For me, anyway. I watched it twice, and still scratched my head a bit. But that's a topic for another article.

Which is why orienting a reader and audience is so critical. Lay a solid, clear foundation, resisting getting too deep into the character's head and the story theme that you lose site of the through line.

2. Show the ordinary life of the character before introducing the inciting incident that changes their world. We often hear the advice that we must grab the reader by the throat, right out of the gate, but again, we have to orient the reader. Those first pages should set up the hero's ordinary world while also creating some sort of empathy for them and a way for us to identify with them. If we can empathize with our hero before we see their flaws, it helps us identify with them and develop a connection. That connection keeps us rooting for them to achieve their outer goal.

3. Don’t jump right from the set up to the outer motivation. Grabbing a reader right away is important, but it doesn’t mean you get impatient and rush the story. Instead, start adding layers of conflict in. Use all of Act I to get the hero to really start to pursue their main goal. If you start too early, you’ll struggle to get through Act II, and your story will peak too soon and fizzle. 

Bottom-line: Be clear, concise, define the goal and ordinary world, and add in opportunities for conflict. Let us know this isn't going to be an easy journey for our hero. Don't be in a rush. Use the first Act to build to the moment where your hero has a "change of plans," as Michael puts it. 

Michael Hauge has a great DVD he created with Chris Vogler called "A Hero's Two Journeys." When I first started writing, I wore that sucker out. I also created my own story-structure grid from his advice to help me break story. You can download it here for free. You can also download an unrevised original from Michael's site.

Properly setting up your story in Act I can save you endless rewrites. 

Follow @michael_hauge and @FilmCourage on Twitter.

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