There’s a great quote from F. Hauser and R. Reich that states:
“In all the best material, the outcome is inevitable and inherent in the opening moment and every moment inbetween”.
Think how fated Daniel Plainview’s rise to power and fall into corruption feels throughout THERE WILL BE BLOOD or how unavoidable Travis Bickle’s descent into violence is in TAXI DRIVER or, more broadly, how irrevocable the protagonist’s downfall feels in any theatrical tragedy.
‘Narrative momentum’ itself refers to the flow or drive of a story as well as the investment of an audience in that progression, and the above highlights something key. To use the well-tortured metaphor of story-as-journey, for any journey to have real impetus, we need a clear point ‘B’ to run at from our point ‘A’.
We need the story to continually ‘point forwards’ to an inevitable (but, crucially, not predictable) final moment.
Building narrative momentum is, therefore, about drawing the straightest possible line between two narrative points, using cause and effect, action and consequence, to create the sense that the story is moving inexorably towards a fitting, unavoidable conclusion.
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Cohesion is foundational to narrative momentum. A story that too often pulls focus to elements or details that don’t serve a clear narrative purpose is a drag racer with an open parachute. This is something that applies even at the very basic level of description.
To illustrate, there’s a common criticism levelled at literary analysis that’s summarised with the phrase ‘Sometimes the curtains are just blue’. This refers to a tendency on the part of a reader or critic to ascribe deeper meaning to some small detail when in truth there isn’t any.
The curtains are just blue. Of course, screenwriters are often bombarded with the idea that they need to keep their description brief and to-the-point, and this does feed into momentum.
Cleaner, more concise description allows for a smoother read which in turn helps generate a clear sense of pace and progression. But it goes further than that.
If we are to build that sense of mounting dramatic momentum, it’s important that every detail to which we draw attention is iterating (or occasionally reiterating) something that moves either the story, or our understanding of it, forward.
Simply put: if the curtains are just blue in a screenplay, there shouldn’t be any curtains in the first place. For an example that takes this idea to the nth degree, it’s worth looking at Walter Hill and David Giler’s incredibly concise script for ALIEN…
To be continued…read on in the full PDF guide – download it here!
In our FREE 40-page e-book you’ll learn:
The key work-ons to enhance the narrative momentum in your screenplays
How to stylise a script in a way that keeps the narrative moving
How to open a story in a way that generates instant momentum and audience investment
How to create a sense of inevitability in a screenplay
Analysing the importance of cause and consequence in narrative
Examining the importance of tailoring a specific character to a specific story
How to structure a scene so as to build or maintain a sense of story progression
How films like AMERICAN BEAUTY, ALIEN, SE7EN, THE GODFATHER, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS and more are able to keep their stories perpetually engaging
**Generating Narrative Momentum”… is part of the ULTIMATE Screenwriting series, by Industrial Scripts. To download the other ultimate guides in the series, simply click HERE.**
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Founded in 2010 by a Warner Bros and Paramount Pictures script consultant, Industrial Scripts® is today one of the world’s leading script development companies. We deliver powerful support tools to driven writers and filmmakers.