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The routine killer: Your first plot twist

From: Screenwriting Fundamentals

Video: The routine killer: Your first plot twist

The screenplay format has a very specific formula, 1 page of script equals 1 minute of screen time, so a 2-hour movie has a 120-page screenplay. Out of those 120 pages you can use no more than 10 pages, or 10 minutes, to establish your status quo and move on. The ratio stays the same no matter what, if your movie is 30 minutes and your screenplay is 30 pages, then you have just 2 & 1/2 pages to establish your status quo and move on. And by move on, I mean you literally have to destroy that status quo and initiate the drama.

The routine killer: Your first plot twist

The screenplay format has a very specific formula, 1 page of script equals 1 minute of screen time, so a 2-hour movie has a 120-page screenplay. Out of those 120 pages you can use no more than 10 pages, or 10 minutes, to establish your status quo and move on. The ratio stays the same no matter what, if your movie is 30 minutes and your screenplay is 30 pages, then you have just 2 & 1/2 pages to establish your status quo and move on. And by move on, I mean you literally have to destroy that status quo and initiate the drama.

You do this by introducing your first plot twist, the Routine Killer. This is the scene that really kicks off the action, the essence of this twist is that it delivers a piece of news that surprises your protagonist. Joseph Campbell referred to it as a Call to Adventure, some writers call it the inciting incident or the unexpected event, I call it the Routine Killer because that's what it does, it kills your protagonist's routine. It doesn't maim it or give it a boo-boo, it kills it by triggering a major turn of events.

Now the Routine Killer could be a big shock or it could be a small but intriguing discovery. It could be bad news or good. Let's say you're writing about a woman who is very happy with her job, suddenly her boss comes in and fires her, or maybe your protagonist is a homeless man who is at the end of his rope, suddenly he finds a big bag of money on the street. These are two very different twists that will send these people on two very different adventures. But both serve the same purpose, they destroy the character's status quo.

The Routing Killer has three characteristics, first, it has to be something your protagonist didn't plan for. Second, it has to happen suddenly. And third, it can't be easily undone, because otherwise you'd have no story. Watch the first 10 minutes of any movie you'll find this moment, in North by Northwest, Cary Grant is on his way to lunch, bossing his secretary around and life is normal. Then suddenly he's mistaken for another man and kidnapped.

In Crazy, Stupid, Love, Steve Carell and Julianne Moore play a long-married couple out on a date. For him it's business as usual, then suddenly she tells him she wants a divorce. Not every Routine Killer is so jarring. In a James Bond movie, this twist is when M gives 007 a new assignment. He takes it all on stride but we know it's going to be one of his more difficult jobs because that's what a James Bond movie is all about. So what is shaking him--not stirring him--out of his status quo, he just doesn't know it yet.

The possibilities for the Routine Killer are endless, it doesn't even have to be a bit of news, it can be a new character. This is really common in romantic comedies and in buddy movies. It's when the protagonist meets their sexy new neighbor, their obnoxious new partner, the guy who's going to be their archenemy, whatever. This person is about to change your protagonist's life for better or worse, that means they're killing your protagonist's routine. This twist is crucial to your narrative. In fact, it should be the scene that defines your story's very premise.

So don't make here some arbitrary thing that won't have much to do with your drama. Remember, every scene in your script needs to take your story one step closer to the event. The Routine Killer is that first step. So take out another sticky note and describe a scene that would kill your protagonist's routine. Make sure you include your protagonist's reaction, whether they're thrilled by this twist or horrified. Now that you have set your status quo, imagine what could really upset it in a nice surprising way, it's got to be something or someone that will eventually lead your protagonist on an adventure.

So be daring, impress yourself, your story is now officially moving forward, so you want to start it off with a bang.

Show transcript

This video is part of

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Screenwriting Fundamentals

44 video lessons · 12296 viewers

Mark Tapio Kines
Author

 
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  1. 4m 31s
    1. Welcome
      1m 50s
    2. Overview of the course
      2m 41s
  2. 15m 12s
    1. Think like a screenwriter
      2m 33s
    2. Figuring out your story's scope
      3m 1s
    3. Understanding suspense, drama, and conflict
      3m 36s
    4. Basic character construction
      3m 34s
    5. Overcoming defensiveness
      2m 28s
  3. 16m 11s
    1. The end comes first: Your story's event
      4m 48s
    2. The beginning: What's the status quo?
      4m 16s
    3. The three-act structure
      4m 8s
    4. Locating your plot twists
      2m 59s
  4. 30m 34s
    1. Introducing your protagonist
      4m 58s
    2. Superpowers and kryptonite
      4m 59s
    3. Your characters's desires
      4m 24s
    4. Who are your supporting players?
      4m 51s
    5. The routine killer: Your first plot twist
      4m 0s
    6. Should I stay or should I go?
      4m 48s
    7. The act one plot twist: Saying goodbye to the comfort zone
      2m 34s
  5. 37m 11s
    1. Why adventure?
      4m 28s
    2. Your plot thickeners: Adding two new twists
      2m 54s
    3. The need for obstacles
      4m 22s
    4. How high are your stakes?
      4m 5s
    5. Status shifts and reversals of fortune
      4m 25s
    6. The first plot thickener: This is getting serious
      3m 17s
    7. The halfway point
      2m 55s
    8. The second plot thickener: The crisis
      3m 48s
    9. Preparing your character for resolution
      3m 24s
    10. The act two plot twist: The great revelation
      3m 33s
  6. 16m 19s
    1. How should act three open?
      2m 57s
    2. The decisive confrontation (AKA the climax)
      4m 42s
    3. Your story's event, in all its glory
      4m 17s
    4. Aftermaths, epilogues, and twist endings
      4m 23s
  7. 18m 2s
    1. One page = one minute of screen time
      5m 6s
    2. Screenplay page layout
      5m 4s
    3. Advanced formatting tips
      3m 37s
    4. Screen direction: What to include and what not to
      4m 15s
  8. 18m 25s
    1. Worry about the legalities now, not later
      1m 22s
    2. Has your movie been made already?
      2m 25s
    3. Adapting existing work
      2m 48s
    4. Public domain, fair use, and parody
      5m 51s
    5. Working with a cowriter
      1m 12s
    6. Being a work for hire
      1m 21s
    7. Registering for a copyright
      3m 26s
  9. 1m 9s
    1. Goodbye
      1m 9s

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