Writers often ask about which narrative style they should use in their screenplay formats. Every writer has a style of writing and preferences about their narrative structure. Some enjoy keeping their scripts simple and predictable while some enjoy complexity.
So, let’s find out whether any of these narratives are better than the other. By comparing predictable narratives with complex ones, we find out which narrative structure should writers actively pursue.
A predictable narrative is where the audience knows exactly what’s going to happen. Many great movies base their plot on predictable narratives. These movies bring in a lot of money and attract a lot of fans. It is easy to follow the story and just know what will happen next on an instinctual level.
Now, is using a predictable narrative a bad thing? Not necessarily. It all comes down to the goals that the writer has when they start writing your script. The ultimate goal of every scriptwriter is to become a part of a produced script. Once you become a part of a produced script, your life is going to change. You will have many more opportunities to do what you want to do.
Many writers strive to become unique and think that predictable narratives may downplay their writing skill. However, it does not matter whether your script is predictable or suspenseful. The determining factor is the quality of the script that was produced. If the writers know how to write a film script of good quality, then the narrative structure doesn’t really matter.
Now, writers may think that using complex structures in their screenplay formats may help highlight their versatility. However, complexity can actually be a bad thing. SAN preaches writers to adapt simplicity and character development into their movie script format. Disney Pixar films are the prime examples of best-crafted screenplays. The screenplay format of these movies will show simplicity in their foundation, clear character motivations, and goals.
So, complexity in terms of character goals and motivation is not good. This is because if the writers have too many goals for a character, then they get confused in the plot. SAN comes across many scripts where writers put too much information in their plot for the characters. For example, the audience doesn’t need to know about the character’s obsession with ping pong. So, there is no need to tell too much to the audience and add complexity. This is called undesirable complexity in the movie script format.
Now, let’s define good complexity. Good complexity is the creative dressing that you can put on a simple foundation. The creative dressing is the dialogue and the setting of the world that is created. All of these areas can be as complex as a painting. With multiple shades and patterns, and attention to detail, paintings are fairly complex. Similarly, in a good movie script format, complexity is equal to detail. So, the kind of complexity writers should aim for is in the details in their later drafts. Keep the original draft simple.
Plot Complexity vs. Character Depth
Now, there is a fine line between plot complexity and character depth. Sometimes people try to mush the two together as they don’t know the difference. Let’s understand the difference between the two with an example.
Take into account Christopher Nolan’s Inception. The movie seemingly has a very complex storyline. Looking at it from a writer’s perspective shows that it is the created world/setting that is complex, not the character. The main character has a clear motivation of finding his wife which remains that same throughout the movie. The complexity lies in the setting that the script lives in.
The underlying engine that pushes the story forward in this movie is easy to grasp. So, the main character has clear goals. But the plot sprinkles the complexity in the script. As long as the plot is driven by a clear goal, then the structure can be complex.
The Bottom Line
In simple words, you can use any narrative style that you want as long as you set clear character motivations. A solid character goal dictates your structure and allows creativity. Many writers end up destroying their scripts by starting prematurely without clear character motivations.
Set clear character motivations if you want to write a film script with a complex storyline. The plot of the script flows naturally with clear and simple character goals.
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