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Jurgen Wolff’s “Screenwriting Coach” workshops start on Monday, July 18th 2016. In the run-up to that, we’ve invited him to share some of his insights and tips. This is the fourth instalment.

It’s getting started that’s the most daunting. Here are five steps that will help you work out your plot:

1: Write a two-sentence summary of the story.

The first sentence should include the protagonist and the conflict . For example the first sentence might be: “A retired school teacher takes on a gang ruining the school he’d proudly built into a center of excellence.”

Normally this is the extent of a logline. For this purpose I suggest adding a sentence that gives more information about the conflict and reveals the outcome. This could be: “When lawful methods fail, he resorts to violence that ends in his death but motivates the community to join together to drive out the gang.”

2: Brainstorm about all the key elements of your summary.

You can put your thoughts into a mind map or onto index cards.

• What ideas come up about your protagonist? Why does he care so much about this school even after he’s not working there any more? What is his background? What is his life like now?

• What’s the nature of the opposition—the gang? Why is this school important to them? Who leads the gang? What makes him or her tick?

• What are some possible escalations of the conflict? What would a teacher try first? Second? Third? What could push him over the line into violence?

Don’t stop at your first good answer to each of these. Jot down alternatives. Try not to judge your ideas, just make sure to record them.

3. Winnow.

Go through all the raw ideas you came up with in step two and cross out or put aside the ones that won’t work or are too familiar.

4: Use the remaining elements to construct a rough outline.

It may be useful to employ a simple three-act structure: beginning, middle, end.

5: Start writing when you’re happy with the outline.

Some writers like to go from a very rough outline to starting to write the script. Others prefer to refine the outline until they have all the building blocks in place.
Often I will start writing with only a very rough outline, until I get to about a quarter of the way through the script and then stop to outline the rest of the story in greater detail.

Experiment with what works best for you, and use this method of breaking down the process into small steps to help you keep going.

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About 

Jurgen Wolff is a writer, teacher, and creativity consultant. In the United States, he wrote for sitcoms including Benson and Family Ties. He wrote the feature film, The Real Howard Spitz, starring Kelsey Grammer and directed by Vadim Jean. He was a script doctor on the hit film, Mannequin and others starring Michael Caine, Walter Matthau, and Eddie Murphy. For Germany, he co-created the comedy series, Lukas, which ran for 65 episodes, and an original comedy series called Krista. He also wrote nine episodes of the series, Relic Hunter. He wrote two TV movies for the Olsen Twins, and several the German TV movies including, On Top of the Volcano, starring Maria Schrader and Sebastian Koch (2007). His play, Killing Mother, was produced at the Gorky Theatre in Berlin, and he’s also had plays produced in New York, Los Angeles, and London.

As a writing and creativity teacher, his courses include Beyond Brainstorming, Create Your Future, The Creative Breakthrough Workshop and the ground-breaking Script Coach Series developed exclusively for Raindance. He has presented his courses at the University of Southern California, the University of Barcelona, the Skyros Institute, many films schools, and groups and organisations including The Academy for Chief Executives, Egmont, Grundy-UFA, and Columbia-Tri-Star. For eight years he was a visiting lecturer for the Pilots Program in Sitges.

His books include Your Writing Coach and Your Creative Writing Masterclass (Nicholas Brealey Publishing), Creativity Now (Pearson), Do Something Different (Virgin Business Books), Successful Scriptwriting (Writers Digest Press), Top Secrets: Screenwriting (Lone Eagle Press), and Successful Sitcom Writing (St. Martin’s Press).

He has written for many publications including the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Broadcast Magazine, and he is the editor of Brainstorm, the creativity ebulletin.