I presented my script (first rough draft) to my class. Most of the feedback, by far, came from the teacher. I guess that's natural. I agree with some of the criticisms, but not all.
It'll be hard for me to talk about it because I don't want to post it publicly, but I'll try a couple things.
I was told my main character gets lost between pages 40 to 70. The thing is, that's the whole point. She is sucked into a cult, and she loses herself, then starts to fight to get her identity back. Also, most of the scenes in those pages center around her. I don't get how that is losing the main character, when the cult starts to focus its activities around her. Maybe they just didn't see that? If they didn't see that, why didn't they see that? ugh.

How would you write a character who loses him or herself in a cult, without "losing the character in the story." maybe that's the way I should put it.
It was also criticized for a physical attack that happens on the cult at the end of the story, because my teacher thought it was a group of only about 5 people. His point was that with such a small group, the physical attack would be pointless. The thing is, I described scenes with more cult members than that all through the thing. I just didn't give them names or say exactly how many extras there were in those scenes. Instead I would say things like "so-and-so along with several other members..." The thing is, I'm thinking of a group of about 20 or so people, not just the 4 or 5 who had names. How much clearer do I need to make it? I ended up feeling like he didn't get it at all, sometimes.
tracy
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I was told my main character gets lost between pages 40 to 70. The thing is, that's the whole point. ... or herself in a cult, without "losing the character in the story." maybe that's the way I should put it.

One way to do this sort of thing is to engage the audience's hopes and fears in the risks associated with the cult.
In other words, we need to feel what makes the cult appealing to her. Then, once we know that, you need to give us a rooting interest: we hope that she won't get sucked further into the cult, that she's a smart girl and will figure it out, and we fear that the cult is being successful and robbing her of her the things we like about her.

You talk about her fighting to get out of the cult, later, but what about the process of getting into it? Are you dramatizing that process? Are you showing us the appeal as well as the danger, and giving us a chance to root for her that she'll pull out in time?

It's a tricky thing, to get an audience to identify with a character who's doing something the audience disapproves of. One of the best examples of this, done well, is "The Sweet Smell of Success." Another good example is the Billy Wilder film, "The Big Carnival" (also known as 'Ace in the Hole.') Neither of these films involve exactly your primary issue, but they should, I think, illustrate the principle I'm talking about.


One thing they both do is establish the characters driving motivations very clearly, very early - so that, by minute 40, when they're presented with a dramatic quandary we see how it both feeds their wants, and contradicts their fundamental decency. (They're both really films about a character at war with his own decency). So it's quite possible that the real problem in your script isn't p40-70, but pages 1-40; if the character isn't drawn clearly enough early, we won't understand how and why they fall under the cult's spell.


If readers are complaining about losing track of your lead, and it isn't a function of the character being on the page, then what's going on is probably some variant of the above two things. They don't see how the scenes written play into the character as they understand her. They aren't feeling the internal battle.


You may find it helpful to identify, as clearly as possible, what's going on with that tension in each of these scenes; once you've identified it to yourself, ask yourself how someone who didn't know it would figure it out from what you've written.


I'm willing to bet that helps.


Good luck!
-Ron
ps As for the number of people, just say. Clarity is more important that elegance - although, of course, you want both. If you want 20 extras in the scene, find a way to indicate that there are 20 people in the scene.

I don't know what you did in your script, but I would have had the entire cult portion told 100% from the protagonist's POV. Every scene would be about the protag's life in the cult and through the protag's eyes - that means you need to fully understand why they joined the cult, why they remained a member of the cult, and what event trigered their decision to quit.
- Bill
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I was told my main character gets lost between pages 40 to 70. The thing is, that's the whole point. ... or herself in a cult, without "losing the character in the story." maybe that's the way I should put it.

The way I see it, you need to go with the facts.
The fact seems to be that at least more than one person in your class thinks you're "losing your main character between pages 40 and 70".

So, they didn't see it because 1.) it wasn't written with the main character properly focused within the activities of the cult, or 2.) those classmates who didn't see it where purposely trying not to see it. Why would they do that?
Since the writing should all be for the best movie story possible, try assuming the same stance as your classmates and rethink it from their perspective if you can. A little "air" around a story's telling can only do it good.
Generally, a movie story is about one main character, unless it's an ensemble type of thing or an art film. That main character should receive at least 75% of face time on the screen. (It's what I've heard. Sounds about right to me.)
Sounds to me, not having read your script of course, that your focus is misplaced during the page 40-70 interval.
Perhaps your classmates don't feel what your main character is going through during this interval? Perhaps your main character is subsumed by the activities of the cult. I know that that is your intention to some degree, but it's a fine balance.
You can't really afford to actually "lose" your main character to the audience (reader) for any great length of time. This main character is who you have worked so hard to get the audience to identify with. You don't want to have to do this twice in one movie story. The first time was hard enough, wasn't it?
I am just wondering, but do you use a step outline as part of your method? Not everyone does, of course. I find they save a lot of work in rewrites. They are worth their weight in... paper.

You don't have to agree with what others have to say about your script, but you'd be doing yourself and your script a disservice if you didn't at least entertain the possibility that your classmates might have some good points.
It was also criticized for a physical attack that happens on the cult at the end of the story, because ... much clearer do I need to make it? I ended up feeling like he didn't get it at all, sometimes.

If he doesn't get it, he doesn't get it. But that's not the problem. You need to know why he isn't getting it. Until you know that, you can't really fix it.
Sounds like, at least in this case, you need to describe "bigger", or more specifically. Subtlety is too easily overlooked. Go large. Go colorful. Go for clarity. Don't go crazy defending part of a story that might really be made better if it's changed or modified in some way. It's still your story.
Keep an opened mind. What can it hurt? You're still in control of the pen or your computer file or whatever, right? Make it do your bidding. It's all for the best possible movie story.

Good luck with your project. Hope I've said at least something you can use.
Doug
"Sometimes you gotta say goodbye to the things you know, and hello to the things you don't."
Steve McQueen in "The Reivers
You may find it helpful to identify, as clearly as possible, what's going on with that tension in each of ... how someone who didn't know it would figure it out from what you've written. I'm willing to bet that helps.

Yes, I believe so..Thank you Ron, this is good stuff. I will go re-think my set-up.
Good luck! -Ron ps As for the number of people, just say. Clarity is more important that elegance - although, ... you want 20 extras in the scene, find a way to indicate that there are 20 people in the scene.

Thanks, I'll do that.
tracy
's telling can
Generally, a movie story is about one main character, unless it's an ensemble type of thing or an art film. That main character should receive at least 75% of face time on the screen. (It's what I've heard. Sounds about right to me.)

I think it is - my teacher said it's goiod that the reader is experiencing it with the main character and not from an omnipotent POV. I actually don;t have many scenes that don't inlcude the main character. I decided to add some more in to break things up a little, without giving too much away about what the cult is doing to her.
Sounds to me, not having read your script of course, that your focus is misplaced during the page 40-70 interval. Perhaps your classmates don't feel what your main character is going through during this interval?

That could very well be.
Perhaps your main character is subsumed by the activities of the cult. I know that that is your intention to some degree, but it's a fine balance.

well, her will is subsumed, but the cult also starts to focus all its activities around her.
You can't really afford to actually "lose" your main character to the audience (reader) for any great length of time. ... does, of course. I find they save a lot of work in rewrites. They are worth their weight in... paper.

well, I did an outline before writing it, Now that I have added in mreo stuff that I didn't originally plan for, I'm making an outline that I will put in a spreadsheet so I can "see" the events better.
You don't have to agree with what others have to say about your script, but you'd be doing yourself and your script a disservice if you didn't at least entertain the possibility that your classmates might have some good points.

It was also criticized for a physical attack that happens ... up feeling like he didn't get it at all, sometimes.

If he doesn't get it, he doesn't get it. But that's not the problem. You need to know why he isn't getting it. Until you know that, you can't really fix it.

exactly.
Sounds like, at least in this case, you need to describe "bigger", or more specifically. Subtlety is too easily overlooked. ... a story that might really be made better if it's changed or modified in some way. It's still your story.

That's a good point too.
Keep an opened mind. What can it hurt? You're still in control of the pen or your computer file or whatever, right? Make it do your bidding. It's all for the best possible movie story.

That's what I want to go for - make it the best movie story I can.
Good luck with your project. Hope I've said at least something you can use.

Thank you very much! It's all helpful. Thanks guys.

tracy
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I presented my script (first rough draft) to my class. Most of the feedback, by far, came from the teacher. ... or herself in a cult, without "losing the character in the story." maybe that's the way I should put it.

Well, you've created a significant problem for yourself. This is your main character. It is the character, presumably, with whom the audience/reader is identifying.
And then "she loses herself."
If she has lost herself, and we're following along where are we?

If, as you suggest, she's been sucked in, no longer has a clear sense of her own identity, has become sort of "cult-zombified" and let's say that goes on for some thirty pages that really sort of ass-kicks us, the reader out of the story because while you may have some concerns for what's going to happen to her it's mighty hard to get back under her skin while she's sort of stumbling around going, "Omm".
The challenge and believe me, it is a challenge is for you to write this movie from the inside so that instead of leaving us the audience out while she gets sucked in we go on in with her you make us understand and believe, so that we, too, in essence "join up" because there is an emotional state ecstatic submission the act of becoming part of a joyful unified whole that completes you and fulfils you that is at the heart of what cults do for their members and why people become a part of cults.
What I suspect you have done is make the audience sit back and watch while she gets sucked in.
And sitting back and watching while your main character goes somewhere and has something happen to her is, I think, exactly what your teacher suggests she gets lost.
The only way she will not get lost is if, emotionally, we, the audience, go with her so that we understand why she joins because, emotionally, we also join. Then, when she realizes that it's a trap, we are not simply observing this but participating in this realization. When she makes the decision to break away, we understand, not as objective viewers from outside, wondering what the hell took her so long to figure it out after all, the moron's been trapped in a freaking cult for the last thirty pages but understand not only her need to escape, but understand the appeal (because we've experienced it) of what she has to give up when she leaves.
It was also criticized for a physical attack that happens on the cult at the end of the story, because ... clearer do I need to make it? I ended up feeling like he didn't get it at all, sometimes. tracy

It's part of the difference between seeing and reading. When you watch a movie and there are twenty people in a room you see the twenty people all the time. With a screenplay, you may mention the twenty people on page three, but if, four or five pages later, only three or four ever say or do anything, rest assured that those other sixteen are rapidly going to retreat into the background of the reader's consciousness if not vanish altogether.So you shouldn't be afraid to, first, name and identify and give distinct personalities to everyone with a speaking part it will enrich your screenplay enormously and also create a much greater sense of an "inhabited" world but also try to find (hopefully elegant) ways to reference how many people are in a room. Don't simply repeat the number but find activities that require the number of people that the cult contains and have scenes that have those people engaged in that activity.

If it's dinner detail the number of tables the number of people sitting at the tables. If it's laundry time, indicate how many people are involved doing that. Whatever it is if the cult involves twenty people and it's some sort of communal group that means twenty beds get made in the morning, breakfast for twenty people has to be made, obviously they would pray together, etc. there are all sorts of ways to make the point of how many people there are in this cult by simply staging scenes in the midst of activities that highlight those numbers through action that involves all the various members.
NMS
Why is she in this cult? Is she naive and easily manipulated and learns to assert herself when the cult turns on her? Is it a mystery unraveled like Rosemary's Baby, where she doesn't realize it's a cult until she's in too deep and then has to fight her way out? Tells us something about her. A character should hold the audiences interest. How and why does she begin to find herself again? What kind of transformation occurs in her?
Well, you've created a significant problem for yourself. This is your main character. It is the character, presumably, with whom ... is at the heart of what cults do for their members and why people become a part of cults.

yes! exactly! You see, my teacher does not know much about cults, and he thinks I need to have them suck her in by appealing to her ego. That by itself is not what does it, and I think that would make her a little unsympathetic too.
However, he saw something on TV about that Japanese AUM cult, so he wanted to talk about my script some more tonight, after having seen that. He wanted to know what would make a cardiologist, someone who has taken the hippocratic oath, become a mass murderer. That was very interesting to him. So we talked about it for another hour. Maybe that's a good sign, I hope.
What I suspect you have done is make the audience sit back and watch while she gets sucked in.

I guess that is what I did, yes.
And sitting back and watching while your main character goes somewhere and has something happen to her is, I think, ... we, the audience, go with her so that we understand why she joins because, emotionally, we also join.

This is a very important point. Ok, I need to think about how to do that.
Then, when she realizes that it's a trap, we are not simply observing this but participating in this realization. ... to escape, but understand the appeal (because we've experienced it) of what she has to give up when she leaves.

Very insightful stuff. Thank you, thank you.
Thanks for the advice about handling the numbers of members too. Cool.
Tracy
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