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Notes from a Screenreader: Why Now?

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Photo via Go Into the Story.

To perform well in a competition, your script has to be able to answer the critical question, “Why now?”

Successful, readable scripts hinge on an event, the outcome of which has the power to change the life of the protagonist. A showdown, a mountain to climb, a home run to hit. The importance of that event is the stakes, and stakes have to be high to give a good answer to “Why now?”

  • Emotional investment. Establish why the event is a turning point for the protag. Align their flaws with their challenges to ramp up the investment. In The King’s Speech the struggle to overcome a stutter answers the question “Why now?” with a scandalous abdication, a world war, and a man in a tiny comfort zone saddled with an enormous sense of duty to an entire nation.
  • Block all the exits. Leave no options but to move forward to the turning point. Soft landing spots, leeway, and fallback positions are all enemies of “Why now?” If it doesn’t have to succeed, it’s not important enough to answer the question.
  • Protags got to learn. Show the consequences of failure in early attempts at the goal. Reveal the cost. If there is no cost, there is no good answer to “Why now?”

Stories that can’t answer the question feel loose and unfocused. Without “Why now?” you get “Why bother?”

ANNIE LABARBA 

Annie is a screenwriter, story consultant, and reader for major screenplay competitions.

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