“The Heart of a Good Story”

Donald L. Vasicek - Rabbit Ears Pass - Colorado

Donald L. Vasicek – Rabbit Ears Pass – Colorado

“The Heart of a Good Story”

By BOB GILLEN | Published: MARCH 23, 2014

“A Writer’s Passion”
“The heart of an engaging story resides in the heart and mind of the person writing the story. It is passion and where that passion takes you as a writer.”

Writer Don Vasicek

So says Don Vasicek, the founder and owner ofOlympus Films+, LLC, a global writing and filmmaking company. “This passion is reflected through the writer’s characters and the story. Each character, each location in the story, and each occurrence that takes place in, with and between the characters and in the story, should reflect that passion.

“The Crown, the first screenplay I wrote,” says Vasicek, “is a coming-of-age story about a boy who sets out to win $25,000 in a car race to use for an operation to save his Gramps from dying. The heart of the story emerged from within my heart and mind. I possessed a desire to show how vital love is.”

Driven by a Will to Succeed

“This desire was exacerbated by my will to succeed because I grew up in an environment that rejected my efforts to love and to be loved. The Crown shows how love elevates a boy to success and happiness. That passion still burns very deeply inside of me. It is like a roaring fire and it has been reflected in the heart of every engaging story I have written. Love is my passion. It always results as the heart of the engaging stories that I write.”

Indeed, Vasicek’s passion has lead him to teach, mentor, and consult on scripts for over 400 writers, directors, producers, actors and production companies.

“The Crown went on to win several screenplay competitions,” he says, “snared me a WGA agent, opened other writing doors for me, received a stage reading, and was purchased and produced by Incline Productions Inc. and aired on cable.”

Story: Beyond the Mere Telling to Magic

Vasicek believes all writers should be aware of the difference between showing and telling when writing a story. “The key here,” he says, “is the use of verbs. Write a sentence with a passive verb. For example, ‘The sky is blue.’ Well, that is something all of us know. But, where is the magic? It is absent because the sentence shows no action. The sentence shows no action because the verb in the sentence, ‘is’, is passive. So, what if, instead, the sentence was written with an action verb: ‘Space constitutes a vault over the earth that is blue in color.’ Here, the action verb, ‘constitutes’, imparts information about the sky that goes beyond blue.

“Look at the usage of verbs in a screenplay or story that you’ve written. What do you see?” Vasicek asks. “I would be willing to bet that those sentences that contain action verbs give you far more confidence that your writing is going where you want it to go than with sentences that contain passive verbs.

“For practice, if you want to improve your writing, take sentences you have written using passive verbs and change those verbs to action verbs. You will find that doing this is hard work. It causes you to think through what you are wanting to accomplish in the sentence.

“The resultant effect is that you will improve the sentence, which embellishes and dimensionalises your story, and you have grown as a writer. This, to me, is taking your writing beyond telling and making it magic because you’re adding heart/passion to what you have written by expanding upon what you have written. Making your writing magic through the use of action verbs deepens your ability to take your writing to the next level.”

“Don Vasicek Interviewing”

Story Elements That Transcend All Media

I asked Vasicek if there are elements of story that transcend all media, even non-fiction and personal branding. “If you watch television commercials (how can we not these days?), you will notice that the good ones eclipse failures non-fiction and personal branding media exhibit because they have a beginning, a middle, and an end to a story.

“Effective TV commercials sustain a theme that holds the story, characters and action together. They contain a main character and they have an antagonist.” Vasicek clarifies that television commercials can have a person or persons or an inanimate or animate object opposing the main character, but unlike in fiction, not a villain because no one wants to involve evil in their TV ads.

“Both the main character and the antagonist are seeking the same goal, but the main character is going about achieving it via positive means while the antagonist is doing what he/she can do to succeed via negative means.”

Saving Animals With Detergent“Dawn soap’s ‘Saving Animals from Oil Spills’ is an example of a cogent commercial.

It contains a story, animals and oil spills. The story is oil spills. It has characters. The bad guy is oil spills. The good guy is the animals. The theme is oil spills. The goal of both the main character and the bad guy is to utilize the environment, the good guy for survival, the bad guy for survival (by getting rid of harmful oils into the environment).

“Elements of story that transcend all media, including non-fiction and personal branding, require a story, a main character with a goal, a bad guy with the same goal, a theme that holds everything together, a literal mixing of oil and water, e.g., ‘Saving Animals from Oil Spills’, which creates conflict, and without conflict, there is no drama, and without drama, everything you write falls flat and will not evolve. So, a mixing of dualities, the mingling of opposites, or a dichotomy seals together the story, the character and the action to take your writing to a level that exceeds what media, even non-fiction and personal branding, spend thousands of dollars striving to achieve.”

“Unsung Hero Come to Life”

Upcoming film

Vasicek’s current passion is a feature film, titled “The Captain”, about Silas Soule, a US Army captain who refused to participate in the slaughter of native Americans at Sand Creek, Colorado, in 1864. When a treacherous massacre was ordered against Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribe members camped near a Colorado fort, Silas held his unit back from the killing. He became a symbol of heroism for his bravery in bringing the truth about the massacre to light. Later he paid the price as the victim of an assassination at the hand of one of the soldiers involved in the massacre.

Marcinho Savant, the executive producer on the project, says of Vasicek, “His passion has become my own. I’m honored to play some small role in telling the truth for the benefit of the Cheyenne and Arapaho victims of this horrendous slaughter.”

See more on the Sand Creek Massacre film (https://www.facebook.com/TheCaptainMovie/)

About Don Vasicek

Don Vasicek serves on the board of directors of the American Indian Genocide Museum in Houston. He is presently raising money for Ghost of Sand Creek, a mini-series/documentary.
Vasicek studied producing, directing and line producing at the Hollywood Film Institute under Dov Simens and at Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute. He studied screenwriting at The Complete Screenplay, Inc., with Sally Merlin (White Squall), daughter of the famed Hollywood Merlin family of screenwriters and writers, as his mentor.
Vasicek has written and published over 500 books, short stories and articles. His books include How To Write, Sell, And Get Your Screenplays Producedand The Write Focus.
For more see Don Vasicek’s website (donvasicek.com)

How to Write Compelling Fiction

To write compelling fiction, the writer must think in terms of a beginning, a middle, and an end with a defining theme. A main character (protagonist) with a goal must drive the story/plot. Each other character should be a subplot which crisscrosses the plot. They must reflect the theme, and in some way, interact with the main character. The character who opposes the main character can be a antagonist or a villain (represents pure evil with no redeeming characteristics). This character must be seeking the same goal as the main character, but for a different outcome. The stronger the antagonist or villain is, the more powerful the main character becomes and the more compelling the story becomes. In the interaction between the main character and the antagonist, the main character must show a transformation arc, which terminates at the end of the story where he/she has an epiphany that completes their transformation.

Booth Western Arts Culture Museum Appearance

“How to Establish the Dramatic Premise of Your Screenplay and Beyond”

by
Donald L. Vasicek

“How To Establish the Dramatic Premise of your Screenplay and Beyond”
by Donald L. Vasicek

So, you began your screenplay with a visual metaphor. You’ve introduced your main character, the setting, the time, the theme, and you’re introducing other major and periphery characters. You’re getting to like your story pretty well, when all of sudden you hit a block. What is your story about? This question is asked many times over each day in the film business. So, you’d better be prepared for it.

Your story is about a character who reacts to something that causes him (I’m using the male gender because I honestly haven’t had time to learn how to express both genders when writing articles) to begin acting instead of reacting to what is going on around him. The first step in your main character’s transformation (you’d better have one if you want to sell and get your screenplays produced)is when he reacts to the introduction of the dramatic premise. Until this time in your screenplay, you should have established your main character who should be in a setting and time interacting with other characters who should all be showing (I emphasize “showing” instead of “telling” since all great writing “shows” instead of “tells”) different aspects of your theme. You should have established all of these elements by about page 10 of your screenplay.

On or about page 10 in your screenplay, you show something that occurs that is out of context of what you have set up so far. This turning point in your screenplay is when you have your main character react to something that establishes the dramatic premise of your screenplay. This dramatic premise will be the plot of your screenplay. Something happens to your main character that begins his transformation arc because he is forced to react to something he has been avoiding, but he must react to it until he overcomes it, or his life will never change for the better.

In the $56 million MGM screenplay I was a writer/consultant for, “Warriors of Virtue”, Ryan, the main character is shown in school, with his friends, with his family and how he reacts to these people and this setting. Problem is, Ryan wears a leg brace, a defect in his leg he inherited with birth. Kids push him around. He can’t play on the football team. He argues with his parents. His dog barks at him.

He has a lot of problems until he’s challenged to leap over this rushing water to show other kids that he’s not a wimp. Then, his real problems begin. He leaps and falls into the water. He is swept into an alternate universe where he has to change or he’ll never be able to return to his home. The evil Komodo and his army, a village of “people” and five Kung Fu Kangaroos who need his help stand in his way. This is where his transformation arc begins. This is where the dramatic premise for the movie is established. From this point on, Ryan begins to change, and to never be the same again.

This alternate universe (no different than what your main character should be experiencing at this point in your screenplay)”attacks” Ryan. He survives the plunge, but now he’s being threatened by the evil Komodo’s soldiers in a forest. When some Kung Fu kangaroos rescue him, he begins to see that someone cares about him, and he doesn’t even know why. And miraculously, he discovers that his leg is healed.

Fearful of the village, which is made up of a loving community of people, at about page 45, Ryan foreshadows he is going to be at the end of the movie. He meets a girl, Princess Anne and he isn’t afraid of her. At midpoint, the village is attacked by Komodo and his soldiers. Though fighting valiantly, the Kung Fu Kangaroos are outnumbered. They manage to drive the invaders away, but, they know, that unless they come up with some kind of miraculous idea, Komodo is going to take over the village and kill everyone. And now, Ryan has a stake in the outcome. Where before, he cared little about himself, now, he not only cares about himself, but he cares about Princess Anne as well. But, Komodo has kidnapped her to hold her for ransom in order to force the village leaders to give in to his demands and give up the village (Komodo desires the village because of its love and its peace because this kind of behavior terrorizes him).

At about page 75, Ryan tells the village leaders and the Kangaroos that he believes he can talk Komodo in releasing Princess Anne. Interested, he tells them how.

At about page 90, Ryan, under the protection of the hidden Kangaroos, Ryan confronts Komodo about releasing Princess Anne. Komodo, struck by Ryan’s audacity, challenges him to a duel with swords. Only Komodo knows his soldiers are near to back him up, but unaware of the hidden Kung Fu Kangaroos.

Komodo, by far the superior warrior to Ryan, is about to take off Ryan’s head with his sword, when some of the soldiers show their faces. At that point, the Kangaroos show themselves. An all out battle ensues.

Ryan races to rescue Princess Anne. The battle is so fierce, the out-numbered Kangaroos, are exhausted and about ready to admit defeat, when Ryan, grabs a sword and disarms Komodo. The Kangaroos take over and defeat Komodo’s soldiers. Ryan rescues Princess Anne and saves the village.

In the closing scene, the village priest creates a mystical and spiritual avenue for Ryan to travel so that he can return to his parents and other life. After a tearful goodbye to everyone, Ryan leaves.

Upon his return to the town where he lives, his parents, friends, and the kids in school, see that his leg is healed, and so is Ryan. Even his dog accepts him.

So, you need to take your character on a journey, by establishing the dramatic premise, then roughly timing turning points in the story and in your main character. Page 1, a visual metaphor that defines the theme of the story. Page 3, a line of dialogue, or an action that directly pinpoints the theme of your story. About Page 10, establish the dramatic premise. At about Page 30, something extraordinary should happen that spins your character and story around 360 degrees and sends it off in another direction. At about page 45, foreshadow how your main character is going to be at the end of your story. Just a small action, something your character does to reveal this, like when Ryan meets Princess Anne and he is unafraid of her.

From this point forward, you must have your main character creating all of the action. In other words, he/she must be pro-active in all events. At about Page 60, midpoint, you must show that about all is lost for your main character regardless of the new strength he/she is showing. By about Page 75, have your main character change the way he/she is trying to accomplish his/her goal. At about Page 90 of your screenplay, your main character should have a direct confrontation with the villain (villain represents evil in fiction) or antagonist (doesn’t necessarily represent evil so much as representing the opposing force to your main character’s goal).

This confrontation results in your main character winning and sets up how the story is going to end. For the next several pages, your story should build to a climax where your main character goes nose-to-nose with the villain or antagonist. Here, your main character should have an epiphany. For Ryan, it was his discovery that he must overcome Komodo in order return home to his family and friends. It is here where your main character’s fatal flaw (the flaw that has caused your main character to pursue a solution to it because it is more overpowering than any other flaw)comes to the surface and must be overcome by your main character. With Ryan, it was his fear, and he overcomes it.

After the climax, wrap up all loose ends and end the screenplay as soon as possible.

And there you have it. Nine easy steps to establish your dramatic premise and beyond.

Donald L. Vasicek
Olympus Films+, LLC
“Commitment to Professionalism”
http://www.donvasicek.com
dvasicek@earthlink.net

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