Gerald Hanks Filmography

Monday, June 23, 2014

Masters of Screenwriting: How A Great Story Resembles Great Sex

The Showtime series “Masters of Sex” dramatizes the groundbreaking studies in human sexuality conducted by Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) and his assistant, Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan). The Masters and Johnson studies broke down human sexual response into four phases of a cycle: Excitement, Plateau, Climax and Resolution. Even if your story has nothing to do with sex, you can still follow the structure of this cycle to get a “rise” out of your audience.

Excitement: Get the Audience's Attention

According to Masters and Johnson, the signs of the “excitement” or “arousal” phase include a rise in heart rate, respiration and blood pressure. The sensory stimuli that trigger this phase can include a stolen glance, an enticing smile, a whispered word, or a favorite song, depending on the individual.

In a conventional three-act script, Act I of your script should include visual images, sound cues or dialog that attract the audience's interest and get them excited for the story you want to tell.

FRAT BOY drinks beer and laughs with a group of FRIENDS. The new fraternity pin on his jacket catches the light.

SORORITY GIRL enters and looks around.

Boy looks up and sees Girl across the room. Girl notices Boy and smiles at him. Boy smiles back and turns away.

Setup: Boy and Girl at a college party.
Inciting incident: Boy sees girl smile at him.
Debate: Does Boy ask Girl to dance or does he stick with his friends?

Plateau: Build the Tension

Rather than the “flat” image the word conveys, the “plateau” phase involves the increasing tension and anticipation of the sexual encounter. Once you've engaged and attracted the audience in Act I, you must use Act II to build the tension and push the audience to the brink of either release or frustration.

Friends encourage Boy to approach Girl. Boy takes tentative steps toward Girl.

Girl shuffles her feet, twirls her hair, suppresses a nervous giggle. DJ plays a SLOW SONG.

Boy reaches for Girl's hand. Girl looks down, then back up into his eyes, then takes his hand.

Boy leads her to the dance floor. They hold each other close as they dance together.

The tension builds as Boy debates whether or not to approach Girl. Girl also debates as to whether or not she wants to dance with Boy. Boy takes the initiative and Girl responds. They build a closeness that ramps up the tension between them and builds on what can happen later that evening.

Climax: Release the Tension

In the Masters and Johnson model, the climax phase releases the tension and creates a sense of euphoria. At some point in your script, the audience can't take another page of the building tension and wants a release. Act III serves as the payoff to all the tension that you've built up in the preceding acts.

Boy and Girl hold hands as they walk toward the front door. They step up to the porch and exchange nervous glances.

He unclips his fraternity pin and pins it to her collar. She smiles, gives him a quick kiss and enters the house.

The climaxes of your scripts need not be so literal in their interpretation of the word, but they must show that the old world has passed and a new status quo has taken hold.

Resolution: Take a Breather

After the climax, the participants enter the “resolution” or “afterglow” phase, in which the heart rate slows down and the blood pressure drops. The last few pages of your script should also allow the audience to take a breather, assess the situation and walk away with a sense of satisfaction.

An OLD WOMAN adjusts her black dress and hat in a mirror. She goes to the dresser and adjusts several framed photos of herself and an OLD MAN.

The photos include a retirement party for the Old Man, a college graduation with her, the Old Man and their SON, a five-year-old's birthday party, and a wedding photo of the Boy and Girl.

She picks up a small jewelry box and opens it. The fraternity pin catches the sunlight.

She removes the pin from the box, pins it to her dress and smiles.

Her son enters the room, wearing a black suit and a somber expression. He sees his mother and the pin on her dress. He gives her a curious look.

She smiles, pats him on the chest and leads him out of the room.
While your script doesn't have to be about sex, it does have to take the audience on the same journey of excitement, tension, climax and resolution. As with any good encounter, you want the reader to leave with a smile and a warm memory, not with a sense of regret and a “walk of shame”.

If you want a script leaves the reader with a smile, contact us at StoryIntoScreenplayBlog [at] gmail [dot] com. We give new and experienced screenwriters face-to-face or online consultations on their story ideas, outlines and finished scripts. You also check out out us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and support us on our Amazon store.

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