The Real Life Factor

November 13th, 2010 by Ron

The Script Blogger

What is the relevance of ‘The Real Life Factor’ to writing a script?

Some of my favorite films are those based on real stories about real people, real dramas or historical events. What makes them interesting is often that the facts are stranger than fiction.

Take ‘United 93’, drama, emotion, heroics, fear, an unbelievable story (if it wasn’t real) and if it wasn’t real, would the writer have ended his script, the way the story played out in real life?

In all other hi-jacking films the plane lands, the passengers are saved and the bad guys get caught or shot.

A fictional story that in a way has the same story structure is ‘Ladder 49’. Not until the last few moments do you know it’s not going to end well.

Both of these films have the ingredients all writers have to achieve, in whatever genre they are writing.

Emotion, unexpected twists and an unexpected ending. (Agreed with United 93 we knew how it ended before it begun), but only because it happened. It was based on Real Life.

Most people knew the story of Apollo 13, but the real life stories of the people involved, we didn’t know about.

Are you getting the picture. (No pun intended).

These films, fiction and factual contained stories inside the story, about the people who make the story real, believable, interesting.

If you just wanted the facts about Apollo 13 or United 93, you would watch a documentary, read a book or search the net. It is the actors who bring the story to life and draw us into the nuances of the story.

In a script it is the characters you create, manipulate, bring emotion to, tears, laughter, fear, joy and so much more.

When we look at a work of art, we see a whole picture at once, but on closer inspection we find small details, intricate drawings and separate images that make up the whole. Often it’s the use of color, shadows, images that catch our eye and lead us to see something else.

Scripts have to achieve the same.

Most writers start with a tenuous idea. A thin sketch, normally based around a story concept, not a character’s character.

But what ever idea you have, it’s needs your characters to make the story a story.

The ultimate goal of a writer is to make the audience feel for your characters.

Even if your story is about Gonzilla, remember to make him/her a character, with feelings..

This is where ‘The Real Life Factor’ comes in.

People in real life do the most unexpected things. React in strange ways. Some make you laugh, others annoy you, some you like, some you don’t like. Some you love, some you hate and everyone of them brings out an emotion in you.

That’s just part of it. Life being what it is, that too is uncontrollable. Thousands are killed or maimed every year in car accidents. None planned for it to happen.

Poor teams win championships, great ones sometimes lose, lousy records reach the top of the charts, great books go unread.

What ever your story, without emotive characters it will be flat, uninteresting.

What ever your story, without unexpected events it will be boring.

What ever your story, without an unexpected outcome it will be predicable.

Build in ‘The Real Life Factor’ and you will bring your script alive.

Sometimes when I’m writing I throw a twist in as a challenge to me. Something I didn’t conceive of in the initial idea.

In my script “Friends of my Enemies”, I had the protagonist’s mother murdered half way into the script. That certainly wasn’t in my outline. But it created that unexpected twist, replicating real life. Something no one expected to happen.

But it also allowed the character of the character to reveal another side, a depth and feelings up to that moment not seen.

People are layers of feelings, in a script you have to peel those layers off and reveal the inner character of the person.

Most films that are memorable, are because of an actors performance. The actor is drawn to a script by the character they will play. How many times do you hear an actor say, “When I read the script I knew the part was for me”. “I just had to do this”, “I knew it would stretch me”.

It wasn’t the story, no matter how great it was, it was the character they were going to enact that attracted them to the script.

By including The Real Life Factor, not only will your story have a realism created by a roller coaster of events, your characters will feel real.

One last thing, it is worth remembering you are writing for the cinema. Seems an obvious thing to say at first glance but here’s the thing. In a film you can create anything you want to.

A world of strange creatures, space ships and conflicting nations. Yes, Star Wars. That was made real because of the character of the characters.

Even Chewbacca had humor, courage and likeable qualities.

And the Real Life Twist, the potential lovers happen to be brother and sister and the villain, the hero’s father.

In a script I’ve played with I have a Turbo Pogo Stick. I asked a writer friend to read the opening and she said, “You can’t have a turbo pogo stick, it doesn’t exist”.


I’ve never met a Chewbacca, neither.

It’s the mixing of The Real Life Factor and your imagination that lifts your script up a notch. Makes it stand out and hopefully gets it made.

Even dreams are part of The Real Life Factor. They do happen.

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