Creating drama from real life

scritwritingMany screenplays pride themselves on being 'based on a true story', but how do screenwriters turn people and real events into fictional drama?

Screenplays based on real events have become increasingly successful in recent years, both in the cinema (CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, THE BLING RING, DIANA, SAVING MR. BANKS, THE CONJURING, LINCOLN, ARGO, ZERO DARK THIRTY, THE IMPOSSIBLE) and on the small screen (from home grown ENID, MRS. MANDELA, MO, CALL THE MIDWIVES and APPROPRIATE ADULT, to BAND OF BROTHERS and HBO produced MASTERS OF SEX, JOHN ADAMS, THE SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP, THE WIRE).

Indeed, one of Britain's most sought-after screenwriters, Peter Morgan (THE DEAL, THE QUEEN, FROST/NIXON) works almost exclusively from material inspired by real life, whilst the equally in demand Abi Morgan has crafted the award-winning SEX TRAFFIC, WHITE GIRL and THE IRON LADY, all from real life starting points.

Writer and London Film School Workshops Tutor Donna Sharpe offers some top tips on how to make the best decisions for your story and how best to probe into someone else's reality:
 

  • Prepare - watch feature film screenplays and TV dramas and read corresponding novels/ biographies.
  • Choose your medium well.
  • Work out what genre suits your story best, and consider what would happen if you combined it with another genre.
  • Be aware of potential legal issues.
  • As the writer, don't forget about your social, personal and moral responsibilities when creating drama from real-life.
  • Should you write within a framework of realism, or transcend it?
  • Find the right dramatic structure.
  • Consider what happens when, as it undoubtedly will, 'reality' doesn't fit the dramatic needs of your screenplay.
  • Think about how you'd go about morphing a real person into a 'character'. How far would you go?
  • Make your pitch as strong and simple as it can be, practise on unassuming colleagues, friends, relatives, pets.

To find out more, Donna is hosting a weekend workshop at the London Film School, Covent Garden, on 12th & 13th of October, designed for screenwriters who wish to develop drama projects inspired by real-life stories. It is the only course of its kind, and entry point in open - from beginners to experienced writers, all you need to bring is your idea in 25 words or less. Book here