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Fahad Khan

Fahad Khan has 3 articles published.

What is Fabula & Syuzhet in Screenwriting?

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Before you embark on a journey to write your screenplay, it is somewhat necessary to finalize the raw material needed to complete your project. This includes the story (obviously), lead characters and their motivations, challenges that will be faced by your characters and in the end, the structure.

If you have heard of Three-Act Structure (often Screenwriting Gurus hold Aristotle responsible for the concept), you are already familiar with the science of storytelling. But the three-act structure isn’t an only theory of this craft. 

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Russian formalism has left us with the literary terms known as fabula and syuzhet, which may help us tell the story in a unique way. 

Etymology

Vladimir Propp and Viktor Shklovsky, the notable Russian literary theorists, utilized the idea of fabula as the chronological order of events in the story and syuzhet as the manner in which the events are told. 

In easier words, fabula is your story that tells us what happens – the raw material. On the other hand, syuzhet informs us how the events appear in your story or film – the order of events decided by you. 

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In popular culture, stories often include flashbacks and flashforwards even when the story is following the three-act structure.

Screenwriters, who choose to show the ending first, carry forward the story in flashbacks. As viewers, we are already aware of the conclusion. Rest of the film takes us through the events that unfold the mystery behind resolution. 

Examples

The most popular example of this structure is Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. The film begins with the death of our protagonist, Charles Foster Kane. In flashbacks, we are shown his life, his journey and his demise.

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As Charles Kane mutters ‘Rosebud’ on his deathbed.

Now deconstruct the screenplay in fabula and syuzhet. The fabula is the story of Kane and his journey in newspaper business. The syuzhet on the other hand is the organization of this film; ending before beginning and interspersed investigation of the journalist in present-time, who is learning about Kane being a POV character for us viewers.

Similarly in South Asian cinema, we have Rajkumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots. The opening sequence is designed in present-time showing Farhan leaving the airport and embarking on a journey to find his long lost friend, Rancho. Supported by voiceover narration, we are then taken back into the past where the journey starts unfolding in flashbacks. In parallel, the current day story keeps moving forward as the movie progresses towards the end.  

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Farhan in airplane, about to leave airport to meet Rancho.

Here, the fabula is the story of college friends and their individual sub-stories, and how they end up with their career decisions. The syuzhet is the placing of current day in the beginning, which is eventually leading us towards the end, and the entire story in flashbacks narrated to us using both dialogues and voiceover. 

This also tells us that if you have an urge to include voiceover in your screenplay, do it using the fabula/syuzhet structure. 

Is it different from Reverse Chronological Order?

It is! 

I believe we are all familiar with Christopher Nolan’s Memento. While some may confuse it with the non-linear structure, it is actually a story told in reverse chronological order. It also differs from fabula/syuzhet structure in a way that we do start with the end, but we never go back to chronological order of events. Instead, we deconstruct the story into smaller chunks and then arrange them in an order where they leads us to the beginning from end. 

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Since our topic for the day isn’t non-linear structure, I won’t go into details.  The basic idea of it sketches us the story where we keep jumping from point A to C then to F and then back to A. Perfect example of non-linear structure is Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.

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The motive of this structure is to leave us with memories of events that will collectively build a story by the end of the film.  

Storytelling is an art supported by science of structures. And we human beings love experiencing same story told in different structures or different stories told in same structures. 

It’s you who will decide what structure compliments the story you want to tell. 

What is the industry-standard font for Screenwriting?

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Picture courtesy: Pereanu Sebastian – Unsplash

One of the clichés filmmakers can’t get rid of is showing their characters that are playing the roles of writers, using a typewriter. We have been shown so much of it that we can’t imagine a writer without it. And one of the reasons why directors try to incorporate this thing in films is due to the close-up shot of written script in which the font is visible. To some, this is the credibility that writer carries with his character.

Picture courtesy: The Shining (1980) – Stanley Kubrick

This font is called Courier. Though it reminds us of the golden age of typewriters, it has now become the industry-standard font for stage and screenplays in this digital realm as well. Why? CONSISTENCY!

BIRTH OF COURIER

Courier was found in 1955 by a designer named Howard Kettler at IBM. Since IBM didn’t trademark this typeface, it was adapted by multiple mediums to be used without any royalty fee. Earlier named ‘Messenger’, Kettler felt that the typeface needed a much more elegant name to suit its stability and prestige, and that is how ‘Courier’ was born.

WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT COURIER?

Courier is a monospaced font, which means each letter is given the equal amount of horizontal space. Letter ‘I’ will occupy same space as letter ‘Z’.


In contrast with other fonts, courier is not very eye pleasing. Fonts like Arial and Times New Roman has letters that only take the required space, which increases their readability and clarity.

WHY COURIER?

In Film and TV scripts, consistency is mandatory. According to a thumb rule, a page of your screenplay is equal to the 1 minute on screen. If the screenplay is typed using 12 pt courier, a page will usually have 55 lines and it will be the minute of your film. In case you choose the same font size but different font, let’s say Times New Roman, the consistency will be disturbed and then screenwriters won’t be able to measure the duration of their film through their screenplays’ page count.

Another reason why courier is used is because of its universal pagination. A script typed on Mac OS will have the same pagination on Windows OS. And courier wins here big time since screenplays travel through a lot of desks and personal computers.

CONCLUSION

To me, and I am sure to every screenwriter, Courier is sacred. Scripts typed in any other font do not please us. As a script consultant, I always ask the writers beforehand to type their screenplays using Courier as many of them are inexperienced and untrained. Unless you are an auteur like Stanley Kubrick or Rajkummar Hirani, who write, direct, produce and edit their films, you are always expected to use Courier.

Screenshot: 3 Idiots Screenplay (2010) – Rajkummar Hirani

Take a look at this screenshot from the actual screenplay of 3 Idiots by Rajkummar Hirani. Notice the standard rules that are not being followed here. And it’s absolutely fine since being the auteur; he is responsible for every aspect of his film.

If you are only responsible for writing, follow the rules. Because industry is already in ruins and we can’t let the ‘wrong’ keep repeating itself.

Have I missed anything or do you wish to add something to this piece? Comment below and let me know.

5 Nature of Stories in Films & TV Shows

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As a beginner level screenwriter, one of the questions I ask my bosses regularly is about the nature of the film we are working on. What pattern are we looking for? Do we really need to follow this structure? Can we play around with plot twists? Can I bring my inciting incidents in the very first minute of this film?

While reading John Truby’s ‘The Anatomy of Story’ at work, I came across the heading called Story Movements that discusses the different natures of stories I am going to share with you today. What I found was missing in the book were the examples and explanation of each story movement. In this article, I have tried to keep it as simple as possible for you to understand what Truby has taught us with the examples we can relate to easily. So let’s begin:

  1. Linear Story
  2. If you have one protagonist with one objective and clear direction, your story is on linear path. Events will keep happening one after another.

    Often The Hero’s Journey is of linear nature in which your hero’s history, his struggle and the change he comes across after that struggle is shown. For example, Spider-Man, Batman, Singham (why am I even naming this film), etc.

  3. Meandering Story
  4. This is not as straightforward as the linear story. The structure here is windy, twisty, like rivers and snakes with no specific shape. There is a beginning and an end but our hero’s desire is not intense. He meets new people from different levels of society and discovers new realms.

    Movies like Gladiator, Swades, and TV shows like Breaking Bad fall into this category.

  5. Spiral Story
  6. If the word spiral brings a spinning image to your mind, you have reached the right spot. Thrillers that begin with a lot of widespread information going gradually towards the core where the secret lies, belong to this category.

    Films of Hitchcock and Sriram Raghavan are the perfect examples to explain this pattern of storytelling. You keep guessing the end, and often you are proved wrong.

    PS: If you haven’t watched Raghavan’s Andhadhun yet, please do.

  7. Branching Story
  8. It includes any story that maps out the details of society our hero is exploring or just a stage of that society. Just like branches of trees, each branch represents a component the society is comprised of.

    Films majorly based on WWII explain this nature very well. Be it The Pianist or The Schindler’s List, each film has a hero that explores the hidden reality of the society he is living in without putting much effort. The hero meets new people, discover the truth and then change his perception often with the guilt attached. And what I have experienced, branching stories end on a sad note.

  9. Explosive Story
  10. If linear story had a straight path with one hero and one objective, consider this an opposite of it. Any story where multiple characters are busy in doing multiple things at the same time, it’s the explosive story.

    Every Quentin Tarantino film is of this nature. Pulp Fiction is till date the best movie that explains how explosive story works.

    As a writer, it’s your responsibility to identify the nature of your story and then stick to it till the last page to maintain the harmony that you have built.

    Have I missed anything important? Do you have something to say on what you just read above? Comment below and let me know.

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