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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.

Digital Landscape: The World is Now in Your Pocket. #Marketing #Advertising

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With the rise of digital media, people have been spending more and more time on their mobiles- browsing through their Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social feeds, consuming content on the web and messaging apps, primarily Whatsapp & Messenger, as opposed to broadcast TV, radio or newspaper.

Today almost 4 billion people are online and this figure will rise by another 20%, in the next 2 years.

Advertisement and marketing budgets follow the audience and naturally many brands have turned towards digital media.

Staying up to date with latest digital marketing strategies and communication tools has now become crucial to a business for tapping into the right market for reaching their target audience.

The emerging trend of digital invasion will continue with more features and options for sharing media and content with real time interaction with the audience which means that brands will continue to enhance and multiply their digital presence while raising their digital marketing budgets.

Image source: consultmegroup.com

Digital media has brought so many advantages which advertisers cannot even expect from conventional media. However when integrated, traditional and digital marketing work seamlessly together creating a bigger and holistic brand experience for the audience.

Directly engaging audience and connecting with them on digital platforms allow brands to know more about their customers, get direct feedback, inform the audience about their products and services with a call to action, establishing and enhancing a brand persona as well as predicting future consumer trends.

What’s really a game changer is that digital marketing enables better targeting of the audience specific to their tastes and preferences. Depending on the brand’s goals and objectives different campaigns can be strategised to reach different target audiences.

Although traditional marketing is still integral to raising and maintaining brand awareness, it’s still very difficult to calculate and forecast it’s return on investment (ROI).

On the contrary, digital marketing expenditure is directly inter-related to results. For instance: tracking of visitors, cost per clicks/ impressions on brand campaigns, video views, numbers of subscribers gained, numbers of leads gathered so on and so forth.

Not only this, a brand can extract and look into audience’s prototype information and details such as social income group, gender, buying or consumption habits and other demographic statistics for better profiling on their buyer’s persona.

With many digital platforms, new devices have exploded in the last decade and during this span, digital marketing has evolved drastically which will continue to change and shape the way audience consume information.

Brands are still adapting to this ever changing landscape.

Today, smartphones have taken over the use of desktop and personal laptops as the primary digital device for going online which means space for digital media and content is substantially growing too.

As reported by BBC, newspaper circulation around the world has declined as much as 28% with majority of them shifting their publications to digital online editions. This means news and journalism is transitioning to the digital world.

Image source: Dribbble.com

To put it simply, the world is shifting online and into our pockets.

And what does this mean for brands?

More exposition, more transparency and brand personalisation with greater marketing opportunities.

A great example of brand personalisation is generating content that is based on audience’s interest and preference which can immensely help in creating a long lasting bond between the brand and their consumers.

Image source: Medium.com

Garry Vaynerchuk says “Content is King, but context is God”.

Content in the right context, in the right platform directed to the right audience is the best way to market a brand or product. By giving the audience what they want, they get value out of the content which not only builds up relationship but trust in the brand as well.

Marketing and advertisement used to be about creating myth about the brand and selling it but now it’s more about staying true and authentic, connecting directly to your audience and delivering what you promise.

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