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A Fast Way to Improve Your Plot Using New Year's Eve

By Marilyn Horowitz

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Setting your story New Year’s Eve is a fast way to raise the stakes of any story.  This night is where we “ring out the old, and ring in the new.”  It’s the night we review the year that has passed, and make resolutions about how we will make our lives better in the coming year.

Setting the climax of a story on New Year’s Eve is a fast way to raise the stakes. A side benefit is that you can also get the essence of your characters by imagining what they would do and how they feel about New Year’s Eve.

In the classic film, When Harry Meets Sally, the climax of the story occurs on New Year’s Eve, when the hero, or really anti-hero, Harry, played by Billy Crystal rushes to meet Sally at a New Year’s Eve party. A year earlier, they had attended the same party.  Harry realizes that his awful behavior is about to cost him the women he loves, and makes a decision to win her back.

The main character in my new story hates New Year’s Eve because it was when her mother died. Their relationship was difficult and didn't end on a good note and she regrets it. My character doesn’t cry or emote in any way and denies her feelings about her mother’s death. The story ends at the following New Year’s Eve when she can finally accept her mother’s death.

Unlike Christmas movies, the market for New Year’s Eve movies is not quite as glutted so there’s lots of room for a good film. Some good New Year’s Eve movies to watch include: An Affair To Remember, 200 Cigarettes, Bridget Jones Diary, About A Boy and, of course, Sunset Boulevard.

Here's the exercise:

Step 1.  Set a timer for 15 minutes

Step 2.  Write without stopping about how New Year’s Eve relates to you. Do you stay at home, travel, go to a party? Do you make major decisions about the future? Write down resolutions? Ignore the whole evening?

Step 3.  Now writing as if you were your main character, repeat the exercise covering the same questions you answered in Step 2.

Step 4.  Now repeat the experiment, but this time writing as the villain or obstacle. Have them answer the same questions.

You may well find that moving the climax of your story to New Year’s Eve, or using the technique of New Year’s Eve as a set of “Bookends” for a story helps you raise the stakes, and gives you a deeper insight into your characters.

About Marilyn Horowitz

Marilyn Horowitz is an award-winning New York University professor, author, producer, and Manhattan-based writing consultant, who works with successful novelists, produced screenwriters, and award-winning filmmakers. She has a passion for helping novices get started. Since 1998 she has taught thousands of aspiring screenwriters to complete a feature length screenplay using her method. She is also a judge for the Fulbright Scholarship Program for film and media students. In 2004 she received the coveted New York University Award for Teaching Excellence.

Professor Horowitz has created a revolutionary system that yields a new, more effective way of writing. She is the author of six books that help the writer learn her trademarked writing system, including editions for college, high school, and middle school. The college version is a required text at New York University and the University of California, Long Beach.

Professor Horowitz has written several feature-length screenplays. Her production credits include the feature films And Then Came Love (2007). Her new novel, The Book of Zev is available on Amazon.

Screenwriting Article by Marilyn Horowitz

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