At its most fundamental level, software solves a problem you have. Contour, software designed to get screenwriters up and running quickly, does exactly that. Bonus: You don’t have to be a screenwriter to benefit from it. Anyone writing stories could get just as much use of this as a screenwriter.
One of my degrees (I have five, and apparently an addiction to school) is in French Literature, and anyone in the business of Littérature is familiar with Émile Zola. He was a late 19th-century writer known for his cycle of 20 novels called the Rougon-Macquart series. They follow a family through the years of the Second Empire. That’s the historical period where Paris, the cramped and overgrown medieval town was completely redesigned into the Paris we know today. Zola wanted to explore how several generations of a family, each generation inheriting problems from the previous, managed to get through this turbulent historical period.
And Zola, well, he was a planner. He mapped out the entire family tree of the Rougons and the Macquarts before writing the novels. (Check out the 19th-century version at http://bit.ly/28e7Mtd). He spent most of his professional career working on these novels. Some are better than others, but he manages to show his genius through 20 novels that all have a similar structure.
He would have been an ideal candidate for Contour: using a similar structure to develop stories that are still relevant 100+ years later.
When you start writing with Contour, your story is formed by following screenwriter Jeffery Alan Schechter’s successful distillation of what makes a successful screenplay. The entire system is detailed in MY STORY CAN BEAT UP YOUR STORY!, Schechter’s book. But don’t think you need to buy his book to use Contour. The software essentially teaches you the method itself.
By including familiar stories (American Beauty, Liar Liar, Star Wars, and more than a dozen others), you see how a screen story is build. It starts with Questions and an archetypes, and the software tells you how much to write when targeting a typical 120-minute movie. Each of the movie’s three acts (Orphan, Wanderer/Warrior, Martyr) is similarly detailed, with applicable plot points placed at typical story points.
In essence, Contour is your framework. Your outline. In essence, your target. That’s why Zola would have felt at home. A bare outline of how a story develops can easily be used as a way to write 20 novels or 20 screenplays. After all, the outline isn’t your story, nor is it a guarantee of success. That’s still left to you, the writer. Contour just gives you a few pegs to drape your story onto so that it stays within the stricture of something that we would recognize as a movie.
Other reviewers see this provided outline as constraining. I don’t. After all, if I tell you your work will have a setup followed by three acts, am I constraining you to paralysis? Of course not. And you can easily combine the minute details so that your story fits. Instead of seeing Contour as a rigorous skeleton to build upon think of it more as a tool that keeps your story moving toward the conclusion. It’s not a word processor: use Marine Software’s Scrivener if that’s what you need.
Suppose that you have a writing tool that you learned years ago that you want to use. For example, http://bit.ly/1PyeBzv shows you eight ways to outline a novel. Contour doesn’t prevent you from using any of them. For example, the first method on the site is the Expanding Snowflake method. You start your story with a simple sentence that describes the story. You then expand the sentence into two or three sentences, filling in plot points and details.These sentences get expanded, and more of the story is filled in. And so on.
That sounds like the antithesis of Contour’s method, which seems to develop a story from start to finish. The key value of Contour is to manage the size of your snowflake. After all, it assumes you are aiming for a two-hour product. How large should the snowflake grow in order to assure the required length? Contour tells you.
Contour *is* specific in the task it solves. If you plan to write the 21st-century equivalent of Marcel Proust’s À la recherché du temps perdu, the 3,000-page work commonly known as the greatest novel of the 20th-century, Contour may not be perfect for your task. However, if you need to create a screenplay from Proust’s character- and description-filled work (which has been attempted), Contour keeps you creative while staying on target.
Contour should be on every writer’s computer. And since it has both Mac and Windows versions, it’s an easy tool to fit into your toolbox.