How to Write a Screenplay — Motifs, Motifs, Motifs

I want to once again briefly revisit the music metaphor that I used earlier on to explain the importance of repetition in screenplays and briefly take a moment to blow your mind to use the modern day classic that is Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” to help explain to you how to write a screenplay – don’t think I can do it? Watch me.

Whether you love or hate that song and I know there are a lot of people in both camps, for good reason. EVERYONE knows that song, and they especially know the chorus – “Hey I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so call me maybe” – and I would bet money that as you read that to yourself, you weren’t reading the text so much as you were hearing the melody in your head.

That is not an accident – there’s a musical term called a motif, and it means to repeat something over and over again (normally a small melodic section) for maximum effect. Another great example of this is the chorus for “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes – that chorus is so popular that tune deaf, highly drunk sports fans around the world can hum it at the drop of the hat.

So what does this have to do with knowing how to write a screenplay? Simple – whether it’s in a piece of music or a movie, audiences love motifs. It gives them something to identify the character with, which makes it easier for our brain to process and store information as we’re watching the movie. Think about it this way – James Bond has been telling people his name for over 50 years, and you know what? He’s going to continue doing it, because for true fans of the series, we still get that little chill up our spines when we hear “Bond… James Bond.” It wouldn’t be a Bond movie without that line, just like Woody Allen isn’t Woody Allen without his glasses or Rodney Dangerfield isn’t Rodney if he starts getting respect – give people small motifs to remember throughout the movie, whether it’s a line of dialogue or a visual symbol that keeps recurring, and people will love you hugely for it.