I have to confess: much of what I know about life, let alone screenwriting, has come from football, and in particular the World Cup. There, I’ve said it. Feel free to shun me and pass on the other side of the street. But it’s true, and it’s no coincidence that the World Cup gets worldwide audiences that most screenwriters can only dream of. It must be doing something right. What the World Cup has taught me about screenwriting

1. Beginnings are important in the World Cup as in screenplays

Some football matches start slowly, some start with a bang. Sometimes a team will start off completely wrongly and struggle to get back into the game, while at other times they grab the match from the beginning and never let go. But the start is never unimportant.

Listen to the roar of the crowd. They’ve been waiting for this moment. They know that it’s crucial that their team starts off on the right foot (no pun intended – well, OK, pun intended). You can give away early goals in home leagues, but if you go behind early against world class opposition you’re in trouble. You may recover, but it’s not going to be easy.

2. There are three acts (and sometimes more)

Nevertheless there are two crucial times when everything changes. It takes a good 20 minutes for a match to settle into its stride. There’s a key turning point around 20-25 minutes from the start. The side that started well may falter. The side that’s been holding on with difficulty begins to hit its stride.

The last 20-25 minutes also bring dramatic changes: the end is close, it’s time for the final battle. It even looks different. The neat patterns of the opening are long gone. The teams are stretched to their limits. Beyond, perhaps, what they ever thought they could do.

Some matches go into a fourth act – with extra time. If you’re creating an epic, then four or more acts are essential. The epic World Cup matches, the greatest struggles, are always those which went into extra time – or even (fifth act) penalties.

3. It’s the characters we remember

Structure is important, but fans love characters. Gazza in tears against Germany in Italia 90. Maradona, cheating one moment, brilliant the next. Pele breaking in as a youngster with precocious talent. Pele being carried off eight years later having been nullified by a series of criminally violent tackles.

But characters only come through because they’re stretching themselves to the limit against the most demanding antagonists. Great drama and great characters come from crisis and determination.

Audiences that screenwriters could only dream of4. Key moments stay in the memory

Stanley Kubrick used to say that a movie is ideally made of six or seven key scenes and the rest of the script is just there to hold them together.

It’s all very well having a good dramatic match, but what really lights it up is those key moments – a disputed goal, a moment of stupidity, the goal that would have won it missed by millimetres, a career-ending head butt, an impossible save.

Characters in crisis creating memorable drama.

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