Justify: When you get a logic note, ask it in the screenplay and explain it away.

A big part of writing is justification: anticipating common sense logic notes, asking them yourself in the script, and creating a plausible explanation

This maintains willing suspension of disbelief, and creates specifics of character that ends up paying off later. When people don’t get things, they’re not flawed or bad, they’re “calling out” a logical issue that you might have overlooked.

  • Why did he give up the gun?
  • Why did she go back to him?
  • Why would the town turn on the kids after they saved it?

Improv made me realize the best way to do this was to take the executive’s question, put it in a character’s mouth, and then give the defense I would give in the room. It always works. Sometimes we get non justifications (lampshade hanging), sometimes the justifications are lousy, but scripts get credit for anticipating the question that the audience was about to have.

  • Why did the hero give up the gun? Because he can’t bring himself to kill a fellow cop (I should probably seed that through act 1 and 2).
  • Why did she go back to him? Because of the fucking awesome “I’m sorry” speech I’m about to write for the abusive husband (you wouldn’t want to go with ’cause she’s dumb,’ which might cause the audience to detach from the character completely).
  • Why would a man marry a dolphin? Because they echo locate and thus are good listeners.

The really hard part is anticipating the common sense, zeitgeist, politics, and quirks of the average audience. Some people are really open and judging any idea as flawed or false is hard for them. Some people lack empathy and think every thinks like them. Some people spend pages justifying obvious things, like why a mother would run into a building to save her kids.

That’s why outside feedback is great. When people have notes, most of the time they’re reacting to a moment where the logic didn’t scan. Calling out and justifying is a powerful tool, you get better at it just by having a term for it, and you get good at it by putting it into practice.

Published by Matt Lazarus

WGA screenwriter offering in-depth writing instruction, notes, critique, and assistance.

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