Premise test – notes on stakes.

“The stakes are not ours. They are the characters.”*   Stakes are both easy and hard. It’s a category that’s easy to fill in with something, hard to fill in well. Stakes are consequences. They are what will happen if the hero fails to meet his goal. If our heroes are blue collar heroes whoContinue reading “Premise test – notes on stakes.”

How to create a goal that will carry your reader through your story.

1. ROOTING INTEREST IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN PLOT Midway through DUNKIRK, I turned to my friend and said, “Wait, is that the plane from earlier? Are sea and air narratives about to intersect?” My friend said, “I have no fucking idea. Shut up, I’m watching this.” This illustrates a truth about story telling. Everything, plot,Continue reading “How to create a goal that will carry your reader through your story.”

Exercise: If you’re stuck on a plot, write from character POV

Goldman once wrote that screenwriting is structure. A lot of people take that to mean that screenwriting is plot, which is it isn’t. Screenwriting is about story, and story is about the immediate moments. Take James Bond. All the classic plots are pretty much the same (action scene, M tells Bond to kill a guy,Continue reading “Exercise: If you’re stuck on a plot, write from character POV”

Conceptual specificity (or Santa Claus vs The Zombies)

Conceptual specificity:  The fun of the second act should come from the elements set up by the first act. The fun of the second act needs to come from the hook, otherwise the draft isn’t exercising the idea it purports to embody. I know that’s a long and boring mouthful, so to drive this homeContinue reading “Conceptual specificity (or Santa Claus vs The Zombies)”

If your logline makes more sense after adding “they fight zombies,” it’s not ready yet.

Most people pitch loglines that are all first act, no second act. Here are a few anemic loglines that were all submitted on reddit at one time or another. The bolded part is where I added zombie fighting. Three Irish teenagers attempt to impress girls and make new friends whilst navigating the minefield that isContinue reading “If your logline makes more sense after adding “they fight zombies,” it’s not ready yet.”

Premise Test – notes on Adjective

You’ll often hear me talk about the premise of a movie. When I do, I’m usually talking about the premise test: An must or else . They do this by and learns . An suggests the characters main trait. It also gives them the start of a personality and starts to individuate them from other peopleContinue reading “Premise Test – notes on Adjective”

The Premise Test

The premise test is simple, useful, and much harder to fill out than you’d think. Its brevity glosses over a lot of complexity and theory. In practice, it’s a powerful and merciless tool that exposes flawed or incomplete thinking. Used correctly, it will save you from false starts. The premise test will tell you ifContinue reading “The Premise Test”

Most second acts suck. Here’s a tip on how to fix that.

I read scripts for money. I enjoy it. I like reading, I like teaching, and reading has given me insights that have helped my own craft. But 90% of the time, I end up writing some variation of this paragraph: The script starts late – it spends 35 or so pages setting up the whysContinue reading “Most second acts suck. Here’s a tip on how to fix that.”

The premise of a movie is like a machine that generates entertaining scenes, setpieces and ideas. These are largely explored in the second act.

Your movie concept combined with the genre of movie creates the means by which entertainment is made. For instance, a time travel comedy would probably have a lot of moments where the existence of time travel led to funny set pieces. An avalanche action movie would probably have a lot of gunplay that somehow involvedContinue reading “The premise of a movie is like a machine that generates entertaining scenes, setpieces and ideas. These are largely explored in the second act.”