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.”

Five reasons a voice recorder is a screenwriter’s best friend

Record ideas as soon as you have them. We think we won’t forget, but the truth is we do. If you have your ideas recorded somewhere, your brain will give you more… if you never do anything with the ideas you have, eventually you stop having them. It’s important to record your ideas as soon asContinue reading “Five reasons a voice recorder is a screenwriter’s best friend”

The law of conservation of detail (and exceptions)

The first act sets up a script. It needs to be entertaining, efficient, and most of all focused. If a first act forces me to learn something, there’d better be a damn good reason for it. If there isn’t, the useless information crowds out the useful stuff. It punishes the audience for paying attention andContinue reading “The law of conservation of detail (and exceptions)”

Don’t let a desperation to sell distract you from writing.

I recently wrote up a series of notes for a client script. I got this in response: “My only question for you is whether you think there is something salvageable here(1). Obviously as a writer there’s always value in finishing a project in order to improve. But I really don’t wanna put my time intoContinue reading “Don’t let a desperation to sell distract you from writing.”

The best notes tend to be specific

Reading services, from the Blacklist to me, prefer to give overall notes in a general way. They’re easier to do, and harder to specifically challenge. Unfortunately, they’re not always the most helpful. Take these Blacklist notes posted by reddit user wolfduke : The narrative suffers from a premise that is ungrounded, as it introduces a sprawlingContinue reading “The best notes tend to be specific”

Rewriting dialogue by identifying the function of it.

They say all dialogue should further understanding of the character or further the story. It also needs to convey distinct character voice, be entertaining, and convey the impression that the writer is worthy of being hired. It’s a lot, and people often get lost trying to do everything at once. Here’s my trick: I likeContinue reading “Rewriting dialogue by identifying the function of it.”

Dimensional characters have a true nature, and a false face they present to the world.

Writing characters is a varied art form and there’s a million ways to develop characters that are “great” “dimensional,” “original.” Here’s a simple trick I like to use: Who is this character, really? How do they present themselves to the world? These are also good questions for life. If you want to know how someone wantsContinue reading “Dimensional characters have a true nature, and a false face they present to the world.”

Don’t Write Generic Dialogue. Speak to the specific complaint.

I hate generic stuff, moments that show something basic: the kid loves his mom! The cop works at a precinct! The couple is fighting! Any hack could write that, and it’s the screenplay’s job to show off what’s special about your writing style. You want to sell people on the idea of you. Here’s aContinue reading “Don’t Write Generic Dialogue. Speak to the specific complaint.”