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)”

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.”

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.”

Three act structure may be bullshit, but it’s useful bullshit.

Three act structure falls into a category I call “useful bullshit.” Typically arguments over three act structure become a tedious fight about whether it’s always the best or whether it even exists. It’s a mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain an idea without necessarily holding it to be true. Therefore, IContinue reading “Three act structure may be bullshit, but it’s useful bullshit.”

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

Most people picture language visually. Knowing this makes writing easier.

A screenplay is a de facto movie and anything presented will eventually have to be literally photographed (or said.) Understanding why this works lends insight into human beings, your target audience. I learned this when I was taking an acting class. The teacher was stressing a point on how we should invest words with meaning.Continue reading “Most people picture language visually. Knowing this makes writing easier.”