Dissecting Dexter.

For those of you who missed my series of posts on Dexter, here is an easy access list.

The posts dissect one episode to see how theme is represented.

It checks dialogue tricks and techniques.

We see that the Climax is the longest scene, built up to with a series of shorter scenes.

We learn how much screen time Dexter has.

We see how many scenes have 2 characters, 3 characters, how many are ensemble.

We discover a 3 act structure, and much, much more.

Here are the posts. I hope you learn as much from them as I have.

1. Episode Breakdown: Scene by Scene.

2. Structure and Scene Length.

3. Characters in Scenes.

4. Interesting Script Facts.

5. Dexter’s Screen Time.

6. Titles and Meanings.

7. Old Cliches Die Hard.

8.a) Dialogue: Angel Batista.

8.b) Dialogue: Joey Quinn.

8.c) Dialogue: Debra Morgan.

9. Dialogue Technique: Answering Questions with Questions.

10. The Climax





Eli Gold

Want to write powerful dialogue? Context is all.

Great dialogue doesn’t have to be flighty and fancy. Sure, it’s great to come up with fantastic one-liners, like Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore‘s

I love the smell of napalm in the morning.

or Don Corelone’s

I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.

But often the most powerful lines come not from brilliant syntax and linguistic gymnastics, but from context.

Take Eli Gold’s words in the the final episode of season 5 of The Good Wife:

Why is everything so difficult?

Because we know Eli, we’ve seen him struggling, we know almost everything he does is self-less and to help other people, so when he says these words we really empathize with him. We feel his angst. We know what he means. It resonates with us and we connect with him.

Not only that, the line is delivered with such gravitas by actor Alan Cumming –  who exerts 100% energy, passion and emotion into every moment – that we really feel the weight of the world on his shoulders as he forces out these simple yet truthful, painful words.

So, when writing your script, don’t think all of your dialogue has to sing with florid extravagance or every line has to equal the genius of Colonel Kilgore or Don Corleone.

I forget which writer said ‘the lines you love the most are the ones you need to cut.’ But this is often true.

Sure, we all want to write the brilliant one-liner that will speak to a generation or a culture and there’s nothing wrong that. I do it myself and hate to let them go. Unfortunately sometimes we have to ‘kill our darlings.’

But rest assured, it’s been proven over and over again that in the greatest drama the simplest lines are often the most powerful.

Context is all.



Is your criminal a hero?

Steve McQueenJohn Truby says the ‘Criminal as Hero’ sub-genre of the major Crime genre asks these 3 questions:

1. What is crime?

2. Is society’s view of crime too strict ?

3. In what way is the individual greater than the mass?

- and if he is greater should he be allowed to do what other people are not allowed to do?

-  should the social rules be applied to somebody who is exceptional?

Download John Truby’s Crime Detective Thriller audio class here.


Angels with Dirty Faces and Truby

John Truby’s book The Anatomy of Story details how to write a story about a hero with a moral flaw. He teaches storytelling with moral argument, moral needs and moral vision.

In one of my favorite films, Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), James Cagney’s character Rocky is a tough gangster admired by all the street kids in his neighborhood.

When Rocky is sentenced to death the priest, Father Connolly, Rocky’s childhood friend, wants him to feign fear as he goes to the electric chair.

Connolly believes this will act as a deterrent to the street kids who admire him and want to be like him. They will see that gangsters aren’t cool, but cowards.

Rocky immediately refuses, but is faced with a moral dilemma: does he maintain his tough guy image and die a hero to the kids who idolize him? Or sacrifice his hero status to save them from a life of crime and perhaps the same fate?

Watch this powerful scene to see what happens:

In a stroke of genius by the filmmakers we the audience are not let into the secret if Rocky’s screams of fear are feigned or not. Perhaps they are real.

I choose to believe Rocky had a moral revelation and acted upon it, feigning fear and appearing ‘yellow’ as he went to the chair.

What moral dilemma is your hero facing?


The Town

Deconstructing Dialogue: The Town (part 1)

To kick off 2014 year of analyzing dialogue we’re studying this scene from The Town.

(Screenplay by Peter Craig, Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard.)

Read a PDF version of the scene here:

You can also read a studio version of the screenplay here.

NB. this script is different from the final cut that made the movie – but that’s another study.

The first aspect of the scene I’d like to look at is the power play between Doug (Ben Affleck) and Jem (Jeremy Renner).

(Analysis in brackets and in bold).


Jem waits for Doug by the ancient cemetery near the projects. Doug approaches him.

Something wrong with the apartment?

(So, from Doug’s question we know that Doug doesn’t know why Jem has arranged the meeting. Jem has called Doug, and Doug doesn’t yet know why. So, we might say that at the beginning of the scene Jem holds the power. )

No. The Florist.
The Florist what?
Came through.
Oh, Jesus Christ.

(If you’ve yet to see the film The Florist is The Town’s ‘godfather’ gangster, played by Pete Postlethwaite, a fearsome Northern Irishman, whose ability to cut flowers symbolizes his trademark ability and pleasure to ‘cut your fucking balls off.’ A lovely rose he is not. Doug obviously doesn’t want to do the job, whatever it is. Power with Doug.)

It’s large, Dougie. It’s large.

(Jem tries to tempt Doug with money. But Doug has enough money. Jem’s bait doesn’t work. The power is still with Doug.)

We’re smoked. Punt it.

(‘We’re smoked’ means Doug knows the FBI are watching them. Power: Doug.)

Who else is gonna buy it?
You should have thought about that before you fucking kept breaking the guy out for forty dimes after every job.
There’s an expectation rate.
I’ll correct his expectation.
Oh, you will?

(No one makes demands or disobeys The Florist. Jem tries to intimidate Doug. It doesn’t work. Power : Doug. It’s a one way fight so far.)

Pick up an extra guy or go with three guys or… fucking be smart and boot it.
Oh so you’re not going?
Why is that?
Because we got a ton of fucking heat on us for one thing.
We’ll put a move on them, right? We’ve done it a hundred fucking times before.
You know what, forget it. Do what you wanna do. I’m done.

(Read a separate post on the difference between the studio script and the dialogue in this scene here.)

I’m done.
You’re done?
What does it sound like?
What’s that.. what’s that mean?
What the fuck do you think it means?
What does that mean you’re done? It sounds like a bunch of fucking bullshit.

(Why the confusion? Doug doesn’t want to do the job. More than that, he wants out completely. Why isn’t Jem just letting it go? And why is Doug even entertaining him? Why not just tell him to fuck off? If he’s done, he’s done. There must be more to it. There must be more to this relationship. Something deeper. Doug seems to be struggling to hold onto his power. OK, he’s holding his corner, but why take the questioning? In a previous scene with the Feds Doug runs rings around them with their questioning. What’s going on? The power balance is shifting. Power: shared.)

Let me put it to you this way, I’m putting this whole fucking town in my rear view.

(OK, so there we have it. Doug states his outward goal – a reflection of the visual we get earlier of Doug watching the plane in the sky as he waits for his girl outside the cafe. Power, back with Doug.)

There’s people I can’t let you walk away from.
What? Who?

(Confusion again. What is Jem talking about? Power unbalanced again.)

Come on!

(Doug realizes Jem is talking about his (Jem’s) sister, Krista and her young daughter, Shyne. So, finally, we get to what this meeting is really about – the subtext rises, and it’s not work, but family. Jem grabs the power.)

Are you serious, Jimmy? She’s not my kid….
Cut it out. All you give a fuck about is coke and Xbox and now you’re trying to play it off you care about Shyne, come on now!

(Doug ridicules him. Assassinates his character. Coke and Xbox. Doug uses humor to disparage him, snatching the power back easily.)

You know what your fucking problem is?

(Come on, Jem, fight back.)

You think you’re better than people.
Mister fucking clean, mister fucking goddamn high and mighty, right?

(Some info on Doug. He’s clean. He was an addict. He goes to AA / NA meetings. We know that. But is Jem right? Does Doug think he’s better than the other people on the ‘projects’? Remember his back-story, he was drafted as a pro hockey player, got into trouble for fighting other guys on his team, and lost his opportunity. Jem is really pressing Doug’s buttons here. In Truby terms, this could be Doug’s moral flaw. Does he think he’s ‘better’ than other people? Or does he simply believe he’s capable of a better life than the one he’s living, the one he’s been born into? Who’s holding the power here? I would say it’s definitely not Doug, but possibly shared, because we’re not sure if Doug’s ‘uh-hu’ and his agreeing with and repeating what Jem accuses him of is him being truthful, or him being sarcastic. Therefore – Power: shared.)

Yeh, I’m better than all these people, you’re right. I’m better than anybody in this fucking project.
Yeah, that’s what you think, but you grew up right here. Same rules that I did.
OK. What else?


(Doug’s three little words here are very interesting. Doug now knows why Jem has called this meeting. He’s given him an earful about the job with The Florist, and he’s accused him of being self-righteous, proud, of seeing himself as ‘high and mighty.’ But Doug knows that’s not all. He knows this is all leading somewhere. When you watch the scene you’ll see a change of pace here. There’s a beat change. It’s as though Doug admits defeat, but really, to Doug, defending himself from Jem’s childish accusations just isn’t a battle worth fighting. Doug’s tired of the bullshit now. He’s had enough. He asks the direct question: What else?)

Who the fuck’s the father?

(OK. Now we know what this is all about. Finally. His niece, his sister’s beautiful little girl – Shyne. Power: Jem)

I know I’m not the father.
You were the one fucking her.
Yeh, and I wasn’t the only one, brother, OK? She knew I knew I’m not the father and I have enough respect for her not to ask her. OK? ‘Cause I don’t think she knows. Alright? Now I don’t wanna shatter your illusions here, partner, but there aren’t enough free clinics here in Mattapan to find out who the father of that kid is…

(Doug snatches the power back easily again. Watch the acting here. Affleck’s doing all the talking, but you can feel Renner about to explode. He represses his rage, but it’s rising to the surface. Doug doesn’t back down. He’s got the power, and he goes in for the kill).

And I don’t know who the fuck you think you are, either. You aren’t letting me or not letting me do shit. Alright?

(Exactly! Why does Jem feel he can ‘let Doug or not let Doug’ do anything? And why was Doug letting him act like his boss? Now we know, Doug doesn’t let anyone tell him what he can or can’t do. He lays down the law. Power: Doug).


Here’s a little fucking cheat sheet for you. It’s never gonna be me and you and your sister and Shyne fucking playing house up there. Alright? You got it? Get that in your fucking head! I’m tired of your one way fucking bullshit. If you wanna see me again, come down and visit me in Florida.

(Jem’s lost this argument, this verbal argument, so he attacks with all he’s got left, his physical toughness. Affleck’s tough, too. But Jem pulls a pistol, and cracks Doug on the head with it. Physical power: Jem. Emotional power: Doug.)

Doug recovers.

He sits up, panting.

In the 302 the Feds have me dropping Brendan right here. But I got him back on Tibbetts… shot him right in the chest. I remember he looked at me…and, I don’t know who was more fucking surprised he wasn’t dead – him or me. We just fucking stood there a second waiting for some shit to happen, I don’t know what, but…then he started running. Fucking guy ran a 100 yards with a bullet in his heart…The fucking guy should have run track, y’know what I’m saying?

(So Jem has called this meeting exactly where he killed ‘Brendan’ whoever Brendan is.)

Jem laughs.

I didn’t ask you to do that.
Yeh, well, you didn’t have to, Dougie, come on. They told me Brendan Leahey was coming down here to roll up on you with a glock 21 so I came over here, and I put him in the fucking ground. Did nine years for it. Now, you don’t gotta thank me, but you’re not walking away.

(Jem wrenches the emotional power from Doug. Jem had saved his life. And what, now he was leaving town? Leaving him, and his sister, and his niece? Doug knows Jem isn’t capable of being open emotionally, and that all this tough talk about ‘not letting him walk away’ is just a cover up for the pain he feels. Power: Doug).

I’m grateful for everything you’ve done for me. Your family took me in when my father went away. (Exposition at the height of tension. Jem’s family kind of ‘adopted’ Doug when his dad went to prison). You’re like a brother to me. (Doug, without saying the words directly, tells Jem that he loves him). But I’m leaving. (Outward goal stated again.) You gonna shoot me? Go ahead. But you’re gonna have to shoot me in the back.

(Of course, Jem doesn’t. He has lost this conflict and he knows it. Doug gets up, holding all the power, and walks away.)


Dexter + Hannah

DEXTER part 9: Questions with Questions.

We’re studying the explosive climax from DEXTER Season 7 Episode 7 – ‘Chemistry’.

This post will look at the way the writers use the technique of answering questions with questions and how questions form part of the power play between characters.

WATCH the scene:

Now read the scene.

So, let’s look at the way questions are used:

Dexter, angry that Hannah’s latest victim died in his apartment, asks Hannah how she killed him.


How did you do it?


Is it really important?


Is life in prison important?

Hannah bats Dexter’s question away. But Dexter counters with force.

3 questions in a row.

Note the way the number of syllables increase: 5, 7, 8. As the tension increases, so do the number of syllables.

Now this is really interesting: when Hannah finally answers, she tells the truth.


I’m never going to prison.

Price liked to chew on his pens.

The last one had a little something on it…completely undetectable.

Another section of the script where Dexter responds to a question with a question is the break between Beat 2 and Beat 3.

Hannah attempts to make Dexter aware they have a ‘spiritual connection’, to draw him in:


I could feel you watching me while I was being interrogated.

You saw the whole thing didn’t you?

But Dexter refuses to go with her, still needing more information before he commits to this spiritual partnership, to this bond Hannah is convinced they share. Dexter responds to her question with a completely unrelated question – a question that pierces deep:


Is it true about your husband?

Did you kill him because you didn’t want a family?

Hannah answers this question, telling the truth. It’s as though she knows what Dexter needs, and she’s willing to make herself vulnerable to him, to allow herself to be known. She’ll do anything to draw him in to her world, even tell him the truth.


It was the opposite.

I wanted a family and he didn’t. 

He threatened to leave me unless I got an abortion.

Hannah also answers Dexter’s next question directly:


What happened to the baby?


It was a miscarriage.

Sometimes life subtracts, sometimes it adds…

So what do we see here? Hannah answers truthfully when she believes doing so will draw Dexter towards her.

And when Dexter refuses to be drawn in, refuses to give up power, he bats the question away with a question of his own.

Questions are part of the power play between characters.

Hannah’s next and final question is a rhetorical one, which she answers herself, not giving Dexter the chance to bat it away, she answers for him in order to draw him into their spiritual bond:


Do you see what just happened? We were looking out for each other…

In the next post I’ll consider the goals and needs of both characters as they enter this Climactic scene.

Dexter + Hannah

The Black Comedy System

This is how the black comedy works:

  • Many characters exist in an organization. Someone explains the rules and logic by which the system operates in great detail.
  • Many of these characters, including the hero, go after a negative goal that involves killing someone or destroying something.
  • Each believes strongly in the goal and thinks what he is doing makes complete sense. In fact, it is totally illogical.

This is a short extract from the section on Black Comedy from John Truby’s brilliant book – Anatomy of Story  (p135)

“You’re a funny guy!”

Dialogue in 127 Hours

The opening lines in 127 Hours (screenplay by Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy) are an answerphone message from Aron’s sister:

“Hey, Sonia here…again… I know you’re probably gonna be away this weekend, but listen… just think about what we’re gonna play, ‘cause we have to decide if we need to practice, it will be fun, anyway…oh…and, please call Mom, ‘cause, you know, she worries…”

These lines refer to 3 things:

1. Aron’s Character Arc.

Why doesn’t Aron answer the phone? We see he’s super-busy preparing his trip, grabbing the bits and pieces he needs. And we all know how annoying phone calls are when we’re trying to get stuff done. But this preoccupation with himself shows us he is more focused on his own needs than his sister’s. The fact that Sonia emphasizes again tells us this isn’t the first time she’s called. And so Aron’s character flaw is illuminated – the flaw that will not only cause his extreme suffering but will also cause him to grow and change.

2. Foreshadowing.

‘Think about what we’re gonna play’ foreshadows a line of dialogue at the Act 2 Turning Point paid off when Aron apologizes to his sister for not being able to play the piano at her wedding. This apology tells us something way deeper and more important: that he has lost the battle. He is defeated. Michael Hague calls this the All is Lost moment. Blake Synder the Visit to Death.

3. Theme.

Sonia reminds Aron to call Mom as ‘she worries’. Later Aron realizes that if he hadn’t have been so selfish, if he had returned his mom’s calls, he would’ve told her where he was going and he would’ve been rescued. Major theme: interconnectedness + familial love.

So these opening lines not only foreshadow the Act 2 Turning Point before Aron’s do or die drive to survive, but they immediately point us to both theme and character arc.

SPOILER alert – please watch the movie before reading the rest of this post.

However, one of my favorite lines of dialogue comes where Aron meets the two lost female hikers. Aron rocks down the hill, superhero to the rescue, to help them with their map-reading. Realizing his mask is high on his face and he must look pretty scary, Aron jokes:

‘Sorry about the Friday 13th thing. I’m only a psychopath on weekdays.’

Not only is this funny, and, as Michael Hague tells us in Screenwriting for Hollywood, funny always endears us to a hero, but it’s oozing subtext, hiding a much deeper and far more sinister meaning. It prepares us for – or foreshadows – the sudden Act 3 genre twist from family adventure drama to bloody, gruesome and gory horror.

‘I’m not usually a psychopath,’ he’s saying (my paraphrase) ‘but stick around and later you can watch me hack my own arm off, Saw style.’

Are your opening lines of dialogue:

1. Pointing us to Theme?

2. Foreshadowing the Climax?

3. Illuminating a character flaw?

4. Endearing us to your hero?

5. Harboring hidden meaning?

How deep is your dialogue?


3 Act Structure in 127 Hours

127 Hours runs at 90 minutes and adheres to perfect 3 Act Structure:

Act  1: 15 minutes.

Act 2a : 30 minutes. 


Act 2b: 30 minutes.

Act 3: 15 minutes

NB: The Midpoint or Point of No Return happens at 45 minutes – exactly half way through the movie.

Each act break + plot point is not only marked with a Turning Point  but is also marked with the end of a musical sequence.

Watch the film carefully paying attention to what happens at these exact times.

So, what happens at each Turning Point?

SPOILER ALERTwatch the movie before you read this analysis!

Act  1 begins by foreshadowing the moral revelation the hero will have in the climax – Aron’s selfishness – as he refuses to answer his mum’s phone calls or tell his work mate where he’s going. Next we’re shown an excited young man off on an adventure. He’s a daredevil. When he spectacularly falls from his mountain bike he simply smiles, snaps a pic of himself and he’s ‘back on the saddle’ foreshadowing his tenacity and resilience displayed in extremis in the Climax.

After exactly 15 minutes, Aron falls: the film’s inciting incident. He’s trapped by the rock. Danny Boyle inserts the film’s title 127 Hours here, telling us the movie, the real story, starts now. Like any Act 2 this is the new world, the upset Status quo which must be re-balanced.

So Act 2 begins at 15 minutes.

Then, 15 minutes into Act 2 (30 minutes into the movie) we have Plot Point 1 which points us towards the film’s major Theme.

So what happens here? Well, we see Aron as a small boy sitting on the Grand Canyon in his father’s loving embrace as they both stare out at the rising sun. (Theme: interconnectedness + familial love).

Between 30 minutes and the midpoint at 45 minutes we witness Aron beginning to make his video diary. He addresses his mom and dad – we hear his mother’s voice saying ‘call me – lots of love’  (Theme reinstated: connectedness + familial love).

The Midpoint or Point of No Return comes at exactly 45 minutes: Aron takes his pocket knife and tries to cut his arm – foreshadowing the Climax. Why is this the Point of No Return? Because Aron is considering another option, if all else fails.

And we’re into the second part of Act 2 which we’ll call Act 2b.

Immediately after the Midpoint we’re back with the video camera and treated to the hilarious spoof radio show and Aron’s self-examination. This is a superb blend of comedy and tragedy. He reveals the fact he’s always seen himself as a ‘big fucking hard American superhero’ who can do everything ‘on his own’. This is writing of the highest quality; the hero’s moral / psychological revelation that his ‘supreme selfishness’ – his character flaw – has led him to this place of captivity and isolation, later to become a place of extreme suffering, is delivered with a ‘spoon full of sugar’ as this self-revelation is presented to us by the writers gift-wrapped in brilliant dialogue as Aron attacks his own flaws with  scathingly funny self-deprecating humor.

Then, 15 minutes after the Midpoint at Plot Point 2 Aron rams the blade into his arm. Danny Boyle takes us visually inside his arm and we see the blade ‘close to the bone.’ An idiom often used when remarks cut close to the truth. And the truth Aron has just revealed to us? He has been living life selfishly. In fact, he apologizes to his mom and dad into the camera for being ‘unappreciative.’

After another 15 minutes, at around the 75th minute of the movie – leading towards the End of Act 2 Turning Point Aron apologizes to his sister that he won’t be able to play piano at her wedding. Another apology. This dialogue tells us he has accepted his fate and that fate is death. Michael Hague calls this the ‘All is Lost’ moment. Blake Snyder the ‘Visit to Death’.

Then, still at the 75th minute mark, we enter ACT 3 as Aron makes one last ‘do or die’ drive to set himself free, and, as a mirror to the Midpoint – BANG! – he rams the blade back into his arm and drags us, screaming and terrified, feeling every nerve of his tortuous pain, into the bloody, horrific Climax.

The next 15 minutes are the Resolution as Aron is rescued. Here Aron’s learning curve – his character arc – is clear as the ‘big hard fucking superhero’ who can do ‘everything on his own’ screams for help from strangers – a changed man.

127 Hours sticks to perfect 3 Act Structure as taught by Michael Hague and also adheres to John Truby’s teachings on Moral and Psychological Revelations in his book Anatomy of Story.

click for trailer

THE AMBER BLOG – How To Break The Rules And Get Away With It

Mark Dark:

I just watched AMBER and was not so much disappointed but confused over the writing choices. Charles Harris guest blogs on Yvonne Grace’s blog Script Advice on the problem with AMBER.

Originally posted on Scriptadvice.co.uk's Blog:

Amber Ending Has Viewers Red With Rage: How Not To Break The Rules! Lauryn-Canny1-as Amber

I have Charles Harris, writer-director and director of Euroscript, on my blog today. Charles has made award-winning programmes for TV and cinema. His blog is at http://www.charles-harris.co.uk

You may have noticed a great noise on social media over the ending of RTE’s successful mini-series, Amber, which finished on UK TV last week. And here’s a massive SPOILER ALERT. Because many people took great exception to the ending of an otherwise powerful four-part series about a missing teenager, while others (the producers included) defended it strongly as being a refreshing change, and to discuss it properly I’m going to have to refer to what happened and what didn’t happen. So, if you haven’t finished the final part yet, you may not want to read the rest now.

For those of you who are still with me, Amber broke…

View original 827 more words

Dave Freeman’s Dialogue Tips.

Quick recap of Dave Freeman’s dialogue techniques:

Types of Dialogue:

1. Someone’s answer reveals their character.

2. Interrupting each other.

3. Answer a question with a question.

4. Different ways of speaking around different people.
eg. how you speak to your boss
eg. how you speak to your child

5. Own track – A ignores B and continues on their own track

6. Tangent – a question or remark sparks a tangential answer.
‘Have you read the DaVinci Code?’
‘Damn. I’ve got to go to the library to return those books!’

7. Left-field – a question or remark sparks a totally unrelated reply.

8. Sentence fragment – when you drop more than one word.

9. Underground river – where the topic is raised, left, returned to later.

10. Delayed answer – A asks question, B talks about other stuff before answering A’s question.

11. Starts again – A starts, then stops and starts again differently
e.g. ‘There’s a technique I want to… Let me tell you about a particularly effective technique…’

12. Response implies answer, e.g.
 ‘How was your day, honey?’
‘Is our car insured?’

13. Silence is dialogue.
eg. ignoring question or comment
eg. meaningful silence
eg. action instead of verbal reply

14. External interruptions – doorbell rings, waiter arrives, etc
e.g. In Shrek, every time Shrek and Fiona are going to kiss
Donkey arrives. This is good. Builds suspense.

15. Displacement – you put your anger, affection, passion on someone or something nearby because it’s too scary to do it to the person with you…

16. Subtext – what the character is saying or feeling below surface.

17. Action is a form of dialogue.

eg. slamming doors/driving recklessly/touching someone…

18. Dialogue is about hinting at emotion, not stating it bluntly.

Thanks Dave Freeman.

Mark Dark

Writing a Film Script

I’ve been working on this film script for 4 years now. It started as a short story which got optioned. Then, my producer and script consultant thought it would make a good feature, so I started the journey of writing the screenplay.

Writing on your own is great because you’ve got full control. But when you get script consultants involved they’ve got their own ideas which, in the beginning, I felt obligated to incorporate. I tried to please everyone. Which, as we know, is impossible.

Enter story problems.

Story problems are good because they force us to think hard and deep about everything, character, plot twists, need, want, outer journey, inner journeys etc. etc.

Now, after 4 years of thinking (and writing) I’ve finally got a story I think works. What was the process? I think 3 things.

First, I was brutally honest with myself. I asked myself ‘if this script landed on your desk, would you make it? Would you invest six months to a year of your life  finding a budget, casting, working with actors, crew etc and then post-production editing, soundtrack, distributors and sales agents. Does this script warrant that amount of work?’ My answer was No, I wouldn’t make it. Because there was too much plot. It was too wishy-washy. There was too much happening.

Next, I asked myself if I was moved. Did this story affect me emotionally? Again, the answer was No. I was bored. And I knew why. If I changed the script in a way to improve it I would have to ditch an idea from the script consultant, which I was scared to do for fear of losing interest or being accused of not being able to take feedback. But the fact was the script wasn’t working. And I couldn’t write it with the current plot. If I wanted to keep working on the script I had to make major changes.

Thirdly, I asked myself if the concept was original. Had I seen it before? And I answered No, it wasn’t. And yes, I had seen it before.

So, what could I do? Scrap it, put the last 4 years down to experience? A  learning curve? Or attack the script’s issues. I was faced with 3 problems, which, through a glass-half-full lens, was three opportunities:

How could I give the story 1. a strong plot 2. emotional power and 3. an original concept?

I brought out the hatchet. I hacked off all the dead branches from a sprawling, tangled tree and left myself a solid, strong oak.

So my advice to writers just embarking on a story journey is this. Explore every avenue. Write hundreds of drafts of shite. Listen to everyone’s advice. Then forget everything everyone has told you and get back to the reason you write. What makes the story personal to you? Get angry.  Get emotional. Dig deep.

A screenplay seems to be a fusion of research, imagination and experience. So throw these three into the mix. And…

write the story








studying the craft of writing


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 317 other followers

%d bloggers like this: