A Sneaky Peak at Peaky Blinders – post 2: Scene Length.

So what have we noticed so far about the opening 10 minutes of Peaky Blinders?

1. The longest scene is the Opening Credits (1.35) which conveys action and creates the story world as well as signals status of series protagonist Thomas Shelby (more on this later).

2. The second longest scene is the fiery conflict between Thomas and his older brother Arthur (1.28). Again, we’ll explore this scene in detail later.

3. Out of 12 scenes, 7 are approximately 1 minute.

4. Out of 12 scenes, 5 are less than 30 seconds.

5. I find it interesting that chief antagonist  C.I Campbell has two scenes (9 + 11) which are a total of 1.16, roughly 10% of screen time. In contrast Thomas, series protagonist, takes about 75% of screen time.

Finally, here’s a list of scene numbers and scene lengths.

Scene 1 (0.18)
Scene 2 (1.00)
Scene 3 (1.05)
Scene 4 (1.35)
Scene 5 (0.17)
Scene 6 (0.30)
Scene 7 (0.52)
Scene 8 (1.28)
Scene 9 (0.54)
Scene 10 (1.21)
Scene 11 (0.22)
Scene 12 (0.18).


Anything else you notice about the way Steven Knight has structured the opening 10 minutes?

Stay tuned for the next post!


A Sneaky Peak at Peaky Blinders – post 1.

In this series of posts we’re going to analyze Steven Knight’s superb TV drama Peaky Blinders.

To begin, we’re going to explore the first 10 minutes.

How often do you hear the first 10 pages are the most important? That if you don’t grab ‘em in the first 10 pages, you lose ‘em?

Well, let’s see how what a master of his craft does with his first 10 minutes by asking these 10 questions:

1. How many scenes are there?

2. How long are the scenes?

3. How many characters in each scene?

4. Do the scenes contain action, dialogue or both?

5. What information is revealed in each scene regarding plot?

6. What information is revealed regarding character?

7. Which main characters are introduced ?

8. What outward goals and inner needs are revealed?

9. What external and internal conflicts are revealed?

10. What subplots, if any, are revealed?

OK. So, a lot to get through. No time to waste! Here goes:

1. How many scenes are there in the first 10 minutes?

Answer: 12.

2. How long are the scenes?

Well, let’s break the scenes down:

Scene 1. 

A Chinese man runs to find a girl, saying “Hurry, or they will kill us all.”

Scene length: 18 seconds.

Scene 2. 

Thomas rides a horse through the streets. People run to hide.

Scene length: 1 minute.

Scene 3.

The Chinese Girl does the ‘powder trick’ on the horse, or, as one boy says, ‘casts a spell.’

Scene length: 1.05

Scene 4.

Thomas rides through town. OPENING CREDITS. (We’ve included this as a ‘scene’ as important information is revealed and the story world is created. (More on this scene later).

Scene length: 1.35

Scene 5.

Thomas walks across a normal busy street and enters a house.

Scene length: 17 seconds.

Scene 6.

Inside, youngest brother Finn warns Thomas that Arthur is ‘mad as hell.’

Scene length: 30 seconds.

Scene 7.

Thomas enters and walks through the gambling den and speaks to his younger brother John about bets for the horse Monahan Boy.

Scene length: 52 seconds.

Scene  8.

Thomas and Arthur have a fiery duologue (more on this great scene later).

Scene length: 1.28

Scene 9.

Introduction to series antagonist Chief Inspector Chester Campbell on a moving train studying profiles of Arthur and Thomas Shelby, as well as a document about a ‘munitions robbery.’

Scene length: 54 seconds.

Scene 10.

Introduction to ‘communist’ Freddie Thorne as he rouses workers to strike.

Scene length: 1.21

Scene 11.

Back to the moving train as C.I Campbell studies a file on Freddie Thorne.

Scene length: 22 seconds.

Scene 12.

Thomas walks along a street towards a local pub.

Scene length: 18 seconds.

Then, at exactly 10 minutes the doors to the pub swing open and we are face to face with the leader of the Peaky Blinders – Thomas Shelby.

10 second shot Peaky Blinders

Bang on 10 minutes and we’re face to face with our hero!

Perfect timing!

Anything else you’ve noticed about the first ten minutes of Peaky Blinders?

Stay tuned for the next post…

Dude, what’s your secret?!

Mark Sanderson aka ScriptcatMark Sanderson aka @scripcat has had 7 films produced and has written 27 feature screenplays.

I asked him:

Dude, what’s your secret?! What’s the single most important factor you keep in mind when writing your screenplays?

This was his awesome reply:

I think there are many important factors that I keep in mind before I ever go down the pathway of taking an idea to a story and eventually a fully realized spec screenplay. After graduating film school it used to be if I could sell the script or not — that’s a fool’s endeavor trying to play the Hollywood spec, big budget screenplay sale game and trying to figure out if they will buy my genre or not. Chasing a big sale will deliver nothing but frustration and grief.

In addition, it will take years of bouncing the script around town and it may never sell. You’ll need to be working a job to pay your bills during this time and it gets difficult to hang on with the hopes to sell every spec that you create. The reality is that just because you write it doesn’t mean anyone will “love it.” You need to write from your heart and it will show in the work.

My buddy is writing a romantic comedy and it’s not a personal story so he’s obviously trying to make it as commercial as possible to sell it to Hollywood and play in the “big leagues.” And now I read that the romantic comedy is dead in Hollywood. The genre has not done well lately and they are not making them anymore so I ask him, “Why are you writing this movie genre?” Is the spec going to be a writing sample or is it something you actually think you can sell to the studios as an un-produced writer?  I believe it’s the second reason so he’s chasing an illusive ghost and in my opinion not utilizing his limited writing time properly.

I told him he should be writing a spec that is near and dear to his heart as he’s not going to be able to compete with known writers with a script that is a long shot at best. It’s a high concept commercial Hollywood script that will not sell because of the genre. Sure, it may get him meetings…but why waste time on a script that has limited potential? Write something personal and from the heart and it will showcase your writing ability.

Try writing what you care about and that will come through in the screenplay. Your passion will shine through and attract interest in quality work. Back when I was first pursuing my career, I did this with my original script I’ll Remember April and it placed in the top 20 of all Nicholl Fellowship entries that year and later went on to be optioned, purchased and produced and distributed globally.

I'll Remember AprilI don’t write specs much anymore as my jobs are screenplay assignment work. I just had my seventh film produced and I try to please my boss the producer who is paying me so he can hire me again. It’s the nature of building a career to write films that get produced and to build a great working relationship with producers. Those writers who have lofty ideals about writing something that will compete with top screenwriters who already have credits and relationships with studios and producers — it’s a big dream and a big risk of time. Carve out your own unique brand and sell them on “you.”

I don’t think there is only one important factor, but many.  I think to myself before I start: “Is my idea commercial and can it translate to the most people possible so a producer/director will see the potential and want to make it?”  I recently consulted on a project for a screenwriter who asked for my honest opinion on his script. He recently had been getting a lot of rejections by producers with it and told me, “They just don’t get it.” I shook my head in silence. Maybe when four different producers “just don’t get it” — it could be that the screenwriter just didn’t get it. Repetitive notes from different sources must be considered. I told him that his movie was not big enough or commercial enough to go into 4,000 screens on opening weekend.

That’s the reality of the business. It’s actually a smaller film, maybe indie art house film or a something for TV, but he is aiming for the top of the mountain. And that’s okay, but that comes with a lot of risk, just like writing a spec that can only be produced for $150 million and being an unknown writer with no attachments on the project. Seriously?

Write a kick-ass script that can be produced for about $1.5 million and IT COULD ACTUALLY GET MADE! Find an actor who loves it and will tell you to attach them while you find the money. Go out and do it and make it happen. Stop trying to chase the brass ring of Hollywood studio films and constantly coming up short and rejected. Ah, but who wants a small film, right? We all want the summer blockbuster with the “A-list” career, the home in the hills and the millions in the bank.

Sure, I wanted the same just out of film school and then after about six or seven years of getting knocked around and brutalized, I realized just how fucking hard it was to reach the “A-List.” I have close friends on the “A-list.” They suffer the same trials and tribulations like everyone else just at a bigger level.  Hell, since I was a kid I just wanted to just make a living anyway from what I loved to do — making movies. My dream has been realized over a dozen times with getting paid for assignment jobs and one spec sale. Seven of those dozen scripts were produced and made it to little and big screens around the world. I’m living my dream.

So, there are many factors that I ask myself before writing a spec screenplay:


Honestly consider why you are screenwriting and why you are writing your particular story. How you write it is as important as what you write. Keep the faith and filling your blank pages.

Mark Sanderson aka ScriptcatMark Sanderson (aka @scriptcat) is a veteran of the screenwriting game with over fifteen years of experience and has worked with Academy Award® winning producers, veteran directors, and Academy Award®, Emmy® and Golden Globe® acting nominees. Mark’s indie and TV films have been distributed globally and have opened and premiered at major festivals. His seventh produced film “Sara’s Choice” is in post production and stars Franchesca Eastwood. Check out his popular screenwriting blog MY BLANK PAGE and look for his new book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” coming in November on Amazon. 

Twin Peaks Muses and their Secrets.

Twin PeaksTwin Peaks: The Entire Mystery‘ is now out on Blu-ray DVD (including deleted David Bowie scenes.) To celebrate its release yesterday, I’m very excited to welcome UK film maker & screenwriter Zennis to my blog with his superb article.

WARNING: Some minor spoilers may affect your enjoyment of Twin Peaks.

Prior to its debut airing on 8 April, 1990, Television had never before known anything remotely like the show that co-creator David Lynch chose to set in the northwest logging town of Twin Peaks. Nearly quarter of a century on, Television hasn’t known anything like it since.

The inhabitants of Twin Peaks are rarely what they seem. For the most part they are, in themselves, manifestations of the secrecy that engulfs them like the town’s surrounding forest, itself darkly cloaking their illicit desires and fantasies played out in the local bordello, ‘One-eyed Jacks’ – reached only by a murky water crossing, as if to symbolize the elusive ‘truth’ lurking deep beneath the surface of all that is visible.

Washed up on the shore of this truth, the most mysterious Twin Peaks resident appears in the opening minutes: a beauty queen ‘filled with secrets’ and delivered to us plastic-wrapped (as opposed to the tight-sweater wrapping usually preferred by Lynch for his female twin-peakers).


Thus the series is furnished with its first and most compelling dramatic question: Exactly who – or what - killed Laura Palmer? Indeed it is this burning unknown that must be made known by the show’s seeker-protagonist detective, Dale Cooper, an FBI Special Agent with powers of perception to rival Sherlock Holmes. Simply put, ‘Cooper is able to sees things that other people can’t,’ according to one of the series episode directors, Lesli Linka Glatter.

Naturally our detective has his very own Doctor Watson sidekick – here in the form of the local Sheriff and all-round-stand-up guy, Harry Truman – but Cooper seems more ably aided (although as often hindered) by his three muses, all of whom are as intriguing as each other in the secrets stakes. If ever there were riddles truly wrapped in mysteries inside enigmas, they are these young women conceived inside Lynch’s Jungian mind.

stonefennFirstly, there is Audrey Horne (played by the circumflex-eyebrowed Sherilyn Fenn), who can knot a cherry stalk with her tongue and scare off a smörgåsbord of her wealthy father’s business partners with a one-minute performance of feigned grief for her brutally murdered friend – quickly prompting the audience to ponder on the deeper cause of such provocative behavior by this saddle-shoed minx.

As for the chemistry we feel instantly bubbling beneath the surface between Agent Cooper and Audrey (at their first meeting, she serves his breakfast table in her tight-form cardigan, prompting him to ask if the grapefruits are freshly squeezed), Glatter states: ‘Audrey knows what she wants and how to get it … There was definitely a kind of unspoken sensuality there.’

Later, when she turns up naked between Cooper’s sheets, he declines her offer, stating: “Secrets are dangerous things, Audrey”. But exactly what is Audrey’s mysterious secret?

According to Fenn it’s her virginity. For despite all indicators to the contrary it is intact: ‘She absolutely hasn’t been with anybody,’ Fenn has said of her character in interview. ‘She acts like she has. She wants to. That is her secret.’

Indeed, when Cooper asks Audrey how old she is at their very first meeting she stares him straight in the eye when replying, “eighteen”. Clearly no more blind than we are to the ‘old enough’ subtext here, Cooper replies without blinking, “I’ll see you later Audrey,” then exits with his heroic code of conduct established.

Of Fenn’s character, David Lynch, hints at what may be rooted in Audrey’s psyche: ‘Uh, well, she has trouble at home,’ whilst Glatter plumbs these depths further, commenting on Audrey’s decision to turn detective herself: ‘Audrey wants to know all the secrets. Because of her lack of relationship with her father, she lives in that darker world. If she has the secret she has the power.’

unnamedAnd then there is Agent Cooper’s second muse, Shelly Johnson (played by Mädchen Amick), a bad-boy magnet who does for her waitress uniform what Barbarella did for, well, every costume she ever wore, and who clearly knows how to do more than just pour a damn fine cup of coffee because she quickly teams up with Laura Palmer’s former boyfriend, Bobby Briggs, to shoot Shelly’s husband, Leo, who has a penchant for abusive behavior and an abundance of plastic sheeting in his unfinished house…

Summing up Shelley, episode director Tim Hunter says, ‘Mudchen’s character always knows what’s going on. She’s very manipulative in a very subtle way.’

unnamed-1Finally comes Cooper’s third muse in the form of Donna Hayward (played by Lara Flynn Boyle), the butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth Miss goodie-two-shoes, set up early on when a policeman enters her class during morning registration. We effectively see the rest of the scene as if through Donna’s empathic eyes: first as she looks at the policeman whispering in her teacher’s ear, then at another female student screaming as she runs past the window outside, and then to an empty chair that we immediately understand to be Laura Palmer’s.

Donna shares this establishing ‘non-dit’ moment by exchanging a look with Laura’s former secret lover, James Hurley, and then clasping her hand to her heart, mumbling Laura’s name before breaking down in tears. When the teacher tells the class there will shortly be an announcement from the principal, the scene’s end is punctuated by James’ pencil snapping in his hand. This is a sequence with all the power of an iceberg, revealing only its shining tip yet making us feel much, much more. Hemingway would be proud.

So here we are, not half way into the first episode and we could already be forgiven for wondering of Donna: surely nobody can be this sensitive and good in Twin Peaks? Indeed, only a few hours after this unspoken announcement of her best friend’s death, Donna promptly falls into the arms of the grieving James.

In narrative terms, if the ellipsis is about the gap (or the parts of the story withheld from us by the story-teller), then it is effectively about secrets – and Agent Cooper’s muses are nothing if not bundles of secrets; each one a key-keeper to doors that loath to be unlocked; each a majestic vessel positively brimming with the unknown.

If you haven’t watched Twin Peaks yet then you’re not just missing out on one of the best TV shows ever, you’re also missing out on one of the best examples of storytelling, fullstop.

Check out this interview with co-creator David Lynch. And for Zennis’ complete take on Twin Peaks, check out his essay here.

Formerly a Hollywood-based product placement specialist, in addition to all the major studios Zennis has worked closely with the producer partners of Tom Cruise, Steven Spielberg, and Michael Bay. Currently evolving from film marketer into film-maker, he is now on the last furlong of his Master’s at Newport Film School. Of his first award-winning short, ‘Drink?’, BBC programming chief, Sian Thomas, said: “This winning film had impact and style from the outset … It was targeted and hard hitting.” More recently, after 50,000+ online film viewings and giant screenings across the UK, the judging panel of the British Big Voice Festival (headed by Lord David Puttnam) awarded its 2012 Silver Prize to the first-cut of his most recent short, ‘Shine’. His film-making is now focused on a pilot adapted from the novel he has been writing for more moons than he can remember. All other things Zen can be found on his website at Ze-Hub.com

on ze zen couch

Moral Vision in Harry Brown

I think the problem with the moral vision in Harry Brown is that the writer – Gary Young – has Harry compare  the Troubles in Northern Ireland with social unrest on the council estates of England.
Harry states that those fighting in Northern Ireland were fighting for ‘a cause’, whereas the youth hurling petrol bombs at riot police on London’s council estates were doing it for ‘entertainment.’
I don’t believe lower class social unrest is ‘entertainment’ at all, but that this anger comes from deep-seated resentment at the rich, ruling classes and at capitalism. I agree with this statement:
“…self-destructive or antisocial behavior is a response to circumstances and not a moral failing.”

- from this article on the Open Democracy website about capitalism and drug legalization.

CHAVS – The Demonization of The Working Classes by Owen Jones looks like a good read on this subject.



Need & Revelations

Screenwriting teacher Chris Soth, in his Million Dollar Screenwriting podcasts, discusses how the hero, as a direct result of understanding his inner need is able to either-

a) achieve his outward goal


b) discern that his original goal isn’t important after all.

Either way the character arc is complete.

John Truby splits ‘need’ into 2 categories: ‘psychological’ and ‘moral’.

Let’s break this down:

A psychological need is something the hero must achieve in order to stop causing harm to himself.

A moral need is something he must achieve in order to stop causing harm to others.

Truby says the best stories have both.

In order to realize these needs, for the subconscious to become conscious, the hero must have a revelation, either psychological, moral, or both.

However, it’s not always as simple as that.

In some stories the hero may be incapable of a revelation. For example, in The Godfather, Truby explains, the writers give the revelation to Kay, Michael Corleone’s wife (read Anatomy of Story for the full analysis.)

Truby explains how a hero should take new moral action to prove the change has taken place.

What about your hero? What is his psychological and moral need? Is he capable of having a revelation? Is he capable of change?

If so, what action does he take to prove it?

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

Opening Chapter: The Catcher in the Rye

I’m reading The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger (1951) at the moment.

I thought it would be interesting to analyze the beginning to see what techniques Salinger used, and to see what we learn about his 1st person narrator in the opening pages.

First, there are 13 paragraphs. I will look at each paragraph in separate posts. So, this post:

Paragraph 1:

The first thing the writer does is show us that we have a kind of ‘reluctant’ story teller. He comes across as apathetic, showing little interest or enthusiasm. He says that he suspects we as readers would want to hear about his ‘lousy childhood’ but he ‘doesn’t feel like going into’

…all that David Copperfield kind of crap.

The instant literary reference tells us that he is a reader. His derision of Charles Dickens’ famous classic tells us he is direct with his opinions, not afraid to speak his mind.

We immediately get the idea that he’s young. However, we don’t know yet that he’s a boy. We find this out in paragraph 2.

He also forewarns us that he’s not going to tell us his

whole goddam autobiography

but that he’s going to focus on

madman stuff

that happened to him around

last Christmas

just before he got

pretty run down.

‘Madman stuff’ is vague. But know we are in for a short tale about a specific moment in his life, which grabs us. We are also introduced to one of his most-used verbal tics:


Yet because of the laziness in his voice we wonder why he needs to tell this story. We are intrigued.

Note also how he immediately introduces us to his family. First, his parents. He tells us they are nice but also

Touchy as hell.

He tells us that his parents would have ‘two hemorrhages a piece’ if he told us anything ‘personal’ about them.

Do we believe this? Is he really scared about causing them hemorrhages? Or is it a figure of speech? As I see it there are three explanations to his refusal to say anything personal about his parents.

1. He is genuinely concerned they will get sick.

2. He doesn’t want to upset them.

3. He is afraid of their reaction.

In contrast to his easy ability of offending the dead and distant Dickens, he is less willing to criticize his parents .

We don’t know what he means by ‘touchy as hell.’ He isn’t being specific. Because of this we don’t know if we can actually trust him.

Yet because a) he’s young and b) what he considers to be ‘touchy as hell’ could be a mature, responsible attitude we’re not yet sure if he’s a reliable narrator or an unreliable narrator.

Next he introduces us to his brother, D.B. He boasts to us about him, that he is in ‘Hollywood’ and that he owns a Jaguar. He boasts about him being a writer and about his ‘terrific book of short stories’ and about the effect one particular short story had on him -

It killed me.

- introducing us to another one of his (idiomatic) verbal tics.

Even though he expresses admiration for his brother he also despises his work, calling him a ‘prostitute.’ But to get to the truth of this we have to read between the lines:

Now he’s out in Hollywood being a prostitute. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the movies.

So, by prostitute he means ‘screenwriter’ !

Perhaps this reflects Salinger’s personal experience of Hollywood, as, according to Wikipedia:

In mid-1948, independent film producer Samuel Goldwyn offered to buy the film rights to his short story “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut“. Though Salinger sold his story the film version was lambasted by critics. It departed to such an extent from Salinger’s story that…as a result he never again permitted film adaptations to be made from his work.

So, to conclude, what 12 things do we learn about the narrator from this opening chapter?

1. He’s young.

2. He cares about those closest to him.

3. He reads.

4. He can offend easily (if the object of his insult is distant.)

5. He may be a reluctant story teller.

6. He may be an unreliable narrator.

7. He has positive and negative feelings about his parents.

8. He has positive and negative feelings about his brother.

9. He uses slang.

10. He uses idioms.

11. He is sometimes vague.

12. He makes us ‘read between the lines.’

Do you agree? Have I missed anything? What are your thoughts on the opening paragraph of this iconic novel?

JD Salinger

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…

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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





studying the craft of writing


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