Story: Substance, structure, style and the principles of screenwriting
Robert McKee.

A rule says, you must do it this way. A principle says, this works and has through all remembered time. Anxious, inexperienced writers obey rules. Rebellious, unschooled writers break rules. Artists master the form.

Story is about: principles, not rules; eternal, universal forms, not formulas; archetypes, not stereotypes; thoroughness, not shortcuts; the realities, not the mysteries of writing; mastering the art, not second guessing the marketplace; respect, not disdain, for the audience; originality, not duplication.

The honest, big-city answer to all these fears is that you”ll get an agent, sell your work and see it realized faithfully on screen when you write with surpassing quality… and not until.

When talented people write well, it is generally for this reason: they”re moved by a desire to touch the audience.

Great screenwriters are distinguished by a personal storytelling style, a style that is not only inseparable from their vision, but in a profound way is their vision.

Stripped of its surface of characterization and location, story structure reveals the writer”s personal cosmology, his insight into the deepest patterns and motivations for how and why things happen in this world – his map of Life”s hidden order.

Stories are equipment for living. (p. 11)

When storytelling goes bad, the result is decadence. (p. 13)

We need true satires and tragedies, dramas and comedies that shine a clean light into the dingy corners of the human psyche and society. (p. 13)

Self-knowledge is the key – life plus deep reflection on our reactions to life. (p. 15)

Other writers on writing to check: William Archer; Kenneth Rowe, Write that Play; John Howard Lawson, Film: The Creative Process and The Theory and Technique of Playwriting and Screenwriting. (p. 16)

The writer shapes story around a perception of what”s worth living for, what”s worth dying for, what”s foolish to pursue, the meaning of justice, truth-the essential values. (p. 17)

You must love to write and bear the loneliness.

Your goal must be a good story well told.

When the conscious mind is put to work on the objective task of executing the craft, the spontaneous surfaces. Mastery of craft frees the subconscious.

Story is metaphor for life.

Story is not life in actuality. What happens is fact, not truth. Truth is what we think about what happens.

From an instant to eternity, from the intracranial to the intergalactic, the life story of each and every character offers encyclopedic possibilities. The mark of a master is to select only a few moments but give us a lifetime.

Structure is a selection of events from the characters” life stories that is composed into a strategic sequence to arouse specific emotions and to express a specific view of life.

A story event creates meaningful change in the life situation of a character that is expressed and experienced in terms of a value.

Story values are the universal qualities of human experience that may shift from positive to negative, or negative to positive, from one moment to the next: love/hate, wisdom/stupidity, good/evil and right/wrong.

A story event creates meaningful change in the life situation of a character that is expressed and experienced in terms of a value and achieved through conflict.

A scene is an action through conflict in more or less continuous time and space that turns the value-charged condition of a character”s life on a t least one value with a degree of perceptible significance. Ideally, every scene is a story event.

If the value-charged condition of the character”s life stays unchanged from one end of a scene to the other, nothing meaningful happens. The scene has activity – talking about this or that – but nothing changes in value. It is a nonevent.

If exposition – to convey information about character, world or history to an eavesdropping audience – is a scene”s sole justification, a disciplined writer will trash it and weave its information into the film elsewhere.

Generally the test of whether a series of activities constitutes a true scene is this: could it have been written “in one,” in a unity of time and place?

A beat is an exchange of behavior in action/reaction. Beat by Beat these changing behaviors shape the turning of a scene. (p. 38)

A sequence is a series of scenes – generally two to five – that culminates with greater impact than any previous scene.

It is useful to title each sequence to make clear to yourself why it”s in the film. (p. 41)

An act is a series of sequences that peaks in a climactic scene which causes a major reversal of values, more powerful in its impact than any previous sequence or scene.

When you look at the value-charged situation in the life of the character at the beginning of the story, then compare it to the value-charge at the end of the story, you should see the arc of the film, the great sweep of change that takes life from one condition at the opening to the changed condition at the end . This final condition, this end change, must be absolute and irreversible.

A story climax is a series of acts that build to a last act climax or story climax which brings about absolute and irreversible change.

To plot means to navigate through the dangerous terrain of story and when confronted by a dozen branching possibilities to choose the correct path. Plot is the writer”s choice of events and their design in time.

Classical design means a story built around an active protagonist who struggles against primarily external forces of antagonism to pursue his or her desire, through continuous time, within a consistent and causally connected fictional reality, to a closed ending of absolute, irreversible change.

Classical design/Archplot — Citizen Kane and The Seven Samurai: causality, closed ending, linear time, external conflict, single protagonist, consistent reality, active protagonist.

Minimalism/Miniplot — Tender Mercies and Shall We Dance: open ending, internal conflict, multi-protagonists, passive protagonist.

Anti-Structure/Antiplot — Stranger in Paradise and Wayne”s World: non-linear time, inconsistent realities.

Formal Differences Within The Story Triangle: Closed vs. Open Endings; External vs. Internal Conflict; Single vs. Multiple Protagonists; Active vs. Passive Protagonist (an active protagonist, in the pursuit of desire, takes action in direct conflict with the people and the world around him; a passive protagonist is outwardly inactive while pursuing desire inwardly, in conflict with aspect of his or her own nature.; Linear vs. Nonlinear Time; Causality vs. Coincidence; Consistent vs. Inconsistent Realities and Change vs. Stasis. (p. 57)

The Politics of Story Design, the writer must earn his living writing, master classical form and believe in what they write.

The source of all clichés can be traced to one thing and one thing alone: the writer does not know the world of his story.

A story”s setting is four-dimensional – period, a story’s place in time; duration, a story’s length through time; location, a story’s plae in space; and level of conflict, the story”s position on the hierarchy of human struggles

A story must obey it own internal laws of probability. The event choices of the writer, therefore, are limited to the possibilities and probabilities with the world he creates.

An honest story is at home in one, and only one, place and time.

The Principle of Creative Limitation. The irony of setting versus story is this: the larger the world, the more diluted the knowledge of the writer, therefore the few his creative choices and the more clichéd the story. The smaller the world, the more complete the knowledge of the writer, therefore the greater his creative choices. Result: a fully original story and victory in the war on cliché.

Research is not daydreaming. Explore your past, relive it, then write it down.

In vivid detail sketch how your characters shop, make love, pray – scenes that may or may not find their way into your story, but draw you into your imagined world until I feels like dèjá vu.

Talent must be stimulated by facts and ideas. Do Research. Feed your talent. Research not only wins the war on cliché, it”s the key to victory over fear and its cousin, depression.

The “virgin birth” is a charming self-deception writers love to indulge in, but the sudden impression that the story is writing itself simply marks the moment when a writer”s knowledge of the subject has reached the saturation point.

A story is not an accumulation of information strung into a narrative, but a design of events to carry us to a meaningful climax.

Creativity means creative choices of inclusion and exclusion.

Ask myself: which scene is truest for my characters; which is truest to their world; which has never been on the screen quite this way before?

No matter our talent, we all know in the midnight of our souls that 90 percent of what we do is less than our best.

The Film Genres I: Love story/buddy salvation; Horror — Uncanny, Supernatural and Super-uncanny; Modern Epic; Western; War — Pro-war and Anti-war; Maturation; Redemption; Punitive; Testing; Education and Disillusionment.

The Film Genres II: Comedy — Parody, Satire, Sitcom, Romantic, Screwball, Farce and Black; Crime — Murder, Caper, Detective, Gangster, Thriller/Revenge, Courtroom., Newspaper, Espionage, Prison and Film noir.

The Film Genres III: Social — Domestic, Woman”s, Political, Eco, Medical, Psycho, Action/adventure, High adventure and Disaster/survival.

p. Historical. [Supra-genres p-y] The only legitimate excuse to set a film (or story?) in the past and thereby add untold millions to the budget, is anachronism – to use the past as a clear glass through which you show us the present.
q. Biography/autobiography.
r. Docu-drama.
s. Mockumentary.
t. Musical.
u. Science fiction.
v. Sports.
w. Fantasy.
x. Animation.
y. Art.
i Minimalism.
ii Antistructure.
2. The Relationship Between Structure and Genre. Genre conventions are specific settings, roles, events and values that define individual genres and their sub-genres.
3. Mastery of Genre.
a. To anticipate the anticipations of my audience I must master my genre and its conventions.
b. Genre study.
i List all those works I feel are like mine, both successes and failures.
ii Rent the films on video and purchase the screenplays, if possible.
iii Study the films stop and go, turning pages with the screen, breaking each film down into elements of setting, role event and value.
iv Examine the analyses looking asking:
a. What do the stories in my genre always do?
b. What are the conventions of time, place, character and action?
c. I don”t want people coming to my work cold and vague, not knowing what to expect, forcing me to spend the first twenty minutes of screen-time cluing them towards the necessary story attitude. I want them to settle into their seats, warm and focused with an appetite I intend to satisfy.
d. Shakespeare didn”t call his play Hamlet, he called it The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.
4. Creative Limitations.
a. “Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down,” Robert Frost.
b. Talent is like muscle, without something to push against, it atrophies.
c. The challenge is to keep convention, but avoid cliché.
5. Mixing Genres.
6. Reinventing Genres.
a. The audience wants to know how it feels to be alive on the knife edge of the now.
b. Innovative writers are not only contemporary, they are visionary. They have their ear to the wall of history, and as things, change, they can sense the way society is leaning toward the future. They then produce works that break convention and take the genres into their next generation.
c. The Gift of Endurance. What”s my favorite genre? [Add this to my grasscatcher list.]
D. Chapter 5: Structure and Character.
1. Character vs. Characterization.
a. Characterization is the sum of all observable qualities of a human being, everything knowable through careful scrutiny – all aspects of humanity we could know by taking notes on someone day in and day out.
b. Character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character”s essential nature.
c. The only way to know the truth is to witness the character make choices under pressure to take one action or another in the pursuit of a desire. As the character chooses, so the character is.
2. Character Revelation. The revelation of deep character in contrast or contradiction to characterization is fundamental in major characters. Minor roles may or may not need hidden dimensions, but principals must be written in depth – they cannot be at heart what they seem to be at face.
3. Character Arc. The finest writing not only reveals true character, but arcs or changes that inner nature, for better or worse, over the course of the telling.
4. Structure and Character Functions.
a. The function of structure is to provide progressively building pressures that force characters into more and more difficult dilemmas where they must make more and more difficult risk-taking choices and actions, gradually revealing their true natures, even down to the unconscious self.
b. The function of character is to bring to the story the qualities of characterization necessary to convincingly act out choices. Put simply, a character must be credible: young enough or old enough, strong or weak, worldly or naïve, educated or ignorant, generous or selfish, witty or dull, in the right proportions. Each must bring to the story the combination of qualities that allows the audience to believe the character could and would do what he does.
5. Climax and Character. “Writing is easy, just stare at the blank page until your forehead bleeds,” Gene Fowler.
E. Chapter 6: Structure and Meaning.
1. Aesthetic Emotion.
a. The source of all art is the human psyche”s primal, prelinguistic need for the resolution of stress and discord through beauty and harmony, for the use of creativity to revive a life deadened by routine, for a link to reality though our instinctive, sensory feel for the truth.
b. A story well told give you the very thing you cannot get from life: meaningful emotional experience.
i In life, experiences become meaningful with reflection in time.
ii In art, experiences are meaningful now, at the instant they happen.
2. Premise.
a. The premise awakens what waits within, the visions or convictions nascent in the writer. The sum total of his experience has prepared him for this moment and he reacts to it as only he would.
b. We want unfettered souls with the courage to take a point of view, artists whose insights startle and excite.
3. Structure as Rhetoric.
a. An artist must have not only ideas to express, but ideas to prove.
b. You want the world to leave your story convinced that yours is a truthful metaphor for life.
c. Storytelling is the creative demonstration of truth. A story is the living proof of an idea, the conversion of idea to action. A story”s event structure is the means by which you first express, then prove your idea… without explanation.
d. Master storytellers never explain. They do the hard, painfully creative thing – they dramatize.
e. The story”s meaning, whether comic or tragic, must be dramatized in an emotionally expressive story climax without the aid of explanatory dialogue.
4. Controlling Idea.
a. Introduction.
i A story becomes a kind of living philosophy that the reader grasps as a whole, in a flash, without conscious thought – a perception married to their life experiences. But the irony is this: The more beautifully you shape your work around on e clear idea, the more meanings audiences will discover in your story as they take your idea and follow its implications into every aspect of their lives. Conversely, the more ideas you try to pack into a story, the more they implode upon themselves, until the story collapses into a rubble of tangential notions, saying nothing.
ii The controlling idea (theme) of a story must be expressed in a single sentence describing how and why undergoes change from one condition of existence at the beginning of a story to another at the end.
iii The controlling idea has two components.
a. Value: the positive or negative charge of the story”s critical value at the last act”s climax.
b. Cause: the chief reason that this value has changed to its final state.
b. Meaning and the creative process.
i The controlling idea comes from answering these two questions.
a. Looking at the ending ask: As a result of this climatic action, what value, positively or negatively charged, is brought into the world of my protagonist?
b. Tracing backward from this climax, digging to the bedrock, ask: what is the chief cause, force or means by which this value is brought into the protagonist”s world?
ii The story tells you its meaning; you do not dictate meaning to the story. You do not draw action from idea, rather idea from action. No matter what the inspiration, ultimately the story embeds the controlling idea within the final climax, and when this events speaks its meaning, you will experience one of the most powerful moments in the writing life – self recognition: the story climax mirrors your inner self, and if your story is from the very best sources within you, more often than not you”ll be shocked by what you see reflected in it.
c. Idea vs. counter idea.
i Progressions build by moving dynamically between the positive and negative charges of the values at stake in the story.
ii This rhythm of Idea vs. Counter Idea, this “argument,” is fundamental and essential to our art.
5. Didacticism.
a. Didacticism – that which is intended to convey instruction or information as well as pleasure and entertainment – results from the naïve enthusiasm that fiction can be used like a scalpel to cut out the cancers of society.
b. A great work is a living metaphor that says, “life is like this.” The classics down through the ages, give us not solutions but lucidity, not answers but poetic candor; they make inescapably clear the problems all generation must solve to be human.
6. Idealist, Pessimist, Ironist.
a. Stories can be usefully divided into three grand categories, according to the emotional charge of their controlling idea.
i Idealistic controlling ideas: up-ending stories expressing the optimism, hopes and dreams of humanity, a positively charged vision of the human spirit; life as we wish it to be.
ii Pessimistic controlling ideas: down-ending stories expressing our cynicism, our sense of loss and misfortune, a negatively charged vision of civilization”s decline, of humanity”s dark dimensions; life as we dread it to be but know it so often is.
iii Ironic controlling ideas: up/down-ending stories expressing our sense of the complex, dual nature of existence, a simultaneously charged positive and negative vision; life at its most complete and realistic.
a. Positive irony: the compulsive pursuit of contemporary values – success, fortune, fame, sex and power – will destroy you, but if you see this truth in time and throw away your obsession, you can redeem yourself.
b. Negative irony: if you cling to your obsession, your ruthless pursuit will achieve your desire, then destroy you.
b. On irony. Irony is by far the most difficult to write. It demands the deepest wisdom and the highest craft for three reasons.
i It”s tough enough to come up with either a bright, idealistic ending or a sober, pessimistic climax that”s satisfying and convincing. But an ironic climax is a single action that makes both a positive and a negative statement. How to do two in one?
ii How to say both clearly? Irony doesn”t mean ambiguity. Ambiguity is a blur; one thing cannot be distinguished from another. But there”s nothing ambiguous about irony; it”s a clear, double declaration of what”s gained and what”s lost, side by side. Nor does irony mean coincidence. A true irony is honesty motivated. Stories that end by random chance, doubly charged or not, are meaningless, not ironic.
iii If at climax the life situation of the protagonist is both positive and negative, how to express it so that the two charges remain separated in the audience”s experience and don”t cancel each other out, and you end up saying nothing?
7. Meaning and Society.
a. Authoritative personalities fear the threat that comes not from idea, but from emotion. Those in power never want us to feel. Thought can be controlled and manipulated, but emotion is willful and unpredictable.
b. We have only one responsibility: to tell the truth.
c. Although an artist may, in his private life, lie to others, even to himself, when he creates he tells the truth; and in a world of lies and liars, an honest work of art is always an act of social responsibility.
III The Principles of Story Design. “When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to it utmost – and will produce it richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl.” T.S. Elliot.
A. Chapter 7: The Substance of Story.
1. The Protagonist
a. The protagonist is a willful character.
b. The protagonist has a conscious desire.
c. The protagonist may also have a self-contradictory unconscious desire.
d. The protagonist has the capacities to pursue the object of desire convincingly.
e. The protagonist must have at least chance to attain the desire.
i He must have the will and the capacity to pursue the object of his conscious and/or unconscious desire to the end of the line, to the human limit established by setting and genre.
ii A story must build to a final action beyond which the audience cannot imagine another.
f. The protagonist must be empathetic; he may or may not be sympathetic.
2. The Audience Bond.
a. Through empathy, the vicarious linking or ourselves to a fictional human being, we test and stretch our humanity. The gift of story is the opportunity to live lives beyond our own, to desire and struggle in a myriad of worlds and times, at all the various depths of our being.
b. Empathy, therefore, is absolute, while sympathy is optional.
3. The First Step. In story, we concentrate on that moment, and only that moment, in which a character takes an action expecting a useful reaction from his world, but instead the effect of his action is to provoke forces of antagonism. The world of the character reacts differently than expected, more powerfully than expected, or both.
4. The World of a Character.
5. The Gap.
a. Story is born in that place where the subjective and objective realms touch.
| GAP |< -Inner conflicts Protagonist ->|between expectation | < -Personal conflicts | and result |<-Extra-personal | conflicts | Second action - RISK! > Object of desire
b. Necessity is absolute truth.
i Necessity is what in fact happens when we act.
ii The truth is known – and can only be known – when we take action into the depth and breadth of our world and brave its reaction.
6. On Risk.
a. A simple test.
i What is the risk? What does the protagonist stand to lose if he does not get what he wants?
ii If this question cannot be answered in a compelling way, the story is misconceived at its core.
b. Life teaches that the measure of the value of any human desire is in direct proportion to the risk involved in its pursuit.
c. We not only create stories as metaphors for life, we create them as metaphors for meaningful life – and to live meaningfully is to be at perpetual risk.
d. You [the writer] are willing to risk people. Every morning you go to your desk and enter the imagined world of your characters. You dream and write until the sun”s setting and your head”s throbbing. So you turn off your word processor to be with the person you love. Except that, while you can turn off your machine, you can”t turn off your imagination. As you sit at dinner, your characters are still running though your head and you”re wishing there was a notepad next to your plate. Sooner or later, the person you love will say: You know… you”re not really here.” Which is true. Half the time you”re somewhere else, and no one wants to live with somebody who isn”t really there.
7. The Gap in Progression.
a. The Gap is that place where human spirit and the World meet.
b. Here the writer finds the most powerful, life-bending moments.
c. The only way we can reach this crucial junction is by working from the inside out.
8. Writing From the Inside Out.
a. To create revealing human reactions, you must not only get inside your character, but get inside yourself.
b. Levels of asking that miss the mark.
i Clich̩/moralizing Рhow should this character act?
ii Cute/dishonest – how might this character act?
iii Distanced – what would the character do?
iv Honest for the writer – what would I do?
c. The question that hits the mark – if I were this character in these circumstances, what would I do?
d. Stanislavski”s “Magic If.”
i Act the role.
ii Writers are improvisationalists who perform sitting at their word processors, pacing their rooms, acting all their characters: man , woman , child, monster. We act in our imaginations until honest, character-specific emotions flow in our blood. When a scene is emotionally meaningful to us, we can trust that it”ll be meaningful to the audience.
iii By creating work that moves you, you move the reader.
9. Creating Within the Gap.
a. Introduction.
i If I were the character under these circumstances, what would I do?
ii Finding your way to that reaction and action, you then step right out again asking, “and what is the opposite of that?”
b. Fine writing emphasizes reactions.
i The richest and most satisfying pleasures of all are found in stories that focus on the reaction s that events cause and the insight gained.
ii A “pointless pace killer” is any scene in which reactions lack insight and imagination, forcing expectation to equal result.
iii You write so that when someone else reads your pages he will, beat by beat, gap by gap, live through the roller coaster of life that you lived through at your desk.
iv The words on the page allow the reader to plunge into each gap, seeing what you dreamed, feeling what you felt, learning what you understood until, like you, the reader”s pulse pounds, emotions flow and meaning is made.
10. The Substance and Energy of Story.
B. Chapter 8: The Inciting Incident.
1. Introduction.
a. All story is a design in five parts.
i The Inciting Incident.
ii Progressive Complications.
iii Crisis.
iv Climax.
v Resolution.
b. Compare to Vogler”s Hero”s Journey
i Act I
a. Ordinary World.
b. Call to Adventure.
c. Refusal of the Call.
d. Mentor
e. First Threshold.
ii Act II
a. Tests, Allies and Enemies.
b. Approach to Inmost Cave. [Crisis]
c. Ordeal. [Crisis]
d. Reward (Seizing the Sword).
iii Act III
a. The Road Back.
b. Resurrection. [Climax]
c. Return with the Elixir. [Climax]
2. The World of Story.
a. Setting. The dimensions of the frame of a story are:
i Period.
ii Duration.
iii Location.
iv Level of conflict.
b. To inspire the multitude of creative choices you need to tell an original, cliché-free story, and you must fill that frame with a depth and breadth of detail.
c. Questions that help to create that depth and breadth.
i How do my characters make a living?
ii What are the politics of my world? [Old gypsy expression: “He who confesses first loses.”]
iii What are the rituals of my world?
iv What are the values in my world?
v What is the genre or combination of genres?
vi What are the biographies of the characters?
vii What is the Backstory?
a. Backstory is not life history or biography.
b. Backstory is the set of significant events that occurred in the characters” past that the writer can use to build the story”s progressions.
c. We landscape character biographies, planting them with events that become a garden to harvest again and again.
viii What is my cast design?
a. The first principle of cast design is polarization.
b. Between the various roles you must devise a network of contrasting or contradictory values.
3. Authorship.
a. Authorship leads to Authority leads to Authenticity.
b. “For the purpose of story a convincing impossibility is preferable to an unconvincing possibility,” Aristotle.
c. Authenticity depends upon the telling detail. When we use a few selected details, the audience”s imagination supplies the rest, completing a credible whole.
4. The Inciting Incident.
a. The inciting incident radically upsets the balance of forces in the protagonist”s life.
b. Occasionally, an inciting incident needs two events: a set up and a payoff. If the logic of an inciting incident requires a payoff, the writer cannot delay that payoff – at least not for very long – and keep the protagonist ignorant of the fact that his life is out of balance.
c. The protagonist must react to the inciting incident.
d. For those protagonists we tend to admire the most, the inciting incident arouses:
i A conscious desire.
ii An unconscious desire.
5. The Spine of the Story.
a. The energy of a protagonist”s desire forms the critical element of design known as the spine of the story.
b. The spine is the deep desire in and effort by the protagonist to restore the balance of life.
6. The Quest: for better or worse, an event throws a character”s life out of balance, arousing in him the conscious and/or unconscious desire for that which he feels will restore balance, launching him on a quest for his object of desire against forces of antagonism (inner, personal and/or extra-personal). He may or may not achieve it. This is story in a nutshell.
7. Design of the Inciting Incident.
a. The inciting incident happens one of two ways:
i By design.
ii By accident.
b. The inciting incident must happen “on screen” because…
i It provokes the story”s major dramatic question.
ii It projects an image of the obligatory scene.
8. Locating the Inciting Incident.
a. The inciting incident occurs within the first 25 percent of the work.
b. If it occurs between 12.5 percent and 25 percent of the work, the writer risks boring the reader. The reader should be engaged in a subplot if the inciting incident is to occur this late in the work.
c. Bring in the central plot”s inciting incident as soon as possible; but not until the moment is ripe.
d. How much must the reader know about the protagonist and his world to have a full response?
e. If we writers have a common fault in design and placement of the inciting incident, it”s that we habitually delay the central plot while we pack our opening sequences with exposition. We consistently underestimate knowledge and life experience of the reader, laying out our characters and world with tedious details the reader has already filled in with common sense. [“I try not to write the parts that people skip over,” Elmore Leonard.]
9. The Quality of the Inciting Incident.
a. Does it radically upset the balance of forces in the protagonist”s life?
b. Does it arouse in the protagonist the desire to restore balance?
c. Does it inspire in him the conscious desire for that object, material or immaterial, he feels would restore the balance?
d. In a complex protagonist, does it also bring to life an unconscious desire that contradicts his conscious need?
e. Does it launch the protagonist on a quest for his desire?
f. Does it raise the major dramatic question in the mind of the reader?
g. Does it project an image of the obligatory scene?
10. Creating the Inciting Incident.
a. Two questions to answer:
i What is the worst possible thing that can happen to my protagonist?
ii How could that turn out to be the best possible thing that can happen to my protagonist?
b. Or:
i What is the best possible thing that can happen to my protagonist?
ii How could that turn out to be the worst possible thing that can happen to my protagonist?
C. Chapter 9: Act Design: Progressive Complications.
1. Points of no return.
a. A story must not retreat to actions of lesser quality or magnitude, but move progressively forward to a final action beyond which the audience cannot imagine another.
b. Generally an Archplot is designed around forty to sixty scenes that conspire into twelve to eighteen sequences that build into three or more acts that top one another continuously to the end of the line.
c. If you devise only the forty to sixty scenes need to fill the 120 pages of a screenplay, your work is almost certain to be antiprogressive and repetitious.
2. The Law of Conflict: Nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict. This is the soul of story.
a. The music of story is conflict. As long as conflict engages our thoughts and emotions we travel through the hours unaware of the voyage.
b. Story is metaphor for life, and to be alive is to be in seemingly perpetual conflict.
c. Works of writers who cannot grasp the truth of our transitory existence fail for one of two reasons.
i A glut of meaningless and absurdly violent conflict.
ii A vacancy of meaningful and honestly expressed conflict.
d. While the quality of conflict changes as it shifts from level to level, the quantity of conflict in life is constant.
e. If we are to live with any sense of satisfaction, we must engage life”s forces of antagonism before the train (death) arrives.
f. Life is conflict. That is its nature. The writer must decide where and how to orchestrate this struggle.
3. Complications vs. Complexity.
a. Complication is conflict at any one level.
i Inner conflict.
ii Personal conflict.
iii Extra-personal conflict.
b. Complexity is conflict at all three levels.
i Inner conflict.
ii Personal conflict.
iii Extra-personal conflict.
c. Design relatively simple but complex stories. Relatively simple does not mean simplistic. It means beautifully turned and told stories restrained by two principles:
i Do not proliferate characters.
ii Do not multiply locations.
4. Act Design.
a. Three major reversals are the necessary minimum for a full-length work of narrative art to reach the end of the line.
b. There are two solutions to the long second act.
i Add subplots.
ii Add acts.
a. The multiplication of acts invites cliché.
b. The multiplication of acts reduces the impact of climaxes and results in repetitiousness.
c. Three acts with subplots has become a kind of standard because it fits the creative powers of most writers, provides complexity and avoids repetition.
5. Design Variations.
a. Stories vary according to the number of major reversals in the telling.
b. The shapes of stories vary according to the placement of the inciting incident.
6. False Ending.
7. Act Rhythm.
a. Repetitiousness is the enemy of rhythm.
b. If the protagonist achieves his object of desire, making the last act”s story climax positive, then the penultimate act climax must be negative. You cannot set up an unending with an upending.
8. Subplots and Multiple Plots.
a. A subplot may be used to contradict the controlling idea of the central plot and thus enrich the story with irony.
b. A subplot may be used to resonate the controlling idea of the central plot and enrich the story with variations on a theme.
c. A subplot may be used to open the story when the central plot”s inciting incident must be delayed.
d. A subplot may be sued to complicate the central plot.
D. Chapter 10: Scene Design.
1. Turning Points.
a. Introduction.
i A scene is a story in miniature – an action through conflict in a unity or continuity of time and space that turns the value-charged condition of a character”s life.
ii A scene is unified around:
a. Desire.
b. Action.
c. Conflict.
d. Change.
iii The effect is to crack open the gap between expectation and result, turning his outer fortunes, inner life, or both from positive to negative or the negative to the positive in terms of values the reader understands are at risk.
iv Every scene is a minor, moderate or major turning point.
v The effects of turning point are fourfold:
a. Surprise.
b. Increased curiosity.
c. Insight.
d. New Direction.
b. The Question of Self-Expression.
i The storyteller leads us into expectation, makes us think we understand, then cracks open reality, creating surprise and curiosity, sending us back through the story again and again.
ii First, last and always, self-expression occurs in the flood of insight that pours our of a turning point.
2. Setups/Payoffs.
a. In story telling, logic is retroactive.
b. Primary and preconditional to everything else is imagination – the willingness to think any crazy idea, to let images that may or may not make sense find their way to you. Nine out of ten will be useless. Yet one logical idea may put butterflies in your belly, a flutter that”s telling you something wonderful is hidden in this mad notion. In an intuitive flash you see the connection and realize you can go back and make it make sense.
c. Logic is child”s play. Imagination takes you to the reader.
3. Emotional Transitions.
a. There are only two emotions:
i Pleasure.
ii Pain.
b. As reader, we experience an emotion when the telling takes us through a transition of values. Within these conditions, a change in values moves our emotions.
i First, we must empathize with the character.
ii Second, we must know what the character wants and want the character to have it.
iii Third, we must understand the values at stake in the character”s life.
c. The Law of Diminishing Returns states: the more often we experience something, the less effect it has.
d. Emotion and feeling are not one and the same.
i Emotion is a short-term experience that peaks and burns rapidly.
ii Feeling is a long-term, pervasive , sentient background that colors whole days, weeks, even years of our lives.
e. Feeling is known as “mood” and is a form of foreshadowing.
4. The Nature of Choice.
a. The choice between good and evil or between right and wrong is no choice at all.
b. A human being is only capable of acting towards the right or the good as he has come to believe it or rationalize. [How does this play out with Lestat, the brat who refuses to be bad at being bad?]
c. True choice is dilemma and it occurs in two situations.
i First, a choice between irreconcilable goods.
ii Second, a choice between the lesser of two evils.
E. Chapter 11: Scene Analysis.
1. Text and Subtext.
a. Text is the sensory surface of a story.
b. Subtext is the life under that surface – thoughts and feelings both known and unknown, hidden by behavior.
c. Nothing is ever what it seems.
i This principle calls for the writer”s constant awareness of the duplicity of life, his recognition that everything exists on a t least two levels, and that, therefore, he must write a simultaneously duality:
a. First he must create a verbal description of the sensory surface of life, sight and sound, activity and talk.
b. Second he must crate the inner world of unconscious and unconscious desire, action and reaction, impulse and id, genetic and experiential imperatives.
ii The writer must veil the truth with a living mask, the actual thoughts and feelings of characters behind their saying and doing.
iii “If the scene is about what the scene is about, you”re in deep shit.”
d. The storyteller is the guide who takes the reader beyond what seems to what is.
e. The storyteller gives us the pleasure of that life denies, the pleasure of sitting in the dark ritual of story, looking through the face of life to the heart of what is felt and thought beneath what”s said and done.
f. “Good actors will not step in front of a camera without their subtext.” How then does the writer allow his characters to protest stepping onto a page without their subtext?
g. A scene is not about what the scene seems to be about. It”s about something else. And it”s the something else that will make the scene work.
h. Lunatics are those poor souls who have lost their inner communication and so they allow themselves to say and do exactly what they are thinking and feeling and that”s why they”re mad.
i. The most passionate moments must conceal an even deeper level.
j. Characters may say and do anything you can imagine. But because it”s impossible for any human being to tell or act the complete truth, because at the very least there”s always an unconscious dimension, the writer must layer in a subtext. And when the reader senses that subtext, the scene plays.
7. The Technique of Scene Analysis.
a. Step one: define conflict.
i Who drives the scene, motivates it, and makes it happen?
ii What does he want?
a. To do this…
b. To get that…
iii What forces of antagonism block this desire?
iv What do the forces of antagonism want?
a. Not to do this…
b. To get this instead of…
v If the scene is well written, when you compare the set of phrases expressing the desires from each side, you”ll see that they”re in direct conflict – not tangential.
b. Step two: note opening value.
i Note the opening value.
ii Note it”s charge: positive or negative.
c. Step three: break the scene into beats.
i Look carefully at the scene”s first action:
a. What does the character seem to be doing?
b. What is the character actually doing?
ii Name this subtext with an active gerund phrase, i.e.
a. Begging.
b. Pleading.
c. Groveling at her feet.
iii What reaction does that action bring, i.e. ignoring the plea.
iv This exchange of action and reaction is a beat. The action/reaction do not have to opposed, they can be supportive. [See page 276, beat No. 3.]
v A new beat does not occur until behavior clearly changes.
a. Pleading/ignoring the plea followed by more pleading/ignoring the pleas is still one beat.
b. Pleading/ignoring the plea followed by threatening/laughing at the threat is two beats.
d. Step four: note closing value and compare with opening value.
i If the value hasn”t changed, the scene is flat and exposition only has passed to the reader.
ii If the value changes, then the scene has turned.
e. Step five: survey beats and locate turning point.
i Start from the opening beat and review the gerund phrases describing the actions of the characters, looking for the shape or pattern.
ii Within the arc locate the moment when the major gap opens between expectation and result, turning the scene to its changed end values; this precise moment is the turning point.
8. Example No. 1: Casablanca.
9. Example No. 2: Through a Glass Darkly.
F. Chapter 12: Composition.
1. Unity and Variety.
a. This sentence, drawn from any plot, should be logical: because of the inciting incident, the climax had to happen.
b. Unity is insufficient, there must also be variety.
i Tragic in the comic.
ii Political in the personal.
iii Extraordinary in the usual.
iv Trivial in the exalted.
2. Pacing is the balance between:
a. Serenity, harmony and peace.
b. Challenge, tension, danger and fear.
3. Rhythm and Tempo.
a. Rhythm is set by the length of scenes; how long are we in the same time and place? [How should chapters vary in length?]
b. Tempo is the level of activity with a scene via dialogue, action or a combination.
c. We must earn the pause of the climax by telescoping rhythm while spiraling tempo so that when the climax arrives, we can put the brakes on, stretch the playing time and the tension holds.
4. Expressing Progression. When a story genuinely progresses it calls upon greater and grater human capacity; demands greater and greater willpower; generates greater and greater changers in character” lives; and places them at greater and greater jeopardy. There are four primary techniques to express this and allow the reader to sense the progressions.
a. Social Progression: widen the impact of character actions into society.
b. Personal Progression: drive actions deeply into the intimate relationships and inner lives of characters. If logic disallows widening the story, go deep, hammer the story downward – emotionally, psychologically, physically – morally to the dark secrets, the unspoken truths that hide behind the public mask.
c. Symbolic Ascension: build the symbolic charge of the story”s imagery from the particular to the universal, the specific to the archetypal.
d. Ironic Ascension: turn progression into irony.
i Examples.
a. He gets at last what he”s always wanted, but too late to have it.
b. He”s pushed further and further from his goal, only to discover that in fact he”s been led right to it.
c. He throws away what he later finds is indispensable to his happiness.
d. To reach a goal he unwittingly takes the precise steps necessary to lead him away.
e. The action he takes to destroy something becomes exactly what are needed to be destroyed by it.
f. He comes into possession of something he”s certain will make him miserable, does everything possible to get rid of it, only to discover it”s the gift of happiness.
ii The key to ironic progression is certainty and precision. These are stories of protagonists who feel they know for certain what they must do and have a precise plan how to do it. They think life is a b c d e. That”s just when life like to turn you around, kick you in the butt and grin: “not today, my friend. Today it”s e d c b a. Sorry.”
5. Principle of Transition.
a. The third element, the element between scenes, is the hinge for a transition; something held in common by two scenes or counterpointed between them.
b. Examples:
i A characterization trait.
a. Bratty child to childish adult.
b. Awkward protagonist to elegant antagonist.
ii An action.
a. Foreplay to afterglow.
b. Chatter to cold silence.
iii An object.
a. Greenhouse interior to woodland exterior.
b. Congo to Antarctica.
iv A word.
a. A phrase repeated from scene to scene.
b. Compliment to curse.
v A quality of light.
a. Shadows at dawn to shade at sunset.
b. Blue to red.
vi A sound.
a. Waves lapping a shore to the rise and fall of a sleeper”s breath.
b. Silk caressing skin to the grinding of gears.
vii An idea.
a. Child”s birth to overture.
b. Painter”s empty canvas to an old man dying.
G. Chapter 13: Crisis, Climax, Resolution.
1. Crisis.
a. In Chinese: danger/opportunity.
b. This dilemma confronts the protagonist who, when face-to-face with the most powerful and focused forces of antagonism in his life, must make a decision to take one action or another, in a last effort to achieve his object of desire. [Question: what if he can”t take the action, can”t make the effort? This too is a decision, a decision to not act. How does that play out?]
2. Crisis Within the Climax.
a. Introduction.
i If, as the protagonist takes the climactic action, we once more pry apart the gap between expectation and result, if we can split probability from necessity just one more time, we may create a majestic ending the audience will treasure for a lifetime. For a climax built around a turning point is the most satisfying of all.
ii The protagonist draws on the dregs of willpower, chooses an action he believes will achieve his desire, but, as always, his world won”t cooperate. Reality splits and he must improvise. The protagonist may or may not get what he wants, but it won”t be the way he expects.
b. Placement of the crisis. The location of the crisis is determined by the length of the climactic action.
i Generally, crisis and climax happen in the last minutes and in the same scene.
ii The climax may become an expansive action with it”s own progressions. As a result it is possible to use the crisis decision to turn the penultimate act climax, filling all of the final act with climactic action.
iii In rare examples, the crisis decision immediately follows the inciting incident and the entire story becomes climactic action.
c. Design of the crisis.
i Generally, the crisis decision and climactic action take place in continuous time within the same location at the very end of the story.
ii However…
a. The crisis decision may occur in one location and the story climax in another setting.
b. If this is the case, then the two must be spliced together, fusing them into time and space.
iii The crisis decision must be a deliberately static moment.
3. Climax.
a. The story climax must be full of meaning.
b. Meaning is a revolution in values from positive to negative or negative to positive with or without irony – a value swing at maximum charge that”s absolute and irreversible. The meaning of that change moves the heart of the audience.
c. The action that creates this change must be pure, clear and self-evident, requiring no explanation.
d. The climax of the last act is your great imaginative leap. Without it, you have no story. Until you have it, your characters wait like suffering patients praying for a cure.
e. Climax and subplots.
i If logic allows, climax subplots within the central plot”s climax.
ii If this multiplying effect is impossible, the least important subplots are climaxed earliest, followed by the most important, building overall to climax of the central plot.
f. William Goldman argues that the key to all story endings is to give the reader what he wants, but not the way he expects.
i What the audience wants is emotional satisfaction – a climax that fulfills anticipation.
ii We give the reader the experience we”ve promised, but not in the way it expects. This is what separates artist from amateur.
4. Resolution.
a. Resolution is any material left after climax.
b. Possible uses of the material.
i To resolve subplots that logic prohibited resolving before or during the climax.
ii To show the spread of climactic effects.
iii If the first two don”t apply, then all stories need a resolution as a courtesy to the reader.
IV The Writer at Work. “The first draft of anything is shit,” Ernest Hemmingway.
A. Chapter 14: The Principle of Antagonism.
1. Introduction.
a. The Principle of Antagonism is that a protagonist and his story can only be as intellectually fascinating and emotionally compelling as the forces of antagonism make them.
b. The more powerful and complex the forces of antagonism opposing the character, the more completely realized character and story must become.
c. If we study a protagonist at the moment of the inciting incident and weigh the sum of his willpower along with his intellectual, emotional, social and physical capacities against the total forces of antagonism from within his humanity, plus his personal conflicts, antagonistic institutions and environment, we should see clearly that he is a underdog. He has a chance to achieve what he wants – but only a chance. Although conflict from one aspect of his life may seem solvable, the totality of all levels should seem overwhelming as he begins his quest.
2. Taking Story And Character To The End Of The Line.
a. A story that progresses to the limit of human experience in depth and breadth of conflict must move through a pattern that includes, the contrary, the contradictory and the negation of the negation.
b. Examples:
i Justice.
a. P = Justice.
b. C1 = Injustice.
c. C2 = Unfairness.
d. N2 = Tyranny.
e. Note: The absolute depth of injustice is not criminality, but “legal” crimes committed by governments against their own citizens.
ii Love.
a. P = Love.
b. C1 = Hate.
c. C2 = Indifference.
d. N2 = Self-hate/hate masquerading as love.
iii Truth.
a. P = Truth.
b. C1 = Lies.
c. C2 = White lies/half truths.
d. N2 = Self-deception.
iv Consciousness.
a. P = Consciousness.
b. C1 = Death.
c. C2 = Unconsciousness.
d. N2 = Damnation.
v Rich.
a. P = Rich.
b. C1 = Poor and suffering the pains of poverty.
c. C2 = Middle class.
d. N2 = Rich but suffering the pains of poverty.
vi Communication.
a. P = Communication.
b. C1 = Isolation.
c. C2 = Alienation.
d. N2 = Insanity.
vii Success.
a. P = Success.
b. C1 = Failure.
c. C2 = Compromise.
d. N2 = Selling out.
viii Wisdom.
a. P = Wisdom.
b. C1 = Stupidity.
c. C2 = Ignorance.
d. N2 = Stupidity perceived as intelligence.
ix Freedom.
a. P = Freedom.
b. C1 = Slavery.
c. C2 = Restraint.
d. N2 = Slavery perceived as freedom.
x Bravery.
a. P = Bravery.
b. C1 = Cowardice.
c. C2 = Fear.
d. N2 = Cowardice perceived as courage.
xi Loyalty.
a. P = Loyalty.
b. C1 = Betrayal.
c. C2 = Split allegiance.
d. N2 = Self-betrayal.
xii Maturity.
a. P = Maturity.
b. C1 = Immaturity.
c. C2 = Childishness.
d. N2 = Immaturity perceived as maturity.
xiii Sanctioned natural sex.
a. P = Sanctioned natural sex.
b. C1 = Unsanctioned unnatural sex.
c. C2 = Unsanctioned natural sex.
d. C2 = Sanctioned unnatural sex.
e. N2 = Grotesque abhorrent sex.
f. Note:
1. Sanctioned means condoned by society.
2. Natural means sex for procreation, attendant pleasure and an expression of Love.
c. If a story does not reach the Negation of the Negation, it may strike the audience as satisfying – but never brilliant, never sublime.
d. All other factors of talent, craft and knowledge being equal, greatness is found in the writer”s treatment of the negative side.
e. In general, progressions run:
i From positive to contrary in Act One.
ii To the Contradictory in Act Two.
iii To the Negation of the Negation in Act Three and ending…
a. Tragically, or
b. Positive with a profound difference.
f. Anything is possible, but the end of the line must be reached.
g. Questions to be answered about the values at stake and their progression:
i What are the positive values?
ii Which is preeminent and turns the story climax?
iii Do the forces of antagonism explore all shades of negativity?
iv Do they reach the power of the negation of the negation at some point?
B. Chapter 15: Exposition.
1. Show, Don”t Tell.
a. Convert exposition to ammunition.
b. You don”t keep the reader”s interest by giving him information, but by withholding information, except that which is absolutely necessary for comprehension.
c. If…
i I can thoroughly dramatize exposition and make it invisible;
ii I can control this disclosure, parsing it out only when and if the reader needs and wants to know it; saving the best for last;
d. …Then I am learning my craft.
2. The Use Of Backstory.
a. We can turn scenes only one of two ways:
i On action…
ii On revelation.
b. Powerful revelations come from the Backstory – previous significant events in the lives of the characters that the writer can reveal at critical moments to create turning points.
c. Revelations tend to have more impact than actions, and so we reserve them for major turning points/act climaxes.
3. Flashbacks.
a. Dramatize flashbacks – interpolate a mini-drama into the story with its own inciting incident, progressions and turning point.
b. Do not bring in a flashback until you have created in the audience the need and desire to know.
4. Dream Sequences. Double ditto everything said about flashbacks.
5. Montage. With few exceptions, montages are a lazy attempt to substitute decorative photography and editing for dramatization and are, therefore to be avoided.
6. Voice-Over Narration.
C. Chapter 16: Problems and Solutions.
1. The Problem of Interest.
a. Introduction.
i To capture interest, to hold it unswervingly thought time, then reward it at climax, a story must attract both sides of human nature – intellect and emotion.
a. Curiosity is the intellectual need to answer questions and close patterns.
b. Concern is the emotional need for the positive values of life: justice, strength, survival, love, truth, courage, etc.
ii As a story opens, the reader consciously or instinctively inspects the value-charged landscape of world and characters, trying to separate good from evil, right from wrong, things of value from things of no value. It seeks the center of good. Once finding this core, emotions flow to it.
a. He center of good must be located in the protagonist.
b. Good is defined as much by what it”s not as by what it is.
b. Curiosity and concern create three possible ways to connect the reader to the story:
i Mystery.
a. In mystery the reader knows less than the characters.
b. Mystery means gaining interest through curiosity alone.
c. Mysteries fall into two categories:
1. The closed mystery in which the murder occurs in the backstory.
2. The open mystery in which the reader sees the murder committed.
ii Suspense.
a. In suspense the reader and characters know the same information.
b. Suspense combines both curiosity and concern.
iii Dramatic irony.
a. In dramatic irony the reader knows more than the characters.
b. Dramatic irony creates interest primarily through concern alone.
2. The Problem of Surprise.
a. The reader prays for surprise, the reversal of expectation.
b. There are tow kinds of surprise:
i Cheap.
a. Cheap surprise takes advantage of the reader”s vulnerability.
b. “To be about to act and not to act is the worst. It is shocking without being tragic,” Aristotle.
ii True.
a. True surprise springs from the sudden revelation of the gap between expectation and result.
b. This surprise is true because it”s followed by a rush of insight, the revelation of a truth hidden beneath the surface of the fictional world.
3. The Problem of Coincidence.
a. Bring coincidence in early to allow time to build meaning out of it.
b. Never use coincidence to turn an ending. This is deus ex machina, the writer”s greatest sin.
4. The Problem of Comedy.
a. Introduction.
i Comedy points out that in the best of circumstances human beings find some way to screw up.
ii In comedy, laughter settles all arguments.
b. Comedy design.
5. The Problem of Point Of View.
a. POV within a scene.
i One character exclusively
ii Two characters alternating.
iii Two characters neutral at a distance and in profile.
b. POV within the story. The more time spent with a character, the more opportunity to witness his choices. The result is more empathy and emotional involvement between audience and character.
6. The Problem of Adaptation.
a. The three storytelling media:
i The unique strength and wonder of the novel is the dramatization of inner conflict.
ii The unique command and grace of the theatre is the dramatization of personal conflict.
iii The unique power and splendor of the cinema is the dramatization of extra-personal conflict, huge and vivid images of human beings wrapped inside their society and environment, striving with life.
b. Principles of adaptation:
i The purer the novel or play, the worse the film.
ii Be willing to reinvent.
7. The Problem of Melodrama. Melodrama is not the result of overexpression, but of under motivation; not writing too big, but writing with too little desire.
8. The Problem of Holes.
D. Chapter 17: Character: The Mind Worm.
1. Introduction.
a. The writer is the Mind Worm, the medieval concept of a creature able to burrow into the brain and come to know an individual completely, and to create a specific happening geared to the unique nature of that person that would trigger a one-of-a-kind adventure, a quest that would force him to use himself to the limit, to live to his deepest and fullest. Whether a tragedy or fulfillment, this quest would reveal his humanity absolutely.
b. We explore the inscape of human nature, expressed in poetic code.
2. Characters are not human beings.
a. True character can only be expressed through choice in dilemma. How the person chooses to act under pressure is who he is – the greater the pressure, the truer and deeper the choice to character.
b. The key to character is desire, what does the character want?
c. Generally, the more a writer nails motivation to specific causes, the more he diminishes the character in the reader”s mind.
d. Self-explanation must be validated or contradicted in action.
3. Character dimension means consistent contradiction.
4. Cast design.
a. The protagonist creates the rest of the cast.
b. A Heliocentric model.
i The protagonist is the Sun.
ii The supporting characters are planets orbiting the protagonist.
iii The bit characters are moons orbiting the supporting characters.
c. The cast is there to make clear and believable, through action and reaction, the complexity of the protagonist.
d. The protagonist will have many dimensions, for instance:
i Morose/amusing.
ii Cruel/compassionate.
e. Supporting characters must have at least one dimension, but may have two or even three.
f. Bit characters should be drawn deliberately flat – but not dull. Give each a freshly observed, non-dimensional trait that makes the role worth reading, such as loyalty, laziness or wisdom.
5. The comic character.
a. The comic character is marked by blind obsession.
b. Find the comic character”s mania.
c. The comic character cannot be aware of the mania, however.
6. Three tips on writing characters for the screen.
a. Leave room for the actor.
b. Fall in love with all your characters, especially the “bad” guys, because no one thinks their bad, they are just “people struggling to get through their day, doing the best they can with what life”s given them,” Lee Marvin.
c. Character is self-knowledge.
i “Everything I learned about human nature I learned from me,” Anton Chekhov.
ii The root of all fine character writing is self-knowledge.
E. Chapter 18: The Text.
1. Dialogue.
a. Introduction.
i Dialogue is not conversation.
ii Dialogue must have the swing of everyday talk, but content well above normal.
a. It requires compression and economy.
b. It requires direction.
c. It requires purpose.
iii “Speak as common people do, but think as wise men do,” Aristotle.
b. Short speeches. In Classical Greek theatre this is known as stichomythia – the rapid exchange of short speeches.
c. The suspense sentence. The periodic sentence is the “suspense sentence,” it”s meaning is delayed until the very last word.
d. The silent screenplay.
2. Description.
a. Putting a film in the reader”s head.
b. Vivid action in the now.
i Vividness springs from the names of things.
a. Nouns are the names of objects.
b. Verbs are the names of actions.
ii Avoid generic nouns and verbs with adjectives and adverbs attached and seek the name of the thing.
a. Not, the carpenter uses a big nail.
b. But, the carpenter hammers a spike.
iii Eliminate “is” and “are” throughout.
3. Image systems: the screen writer as poet.
a. An image system is a strategy of motifs, a category of imagery embedded in the film that repeats in sight and sound from beginning to end with persistence and great variation, but with equally great subtlety, as a subliminal communication to increase the depth and complexity of aesthetic emotion.
b. Image systems are created in one of two ways:
i External imagery takes a category that outside the story already has a symbolic meaning and brings it in to mea n the same thing in the story, i.e. an American flag for patriotism.
ii Internal imagery takes a category that outside of the story may or may not have a symbolic meaning attached but brings it into the story to give it an entirely new meaning appropriate to this story and this story alone, i.e. water in Les Diabolique.
4. Titles.
F. Chapter 19: A Writer”s Method.
1. Writing From The Outside In.
2. Writing From The Inside Out.
a. The Step Outline.
b. Treatment.
3. Screenplay.
V End Material.
A. Fade Out
B. Suggested Readings.
C. Filmography.
D. Index.

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