Screenwriting outside L.A.

Screenwriting outside L.A.

I moved to Los Angeles to become a screenwriter. But that was before the internet made the world a lot smaller. So what’s the value of living in L.A. now? Is it necessary? Of course you can write anywhere, and you can learn about writing (and even take courses and get...
Writing miniseries on spec

Writing miniseries on spec

Post updated January 20, 2018: A lot has changed in the television landscape in the seven plus years since I wrote the article below. “Miniseries” a/k/a “Limited Series” have been on the rise. This phenomenon — and what the different...
Not About the Work

Not About the Work

I, Tonya strikes me as a great example of a point I often find myself making to writers who bring me film or TV ideas about someone trying to accomplish something in a particular workplace or field of endeavor. And that point is this: “It’s not about the...
How to Finish Act One

How to Finish Act One

I’ve written before about the first ten pages of a screenplay, and touched on the nature of the Catalyst (which the Save the Cat “beat sheet” insists should happen on exactly page 12). But I haven’t yet focused on its “Debate Section” —...
Fun & Games Section

Fun & Games Section

Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat books called the first half of a screenplays second act the “Fun & Games section.” This is where the action shifts to an “upside down world” of some kind, where the main character will try to confront their overall story problem/goal....
One Problem Affecting Everyone

One Problem Affecting Everyone

At the heart of a good original TV series idea is one big problematic situation. It somehow affects all the series regulars. And it leads to endless new stories. It’s not unique to particular characters, but is the over-arching reason for the series’...
Who is My Antagonist?

Who is My Antagonist?

Many writers believe their story needs a villain — a single character who is the main source of opposition in the story, or the primary “bad guy.” Since arguably all stories have a “protagonist,” don’t they all need an “antagonist”? I don’t believe they...
Main Character’s Problem/Goal

Main Character’s Problem/Goal

The main character of a story has a problem they want to solve. The main character of a story has a goal they want to achieve. Which is it? It’s either, and it’s both. The main character has a problem and/or a goal. Sometimes people refer to it as the...
Out of the Bottle

Out of the Bottle

I see a lot of scripts these days where the writer initially depicts the main character as kind of a selfish jerk. This is on purpose, because they want to “arc” them to a better, nicer person in the end. I get this desire, as many of the best movies feature powerful...
Changing the Game

Changing the Game

In any story, the problem gets worse in the middle for the main character. Or at least it gets more complicated, more difficult, more dangerous, etc. They are generally not “winning.” They’re overmatched by whatever they’re involved in. The difficulties of...
Dude with a Problem

Dude with a Problem

They’re trying to kill me! That’s what’s happening in the most misunderstood of the ten “genres” in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat books. “Dude with a Problem” is misunderstood because of its name, which really describes every story. Movies are always...
Character Introductions

Character Introductions

One of the most frequent notes I give on scripts is one I’ve given so often that I’ve created a macro for it on my computer. All I have to press is “;na”, and the following pops up: “I would recommend not introducing characters by name, unless...
Institutional-ized

Institutional-ized

When developing a screenplay (or series) idea, I’m always looking for what the main problem is. The one big problem that is really hard to solve, which becomes the main focus of the narrative. It should have huge stakes, which are not just internal, but external in...
Golden Fleece

Golden Fleece

A “team” goes down a long “road” in search of an important “prize.” These are the key elements of the movie genre that Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat books call the “Golden Fleece.” Inspired by The Odyssey, such stories track progress over time and/or space...
Rite of Passage

Rite of Passage

My favorite thing about Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat screenwriting books is his theory that successful movies tend to each fall within one of ten specific types of stories. These ten “genres” can be a hugely helpful tool for screenwriters at the all-important concept...
The 8 Story Problems

The 8 Story Problems

There are only so many types of situations a human being can be in, that are big and relatable enough to base a movie on. As I see it, successful scripts generally have one of 8 essential challenges or story problems for their main character, when you boil them down...
Series = Ensemble

Series = Ensemble

When coming up with an idea for a television series, and writing a pilot script, writers often make the mistake of approaching it like a feature. Meaning, they focus on a single main character, with a single problem and goal. That’s not how television works. I can...
The 20 Script Must-Haves

The 20 Script Must-Haves

The things that make screenwriting hard to succeed at are not mysterious. They’re just not easy to achieve. Successful scripts differ from unsuccessful ones for some pretty concrete reasons. Below you’ll find my list of the 20 most important attributes of...
Degree of Difficulty

Degree of Difficulty

I often say that a good story idea focuses on one big problem that it takes the whole story to solve. What that means is that the problem has to emerge early in the story (traditionally at the “Catalyst” or “Inciting Incident,” about 10% in), and not be resolved until...
What are the stakes?

What are the stakes?

It’s a constant question producers, agents and executives will ask: What are the stakes? And it’s maybe the most common thing that causes a script to “not work.” If the stakes aren’t big enough, the audience won’t tend to care, or...
Page 1 of 512345