TOL (thinking out loud)

What about the story?

While I have always loved movies, my fixation with writing had more to do with the manipulation of words, and the development of a story than anything else.  Of course, for a story to arc, there are a number of things that need to take place.

For starters…

You need to ask yourself a very important question:  “What is my story about?”  That question will open up Pandora’s box, for everything that can be explored will be explored; everything that can be revealed will be revealed.  It is not just about a “story” per say.  This is where the combination of creative energy and critical thinking merge.  You can’t just focus on a story idea without critically examining every possible scenario.  I’ve quoted Michael Tierno, author of Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters time and time again.  He says, “Good writers serve their stories; bad writers serve their own agenda.”

We need to approach our story with a commitment to stay true to the story.  What do I mean by that?  I mean that storytelling (no matter what genre) requires us to lay aside preconceived ideas.  It involves always thinking outside of the box, and being open to new ideas.  It also involves having an understanding of the human condition, which is what will ultimately give it depth and universal appeal.  For a story to move to catharsis (a purification or purgation of the emotions like pity and fear released primarily through art or the purification or purgation that brings about spiritual renewal or release from tension), this display of human circumstance must be present. Catharsis is a type of communication that builds upon pieces of our life.  When this happens in a story, the reader or audience finds relationship with the situation, and experiences an emotional release.  This generally happens in the 3rd act, and it should cause the greatest emotional response to the situation the hero finds him or herself in.  It’s that suddenly moment in a romantic comedy where the two leading characters “realize” they’re in love! As the story unfolds, our emotions rise and when we experience that emotional release, resolution and harmony comes.  Suddenly, we feel good. In fact, most of us develop an attachment to a film based on our emotional response to the film.  Screenwriters, please, please, please do not write unresolved endings (cliffhangers) that are only going to leave an audience frustrated or mad!  Author Andrew Roberts says, “It’s sheer directorial moral cowardice to cut the screen to black and deny the audience the catharsis they’ve paid their $13 to experience.”  While I do agree, it may not just be a directorial issue; it might simply be the way the writer wrote it.

Here’s another tidbit: The story cannot arc properly if the protagonist doesn’t arc.  You really cannot separate one from the other, because a good story reveals a main character that is on the journey of a lifetime.  A journey must confront his or her personality quirks, human flaws, moral choices, and personal life struggles.

Remember the movie Sideways (2004)?  From the get go, we (the audience) is made aware that the protagonist Miles has hit rock bottom.  Miles is an English teacher, and failed novelist who cannot get his book published.  He longs for his ex-wife, who has clearly moved on (she’s remarried).  Miles is a real piece of work. He has no problem stealing money from his own mother! He has enough quirks and fetishes to fill a book, or at lease a wine bottle. He epitomizes being stuck in a rut.  However, for Miles to successfully arc, he’s going to have to become unstuck.  Just like the wine that he so loves, Miles is going to have to ripen and mature.  The wine trip is a journey that confronts many of Miles’ personality quirks, flaws and personal life struggles.


The journey then becomes a vehicle for conflict, opposing forces, surprises and various twists and turns in the storyline that appear to impede the hero from successfully completing his or her journey.


What’s the point?

POV stands for “Point of view,” and is used to designate that the audience will see something from a specific angle or through a particular character’s eyes. It allows the reader/audience to understand how a character perceives or approaches a situation. The POV of a character is usually conveyed with a description of what the character is seeing and experience through dialogue and action.

You can write a scene with identical dialogue, but with a different point of view—in other words, by adding a description, you reveal the character’s mood, heart/emotion.

(Example #1) MAGGIE glares.

(Example #2) MAGGIE glares, shocked and angered.

Do you see the difference? How does example # 2 bring the character’s POV to life?

In the second example, we are not just seeing Maggie glare/stare at something. There is obvious shock and anger, which could easily be revealed with body language, and in the way the character responds emotionally.

From this POV, the audience is going to see something from Maggie’s eyes.

Here’s another scene idea:

Maggie hovers outside a room eavesdropping on a conversation. We want her outside the door overhearing “something…” If you’re writing from the POV from a person inside the room, you would need to start the scene inside the room, and then have Maggie enter.

POV Character is the focal point of the particular scene. Typically, it’s a good idea that it be the character with the most to lose, or the higher stakes to play.



The pub is dim, and Mark sits in the corner at the bar next to a drunken businessman watching Shelly and a BIKER—a heavily tattooed, drunk, obnoxious guy in his late 30’s, lean over a pool table bickering about the rules of the game.


The audience is yet to discover that Mark is a pool shark, and he’s about to give these two a fast course in pool playing. Naturally, this will invoke conflict, because the Biker is into Shelly.

The camera is going to film that little scene from Marks POV. If it were from the Biker’s POV, Mark wouldn’t even be in the equation. We would only see the tension building between Shelly and the Biker.

This is part of the beauty of writing from a POV.  If the camera just dropped into the middle of this scene, not focusing on anyone’s perspective, the dramatic tension would not be nearly as strong when Mark confronts the Biker and starts to show them how it’s done.  Think about it…because this scene will be shot from Marks POV, it will give way to rising action and allow for greater conflict in the story.

We all have a point of view, right? This is part of human nature. That does not necessarily mean it’s correct, but it’s our POV. It’s the world as YOU see it.

Mark knows how to play pool, and he knows it well, so the way he views the scene between Shelly and the Biker is going to be very different from the way the guy sitting next to him at the bar does. The drunken businessman who is sitting next to him could care less about pool.

Question? Is Nora Ephron’s screenplay, Julie & Julia written from Julie’s POV?

Fun Trivia:

Here’s an excerpt from Emmy Award-winning interview host Charlie Rose’s interview with Meryl Streep and Nora Ephron.

Charlie Rose [to Streep]: If you have someone so pronounced in size and personality, in voice — distinct and different, easier to do, or harder to do? What were you trying to capture when you played her?

Meryl Streep: The outlines [of her character] were very familiar to people —
I knew that, and to me too, but in a way Danny Ackyrod’s version was even more vivid in our minds, and so it was already kind of already caricatured in your head. I wanted to look at her in the idealized way that Julie did, because this is Julie’s *imagined* Julia. [Emphasis in Streep’s own voice.] In her head, [Julie] imagines this gal in Paris with her husband. And I think because it’s in this roseate hue, I just wanted to make it as real as it could possibly be, but I didn’t feel that I really had to adhere to every piece of research I’d done on Julia. I just wanted to make a human being that lived.

Ephron: There’s no question that the Julia we show in the movie was Julie Powell’s idea [of her].

Streep: You never really know the ins and outs of a personality…but to imagine that you know the inner life and conflicts and anxieties of a public person, it’s very very difficult, but it’s endlessly interesting. [end]

So, I do think Julie & Julia is largely written from Julie’s POV.



Conflict and obstacles: Driving forces in a screenplay


A story without conflict is a story that’s going nowhere.

Did I just say that?  I did.

The bottom line…if there’s no dramatic conflict, there’s no drama.  Even in comedy (which is drama with a twist), there is conflict. Remember the comedy The Hangover?  It’s conflict haven! While the film itself doesn’t do much for me, it is certainly filled with conflict and obstacles.

Now, I should probably share that conflict is not really the same thing as an obstacle.  By definition, conflict is: an argument, a disagreement (often long-lasting), a conflict of interests, a clash of opposition (like wishes or needs), a dispute, a quarrel, a struggle, warfare, etc.  Obstacle is:  a thing that blocks one’s way or hinders one’s progress. Such as an obstacle to achieving a goal.

In a screenplay, an obstacle is any resistance to the main characters want or desire.  Now, want or need creates action, so it’s imperative that you define your character’s need early-on.  When obstacles occur and work against each other, they create dramatic conflict, and this is GOOD!  Here is a life example:

The roofer’s ladder fell over and he has to go to the restroom in the worst possible way. All of the other roofers have gone to lunch, and he is alone.  He has a need, but the obstacle is the ladder that fell over.  What’s he going to do?  Yell, scream, try and find another way down… This roofer’s need motivates him to ACT and over-ride the obstacle.  Obstacles can be prodded by other people or by circumstances.  In the case of the roofer, his circumstance was the obstacle.

As a screenwriter, you have to inject conflict into your script to keep the action moving along so the audience will remain interested.

Conflict is most important when it stands in the way of the protagonists success and/or transformation. In other words, what is trying to keep your hero from succeeding?  The use of conflict and obstacles in a screenplay are immensely important, in fact, dramatic conflict (motivation vs. obstacle) is the very thing that drives the story.  Conflict creates dramatic tension.
Elizabeth English, founder of the Moondance Film Festival in Colorado says, “There are five distinct types of conflict that can be used in screenwriting. Inner or personal conflict, relational conflict, social or local conflict, situational conflict, and universal or cosmic conflict. All five types of conflict can be in a single screenplay, and can involve most, if not all of the characters, interacting with each other and with the protagonist and antagonist(s). Conflict as the central event drives the story and the characters. Conflict in the plot structure breathes life into your story! The audience relates to your protagonist and to the conflicts he or she faces. The patterns of tension resulting from the visible and invisible forces the characters overcome create a believable reality for the film-goer, and increase the film’s impact on that audience.”
There is no doubt that inner conflict is the most difficult to relay on the screen, in-particular of it’s the main conflict in a story.  A great example of this is in the film American Beauty. is the hardest type of conflict to convey successfully in a film, if that’s the central focus of conflict in the story.
Conflict is an essential element in every screenplay, no matter what the genre.  The audience needs to see the protagonist succeed on his or her journey, but part of that success is in his or her ability to overcome every obstacle and to beat continual conflict in the story.
William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is all about internal conflict.  Hamlet is in a war with his conscience and his inner conflict is actually resolved as he is dying, when he realizes that his mother wasn’t a part of planning his father’s death.
So, as you’re writing your story, REMEMBER  as important as it is to create conflict to move your story along,  so too must you create a main obstacle that your protagonist (hero) will struggle to overcome.