What’s up with universal appeal?

So, you want to write a screenplay that has universal appeal (don’t we all)?

There are a couple of major things you need to focus on for that to happen:  Your plot and the reason for action.
According to Aristotle, “The life and soul of all drama (tragedy) is the plot,”  and action is related to the want and need/goal of your main character.  In other words, let’s say your protagonist desires or needs love.  His or her need is going to drive him or her to respond or act according to the need.  Micheal Tierno, in his book Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters says, “When a strong desire of a hero relates to all of the action, then the plot can depict a simple ‘portrait’ of the hero.”

So, often times, action is a emotional response of the character’s need or want.  For example:  Remember the movie Cocktail (1988), which starred Tom Cruise and Elizabeth Shue?  Let’s look at the storyline.  Brian Flanagan has just gotten out of the service and wants to make money.  He wants his own business, but after being turned down in several job interviews for lack of education, he takes a job working as a bartender.  His need for money pushes him to take a job that he’s really not excited about.  However, his need produces continued actions (chains of events), to include traveling to Jamaica to work as a bartender at an upscale resort, and meeting Jordan Mooney, the seeming love of his life. His boss, Doug Coughlin also wants to own his own high-end bar, so the two come up with a game-plan.  Once again, this flawed protagonist has an agenda, and his need gives rise to action, pushes the plot forward and will eventually guide the story to resolution.

(Tom Cruise- Brian Flanagan in Cocktail, 1988)

Universal appeal is important because for an audience to relate to a character or story there must be a relationship with the character and the storyline.  So, when Brian Flanagan’s business partner (the antagonist) puts him to a dare, we (the audience) feel bad for him, because it seems like all is lost.  We’ve all been there.  Desire and need are powerful things.  We somehow relate to his plight, his frustration, his turmoil, and that is universally appealing.

Is universal appeal important?  You betcha!  Life is a journey, and we are all a part of it.  For an audience or reader to relate to a character, there must be character traits, familiar moments that we’ve walked through or witnessed.  We know how this character feels because we’ve been there and done that!

According to Aristotle, “A plot must include causes of the action that can arouse the audience’s deepest pity and fear [or laughter and tears]. This means the audience must understand the hero’s thoughts and see those thoughts becoming actions, which in turn reveal a moral quality (character) of the hero.”

Just a little writing tip, in case you’re in the midst!

I am available for online, one-on-one, script coaching.   Click here: Script coaching online

Reference:  Aristotle’s Poetics by Michael Tierno

This blog and the “screenwriting” process

One of the earmarks of being a screenwriter is that most of us are unabashedly eager to talk about the process of screenwriting. Bottom line…it’s in our blood.  However, that process is not something that begins with the letter “A” and ends when the outline is over. It encompasses every facet of the development from conception, to production. It includes being open-minded, dedicated and ridiculously tenacious. It involves being able to take rejection and criticism while maintaining your self-esteem.

A good screenwriter should not just be able to knockout a well-crafted script; you should also be able to critically analyze other screenplays and films. I have always maintained that part of the steps of understanding the way story must function in film is to be able to review a film from a writer’s perspective.

Screenwriter on Location is a blog that encompasses “the process.” Whether blogging about the elements of craft, or discussing the latest box office hit, this blog tells “all” without hesitation.

It’s a whole new world: Shifting gears to the “B” story

Okay, so the day has been going along fairly smoothly–by that I mean my writing. But, as with any story, there is a time when you need to shift gears a bit, and transition to the “B” story.


Why would anyone want to move in another direction when things are going so well?

Well, according to Blake Snyder, author of Save The Cat, something BIG should happen on page 25.  It’s an ACT BREAK where we leave the old world behind.  The “we” is your protagonist.  The hero is about to embark on a journey, and it is precisely when he or she steps into ACT TWO. It’s the valley of decision.  Something has to occur, arrive, happen, etc., that prods the hero into a life-altering decision.  Snyder says, “The hero makes a decision for himself…he is proactive.”

Remember Legally Blonde?  The “B” story happens when Elle Woods goes into the salon and her relationship begins with the manicurist Paulette Bonafonte.  In the first few minutes of the screenplay, Elle, who revealed to the audience her goal to marry Warren, her college sweetheart, has been royally dumped.  In her fight to restore the relationship, she works her butt off to get into Harvard Law, but when she arrives she finds that Warren has not only gotten back together with a former girlfriend, the two are ENGAGED!  OOPS!  The “B” story provides the perfect setting for Elle to grow and become strong, and the nurturing relationship with the manicurist is a big part of that process.  It enables Elle to move into ACT THREE and transition into her triumphant finale!

So, the “B” story is a very important element.  Frequently, it’s the love story of the film, and a lot of new and fun characters are introduced at that time.  The “B” story also explores the THEME in a much different way.  Don’t forget the theme must be stated throughout your screenplay, and the “B” story is no exception.  It actually draws attention to the theme of your story, but in a much different way.

At about page 23 you want to take a hard look at your story, and make sure that you’re in a good place to transition into Act Two with the “B” story.

It’s a whole new world!

Screenwriting Coach