I recently read a script from a beginner scribe that wasn’t very good. The key problem was the plot, which was too simplistic and predictable. This simplicity bled into the scene-writing, which was also too predictable. Everything had an “obvious” quality to it, like the writer hadn’t considered any other possibilities. Frustrated, I shared the experience with Miss Scriptshadow, and we got to talking about it.

We came to an agreement that the reason the plot was so simplistic was because the writer wasn’t being discerning. He wasn’t thinking about what he was writing. He was just writing. This is both the blessing and the curse of being a beginner. A blessing because having no filter means total and utter euphoria when you write. Everything feels wonderful because you never have to think beyond your first inclination. And if it feels that good, then the writing must be good, right?

It isn’t until you’ve written a few scripts that you realize there are choices involved in writing – that it’s okay to stop and think about what you’re going to do before you do it. Because the curse side of never considering options is that your script reads option-less. The plot is either simply boring or simply messy, but it’s always simple.

Here’s the crazy thing though. I was reading another script later in the week – a professional script – and I was encountering the same problem. Not as frequently as with the beginning writer, but it was happening every fifth scene or so. I realized that it’s not just beginners who are guilty of this. The best writers in the world do it as well. It’s a slightly different variation of the practice, but it’s essentially the same thing. I call it: “Predisposed Writing.”

Predisposed Writing is when you go into a situation – usually a scene – knowing what you’re going to write beforehand. This may seem like a good thing. If you already know what you’re going to write, then it must be a good scene! What other explanation could there be for being so certain about something?

But if you already know what you’re going to write, chances are the reader’s going to know what you’re going to write as well. That means you’re writing a scene that they’ve already imagined. And if that happens, you’re boring them. Readers (and audience members) can be sympathetic to this for a scene or two. But if it keeps happening, boredom sets in, and they officially check out.

I’m not saying that your first inclination for a scene is always wrong. It may actually be brilliant. But you owe to yourself to STOP before you write a scene and think about other options. Chances are, there’s something better in the cupboard.

Let’s try to look at this visually. I want you to pretend that you’re an interior designer and imagine you’ve just walked into an empty room, a room which you’ll be designing.

A bad (or beginning) interior designer is going to go into this room with a predisposed point-of-view. They know what a basic room looks like. So that’s what they’re going to give the client. A TV near the corner by the cable outlet. We’ll throw the couch back against the wall. Maybe a vase by the TV to make it look nicer. A lamp or two. In your head, you’re imagining this is going to look pretty killer. Then, when you put it together, you get something like this…

boring room

Now you’re looking at this room and probably saying, “Oh my GOD. I would kill myself if I had to live in that space!” Well folks, you’re looking at the visual equivalent of 90% of the scenes I read in amateur screenplays. They’re that dull, that lifeless, that devoid of creativity, and it boils down to writers being too set in their ways.

A good interior designer’s first step is to let their initial inclinations wash over them. Not ignore them. They may still use them. But first they want to explore some not-so-obvious choices. Maybe a nontraditional couch as the centerpiece. A cowhide rug instead of a boring hardwood floor. How does the light come in from the windows? Is there any way to arrange the room to accentuate that? With this approach, you’re more likely to get something like this…


Notice how much more thought was put into this room. Notice how they went with a hardwood floor AND a rug. Look at how the rug is shaped. Look at how funky the couch is. Look at the unique shelves placed on the wall. The other designer didn’t even put shelves on the wall. This room is infinitely nicer than the one above.

Now I can already hear some of you crying foul. “That’s cheating, Carson. The second room has a floor-to-ceiling window and costs a hundred times as much to furnish.” I admit that the analogy breaks down a little in that sense, but not really. With writing, the only currency is time. You have no budgetary considerations. If you take the time to challenge yourself and flesh out your ideas, you can create windows with the most beautiful views in the world. You can put a 20,000 dollar couch in your room. You can change the walls to brick.  An imagination is infinite, and when you predispose your writing, you prevent yourself from mining all those possibilities.

Predisposed Writing is not just a scene thing. Writers come in with predisposed characters. They come in with predisposed relationships. They come in with predisposed concepts. The thing to remember with writing, especially screenwriting, is that nothing is set in stone. You can have an idea for something, but once you’re tasked with putting that “something” down on paper, it’s your job to challenge it. Your mind, more or less, has been trained by society to think and act like other minds. Which means most of what you come up with is the same kind of stuff other people come up with. Going against your predisposition, then, is the only surefire way to provide a unique experience for the audience.

Let’s apply this practice to an actual scene, shall we? Let’s say we’re going to write one of the more common scenes in screenwriting, a cop arresting someone, let’s say a drug dealer. Now you’re probably already imagining how this scene is going to play out, right?

My predisposed version has a sketchy dealer on a street corner in a bad neighborhood, dealing dope to some loser. Our officers pull up their car, pop out. The Dealer ushers the buyer away, turns to our officers as they’re approaching, an innocent smile at the ready.  Looks like this isn’t the first time they’ve met.  There’ll be some funny “we’ve been through this before” banter between the three. But the Dealer senses that something’s off, that they might actually arrest him this time. He decides to make a run for it. They chase him down. Catch him. Scene over.

Hmm, how many times have we seen that before? It might as well be in the Predisposed Hall of Fame. So let’s see what happens when we spend some time considering other options. Again, there’s no law that says you have to write these options into your script. All you’re doing is considering them.

A dope dealer in a bad neighborhood is cliché, right? So what if we made our dealer a… grand piano salesman who deals dope on the side? Our cops have evidence he’s dealing so they go to the piano store to arrest him. Inside, a child prodigy is loudly playing Beethoven’s 9th on a nearby piano. Our cops attempt to ask the salesman a few questions (or read him his Miranda Rights), but the annoying prodigy is playing louder and louder (secretly cued by the salesman?), resulting in a lot of “I’m sorry, I can’t hear yous.” In a moment of distraction, the salesman slams the piano flap down on one of the cop’s hands and makes a run for it.  The prodigy breaks into some chase music.

This may or may not be the best scene ever. I’d certainly want to take it through a few more drafts, but it’s more inventive and less cliché than the previous scene.

Now obviously I’m writing with free rein here. Within the context of your story, your dealer may have to be on the street. That’s fine. Then you simply ask what other ways you can make the scene different.  Maybe the dealer only speaks Spanish, creating a translation problem. Maybe the dealer’s the brother of one of the cops, complicating the arrest. The options are limitless, but they’re only there if you search for them.

In closing, all I ask is that you not get wrapped up in any predisposed notions when you write. Always consider other possibilities. I promise you that if you perfect this practice, you’ll become a much better screenwriter.

  • darren

    Good Article Carson. I read recently that beginner writers have good “taste” and recognise good writing and ideas, but the creation of good ideas and writing is what takes time and talent. I think THEME is one key in scene creation, the underlying DNA of a film should be the first port of call. Naturally, we cannot layer theme and meaning into every scene lest we overburden, but it should influence these choices during structure. If you understand the theme and strive for emotion in each scene, this can lead to the correct choice.

  • fragglewriter

    I understand that the writer should challenge him/herself if they want a reader to crash while driving on a freeway, but turning a scene on its head is welcomed, but more than a couple might definitely get you writing assignments, but sometimes that give me the same but different is not welcomed, especially in the spec world as we’re used to the predisposed scripts.

    There have Ben major blockbuster films that have gotten rave reviews for being different, but once I view it, it’s no different than what I’ve seen before. The actors are different, but it’s nothing that got me thinking about the movie weeks or months later.

    Predisposed is good if it’s a low budget or passion project, but to hang with the big movies, you have to find that producer/director to say F it, this is what’s different.

    • Scott Crawford

      You’re right, fragglewriter, there’s definitely a BALANCE between audience expectation and surprise.

      There have been a number of films recently with this plot device; the character you think is the major villain (heavy) turns out not to be the heavy, but is instead just a flunky to the real heavy, who is a supporting character the audience didn’t expect to be the heavy. The Dark Knight Rises, A Good Day to Die Hard, Iron Man 3, maybe a few others. NOBODY complained about those movies. EVERYONE was perfectly happy with what happened to Bane, Alik, and the Mandarin. Actually, I was OK, but I’m probably in the minority.

      Audiences LIKE to be surprised but they HATE to be cheated.

      • brenkilco

        Actually not everyone was happy with the plots of these movies. I didn’t make it all the way through Iron Man 3 so I can’t comment. But Good Day was a jerry-rigged mess. How did we get to Chernobyl again? And Dark Knight was lumbering, confused and poorly motivated. The villain reveal came out of the blue. And if Bane had been the sole villain would it really have made any difference?

  • ripleyy

    It really isn’t rocket science to take a scene and change it in a new and wonderful way. Anyone remember the opening of “The Disciple Program”? A man regurgitates a shiv to escape. That’s how you get people hooked, and if it’s early enough, you can definitely snatch-up the reader before it’s too late.

    The more people read, the more immune they are to surprises, thus the difficulties and challenges of writing newer and uniquer scenes are diminishing quicker. But it can be done.

    The “cop procedural” genre as well as “romance” are the two genres that are less likely to be considered fresh. Science fiction still has flare after all this time, because it deals in the unknown. When you read one interrogation room scene, you read them all. There’s also so many ways a person can kiss one another, so kissing Spiderman upside down isn’t hardly new anymore (I swear I seen that in another film or show not so long ago).

    If there is a pandemic, in which every writer finds it impossible to distinguish themselves from everyone else because we’ve come to a place where we write exactly alike, it isn’t going to happen today or ten years from now. If there are nearly 8 billion people in the world, one person is going to have an idea similar (but not exact) to twenty others. Also, as Tyler Durden says in ‘Fight Club’ – “You are not a unique snowflake”, which is true in some ways but you can still luck out and write a scene differently. The end is not nigh, but it could be.

    I like Carson’s article, but it all comes down to the writer. If our ideas are considered individual, like a fingerprint, then it all stems to the person and who they are. Writers are shaped and molded by culture, by their own lives and by their own upbringing.

    Everyone can write a script and everyone can tell a story, but if the writer is looking through the same glass as everyone else, then there’s no variety. In order to be better, and to write differently than others, you have to look WITHIN – to know yourself completely. Art is different in every possible way. Picasso, Van Gogh – they painted differently and made it work, because people accepted them as a person. Don’t be afraid that your script is too “out there” or that “people won’t get it”. They will, so stop worrying.

    If you’re a cynical person, you’re likely to write in a cynical way. If you’re from a broken home, more likely than not you’re gong to write about a perfect family falling apart because that is all that you know (this isn’t the case for everyone, but you get the idea).

    So in the end of this rambling mess of a comment, in layman’s terms, in order to write better, you need to look inward and not outward and write accordingly. There’s so many ways you can differentiate yourself, and it’s how you see the world that makes it happen. Stop trying to be like everyone else and be the black sheep and lastly, there are STILL ways you can write an interrogation scene and make it work (I know for a script I done, I used Clue to add tension). People are interested in how you see the world, they’re not interested in seeing you copy someone else.

    Stop re-painting the same wall, knock it down and start anew.

    • brenkilco

      No, the truth is not everyone can tell a story. I have a family member who is cosmically awful story teller. The stories are invariably full of digressions and irrelevant background information. She never gauges how much of anybody’s time a particular tale is worth – a cardinal sin. She never puts a time value on the punchline or sometimes even realizes that there ought to be a punchline. A sense of dramatic structure, of what makes a story a story, is simply not that common. And before anyone starts agonizing over individual scenes he or she must ask do I have an actual story here and is it worth telling. Or is it so thin and cliched that an audience will be ahead of you the whole way? Having a good basic story will not guarantee that scenes will write themselves, but it maximizes your opportunities to create scenes that are not alternately aimless and obligatory.

      To use Carson’s analogy. What’s the point of spending time and money designing the interior of a crumbling shack?

      • Scott Crawford

        I can only do my best, but when the story I outline starts to surprise ME, then I figure I’m on to something.

        This is the danger of screenwriting books. This is not a diatribe against screenwriting books – I’ll leave that to the writer of Hangover III, but formula that the best screenwriting books teach you is probably better for looking at a story after you have written it, rather than starting from scratch.

        • brenkilco

          I think a lot of these books are only useful after the fact. They can get you to ask hard questions about what you’ve written. But nobody ever came up with a good story because he read a screenwriting manual.

          • Scott Crawford

            Definitely, definitely worth reading the good books. And there IS a formula for movies, you can definitely see a pattern, a formula.

            But before writing, I’ve NOW discovered it’s best to write out as much about your story and characters before you get bogged down by “this must happen here, and should be followed by this”, because even in movies that follow “formula”, there’s so much variation.

      • ripleyy

        I admit not everyone can tell a good story. I was being specific towards writers, but you are correct that only so many people are destined to tell a good story, while others aren’t.

  • Scott Crawford

    It still amazes me, really, the number of writers who like to BOAST that they don’t write outlines. Based on interviews I’ve read and heard, I think only about 1% of professional writers do not outline their scripts. Probably less than 1%, they are generally writer-director critical darlings who – Tarantino aside – don’t usually rock the box office.

    If you can’t be bothered to outline, why do you think someone should be bothered to plow through your script. If you’re not going to think about what you write before you write, you’re either going to spend a long time staring at a computer screen or you’re going to go with the first idea that comes into your head.

    I watch movies, TV, read novels, and sometime read screenplays for the STORY (story, as I define it, as opposed to plot, includes character and theme). Read a few plot summaries (almost always less than 1000 words) on Wikipedia for movies or novels that you haven’t seen or read. The good ones, as you read them, surprise you as you read them, just as the finished movie or novel would. And almost all of the writers of those stories planned those stories before they wrote, or at the very least, did a page-one rewrite of their first draft. But a page-one rewrite takes a lot longer than writing a few outlines. So why are people so reluctant to outline their script?

    I know there are reasons, and obviously SOME writers on SOME projects may find it impossible to work out their story until they have their characters talk about it. But there are options. You could just plan out the sequences; that way you would know what was happening at least every ten pages or so. Or you could plot out the beginning and/or the end; that would still leave a huge chunk in the middle to plow through. The best option, really, every professional does it this way, is to write down EVERY SCENE that you are going to write in your first draft. That doesn’t mean the story won’t change in the second draft, but it will make the first draft easier and quicker to write.

    But so many writers (not professional) think the experience of WRITING a screenplay should closely mirror the experience of WATCHING a movie (for the first time). But the writer – the author – should know his story better than anyone. If the writer has NO CLUE as to what he’s writing, first, second, or final draft, then what authority does the author have?

    • brenkilco

      I agree that outlines are the intelligent, efficient way to proceed. I don’t use them. And the reason is purely psychological. Just to climb the mountain of a script I have to believe that it has the potential to be good. If I had to reduce what I was doing to a spindly, skeletal, pathetic two pages I don’t think I would have the strength or nerve to continue. Obviously first drafts take forever. And I’ve had the experience of ripping up the last ten pages I’ve written because I realize I’ve lost the thread. What do I start with? Well I absolutely know how the thing starts. And I absolutely know how it ends. And I have a vague sense of where it’ll be in the middle. That’s it. But, yeah, if you can face your outline without fear, it’s the way to go.

      • Scott Crawford

        Yes, that’s why I pointed out that SOME writers won’t outline their first drafts for very good reasons like the ones you mentioned.

        Writers like James Cameron and Zak Penn do “scriptments” before writing the first draft, halfway between an outline and a first draft.

      • klmn

        I’ve done it both ways. When an idea for a scene hits me, I either write a few notes or write the entire scene before I go back to what I’m doing. Sometimes I have half a script’s worth of notes before I start an outline.

      • Kirk Diggler

        My take on outlining is this. Know where your story is at all the key moments. Inciting incident, break into 2, mid-point shift, all time low, new plan, break into 3, and of course, the ending. Most writers know how the movie that plays in their head ends. Matt Weiner says he knew how Mad Men would end from the very first season. All long as you know all the key points and have a proper knowledge of structure, it’s easier to build a bridge between all the different points.

        • Scott Crawford

          That’s exactly my point. Know what you’re writing! Maybe not every scene – that doesn’t work for every screenwriter on every screenplay – but if you plunge in hoping for “divine inspiration”, well, if you, the writer, don’t know your story, who does?

    • ripleyy

      I’m definitely a big believer in outlining as well. I write out every single scene, from beginning to end, and I can say that after I write the script I feel better knowing there is at least some structure to it. It will most definitely change in the second draft, and the third and by the fourth I usually have a lot of it deleted and/or moved. I don’t think people should finish a script and say “Wow, this is exactly how I planned it and this will stay the same forever”. That’s wrong. And stupid. It’ll change, are you just willing to change with it?

      Of course outlining has a definite nail-in-the-coffin. You outline a story that, by default, does not work. Which means you not only wasted time but by default your script just doesn’t work and it’s wrong. This can be fixed, of course, but it’s time-consuming to go through it all and find out how to fix it. Page-ones will solve the problem, but by then you’ve probably moved onto something else (and something far more valuable of your time).

      • Scott Crawford

        I think about George Lucas and Star Wars. He wrote a 13-page outline – it wasn’t terrific, but it was alright. More “Hidden Fortress in space” than the final, much-beloved movie. Then what did he do? Wrote three more drafts before finally working out the story he SHOULD be telling.

        OK, it worked out pretty well for him, but that’s the long way ’round.

        If we’re honest about it, how many amateur scripts do we see – sometimes on this website – where it’s OBVIOUS the writer hasn’t considered his story, before, during, or after writing the screenplay. And once you get into dialogue and scene direction, man, that stuff can be more addictive than sugar. Suddenly all you’re thinking about is how to make a character SOUND “cool” rather than giving him “cool” things to do.

        • Linkthis83

          “If we’re honest about it, how many amateur scripts do we see – sometimes on this website – where it’s OBVIOUS the writer hasn’t considered his story, before, during, or after writing the screenplay.”

          Anytime I see a comment like this I almost always chime in. From my perspective, this statement isn’t honest, but presumptuous.

          Stories/scripts are always about perspective and we must maintain that perspective when assessing our fellow writers as well. When amateur specs surface that are interpreted as being sub-standard by the masses, the onus is then put on the writer. Which makes sense because this is the person who crafted it.

          What happens though is that the writer who offered this script for consumption is then designated as not having put in the work, the time, the effort, hasn’t given the story enough consideration, thinks they’re the next Tarantino, and blah blah blah. — I wholly dislike these remarks. Certainly there are some who just spit out a script and think the millions will just pour in. However, I’ve been around SS for over a year and a half now, I’ve read so many openings to so many amateur scripts (and whole ones as well), and my experience with the writers has been far from the “lazy” approach.

          Here’s what AMATEUR READERS should keep in mind when they want to criticize another writer for script that was so awful it offended them enough to be critical of that writer:

          1) Talent and ability have to exist. This writer may not have it. Or they may have not been able to hone in on it yet.

          2) They BELIEVE they’ve done all these things that you say they haven’t.

          3) They don’t have the SUPPORT SYSTEM around them to assist them in getting their script to a finalized product.

          4) If they don’t have that system, then they come to sites like this in order to get an understanding of where they are actually at in their screenwriting journey based on the feedback they get – this is crucial in being able to assess your own work — getting shots taken at you isn’t helpful.

          5) They might have a SUPPORT SYSTEM that isn’t any good.

          6) If the majority of us are writers sharing in the pursuit of a common/similar dream, be empathetic. You know exactly what writers are going through. You know how EXTREMELY DIFFICULT this process is.

          7) If you want to be a professional at the highest level, start by exhibiting those traits here on this level. I have respect for a writer who completes any script – that is an accomplishment itself.

          • Poe_Serling

            6) If the majority of us are writers sharing in the pursuit of a
            common/similar dream, be empathetic. You know exactly what writers are going through. You know how EXTREMELY DIFFICULT this process is.

            7) If you want to be a professional at the highest level, start by
            exhibiting those traits here on this level. I have respect for a writer
            who completes any script – that is an accomplishment itself.

            Both excellent points!

            And I would just add: I always feel that feedback should motivate writers to improve their work and keep writing – not to discourage or derail someone’s ambition.

          • Scott Crawford

            No, feedback should tell the truth. Otherwise what is the point of feedback (esp. if you’ve paid for it).

            Telling someone their work would be fine with a bit of a polish when the truth is they need to start again, from scratch, is not helping a writer whatsoever.

            It’s the most rotten thing in the world to hear “Your screenplay sucks!” especially if you were hoping everyone would love it. But – now let’s ALL be TRUTHFUL – how much effort have SOME writers, SOME writers put into their work? Have they picked a good subject? Have they researched it? Have they outlined, index carded their story? Have they rewritten, polished, read their own work back to check for mistakes? In SOME cases, no they haven’t.

            On Tuesday I bought a book all about the book I am currently adapting for a screenplay. The book is in the public domain and is available for free, online. The book I bought was not. The book cost £23.20 – about USD$38.72. It’s a very dry read, but I’m ploughing through it. Why not? I want to be as authoritative about the screenplay I’m writing as I can be.

            Now compare that to someone who has dashed out a Matrix clone, that reads exactly suspiciously like The Matrix, that is full of cliché, has ENDLESS dialogue about what a character is GOING TO DO (because they’re not actually doing anything). Telling that person to keep on doing what they’re doing isn’t going to help. Tell them to try again – tell ‘em gently, sure, but let them know. Make them pick a different idea, something unique that only they could have come up with. Make them study other movies, read books, find out information that other people won’t know. Then outline, re-outline, draft, rewrite, get feedback, polish, PDF, and sell for $500,000. Why not. Can happen. But believe me, if you think I’m harsh, wait ’till you you see what the people who PAY for scripts think about such writers.

          • Poe_Serling

            I hear what you’re saying, but I still think feedback (paid or free) should motivate writers to improve their work… plain and simple. Whether that entails a page one rewrite or starting a new project, I guess that would be up to the individual writer to decide.

          • Scott Crawford

            I would imagine there a few times that a professional script reader will say “don’t write this”. It’s not what people pay money for. But they do want to know how to be a better writer, and sometimes it may be a case of starting from scratch.

            Apart from a comedy about a heroin dealer who gets young children addicted to heroin then sexually abuses them (ick!), I don’t think there are many ideas that people shouldn’t write. Maybe it’s just the case of adding an extra twist to the mix, to distinguish it from every other script that is out there. It’s very comforting, in the dark, to think that the vast majority of the 60,000 (or more now?) screenplays submitted to Hollywood every year are steaming piles of turd, but that still leaves you competing against several thousand perfectly competently-written screenplays, with less than spectacular stories.

          • brenkilco

            If you’re not being paid for it then the people asking you to judge their script or story are most likely friends or family. And a friend asking you whether his writing is any good is like your wife asking you if the dress she’s wearing makes her look fat. Honesty is nice. Careful is better. Stupid is never OK.

          • Scott Crawford

            And as writer Bill Birch points out, you only have a few bullets in your gun. You MAY be able to get a script to someone in the business who get your script, well, maybe not made, but at least higher up the chain. You can’t send him or her your script until it’s as good as it can be. If you do, you’ve wasted a bullet.

            If you want to be told “well done”, give the script to your mother. If you want to know what you did wrong (and what you did right) find someone whose opinion you trust to take the time read your script and give you feedback. But don’t think that person’s time and/or opinion is for free.

          • Scott Crawford

            But that’s precisely my point. SOME writers consider the completion of a screenplay the grand accomplishment. It takes some time, sure, especially if you have to work around other commitments. But a screenplay – a modern screenplay – is only twenty-something thousand words, which about a third of the length of a SHORT novel.

            I’m not attacking any particular script – did it sound like I was? – so my comment, my opinion, remains valid. My original statement, opening line, is that some writers like to BOAST that “I don’t do outlines.” Well, bully for you, I probably won’t want to read your script.

            More generally, your comments are a “thought-terminating insult”; we cannot criticize others because we don’t know how hard it was for them to write that script. But we’re all in the same boat. If I was to post a script on this website and it wasn’t much-liked, I would have to accept those criticisms. With that in mind, I must make sure my script is the best it can be, and in my OPINION, that means working harder on the story than on the “banter”.

            And yes, I think Tarantino has a lot to take a lot of the blame. He is who he is, and he has his fans, but everyone is trying to emulate what he did. As Basho put it: “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.”

          • Malibo Jackk

            Just want to point out the other side.
            “I have respect for a writer who completes any script – that is an accomplishment itself.”
            Have heard this stated many times. And always thought (my opinion) that it reeks with low expectations.
            (If your goal is only to complete a script, then I don’t have a problem with that whatsoever.)

            You can kill people with kindness, false praise and encouragement.
            Look at the low US test scores in math and English as compared with other developed countries. (This despite spending more per student.)
            We have the first generation in the history of our country where the children are LESS literate than their parents. Something to be concerned about if you’re a writer.
            Our schools have rewarded students — a whole generation of students who are ill prepared for work — because they were babied in school.

            And Hollywood is a tough town.
            Despite this, few in Hollywood will tell you the truth.
            And, as they say, — Hollywood is the only town where you can die of encouragement.

          • Midnight Luck

            “LESS literate than their parents. Something to be concerned about if you’re a writer.”

            yep, so worries me.

            All you have to do is look at the phenomenal success of:

            RIDE ALONG
            THE LEGO MOVIE
            TRANSFORMERS 4 (or 3 or 2)
            anything with a KARDASHIAN
            and the forthcoming:
            LET’S BE COPS (a sure fire hit because it is so dumb)

            Everything is being so dumbed down, and yet everyone loves it, and the movies are Uber-successful.

            is this the future of what we will need to be writing?

          • Poe_Serling

            Hey Malibo-

            A few weeks back, I think you mentioned something about the twit-pitch winner Proving Ground… Did that script find a buyer or was it just given a big push into the studios?

            “And Hollywood is a tough town.
            Despite this, few in Hollywood will tell you the truth.”

            And a great bookend for that above thought.. Goldman’s story about the producer who asked him:

            “Bill, Bill! Which lie did I tell?”

          • Malibo Jackk

            Beginning to think I’m part of the Hollywood rumor mill.
            (Don’t believe a word I say.)
            What I saw didn’t provide a lot of detail. And now when I Google, I’m not finding an announcement.
            May have just found interest from a production company.

            Still fondly remember WG’s parting remarks at the Screenwriter’s Expo when asked if he had anything else he wanted to say.
            His answer — “They will lie to you. They will lie to you.”

          • Linkthis83

            Hey MJ,

            Low expectations? What I mean when I say it is that I respect the effort it took to complete a script. That doesn’t mean giving false praise. I will still be direct and critical of a script, but I’m not going to take shots at the writer based on my opinion of their script. They get my respect for putting in the time, the effort and the willingness to be vulnerable by sharing that work.

            The quality still has to be there. And if it isn’t, in my amateur opinion, then I will offer my feedback. I can appreciate what it takes to write a screenplay – any screenplay. Hopefully that makes it clearer. It’s not about expectations, it’s about understanding from experience what it takes to type one page…let alone an entire story in this format.

          • Malibo Jackk

            I know I’m beating a dead horse
            but I tend to think of that like thanking someone for showing up for work.

            Human nature is such that if you expect little from people — they will often give you little in return.
            If you expect more, they will often rise to the challenge — and be better off for it.
            But hate your guts.

            It’s a given
            that if you want to write scripts, you have to be able to finish a script.

          • Scott Crawford

            Think, plan, research. THEN finish the first draft. THEN rewrite. THEN get feedback. THEN polish. THEN you can sell, for lots and lots of money. But no one’s gonna pay you just because you’ve completed a script. Do you know how many scripts are sent, solicited and unsolicited, every day? I don’t, but I would imagine it’s a lot.

          • Linkthis83

            Writing is challenging to me. Going through through the process to create something I hope has an affect on people is exhausting. If for you, that’s the equivalent for just showing up to work, then that’s fair. For me, I’m impressed with people who can go through that process to completion and then share it once it is done.

            I don’t think a person sitting down and churning out one script is expecting little from a person. For me, it’s expecting a lot. LOL.

            The first project I started on (and is currently in a holding pattern) I told my co-writer that I’d be more surprised that we wrote a script than that we sold one. :)

          • Scott Crawford

            Nobody’s talking about taking shots at a writer. You can criticize a script without criticizing the writer.

            BUT you can tell, you can DEFINITELY tell when a writer hasn’t spent a lot of time on his story. It doesn’t matter how LONG a writer has spent writing a script, if he’s only spent a week or a few weeks working on his story, from conception to first draft, how great is that story going to be? Truly? How inspired are his choices going to be?

            Oh, and screenwriting isn’t THAT hard, thousands of people do it everyday. I’ve written 7,000 words in a day before, but even at a novelist’s pace of 2,000 words a day (I’ve probably written more than that commenting on this article!) you can finish a first draft in two weeks. 1,000 words an hour is possible, so if that’s all you’ve got a day, you can complete a script in less than a month.

          • Linkthis83

            “BUT you can tell, you can DEFINITELY tell when a writer hasn’t spent a lot of time on his story.”

            When I’m in a conversation about this, I take the time to look at these things from different angles. On this particular subject, I’ve developed a specific stance on it which is what I initially replied to you.

            I feel it’s presumptuous to state that I KNOW a writer hasn’t done [insert action here]. When you state that it’s obvious, it very well COULD BE, but it may not be. In fact, that writer may have spent endless amounts of time on it. STORY included. But they may lack talent, ability, and/or experience. If so, it doesn’t matter how much time they spend on it. I don’t know what stage they are at in this PROCESS. And because it is a PROCESS, I’m okay with just giving feedback that I think would help their story – whether it be doing more research, understanding the theme of the script, tapping into the emotional core, etc. If they have the work ethic and whatever unquantifiable amount of ability, then based on any feedback they get (which they think is valuable), they can dive back in to try and create a better story.

            Also, writers (including professionals) need feedback at times to know what the current status of their script is from fresh eyes. So they need others to read it to understand that.

            Since you’ve written so much in your time, I would think that you would naturally understand how easy it is to get lost in your own story. Once you break that threshold of no longer being to be OUTSIDE your story looking in…objectively.

            For me, writing is difficult and challenging. For you, it isn’t that HARD – well, I wouldn’t brag about that around these parts ;) (lol)

            These are things that are part of my paradigm/philosophies when it comes to writing. You have yours as well. I’m not trying to state I’m right and you’re wrong, just offer my perspective that I feel strongly about. Especially when it comes to writers.

          • Scott Crawford

            I didn’t say that writing wasn’t that hard, but I breeze through it easier than some people – because I spend more time OUTLINING!!! Getting the story right BEFORE people start talking.

          • Linkthis83

            You didn’t say that writing wasn’t that hard? Well, then I misinterpreted this written by you:

            “Oh, and screenwriting isn’t THAT hard, thousands of people do it everyday.”

    • ChadStuart

      I very rarely write down an outline. Often, the first draft is the first time I put the proverbial pen to paper. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t outline first. I just do it all in my head. I’ll often think about the story and characters for months before I physically write anything down. It’s just the method I’ve developed. Mostly it’s because the times I really have a free mind to think about it, I’m in no position to actually write stuff down. I might be in the car during my commute or in the shower or drifting off to sleep. And, when I write I constantly, go back and redraft scenes and rework the story. I’ll type ten pages, then go back and change stuff. Then write ten pages more and go back and change stuff in the first 20 pages and so on. But usually by the time I type “The End”, and have a complete full script, it’s pretty close to the final draft I’m ready to show people.

      Everyone has their method. And if people want to use the first draft as their outline, who am I to say differently? I can’t say that just because they didn’t outline that their first draft will be unfocused. Just like you can’t say that just because someone outlined and redrafted that the story will be all that focused. I’ve read a script that seemed like it was an exploratory draft, but then the writer produced five drafts before it and an outline. And I’ve read a script that seemed like the product of many, many drafts which was the exploratory draft.

      What you’re describing above isn’t necessarily about how many outlines or drafts were written of a script, what you’re describing is simply the talent of the writer. Some have to work harder than others.

      • Scott Crawford

        What you’re describing is something I’ve heard other writers talk about, and of course I play my movie in my head lots of times Writing it down is no substitute for playing the movie in your head. I think Shane Black likes to plan in his head, can’t be sure. I know one of my favorite writers, Freddy Forsyth, plans in his head, over about a year. He says his stories are so complex he can’t do it any other way except in his head.

        It’s also worth taking time AWAY from your script or outline to let it stew (that’s what I’m doing right now!) so that you can come back to it with fresh eyes.

        But my original point is that some people like to BOAST that they just make it up as they go along. Well, sometimes it shows. Let’s be honest, sometimes it’s obvious that a writer who has spent, say, a year writing a script, spent maybe just a week thinking of the story. The rest of the time he is trying to rewrite dialogue and scene direction. And it’s true, a script should READ great. And if it reads great it CAN, sometimes cover up a less-than terrific story. But why do that? Why not spend the time making the story the best you can? Write another script while you’re waiting for the idea to ferment (I’m doing that too, putting aside a WWII script because I don’t know yet what I want to with it, and pushing on with my spy thriller script).

      • Nate

        ”And, when I write I constantly, go back and redraft scenes and rework the story. I’ll type ten pages, then go back and change stuff. Then write ten pages more and go back and change stuff in the first 20 pages and so on.”
        That’s pretty much what I do. As I’m writing, I’m re-writing. I’ll find something that doesn’t quite work and re-do it as soon as I can, instead of going back and doing it after I’ve already finished the script.
        I’ve tried outlining and I get the main beats down, I know when the protagonist is gonna have to take action, I know what’s going to happen at the midpoint shift, but for individual scenes, I just can’t do it. I don’t know why. I can’t seem to figure out an individual scene, unless I’m writing it out, there and then.

    • Acarl

      Scott, I couldn’t agree more. I see the same crap with the false bravado of “I never outline.” “It limits me.” “I don’t need to.” ” I’m a rule breaker.” etc etc.

      Outlining is the most painful part in the process and I even use index cards before the outlining commences, but in the opinion based off this writer’s limited experience: it is the most crucial step once you have the core of a great concept in place.

      • Scott Crawford

        A lot of people have pointed out other alternatives to outlining that work for THEM, so I think maybe I should have phrased it thus: you need to spend time on your story. A lot of time. Probably more time than you spend on writing the screenplay. Certainly more than a week. And there ARE screenplays that exist where it is self-evident that the writer has spent very little time on the story

    • Somersby

      I’m not sure where you are getting your statistics (an attribute would be nice), but I have a hard time believing anyone has actually polled all working professional writers—or even a calculated sample—on whether or not they outline or not.

      But, ultimately, does it matter? I don’t mean to be confrontational, but I do find it somewhat arrogant and insulting whenever a writer deems it okay to judge others because they don’t follow the same approach.

      It’s the finished product that counts. Does the script work? Does it have theme, structure, and all the vital elements that make it a dynamic read? Is it a great concept wonderfully executed?

      If so, who cares if the writer outlined, or whether he/she thought outside the outline-box? Writers are not robots—at least I’d like to think they’re not.

      If outlining works for you, that’s wonderful. But not everyone approaches creativity in the same way. That’s what makes it creative.

      In the act of creativity, the artist lets go the self control he normally clinks to, and is open to riding the wind – Madeleine L’Engle

      There can be a benefit to letting the story tell you where it wants to go. It’s a discipline as equally structured and as equally difficult as outlining, but it’s a discipline nonetheless. Some of us work hard at it. And more often than not, it provides satisfying rewards.

      When Michelangelo was asked how he created such beautiful sculptures, he reportedly replied, “I simply release them from the marble.” In other words, he let the work lead him, tell him what to do. He didn’t impose himself on the piece… and it worked out pretty well for him, don’t you think?

      I’d suggest you focus on how to reap the most benefits from your approach to writing and not trouble yourself about those who don’t do it the same way.

      • Scott Crawford

        Citations are difficult, but I can’t think of a single A-list professional writer who doesn’t write a list of scenes (outline) before they write. This is based mainly on listening and reading interviews, some of which are available online, and some of which are no longer available.


        There are alternatives to outlining, for example only only outlining the sequences, a partial outline. Or there’s outlining in one’s head. But if a writer doesn’t know what his story is about before he writes it, then who does? This is what Carson is pointing out; if I just wrote something off the top of my head, it’s not very well thought out, then it’s not going to surprise anyone. It’s either going to be a) predictable and cliched, or b) an incoherent mess.

        Like I said, I can’t think of any A-list screenwriter – the kind who might be paid $2 million or more a script – who doesn’t outline the traditional way; that is to say a list of scenes. James Cameron and Zak Penn write “scriptments”. Frederick Forsyth (and a few other) plot in their head. But these writers have all spent time thinking about their story before inflicting it on the general public. Any writer who spends less than a week thinking about their story doesn’t care about their story.

        • Somersby

          I can provide links to an equal number of articles by writers–including John August—who are not fans of outlining. In fact, Mr. August says something with which I couldn’t agree more: “The correct way to write your screenplay is whatever gets it written.”


          You can’t assume that because a writer chooses not to outline, he or she is choosing not to put a lot of thought into their story. And it doesn’t mean they are writing without knowing where the story is going. I always know the end of the story before I begin writing. It’s the journey toward that end that I need to allow space for the story to surprise, startle or awe me if need be.

          If you’ve never had the delight in uttering Wow, I didn’t see that coming! while hunched over the keyboard, you might have a hard time sensing what I’m talking about. But believe me, it’s like a shot of electricity up the spine. It’s the kind of thrill that makes me keep writing.

          Lawrence Kasdan, who has written his share of multi-million dollar scripts including Body Heat, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes, etc, etc. says, “I used to outline what I was going to do. I don’t do that so much anymore. It’s part of trying to loosen up the process and not know what’s happening.”


          My objection to your initial point is that you wrongly assume that if a writer doesn’t outline, he hasn’t thought sufficiently about the story. That’s a naïve and unfair assumption. I suspect there are as nearly as many approaches to writing as there are writers. Insinuating that those who don’t approach it the same way are wrong is…well, just not right.

    • kent

      coen bros.

      • Scott Crawford

        Yes, and Zach Helms, Martin McDonagh, maybe Tarantino, not sure. A few others. But by saying “I’m not going to outline because the Coen brothers don’t outline” won’t get you very far. Believe me. Even if they don’t outline, they at least CONSIDER their story. Plunging straight it and thinking that “God will guide my pen” is a rookie mistake.

        • kent

          I didn’t say I don’t outline or why I don’t, just that the coens don’t. I get an idea for a story, then feel a need to write some of it to get a feel for the tone and the characters. And the voice I’m going to use — very different for a comedy or thriller. Then I’ll step back and scribble some notes about what happens next. So I do have a clear sense of the major characters and plot points, but not a complete outline. TV’s a different matter. Complete and derailed outlines. As an atheist god never gets involved.

          • Scott Crawford

            Well, the religious comment was deliberate – it’s amazing in an increasingly secular world how much some writers believe in “divine inspiration”!

            Sorry if I implied anything about your work process; I’m just to people attacking me with “What about Tarantino” and “What about Pulp Fiction”. Anyway, what you described is something I think we all do – mix writing and outlining. Sometimes you have to write a little to get a feel for the story.

            And you brought up something I didn’t mention that is ABSOLUTELY true. In TV, you HAVE to outline. Let’s see some of these “I don’t outline” dudes cope with that!

  • r.w. hahn

    Great article Carson….Writing a screenplay can be seen like a Cop taking witness accounts of an intersection accident from 4 people who saw it from four different corners. Each one has a different account, and some may even contradict one another….Each is valid, but one guy heard the screech then turned to see it. One saw one car but not the other before they crashed….etc…There are many angles to come at a movie, or a scene…and still get to the same result…..Your article reminds me to see the accident from the most interesting angle, and even after the four witnesses accounts, look again, there may be a helicopter traffic cam angle I had never considered….

    • walker

      The concept of multiple narratives of the same set of events is memorably explored in Akira Kurosawa’s classic film Rashomon (1950).

      • brenkilco

        There, of course, you saw the event repeated whole three or four times. And the theme was the illusory nature of memory and the effect of individual ego. I’ve always thought there was a great genre film waiting to be written in which we get the accurate but limited perspectives of a number of witnesses to an event but that the truth of what has actually happened only becomes clear after all the views have been layered together. Not that I know what the story would be.

        • r.w. hahn

          ahhh…you would have to ask the witnesses….:)

  • mulesandmud

    It’s very important that Carson acknowledges this isn’t just an amateur problem.

    A scene that feels ‘predisposed’ or perfunctory is not always a sign that the writer has put minimum effort or creativity into a scene, character, description, etc. Sometimes that boring, uninspired scene – and this is the cruel irony of writing – is the result of diligent rewriting, our greatest tool and also our most perilous pitfall.

    Granted, our first pass at a scene is often an automatic one, likely a standard genre beat ripped consciously or unconsciously from another movie. Let’s assume, though, that our first pass has some great sparks in there, hints of originality that point the way toward a great scene and can be detected/nurtured during future revisions.

    Hence, the rewrite. An ideal rewrite refines and sharpens material, bringing the best, purest elements to the surface and setting the perfunctory stuff aside.

    In real life, though, rewrites can be messy, disorienting, demoralizing, and contentious. Trusted readers gives utterly contradictory feedback. Collaborators lobby for alternative approaches. Outside pressures force commercial considerations into the mix.

    What begins as an attempt to purify a project can easily muddle it further, especially when a writer doesn’t have total control of the project or unshakeable vision of what it ought to be (which is often).

    As the weeds thicken, a writer can start to flail and grasp for solutions, any solutions, and in doing so can drag a project further into the mud. Then, in an attempt to regain focus and put things back on track, a writer may cast aside all the clutter and try to get back to basics, to remember what the scene was really about.

    At that point, a writer might easily end up returning to that original cliche, only now, having spent so much time lost in the darkness, the dull glimmer of that original scene suddenly seems like a beacon.

    And so, having gone around the world exploring myriad permutations, the writer returns to where they started, at which point someone reads the scene and says “That scene feels rather predisposed, my good man.”

    Moments like that are why writers jump off bridges.

    That’s why it so critical that we learn how to keep perspective on our material all the way through the process, walking the tightrope between exploring options and staying true to intentions. Keeping sight of the bigger picture. Knowing when to ask for feedback and when to keep our cards close.

    These are learned skills, more often than not learned through hardship. Stick with it.

    • Casper Chris

      That is a good point as well, mule.

    • Scott Crawford

      It can be difficult to track down ANY script, let alone multiple drafts, but as a die-hard James Bond fan, I purchased two books by Charles Helfenstein, “The Making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and “The Making of The Living Daylights”. Both contain detailed analysis of changes between treatments and drafts as these movie screenplays were developed. There are websites about the differences between the Star Wars scripts, including the sequels (when does Luke learn that Vader is his father? Not in the first draft of Empire as it turns out).

      On Her Majesty’s Secret Service began as a fairly faithful adaptation of the novel, then they added more gadgets and gags to bring it in line with You Only Live Twice, then the director (rightly) told them to go back to the novel for the shooting script. But in a way it was worth going through those treatments and screenplays – with their underwater cars and Bond making friends with a gorilla (no, I’m not on drugs, that was actually in there) – just to show those things didn’t work.

      The Living Daylights began as a treatment about Bond as twenty-something in the 1970s, just after he has joined the Secret Service, but before becoming a “Double-0”. That was rejected by the producer, so they wrote a treatment that was remarkably close to the final movie. The writers – they were a writing team, Maibaum and Wilson – then rewrote that treatment until they were happy with the story, then went on rewriting, honing the story, coming up with better ideas for setpieces (the final confrontation with the villain wasn’t sorted until the last draft, and the Aston Martin wasn’t added until just before filming) until they had created, in my view, the best James Bond film of the series.

      You’re not (always) gonna get it right first time. Get used to that. That’s screenwriting.

      • brenkilco

        I suppose it’s not accurate to describe OHMSS as underrated anymore. Everybody has pretty much caught up with it. Director Hunt’s extraordinarily innovative action editing should have marked him out for big things. Sadly, he never did much else of note. But the script is really daring. After the initial beach and hotel fights there’s not much in the way of conventional bondian action for more than an hour. Yet it’s never dull. It hews very closely to the Fleming novel but comparing book to film it’s interesting how the writers were able to crank the action up several notches without harming the basic structure. And finding a way to fit Diana Rigg’s character into the escape sequence was a major improvement.

        • Scott Crawford

          I disagree with you, of course, over Daylights, but there is something in what you say about Wilson. He’s a very capable producer, and I do like the movies he wrote, but there’s some evidence that he (in some people’s opinion) overloaded some of those movies from the tight screenplays that Maibaum could have written on his own.

          But it’s interesting, if you read the book, how close the first treatment was to the final movie, but it wasn’t QUITE there (mainly in the action scenes) and so they kept working, and working, and working on it. Four treatments (each about 40 to 70 pages long) and five drafts. A lot of writing, but that’s what people get paid for. Other people get paid to act, or paint the set. Screenwriters get (usually well-) paid to write.

    • bex01

      Well said! I feel this is where I am at the moment. Rewritten a few scenes so many times that I’m mostly just going round in circles now and feeling way too overwhelmed with it all. Taking a break for a few days and hoping things become clearer

  • brenkilco

    Maybe a cheat but if I’m looking at a scene that seems necessary but is just lying there dull and lifeless and on the nose my first thought is. Is there some way I can get rid of it completely?

  • Randy Williams

    My writing partner grows obsessed with the physical details of a scene and I have to rein him in constantly. The other day, we’re writing a scene that involved a carabiner clip. One of those clips mountain climbers use to secure themselves. I didn’t know what one was but I had a general idea.

    Oh, my, he went off trying to explain exactly what it was, drawing a diagram, (he loves diagrams) even thinking he had one in the car, he’d go out and get it! I’m the one taking down notes as we discuss our story, so I’m always pushing things along. What’s important to me is not what a carabiner is… dude!

    What does the camera think about it?!

    Does it want to linger on the carabiner? Is it having problems following it? Is the carabiner making sounds that annoys the camera, frightens it? Is it worried that something is broken on it? These things are all that matter to me.

    This focus seems to bring out the best in our imaginations. It is a constant struggle with him, but man, once he feeds the camera, it’s on.

    • Scott Crawford

      Yeah, but it’s often people’s method. While I’m waiting for ideas to “stew” in my brain, I find research, drawings, writing on this comments board, anything that can get my juices flowing again. Hitchcock told dirty jokes, interrupting his writer’s train of thought. It was just his method. As Hitch said, if the idea’s any good, it will come back to you. Don’t force it.

  • K.B. Houston

    Spot on, Carson. I fully agree. This, in my eyes, is probably the single biggest problem for amateur writers: They don’t think enough.

    I’m going to say this one time and one time only (mostly because it’s my own little catchphrase and I don’t want anybody stealing it from me, even though it’s not very original in the first place): Writing IS thinking! Writing is nothing more than transmitting imaginary thoughts from your brain onto a tangible medium. When you write, whatever it is you’re thinking will end up on the page; therefore, good writing reflects healthy thinking. When you write unoriginal scenes with bland characters, you’re not really thinking, you’re just writing down the first thing that comes to your head.

    When someone asks you a trivia question, for example, one that you think you might know but aren’t 100 percent positive about, think of how many different answers you shuffle through in your brain. That’s thinking! That’s the exact same process you should be going through with not only each scene, but each line of dialogue and each word in you script. You should always be asking yourself, “Is this the best I can do?” “Is this the most creative way to tackle this scene?” “Is this character truly unique?”

    Yesterday I was writing a short story and came to a point where I knew this one word was the perfect fit for what I was trying to say. The only problem was that I couldn’t remember what it was. I sat there for 20 minutes trying to think of this word. I tried to find it in the thesaurus, searched online, everything. Couldn’t find it. But eventually I came up with another one that was almost as good and it satisfied me enough to at least move on to the next sentence.

    This, to me, is writing. It’s more torturous than glamorous. It’s really not the physical act of writing that’s actually writing — THINKING is writing. So next time you sit down to write a story, think, don’t write.

    • Casper Chris

      Yesterday I was writing a short story and came to a point where I knew this one word was the perfect fit for what I was trying to say. The only problem was that I couldn’t remember what it was. I sat there for 20 minutes trying to think of this word. I tried to find it in the thesaurus, searched online, everything. Couldn’t find it. But eventually I came up with another one that was almost as good and it satisfied me enough to at least move on to the next sentence.

      I think we’ve all been there. Nothing frustrates me more.

      Good post.

    • Magga

      I’m there right now! What is the name for a closet door with horizontal planks that are slightly apart so you can look out through them? Seems like such a waste of screenplay space to describe the door in that amount of detail, but I can’t think of a name for it!

      • walker

        A louvered door.

      • Matthew Garry

        “Louver door” probably.

        What works really well for such cases is “images.google.com”

        I knew what you meant, but couldn’t find the word. The style you meant however reminded me of venetian blinds. So you search for “venetian door”. Then you scroll past actual doors from venice, and all it takes is one picture.

        The trick here is to recognise that for most articles someone somewhere is trying to sell them online, but has the exact same problem you are having: none of his potential customers might know the correct technical name. So in order for his business to be found he’ll have to resort to descriptions for matches, and somewhere in these descriptions one vendor will likely use the same associations you’re trying to get a match to find the proper word.

        Of course, sometimes, in the end, you end up with the perfect word, but realise no one else in the whole world, except for those who also sought after it online, will actually know what is meant by it, meaning you’re right back with the cumbersome description.

      • brenkilco

        This is when you love the internet. A while back I was writing something where I really needed to describe the interior and exterior of a Georgian mansion- doesnt matter why. Anyway I dont know much about architecture and I don’t know anything about design. But I knew what I didnt know. What do you call those phony decorative pillars you see on walls, and those semicircular windows you see above regular windows, and those big triangular things that go on the tops of colonnades? So I googled around. And I finally came up with pilaster and lunette and pediment. And I stuck them in and the descriptions read pretty well and I sound like I know what I’m talking about when I don’t know jack. Good feeling.

        • Casper Chris

          So I googled around. And I finally came up with pilaster and lunette and pediment. And I stuck them in and the descriptions read pretty well and I sound like I know what I’m talking about when I don’t know jack. Good feeling.

          That made me laugh out loud.

      • K.B. Houston

        As others have mentioned below, a quick Internet search reveals they’re “louver doors.” I think as long as you convey there’s a crack to see through, that’s what really matters.

      • Logic Ninja

        Oh, I HATE that problem! But it’s also a great way to learn new words–I’d never heard of a “louver door.” Filing that one away.

      • brenkilco

        Also known as jalousie doors if you want to be fancy, though I think jalousie is more a british term.

      • charliesb

        Closet door with shutters. Or shuttered closet door.

    • JakeMLB

      I think you and Carson are on the right track but I think you’re both overlooking a pretty important ingredient in this process and that’s talent and creativity.

      It’s quite possible that both the amateur writer and the professional who wrote the scenes that Carson calls “predisposed” thought very long and hard, considered all possible scenarios, the scene’s thematic relevance, the scene’s relation to plot and character, then rewrote it a dozen times, and yet still ended up with a scene that a reader thinks is straightforward and predisposed; which is to say exactly the scenario that mulesandmud described above.

      Let’s take the converse of that. An excellent scene. It’s thematically relevant, it’s filled with surprising twists and turns. All in all, it’s a veritable masterpiece. Who’s to say that scene wasn’t predisposed? In fact, it’s very likely that many great scenes were in fact well-developed in the outline stage and the author simply transcribed the scene to paper.

      What separates these two examples? One is of course time and effort — the thinking aspect. Doing a proper outline. Having it vetted. Certainly many amateurs are guilty of avoiding the hard work of writing: thinking. But the other is simply intangible. It’s experience. It’s talent. It’s creativity. It’s perception. It’s voice. It’s you as an individual. It’s something that only comes with a refined knowledge of the craft and even then, there is an unlearned talent, an innate ability that will separate two writers who have spent the same time at their craft. That’s unfortunately something that you cannot teach and will always factor into the writing.

      The point in all this is to say that it’s not always thinking that separates the amateur from the professional. It’s often just talent and experience.

      • K.B. Houston

        Yes, that’s true, and a point I was very cognizant of when I wrote my comment above. I was going to mention it but I decided not to because I didn’t want to be discouraging. If people want to chase their dream, I don’t want to be the one to discourage them from doing so. Plus, I think with lots of hard work and dedication a lack of innate creativity can at least be subdued in the screenwriting world.

    • ElectricDreamer

      To make good screenwriting decisions, your Google-Fu must be strong.

  • Casper Chris

    Yes, yes, yes!

    That’s why I’m always in here talking about “pushing yourself creatively” and “not settling for the first choice”. This is exactly what I mean.

    I thought this was a cool way of explaining it. If writing feels easy, you’re probably not trying hard enough.

    • Scott Crawford

      What if George Lucas had “settled for his first choice”? Huh? What would have happened then? A middle-aged Luke Skywalker! Teenage boys! Evil wookies!

      (Are you reading this, Rian Johnson? Are you? Gareth Thomas? The other one? Huh? Are you reading this?)

      • Casper Chris

        lol, I remember reading that first draft of Star Wars. What an abomination. I never got to the evil wookies part. Almost makes me want to give it another go.

        • Scott Crawford

          The “evil wookies” was in the first treatment.

          The first treatment was OK, a one-off, a lot of Hidden Fortress and Frank Herbert’s Dune in there. But it never would have been this huge franchise thing if it wasn’t for the third draft.

      • ElectricDreamer

        “What if George Lucas had “settled for his first choice”? Huh? What would have happened then?”

        I believe that movie’s called — THE PHANTOM MENACE.

        • Scott Crawford

          Very, VERY true. The DANGERS of being the writer, executive producer, AND director (and the money). And doing the whole thing in secrecy. Who gives you feedback?

  • Linkthis83

    Scripts are complex organisms; for ALL writers on all levels…always. I’m glad Carson highlighted this and that Mules followed up on it. I’ve listened to so many screenwriters talk about writing on Scriptnotes, BAFTA speeches, articles, etc. It’s never easy.


    -I think writers end up with Room A because it’s what they know. If I was an interior designer and I was given empty Room B to design, I’d probably fill it with the stuff from Room A – it’s what I know. It’s familiar.

    -You have to be willing to challenge your Room A approach. What I mean is, I may not have any idea that the stuff in Room B exists to design it that way, but I’m aware that there are more ways to do it than what I’m familiar with. I must put in the work to learn/discover what those other possibilities are. I can’t writer about something that I don’t know exists. That’s actually the fun part of research.

    Allow yourself to go down some rabbit holes at times and you’ll learn things you never knew. These are little (or big) nuances that enhance things. A pilot once told me that if an airplane loses cabin pressure and the oxygen masks drop, you have about 30 seconds to put that mask on before you pass out. I didn’t know that. And the movies certainly don’t teach me that. And all the people I hear screaming about accuracy in scripts and why they can’t believe a story because of SCIENCE, I never hear them mention this. But now that I do know that, I could write a scene with that nuance in it that MIGHT enhance it. However, I also know that there’s not much drama in a character needing to get to an oxygen mask to stay awake. Thus, I’m also okay that movies don’t portray this accurately because it takes the FUN and ENTERTAINMENT out of some of these moments — For me, possibility isn’t necessary…plausability is nice…but if you create a great STORY from elements that aren’t possible, I’m not really going to care (I’m looking at you SNOWPIERCER).

    -In regards to Carson’s approach to a scene, I understand where he’s coming from. I think writers (mostly amateurs) craft certain scenes in a familiar way because they feel they have to or it’s done subconsciously.

    From the familiar sense: It’s what they know. It’s what they’ve seen themselves done over and over again. They purposely choose to write these scenes this way because they feel it has to be in order for it to have credibility. Because it’s how scenes like this are written now — I understand this. If you have a scenario where you want somebody to be able to break-in to a place, it feels necessary to include a lot of similar obstacles – because they get used over and over again in other films — I believe it’s why the AIR DUCT is such I highly used DEVICE in stories. It bypasses all the problems. Like my airplane example previous, I always wondered if you could actually crawl in some ceilings in places I’ve worked, or if that air duct really would hold the weight of a man moving through it.

    From the unconscious angle: same as above, only they aren’t purposely choosing it – it’s automatic pilot time because that’s how those scenes are done.

    -In regards to Carson’s scene suggestion: I’m not really going to be critical of the example, but to emphasize what I think is crucial before creating the scene:

    a) you should have an idea of the purpose of the scene

    b) what are the elements that you are using this scene to highlight

    c) what needs to happen in this scene

    d) what is the goal of it.

    e) All of the above = ask your story questions. Ask your scene questions. When you feel like you have it set up in a way that accomplishes what you are trying to do, then ask if it’s done in an interesting way.

    My process:

    1) I explore possibilities in my head before I generally even write anything down. I think about what I want to accomplish in a scene, or a moment, or something. Then I try and go through as many paths in my head. I explore the different perspectives and who wants what. While I’m writing it from a certain perspective, to each character, the story is theirs too.

    2) Once I start deciding on answers, this leads me to an outline…by default. So I create an outline based on the answers to questions of my story (this includes events, characters, emotions, intentions, purposes, goals, etc).

    3) Once I have an outline, whether it’s for the whole script, or just ACT I, then that’s when I start to write. The very first time I ever did this, I realized how hard it is.

    For the IISC competition, I had my pages outlined. I knew the moments I wanted to happen, when they should happen, and where they were going to take place. I sat down to start typing and then went “Shit! Now I have to add the specific details to accomplish all this. Shit!” — It was hard. It’s like I had a canvas before me and I knew there was going to be a tree, a creek and bear. But now I had to decide if the creek was quiet and calm or a raging river. What type of tree. What time of year is it to reflect how the tree should look. What’s the mood of the bear. What are the details I have to fill in to reflect the overall intention of this moment…and not only that, but also be cognizant of how it affects the OVERALL intention and is it cohesive with that. — so many things to be responsible for.

    These scripts/stories are complex organisms. Every choice has an effect. You can’t make arbitrary choices because they will feel arbitrary. Everything must be purposeful to be effective.

    Some have highlighted how important thinking is. I tend to go with the word “thoughtfulness” — Effective stories have a great deal of thoughtfulness (and I can even qualify that by stating that stories I enjoy have a lot of thoughtfulness — this may not be true for everyone).

    For help on writing scenes, you can use this as a reference (I was stoked when I found this because I felt it gave me some credibility to the craft because I had started doing a lot of this on my own):


    • Poe_Serling

      Hey Link-

      Those are some deep-dish thoughts. You might just be this site’s Stanley
      Kubrick. ;-)

      [ ] Hoping Link’s horror script rivals The Shining.

      • Linkthis83

        Link’s bucket list (updated):

        [ ] get on Poe’s bucket list
        [ ] once on Poe’s bucket list, lower his expectations

      • ElectricDreamer

        [ ] Hope you dig Link’s horror script as much as you did mine.
        [ ] Hope to read Link’s horror script pre-AOW.

        • Poe_Serling

          [ ] Hope to read Link’s horror script pre-AOW.

          Don’t rush him… remember writing an epic horror story is often a slow moving beast.

    • Paul Clarke

      Are we still having top comments each week? Because I vote for this one.

      Nailed it Link.

  • G.S.

    I actually have the opposite problem – I think about these things too much. I do this so often and for such long periods that I end up completely stagnating my project. I’ve really only managed to overcome this kind of creative lock-up in a couple of ways: 1) brute force – writing down anything and everything in spite of myself (which feels like mental self-mutilation at times) or , 2) externalize my struggle by discussing it with a muse/partner who thinks differently enough as to provide fresh perspective and even some ideas. Lucky for me, my wife is my muse – though she’s disinterested or busy half the time…

    Does anyone else have this issue?

    • Midnight Luck

      I am right there with you. I think, think, overthink, get trapped in my head, mull it over, think it to death. I am a master at analyzing and thinking about things, To the point where getting it on paper is the most difficult part. I love squishing it around, breaking it down, looking at it from 10 billion different directions inside my head, before I place it on pixel (paper).

      I many times have the same thing as you when it is time to put it down, I have to through sheer force, get it out of my head and on the page. And even then, as I am writing, I am continually having another 100 to 200 variations of: “no, maybe it could go this way, no it could go that way, oh wait, what about this, no, I’ve GOT IT, THIS is the way it should be”.

      I have so many many ideas, so many thoughts, so many derivations of a Character, Concept, Scene, Story, Conversation, etc, that many times it is pure torture to get it onto the page. I second guess myself. I Out-Think myself. I try to get back to what, in my head, is the Pure Thought I had to begin with, yet it is usually gone, and now is a mutilated, bastardized, mucked up, jumbled and mashed reconstituted version of the original. And Yet….sometimes what comes back out, once in a blue moon, after all that kneading and breaking and rebuilding…is utterly Beautiful.

      • ripleyy

        I’m assuming you’re a Virgo? And what makes it worse sometimes is actually forcing it out. I’m fortunate enough not to be *that* bad, though, but I am really critical of myself which is both a good thing and a bad thing.

        • Midnight Luck

          Libra actually.

          Yeah, I am not a fan of the “Forcing it out” part. I don’t think it brings very good work for me. I think I am struggling at that point because something inside me KNOWS it isn’t great, and doesn’t want it to be put down on paper. My inner self is saying “Do Better!” and me dragging those words out is excruciating and very unfulfilling.

          And I am so, so very critical of myself as well. It might be considered abuse in other circles;)

          • JakeMLB

            It really can be excruciating can’t it!? I’m the same way. I think the only advice is really to get through it and write it. You have to learn to get it in paper and in a form where you can better make decisions. In fact the process of writing itself will often provide solutions that simply wouldn’t be apparent during outlining.

            The solution then is to really change your perception about that initial draft and process. Many pros actually find that first draft liberating because it’s about exploration and discovery and not about perfection. It’s about learning about your characters, your world and the tone of this story. Now I say that like it’s easy but it’s not. So I’d say do whatever you can to mentally change your perception about that initial draft. Or do something to change your process. Identify where in your process you’re stalling and try to attack that. Wish I had a better solution! I struggle with this myself.

          • Midnight Luck

            —-It can be so painful. Self criticism is necessary, and awful. Trying to always find that balance of getting top notch work from yourself, without bringing yourself down.

            —–Sometimes I just write on the fly. I have a great story idea and I want to see where it takes me just by going for it.

            Other times I will create my version of an outline. More beats that I want to happen. More images of things I picture, or feelings I want to convey at certain points in the story.

            It isn’t some laundry list of bullet points or
            kind of thing, it is still a pretty free flowing thing, but definitely more structured than when I just sit down and let’er rip with no direction at all except the basic idea of the overall story in my head.

            Can’t say either is better, just different based on what I am feeling at the time and with regards to the “sense” i am getting from the story.

            I do think with complicated stories, or complex structures between multiple characters (like Crash) you definitely need some kind of outline to keep it all organized and not just trapped in your head.

            The outline for me is a simple way to see the target from a mile out, in my head, and know if I am still in the right direction and not aiming at the wall behind me instead. I think it keeps me on the right track, allows for a ton of freedom in choice, without being stifling.

            I need freedom, while still having basic structure.

          • Midnight Luck

            In terms of working on it with others, sadly I don’t have a lot there. I do know what you mean about solving some problems quickly. Sometimes I can discuss a story, idea, problem with my brother, and he thinks so differently something he says will completely change my thoughts on the issue, or answer some problem.
            Again, sadly, I live far from anywhere that might have any kind of group / writers. I have looked in the town nearby, and nothing.
            Not at all like being in LA and having swirling tornados of active screenwriters, all looking to share ideas and crunch stories together.

          • JakeMLB

            Well, I’m in LA and I can tell you that there aren’t swirling tornadoes of active screenwriters all looking to share ideas and crunch stories together. There are certainly far more writers here than anywhere else but many writers are introverts so that in itself makes for a problem. It also depends where you are in life. If you’re a twenty something fresh out of college and have time and energy on your side and happen to find work in the industry then finding a writing group isn’t that much of a challenge. If you’re late twenties or a thirty something and well into a career then it’s probably nearly as challenging here as anywhere else. Besides, many groups are formed online nowadays so location is becoming less of an excuse. I really can’t stress how important it is to find other smart people to help you with your work. I say that without having a strong support group myself but I know the value of it!

          • ripleyy

            I was wondering, because both Virgos and Libras are really critical and analytical people, which is why I asked hah. And like you said, self-criticism should be balanced somehow. I’ve seen plenty of ideas being rewrote to death until I’m forced to reboot the whole idea and watching the same cycle continue. It’s also about constraint – when do you stop, and how do you know you’re ready? For people like us, who are very critical of our own work, knowing when something is finished is a nightmare to know. It’s just impossible to figure out.

            And like you said to Jake, it’s great to have someone bounce ideas to, but it’s also very difficult to find someone who shares your same line of thought.

          • Kirk Diggler

            Personally, I think it’s important to find a writing partner who thinks different from yourself. Being in lockstep with each other sounds good in theory, but it’s just as likely to produce something bland as something good. More to the point, one person should be really good at structure and pacing and the larger story picture, the other should be good at dialogue and characterization.

    • brenkilco

      It seems to me that the part of your brain that does the initial creating is separate from the part that shapes and judges the material. If you can lock the second part out of the room for a bit, give yourself permission to just imagine your characters in whatever place you’ve chosen to put them and go you might surprize yourself not only by the reality of what you’ve written but by the shape and point you’ve given a scene without all the agonized analysis. The emphasis on mechanics on this thread obscures the fact that creative writing is also a right brain activity as Ernest Lehman used to say. And sometimes you have to allow the inspiration to pop.

      • Scott Crawford

        The writing team of Brandt and Haas has it worked out, I think. They write separately, most of the time. Brandt describes himself as a sculptor, and Haas as a painter. Haas also write novels. He’s very good at CREATING. Haas writes the first draft. Brandt started out as an editor. He also directs. He’s very good at EDITING (scultping). So Brandt writes the second draft. (Then back to Haas and so forth).

        I write alone, so over the years I’ve had to rely on my split personality to accomplish this. But, yeah, take a step back, think about it from a right-brained creative point-of-view. Put down that crazy idea, you never know it might work. Put down LOTS of ideas, then edit with your left brain. Until all that’s left are the great ideas. Then sell that script!

      • ElectricDreamer

        I’ve combated a similar effect with wearing “different hats” when writing.
        The WRITER HAT fills the page. The PRODUCER HAT refines it.
        And then the writer puts more craft on the pages.
        And the producer will keep nip/tucking until the spec’s market ready.
        I use the separate hats to hold onto some sanity while rewriting.

    • Scott Crawford

      No, G.S. You’re the only writer in history to suffer from this problem!!!

      Seriously, this is what it’s all about. How do you know when you’re done? Let’s say you’re making a cake. You mix the ingredients, you get a dough(?). How do you know that dough’s good until you cook it and give to people to eat? But if it’s not good, well you’ve just wasted all your raisins.

      You could try eating some of the dough. It won’t taste the same, but it might help. Or you can just trust that you’ve done everything right in making the dough and now you’ve got to concentrate on the cooking.

      (If it’s not obvious, the uncooked cake is the outline, the cooked cake is the script. The frosting is the final polish to the script. Forget jimmies.).

    • JakeMLB

      This is exactly my issue. I get trapped by overthinking to the point that I’ve thought about it so much that the concept begins to lose meaning, I lose my grip on the world and its characters and ultimately I suffer from fatigue to the point that I have to take time away away from the script.

      That said, I think that’s okay to a point. What separates the professional from the amateur is their ability to think in this way and then make a decision based upon instinct and experience. They may spend the same amount of time and effort in thinking but it’s likely that the decision process becomes easier as you become more experienced in the craft. You’re better able to visualize the impact on the greater story and better able to recognize (and quickly) which ideas are worth discounting and which are worth greater consideration.

      If anyone has solutions I’d love to hear them. One is to take time away from the material. But the problem may arise when you return. The other is really to learn to move forward with a draft and address it in rewrite. This is where I suspect most struggle with, myself included. At some point you have to move forward and actually write something because navigating the solutions in your head is simply too difficult.

  • Logline_Villain

    Imitation may be the greatest form of flattery – but rarely when it comes to screenwriting.

    I recall an excellent JB12 post a few months back, and note that I’m liberally interpreting it now based on memory – but therein he coined something like the “Deep Purple” syndrome, wherein many beginning writers are simply content to copy their favorite movies – akin to a novice guitarist aspiring to competently strum the riffs to “Smoke On The Water” – and the end result is that the script tends to be something along the lines of what Carson writes about today.

    This is evidenced in the “Why You Should Read” section with some AOW submissions – writers compare their scripts to some GREAT produced script/movie, which clearly served as inspiration: problem is, the writer just planted the seed in the reader’s head that his/her script is probably little more than a (lesser) imitation of something iconic already scribed by [insert skilled writer name here]. It’s an impossible standard to live up to…

    IMHO – we should never want a reader digging into our scripts predisposed to judge ‘em against the masterwork it was compared to…

    Better yet, hopefully our scripts defy the “imitation” label in the first place.

    • klmn

      “This is evidenced in the “Why You Should Read” section with some AOW submissions – writers compare their scripts to some GREAT produced script/movie, which clearly served as inspiration: problem is, the writer just planted the seed in the reader’s head that his/her script is probably little more than a (lesser) imitation of something iconic already scribed by [insert skilled writer name here]…”

      Great point. Carson should include this in his next book.

      And whoever picks the scripts for AF should use this as a red flag.

    • Scott Crawford

      One writer says “I want to write something like Django Unchained.” Well, Django Unchained is Tarantino’s version of a “paella western”, just as Inglorious Basterds was his version of a “macaroni war movie”. If you copy Django Unchained, you’ll most likely end up with a “xerox-of-a-xerox”, a copy of a copy.

      Second writer says that he will watch “paella westerns” like the original Django, so he can write something CLOSER to the “source material”. Well, that’s better, but you’re still just following in another person’s footsteps.

      Third writer is smarter. He LOVES “commedia all’italiana”, like Big Deal on Madonna Street. He writes something SIMILAR, but not the same, just as Django Unchained is similar to the original Django, but it’s not the same. Will that writer’s crime comedy be successful. Well, Welcome to Collingwood – the remake of Big Deal on Madonna Street – wasn’t successful. But the directors of that did just make Captain America 2….

  • Mike.H

    Me the wise guy comic says: No, I disagree. The second pic with elevated taste reminds me of STAY the Sixth Sense Wannabe with E. McGregor.

    BTW, it’s been 96 hrs — we can legally file missing persons on GRENDL. I hope he’s okay or maybe he’s busy out killing chicken or foxes. :)

    • klmn

      “maybe he’s busy out killing chicken or foxes. :)”

      Or bottles of single malt.

  • Scott Crawford

    Yes, Hellfenstein’s book has some of the symptoms of the self-published book. It’s definitely , mostly for fans, although his research in both books is beyond reproach, and corrects a lot of the myths that have arisen around bothe movies.

  • Midnight Luck

    Growing up as an artist and a writer, something became apparent very quickly:
    Our minds SEE in more than three dimensions.

    The drawing we make inside our head, is not confined to paltry three dimensions. Everything will end up looking entirely different on the piece of paper than in our minds eye.

    This is as true with writing as with drawing.

    We create this incredible dream, this beautiful masterpiece inside our complex and perfect heads, yet those creations are made in limitless dimensions. We can change perspectives in a microsecond, thinking we are just turning to look at an object from a different side, but instead are looking at it in a ways impossible to the laws of Physics. Our heads have capacity. The capacity to suspend the laws of Physics. In fact our brains are confined by almost no laws at all.
    When we try to look at our creation in a realistic and accurate way, we find it nearly impossible to put down in the archaic two or three dimensions.

    This was my Achille’s Heel in Art School, and this is my Achille’s Heel in writing.
    Too many dimensions from which to see.
    Too many interesting choices.
    Too many thoughts and directions.

    What is the best choice?
    An idea can be built for the sake of story, the sake of ingenuity, for beauty, or for the thrill. For pure logical sense, or for the crazy unadulterated joy of being able to just create.

  • Scott Crawford

    Precisely. It’s why some writers are best to just get those early scripts out of their system – they’re unlikely to be good (mine weren’t). But what I realized was it’s all about the amount of effort you put into writing. As I’ve written a few times over the past hours, making my way down the comments board, a writer should put a lot of EFFORT into their script. If it’s not working, move on to the next. But it isn’t just “going to happen” (most of the time), there’s no “immaculate conception”. When you finish writing a screenplay, you should feel drained, physically, but also emotionally and mentally drained.

  • Scott Crawford

    Yes, a little free flow is important otherwise you could jump from one event to the next without logic. However, make sure you clean up after yourself, i.e. in the rewrite, get rid of those “shoeleather moments” where you have a character going from one place to the next, or talking endlessly until you reach the point of the conversation.

    Big difference between amateurs and professionals – amateurs leave the shoeleather in, as filler. Professionals have a strong story and can get rid of it (or put it offscreen).

    I hope that makes sense – I’m getting tired!

    • JT

      Absolutely makes sense, and agreed :)

  • ElectricDreamer

    You call it: Predisposed Writing. I call it: LOW HANGING FRUIT syndrome.
    It pains me to write the phrase in development notes, but it needs to be said.

    When starting your craft, it’s nigh impossible to tell when an idea’s overripe/cliche.
    But the more fruit/ideas you “inspect”, the better you get at identifying fresh fruit.

    And now, I’m hungry dammit.

    • Scott Crawford

      I like that phrase! Reach higher! The best ideas are harder to reach, but that’s why they’re the best.

      I think that sometimes you have to tell people that. They may not always realize they’re being cliche.

      • ElectricDreamer

        Thanks, it’s really tough to write down sometimes. I feel like a jerk.
        But I much prefer catchy food analogies than crushing colleague’s dreams.
        It’s like going to the market, you get better at selecting ripe fruit over time.

  • klmn

    “If you don’t succeed, try again. Then quit. No sense being a damned fool about it.” – W.C. Fields

    • Scott Crawford

      Yeah, I call it a “Hougoumont”, after the Battle of Waterloo. Because I’m pretentious. Napoleon’s men spent too much time trying to take Hougoumont, they lost the damned battle. Try to know when to quit and move on to the next idea. Don’t let your screenplay be your Hougoumont (never gonna catch on, is it?).

      • klmn

        Most Americans are doing well if they’ve heard of Waterloo.

        Although the singer calling himself Stonewall Jackson scrambles the metaphor.

      • klmn

      • Malibo Jackk

        It’s been suggested that his generals lost the Battle of Waterloo
        because they were dead set on following orders (the rules) and not willing to modify the plan, even when having the opportunity. And this because they where ‘yes men.’

        Jumping from Waterloo to more recent times:
        Former FBI officials stated that ‘yes men’ tend to be the ones promoted to high FBI positions by deliberately avoiding anything that might make waves.
        And here’s the tragic result: The one man who might have been able to prevent 911 was deliberately cut out of the information loop — and then forced to quit.
        He would later die in the 911 attack.

  • Scott Crawford

    Unless the first idea is the best! No one’s going to applaud you for writing a boring script just because it’s full of “different” ideas.

  • Logic Ninja

    I think even amateur writers, when honest, realize there’s more work involved than they usually put in. Trouble is, most amateurs may not know HOW to work at it. It’s not obvious where to apply your efforts. That’s been my problem.
    For instance, if someone told you to divide 13248 by 12.2 without a calculator, you’d know you needed to work at it. But without knowing long division, you’d never know HOW to work at it. The problem would become impossible.
    In the same way, an amateur looks at a cliche drug bust scene and knows, somewhere deep down, it’s cliche. But how to un-cliche-ify it? That’s another animal.
    I think it’s important to develop a system. A way of thinking, like long division. When I rewrite a scene, I’ve started asking myself questions like:
    1. Could I make things worse/more difficult/more uncomfortable for my characters?
    2. Is my setting as visually and emotionally interesting as it could be?
    3. Have I revealed something new about my characters?
    4. What else could go wrong?
    5. Which of my characters can I brutalize physically and/or emotionally? What reaction will they have?
    6. What relationship between my characters can I build up or destroy?
    7. Is the scene ironic?
    8. Could I swing the scene to audience superior?
    9. How can I add tension?
    10. How can I add a time crunch?

  • Acarl

    Great article, Carson!

  • NajlaAnn

    Excellent article – thanks.

  • ripleyy

    Yeah I’m exactly the same. I’ll have something I’ll consider quite good, but maybe four months down the line when I look at it, I cringe because it’s bad. So either it was good to begin with or it was bad and it took some time to realize it, I’ll never know.

    You’re also correct about there being justified advice. Those people don’t sound nice at all, and too full of themselves. They seem to be hiding behind their own facade to make themselves better, which isn’t nice. Critiquing should be “this works and so does this, but this most certainly doesn’t”. Like you, I can handle criticism quite well because I just want to learn how to be better, and further improve myself, but I can’t do that when it’s just cruel and vicious words. However, when you do find that person or group you can share with, its probably the best thing for a writer’s ego :)

  • Zone Tripper

    The drug dealing piano teacher slams the piano lid on the lead cop’s hand, then takes off for the exit. The prodigy dives under the piano.

    The other cop draws his gun, but then is shot from offscreen. The prodigy holds a smoking Desert Eagle. The piano stool is open, except where there would normally be stacks of music sheets sit a bunch of little baggies of heroin and loose ammo and spare magazines.

    Lead cop uses his other hand to grab the massive pistol from the piano prodigy. The kid tugs back. Lead cop yanks the little twerp forward into a brutal head butt. The prodigy slumps down onto the floor, out cold.

  • ThomasBrownen

    Thanks for the article, Carson! It’s a good one, to be sure. I often find myself thinking that I need to rewrite a scene, but I’m not sure where to start or how to approach the rewrite. This should help!


    Although I’m definitely not immune to being lazy (which I think is what this boils down to), I feel like I have the opposite problem. I sometimes find myself making a scene “different” or offbeat just for the sake of it because I realize it would be a predictable scene, and I think it sometimes alienates the audience. Something to also guard against.

    I guess more drafts is the answer in both cases…