Room1Drama with a capital “D.” The screenwriter’s enemy.

Today we’re doing something different. One of the biggest problems I see in amateur scripts is bad scene writing. The scenes don’t build, they don’t have any conflict, there’s no inherent drama in the scene. They just kind of lay there like a blanket. They’re forgettable. Which is the worst mistake you can make as a writer.

So the other day, we reviewed a script for Amateur Friday called, “The Cloud Factory.” I was trying to explain to the writer, Angela, in the comments that there wasn’t enough drama in the script. That everything the characters were going through was fairly routine, fairly tame, that nothing was making their journey difficult. She replied that she didn’t want to include over-the-top conflict and was trying for something “subtle.”

Whenever I run into a writer who says this in the absence of conflict, I cringe. While it’s true that there are times when you want to be subtle, in order to keep a reader/audience engaged, you need things to HAPPEN in your script. You need elements pushing and pulling at your characters. You need things to be hard for them in pretty much every scene, although how hard varies per situation. When a writer strips away conflict, they often think they have a delicate, subtle, reserved piece of material, unaware that the reader experiences it as a flat lifeless string of non-events where very little happens.

I speak from experience. I used to do the same thing. I wanted to be reserved. I wanted to be SUBTLE.  And yet I was confused every time someone responded to my script with: “Nothing happens here. There’s nothing engaging about the story.” But but but… my characters are on a road trip together, and they both like each other but they’re both afraid to say it, and and and… I don’t want to overburden the story with too much drama cause it will be too on the nose and and and…” Ugh, gag me with a spoon.

Here’s what I think the problem is.  Angela, as well as all the writers in her position, are railing against the wrong thing. It’s not that they don’t want drama in their stories. It’s that they don’t want artificial ON-THE-NOSE drama. The kind of capital-D Drama that a writer clumsily jams into the story because the screenwriting books told him to. Inserting drama into your screenplay, into all of your scenes, is like anything else you put into your screenplay. You not only have to do it, you have to do it artfully.

So there are really two skills at work here. First, there’s learning what drama is. And then there’s infusing it into the screenplay in a natural way.  Now as I discuss drama here, I’m going to be using the words “conflict” and “drama” interchangeably, as there’s a lot of crossover in the two definitions.  But, essentially, conflict creates drama.  Now, for the sake of argument, let’s look at a scene that Angela might call too “overly-dramatic,” and see how we can fix it.

Let’s say I have a brother and sister in their 40s who haven’t seen each other (they live on opposite sides of the country) in over a decade.  They’re reuniting because their mother just died and they’re home for the funeral. Jacob, the brother, arrives at their parent’s house and walks into the kitchen where his sister, Marla, is doing dishes. Now if you’re subscribing to the “THERE MUST BE DRAMA IN THIS SCENE!” theory that all the screenwriting books tell you to apply, you’re likely to go straight into an argument. “Nice, only a day late to your own mother’s funeral,” Marla says. “Fuck off, Marla! The only reason you came back early is so you could get it in with that loser you’re still obsessed with from high school!” “That ‘loser’ used to be your best friend! And at least I’m DOING something! Have you taken care of any of the arrangements! NO, I didn’t think so!” Etc. Etc.

Yeah, sure, we technically have drama here. But it’s over the top and obnoxious. Drama shouldn’t be thought of as constant yelling or giant obstacles always getting in your characters’ way. Think of it more as a push-pull, an imbalance in the scene between the characters involved. Yes, that will sometimes result in screaming, but more times than not, it’s a tension that hangs in the air, maybe due to a disagreement, or maybe because the characters don’t see things the same way.  And if there isn’t that disagreement or issue between the characters, the conflict and drama will come from an exterior source, something pushing on the characters from the outside. This exterior variable won’t always be available to you on a scene-by-scene basis, so you’ll have to set it up earlier in the script. With this knowledge, let’s go back to the above scene and figure out how we can improve it.

Instead of putting Marla at the house, let’s put her at the funeral services for their mother. It’s five minutes before the service starts and lots of people are approaching Marla and offering their condolences. At that moment, Jacob bursts in, sweaty and ruffled. Marla is SHOCKED. Her brother dares to show up five minutes before their mother’s funeral! But, of course, she can’t yell at him. Not with all these people around. Jacob approaches. “Hey, sis.” “Hey, Jake.” She waits until they’re clear for a half second. With clenched teeth, “Nice of you to show up.” “Sorry, I missed my connection.” An old woman approaches: “I’m so sorry about your mother.” Marla puts the fake smile back on. “Thank you, Mrs. Buckley.” Jacob leans in, “Hey, I had to park in a handicapped spot. That’s not going to be a problem, is it?” She glares at him as the priest announces that they’re going to start the procession.

This is just one of many ways you could write the scene. If, for some reason, you need to have them back at the house, maybe Marla has a newborn who’s sleeping in the other room. She can’t wake him, so she must keep her anger in check while discussing Jacob’s tardiness. Or if you don’t want a baby involved, maybe Marla has a husband. And her husband loooooovvves Jacob. Jacob is like the coolest dude to him. So he’s stoked to see Jacob, and after the obligatory “I’m sorry about your mom,” he starts talking about them going hunting tother, wanting to know all about Jacob’s cool job. In the meantime, Marla is boiling, but doesn’t want to ruin her husband’s excitement, so she keeps it cordial. OR if you don’t want a third character to interrupt the scene, maybe these two are just not confrontational types. They keep everything buried – always have. So they have a very normal conversation, but the subtext runs deep.  The two attack each other in more passive aggressive ways, despite the surface level conversation being cordial.

I think my problem with The Cloud Factory, was that the version of this scene that would’ve appeared in that script wouldn’t have had any issues or conflict at all. Marla and Jacob would’ve been on solid terms. They both cared a lot about their mom. Maybe Jacob was a little late showing up, but it wasn’t his fault, so Marla forgave him. Sure, a writer could argue, “Well I didn’t want any tension here. I just wanted a normal scene.” To that I say, okay. That’s fine. Every once in awhile, if it’s right for the story, there’s no conflict. But if  you string together a BUNCH of these scenes, then it becomes a problem. Long passages of no drama – a drama drought – is the surest way to bore a reader.

With that in mind, let’s look at one of the scenes in The Cloud Factory. In the scene, Jenny, our hero, is grounded in Edinbergh. The other women in her group are taking a flight to the nearest base, but they don’t have room for Jenny (I’ve forgotten why Jenny is being singled out as having to stay, but we’ll assume it’s for a logically explained reason). Here’s the scene as written:

Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 6.54.43 PM

This is a scene that’s easy to screw up. It’s a short scene that’s all exposition, but necessary. We need to explain that they don’t have room for Jenny and then explain what she’s going to do next. Writers often see this and think, “Well, it’s short, so I’ll just throw it in there, even though it’s boring and all exposition.” You NEVER want to include a drama-less scene, especially one that’s all exposition, if you can write a more interesting dramatized scene instead. The first thing I noticed here is how passive the setup is to the scene. We’re getting information about Jenny not making the flight after the fact. You could try to force some conflict into this scene, like one of the girls not liking Jenny and therefore enjoying the fact that she can’t come, but it would feel false, like a scene out of Mean Girls.

The issue is that the scene isn’t taking place at the right spot.  We need a scene setup that invites more conflict.  If I were developing this with Angela, I’d have Jenny thinking she’s on the next plane going out with the three other girls. So she’s all packed up and ready to go. She goes to the plane with the others, and the pilot pops out. “Hold up hold up. What’s going on here?” They explain who they are. “No, I was told only three were coming. That’s all I have room for.” Now the girls are stuck in the precarious position of having to leave someone. It’s an awkward moment, but it creates conflict. Who’s worthy of going and who isn’t? Everybody makes their case. In the end, Jenny loses out (maybe gets screwed over). “I’m sorry, Jen. What are you gonna do?” “I guess I could take a train to London…” (etc. etc., this is where you put your exposition in). As you can see, we created drama in two places. First, with the pilot not letting all of them on, and then between the girls, who have to decide who’s staying.  Way better scene, right?

Now I’m not saying there will never be quick exposition-only scenes in your script. I’m saying that you should always try to dramatize them if you can. Look at all your scenes on an individual basis, like I did above, and ask if there’s any drama/conflict there. If not, ask yourself if there’s another way you can do it. How bout you guys?  How would you rewrite the above scene?

I should point out that conflict isn’t the only thing that creates drama. It’s just the main thing.  But urgency creates drama (have you ever noticed that when you’re running out of time, nerves get nervier, patience gets thinner?). Stakes create a lot of drama (if someone’s job is on the line in a scene, the scene is going to have a lot more drama than if everyone’s job is safe). How personal the issue is creates drama (I care a lot less if somebody I barely know tells me they’re never going to talk to me again than if it’s my own sister). In general, with every scene, you’re trying to make things hard on your characters. The intensity of that pressure will vary depending on the scene, the situation, and the characters involved. But like I said above, if everything’s going well for your characters the majority of the time – that means long stretches of no tension, no pressure, no consequences, no issues, no subtext – you’re looking at an increasingly bored reader. You need to add drama to your scenes and to your script in general.

  • Ryan Sasinowski

    You’re tearing me aPART, Carson!

  • astranger2

    Really, Carson?? Or should I say, “Arson?” Hasn’t poor Ange been through enough this past week? Don’t you have some brush in San Diego somewhere to set matches to?

    • Marija ZombiGirl

      That was my first thought as well but as I read on, that thought turned into “Great tips, thanks”. I had a similar exposition-heavy first-act problem in my latest script. I rewrote it with the help of a director friend (with whom I was co-writing another script at the same time) and it worked. Still, I wanted my first scenes to just show my characters “au naturel”, without conflicts since there would be enough of that later on. And guess what ? It felt bland and uninteresting. So I added a little drama in there and guess what ? It worked and no longer felt boring.

      I know Ange has been through a lot and I sure hope it won’t deter her from pushing on. But getting great writing tips twice on here ? “Heart, be still. Head, take notes, dammit, ‘cos we’re rewriting this script right now !”


      • astranger2

        Well, it is a good article. Yes. But might he not have used another paradigm? … Problems on your latest script? “Crevasse?” But you’re on to another one now, aren’t you?

        • Marija ZombiGirl

          Yeah, I just started working on a new script for the same producer (and we already have a director as well).
          The problems I mentioned were in fact for CREVASSE, in the rewriting stages. We’re waiting for the director to get back to us about how he would like to proceed (I know he’s very busy at the moment, I just can’t help fearing that he’s changed his mind…).

          • astranger2

            I would only think it natural to be extremely antsy about any kind of project in this industry. But congrats!! Certainly seems all your hard work’s paying off. Thought about you the other day when some glacier climber got caught in a real life crevasse. Good for you though! What’s the name of the other project?

          • Marija ZombiGirl

            The new one is called DEMON :)
            It’s a love story within a horror story. Despite the title, there’s nothing supernatural about it.
            “After the death of her mother, Elisa inherits the country house of her childhood. As she prepares to settle in with Marc, she will have to confront the demons of her forgotten past…”

          • astranger2

            Great title and logline. Like Carson always preaches, a title and logline can be worth $100 million alone. Too bad your scripts are always only written in French. You do translations for DVDs — do you never plan on translating your’s into English?

          • Marija ZombiGirl

            Well, it’s a lot of work and up till now, I haven’t had the need for searching for international producers. Hopefully, though, that time will come ;)

          • astranger2

            Well, it’s just a shame we American illiterates can’t read your work. DEMON sounds like it’d be a fascinating read, and your command of English is obviously superb. You even have the idioms down pat. ;)

          • Marija ZombiGirl

            I did translate the treatment for CREVASSE in order to get a little feedback from my fellow SSers and that was very helpful so I might do the same this time :) And why not translate the final script just for reading pleasure… (I might do the same with CREVASSE once we have a shooting draft).

          • astranger2

            I’m sorry I missed that. You should definitely do that — if you have the time. I think it’d be really cool to see something actually being produced.

          • Poe_Serling

            What about your project The Convent? Is it moving ahead or on the back burner for now?

          • Marija ZombiGirl

            It’s, um… on stand-by, sort of :)
            The director was at the Cannes film festival where he met with several producers for another project of his which seems to be moving ahead so that’s a good thing. He will also be directing a segment for a Spanish Western anthology at the end of the year (another yay! for him). As for THE CONVENT, we’re going to pay for notes (the director knows of a few good script doctors who will reduce their prices for him), then rewrite it and then, hopefully, make it interesting enough for a producer to bite.
            Luck unfortunately doesn’t happen every time :)

          • Poe_Serling

            Just recently I stumbled upon the horror film Alucarda. Directed by Juan Lopez Moctezuma. It was a ’70s entry into the ‘nuns gone bad’ exploitation genre and set in a convent.

            Curious if you’re familiar with the flick.

            That pic dripped with moody atmosphere from frame one. And the last twenty minutes or so, there was nothing subtle about the mayhem on the screen.

          • Marija ZombiGirl

            Yes, I love that movie as well as the similar SATANICO PANDEMONIUM (which must be on QT’s Top 500 list ^^). As you so rightly say, amazing atmosphere !

    • Randy Williams

      Hope she was consulted first. Reminds me of that I Love Lucy episode where Lucy is overly thrilled because an excerpt from her writing is to be included in a textbook on writing, only to find out hers is to headline the chapter, “Don’t let this happen to you”

      However, we all could headline that chapter, I’m sure.

      • ElectricDreamer

        Wow, don’t recall that episode.
        But that very same plot point was used in this 2013 movie:

        Wonder if the writer is a big Lucille Ball fan.

      • astranger2

        I thought I remembered all this old classics. That sounds like a perfect comedic set up for Lucy — along the lines of setting her nose on fire, and stomping grapes…

  • Guess Who

    I did not hit her! It’s not true. It’s bullshit. I did not hit her. (throws water bottle) I did not.

    Oh hi Mark.

    I swear I could watch that all day, lol.

  • Midnight Luck

    some sad drama,

    Farewell, Maya Angelou

    you had such a way with words,

    oh to have but a sliver

    • astranger2

      “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is unforgettable… her passing is sad…

    • Ange Neale

      Oh, no — I hadn’t heard, Midnight! That’s so sad. She was lovely, a really lovely lady.

  • Midnight Luck

    When it rains it pours

    For all the Ange’s

    sorry Ange

    • Ange Neale

      Never ever ever be sorry, Midnight!

      It’s been pointed out to me privately that there’s no such thing as bad publicity in Hollywood, and apparently I’m just dying to see my name up in lights.

      I guess that’s why I post under my real name — it’s just a massive ego trip.

      I thought the thing about being a scriptwriter was that unless you’re Sorkin, you’re the last one to ever get metioned and the worst paid. But if you’re JK Rowling, you get acclamation and to be a billionaire!

      Just you wait until I get arrested and hauled out of rehab for going on a drug-fueled frenzy with a crochet hook.

      Perhaps this public a forum isn’t the place to mention the thing with the cuddly pets and bashing elderly ladies for their handbags…

      Just in case anybody wonders, I am of course KIDDING.

  • FilmingEJ

    Good article Carson, but my comment is going to be wholly irrelevant, so be prepared:

    I’m new to this site, commented a bit here and there, but mostly just tried to consume every valuable tidbit I come across. And I am very grateful. Here and Simplyscripts is where i spend a lot of my internet time. Anyway, could someone tell me a bit about the history of this site and Carson? Does he have scripts up we could read? What was his occupation before this?

    I know these questions seem weird, but I’ve been wondering this stuff for a long time and I just decided to ask.

    Also, is posting a screenplay to fish for critiques fine with you guys?

    • Montana Gillis

      Carson was the original franchisee for “In and Out Burger”. I worked with him for three years, but after we both ballooned up to over 400 pounds he quit to go on a diet and after slimming down, he went on to do a string of underwear modeling gigs – I went on to star in never aired sitcom about a hot air balloon that was alive. Carson then gambled his “underwear money” away in Monte Carlo and spent the next 6 years in a mountain cabin not far from Ted Kasinski’s, where he studied the craft of storytelling from an ancient Shawnee apparition after eating some strange mushrooms growing out of a purple tree. Then he got lonely and moved to Cali where he met a beautiful woman who took pity on him and became his girlfriend but demanded he “DO SOMETHING,YOU LAZY BUM!” so he started ScriptShadow.

    • Randy Williams

      “Also, is posting a screenplay to fish for critiques fine with you guys?”

      As long as it’s Unicorn related, you’re good to go.

    • Casper Chris

      Have you checked the “About” page on the site? It gives a little history…

    • gonzorama

      Sure, post your screenplay and hope for reviews. Not everyone will read it or respond but you’ll get some feedback. It’s not done often but it is done, so throw your script out there! After all, any feedback is helpful.

      Good luck!

  • Dale T

    Instead of being subtle writers should be suggestive. An agenda has to be addressed in the scene, but not outwardly through the character’s mouths, but by what is being shown and not told. I think the best way to convey this is that we’re most engaged into a story when someone has something to hide.

    Here’s my jab at your example:
    Jacob comes into the house as Marla is doing the dishes. They exchange eye contact and smile.

    Marla: “I guess you were out with old friends.”

    Jacob: “Just grabbed a beer with Sean. We haven’t been back home in years, it’s nice seeing everyone again. Have you been catching up with anyone since coming back?”

    Marla: “Not anyone important, nope.”

    Jacob: “No? Sean mentioned you both went out for dinner the other night.”

    Every muscle in Marla’s body grows tense and she starts scrubbing the dishes harder.

    Marla (rushing her speech): “Oh yes, I remember that, it was only briefly. It was nothing. He thought I’d need the support and took me out.”

    Jacob: “It doesn’t sound like it was a brief dinner.”

    Marla: “It was, okay? I don’t know how many times I’ve told you, we never dated, he was your bestfriend so in a way he was also mine. We were close but we’ve never dated”

    Jacob: “Marla, it’s been twenty years already, you don’t have to deny it anymore. I’m not mad at you or Sean, we were younger.”

    Marla (raising her voice): “Except it’s not true, and it won’t get anymore truer if you keep repeating it even after all these years. Now help me with the arrangements, I’ve been doing everything to prepare for the funeral.”
    Something along those lines.

  • ripleyy

    Perfectly timed seeing as I’m in the pre-planning stage of writing a contained drama. So reading about this has really improved my mindset.

    All conflict really is, is just two rocks grinding against one another creating a spark – if you can think of your scenes like that, and realizing what two things make that spark possible, then it’s fairly easy in theory but still difficult to pull off. Fantastic article, great tips.

  • Randy Williams

    “I wanted to be reserved”

    For me, that is the problem I’m fighting. Made worse by the fact is I AM RESERVED.
    Sometimes the writing is the writer.

    I look at that scene from The Cloud Factory and personally, I think the writer is concentrated there on what is going on in Jenny’s mind. Maybe Jenny feels snubbed, hurt. Reserved people like snubbed hurt, eat it up like candy, but translated to writing it doesn’t bring drama. It can in extraordinary circumstances. Having to take a train instead of the plane is not one. Think, Tom Hanks exiting a building into the wind chill of a Philadelphia winter with the weight of a death sentence and the deliberate sabotage and firing from his workplace. The camera lingers on his face, the snubbed hurt there, enormous drama. Somewhere in Cast Away, there is that same shot. Tom Hanks does this very well.

    It’s hard to get out of characters’ heads when you’re so much into your own. It’s helped my writing, I believe, to break out of my own. Some of my method…

    Drink Muscle Milk, lift weights.
    Try to dominate other males in conversation.
    Purposely come to the defense of others in public.
    Face my fears in active ways.

    Turn that snubbed into snub nose. I think it helps.

    • Ange Neale

      Thanks, Randy.
      I’m playing catch here, for reasons explained elsewhere, so this is a day after you posted re scene from ‘The Cloud Factory’ in Carson’s article on subtlety.
      There are 8 things going on in that single not-quite-1-full-page scene: 1/ a call-back. 2/ and 3/ two pay-offs from previous set-ups. 4/ a set-up for an upcoming scene. 5/ dramatic irony which the audience will get. 6/ bitter irony for the protag. 7/ a little exposition. 8/ a character reveal — that she doesn’t go off at people when she’s screwed over but it’s not their fault.
      I’ve posted the details in a reply to Carson, if you’re interested in reading it.
      It’s my whole problem with subtlety.
      In a scene with that much going on, even he’s missed the vast majority of it.

  • leitskev

    Excellent topic and insights. Going to try to throw my 2 pennies in and read the other comments because this a really interesting area. Just two pennies.

    My current(which means subject to change) belief regarding creating conflict that feels natural can be boiled down to this: structure good, rigid structure bad. Usually.

    Structure helps create opposing goals and personalities, and scenes where the conflict can occur. Rigid structure can create conflict that feels forced. Also, if you go through the process of writing lots of scripts and analyzing story for several years, some of the stuff becomes second nature.

    Let’s take Carson’s funeral scene. It’s not that hard to structure your whole script out ahead of time with scenes like this. And at the structure planning stage, it’s easy to schedule the conflict: one brother is late and generally irresponsible, the sister is diligent and angry about it, though she can’t show it much at the funeral. Good!

    In practice there are things that can get in the way. Because when you begin writing the story, the voices of the characters can emerge in ways you didn’t anticipate. Now, the hard core structure people will argue that that shouldn’t happen, that the writer should have control over that. Well here’s where I think it gets interesting…and the best I can say to them is maybe. But I do wonder if those writers have sold scripts. I don’t doubt that they are brilliant writers, but is their work brilliant? It might turn out that what’s holding them back is being too constricted by structure and planning.

    I am not suggesting something mystical here, like “David was in the rock” waiting for the artist to sculpt it. No way. What I’m saying is sometimes it can hinge on a small thing, such as the way a character is introduced. I had a script where I had structured it a certain way where a character would first come into a scene and he would have kind of a roguish personality. But it felt forced in that first scene, so I had to change it, and his character ended up going in a different direction. Maybe I simply failed to find the scene where he could be what I first envisioned. But I think that kind of thing happens a lot, and it can be better to go with what works for the scene than to stick with your plan. And this can impact scenes later in the script, since the character’s traits have now changed.

    So back to the funeral scene…maybe the writer has sketched the brother as a lovable rogue who the mother loved him most despite his irregular nature, or because of it. And the sister, who was always responsible and there for the family, resented the mother’s favoritism. All makes sense. But maybe when you get to writing the scene, for some reason it works better if the brother is dark and mysterious instead of roguish and irresponsible. It might make sense to go with it. Sometimes the characters end up being determined by the needs of their first scene. And I suspect this is how many successful writers work, both in screen and in prose.

    One last comment using the funeral scene as example: writers have become WAAAAAY too obsessed with avoiding the dreaded “unfilmable”. We see this in Carson’s example as he uses “clenched teeth” and “glares”. Human actions are subtle, sometimes too subtle for descriptive actions. Now, there is a line for sure. The question is where that line is. It would not, for example, make sense to say the “sister thinks of the time her brother was late to their dad’s funeral and she’s angry”. I mean we couldn’t know something that specific. But there should be nothing wrong with saying “She’s angry and annoyed but trying not to show it”. And let me take it a step further if I dare: “She’s angry and annoyed but trying not to show it. There’s a history here, he’s done this before.”

    That last part would be shredded by the rules people. But for someone trying to envision the scene, including a potential director, it adds some context. And we can picture it. The sister is smiling, talking to visitors, but underneath she’s steaming. I think that creates a better scene than trying to micro manage the physical action with “clenching and glaring.”

    Ok, I lied. That was only one penny’s worth. All I got today. Shred my points nicely and have a good day!

    • Matthew Garry

      > That last part would be shredded by the rules people.

      Well, motivation is actable, and actable is filmable.

      The problem with “unfilmables” is when they start interfering with the story being told on the screen.

      If, in the example, the history will be part of the plot, it needs to be fleshed out in dialogue and action anyway. So basically you’re giving away spoilers to the reading audience that the viewing audience will never get: your on-screen and off-screen stories are diverging.

      If the history never comes back and is purely used as a motivational device for that particular emotion, again, your readers are treated to a different story than a viewing audience will see, since the reader’s story is grounded in hidden information. And any astute reader will translate any unfilmable to the screen while reading and ask him or herself, “How do I know this and how does it influence the story?”

      Of course, if the stories converge again quickly afterwards, like the sister accusing the tardy brother of how he’s done it again at the first suitable opportunity, it’s unlikely to be a problem, but then again, why was the unfilmable put in in the first place if the motivation for the clenched teeth was to become clear quickly enough?

      So the question here might be, why is there a bit of motivation slipped in here, and can you justify it with regard to the larger story?

      If you conclude it’s warranted, by all means, put it in. But if you’re having a hard time justifying its inclusion, maybe it needs to be reconsidered.

      Anyway, as always, I think there are no rules in screenwriting to which there are not at least dozens of valid exceptions. The trick is in finding the right exception.

      • leitskev

        Agreed. And it’s a quick example, certainly not the best. The idea is that the history between the characters is important and unknown to us, though it will come into play later. My point is that people have been trained to go to such ridiculous lengths to avoid unfilmables that it has a negative impact on story telling. For example, you mention revealing the history being revealed in dialogue. Many writers and those fresh out of film school will force that dialogue in early just to avoid the forbidden unfilmable. So what we get is either forced or stale or expository.

        Rules are there to help craft the story. Where they don’t, they should be discarded. The voice of the rules people has grown so loud and prevalent that it’s interfering with story crafting.

        • leitskev

          To add one more thing…he’s a pain in the ass, but Grendl’s rule is in many ways the only one: thou shalt not bore and thou shalt not confuse. Use whatever tools in the bag you can to avoid violating those rules.

          • PoohBear

            I think there’s one more to the don’t bore nor cofuse. Don’t do anything unrealistic in your story-verse. In other words, don’t violate your own story rules.
            What I mean is, you setup your zombies to be attracted to sound. Your intelligent main character shoots a low threat zombie stuck in a barb wire fence in the head. He could have easily walked up and stuck his knife in him or totally avoided the situation.

          • leitskev

            Yeah, I hate when movies do that.

        • JakeMLB

          Bang on. No one says anything through clenched teeth. I mean, try to do it, it’s physically grating and creates a ridiculous visual image. It’s probably never been used in a professional script and yet here we are because writers are so afraid to use unfilmables.

          What you wrote not only can be easily visualized but it adds visualization to all subsequent actions rather than having to write each subsequent individual physical action. In other words, it’s far more elegant. And yet, I’m sure there are many readers and amateur writers that would write “we can’t see that, don’t put it in” or “stop directing on the page”. Ultimately, those critiques arise if the rest of the script is poor.

      • leitskev

        Regarding spoilers, well, so what? I don’t see that as a problem…because nothing is spoiled. There’s no great anticipation hinging on why the sister resents the brother being late. All we’re trying to do is make sure the reader envisions the scene the way the writer wants her to. For example, there is a big difference between the sister being annoyed that her brother is late because she is an anal and controlling personality, and the sister being annoyed because there is a history here. Big difference. The audience might get the wrong impression if the writer doesn’t make it clear.

    • brenkilco

      “She’s angry and annoyed but trying not to show it”.

      I think unfilmables should be avoided. But it is sometimes possible to cheat. In your example for instance you can’t film someone’s intention. But how about “a flicker of anger, wiped away with effort.” Same thing really, but it doesn’t seem like you’re going inside the character’s head which is what you want to do but aren’t supposed to do.

      BTW believe it or not the book The Maltese Falcon has a lot to teach about unfilmables. Hammet, for some reason, refuses to go inside his characters’ heads. There are no unfilmables. Which is why it was so easy to turn into a movie. But in a novel this approach creates all sorts of problems. And the author ties himself into knots to try and give the reader clues as to what Sam Spade and the others are thinking. Eyes change color and faces change shape and people utter all sorts of grunts and gasps. It gets a bit silly but he manages it.

      • leitskev

        Thanks for commenting. Respectfully, you are demonstrating the approach that I think is precisely the problem. You are micro-managing the actions of the scene. I see writers do this, managing even the facial expressions down to the slightest twitch. And they’re doing it not because it’s good writing…they’re doing it because of a “rule”. I’ll be honest, I don’t even like reading that kind of stuff. Note you said what you “aren’t supposed to do”. You’re letting conformity to rules cloud your judgment.

        If Babe Ruth is at the plate, he takes the pitch, and the ump calls an outsid pitch a strike, the Babe is pissed. I would describe him as pissed. But there are others who insist on trying to find a way to describe what pissed looks like, even though we all know, and the actor knows. That doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes want to show some demonstration. Maybe he pounds the bat onto the plate. But that’s optional. Nothing wrong with saying “the Babe is mad as hell.”

        And I’m not suggesting anyone flood their scripts with unfilmables. It would be annoying and demonstrate a possible problem in the writer’s ability to envision his scenes. But what I saying is fear of the unfilmable has gone waaay toooo far. Too many writers and gurus go running for the hills whenever they see something that is even remotely unfilmable. It doesn’t seem to bother directors or actors…only those that have been trained in this strict rule system.

        Regarding the hard boiled detective style, it’s very dialogue driven, so we generally know what the actors are feeling and thinking, wouldn’t you say?

        For me, I would say this: know when you are writing an aside and let it be a conscious choice. I would advise that people focus on story telling instead of how to write the “perfect” script that conforms to all the unwritten rules. Look, the rules are comforting. That’s why we like them. But there is a point where they get in the way of crafting a good story, and telling that story. That’s not good for anything.

        • brenkilco

          Well, I’m not going to get doctrinaire about this. And to a certain extent I agree with you but I also think we’re talking past each other. Rules do get in the way of telling a good story. In fact, screenwriting gets in the way of telling a good story. It’s not the most readable form. It’s stiff, abbreviated, an enemy of evocative language, and it doesn’t permit you to get inside your character’s head. If you do sneak inside his head your script may read more clearly and smoothly but ulimately it’s a cheat because whatever info you’re passing on won’t show up on film. Unless it’s nothing more than a stage direction to the actor as to how to deliver a line.

          Your mad as hell example really doesn’t count. Anger is visible and playable. And to say the character is mad is simply shorthand.

      • Nicholas J

        “a flicker of anger, wiped away with effort.”

        I like this approach.

        I’ve got FALCON sitting on my bookshelf, but I barely remember it, I’ll have to pick it back up and give it a closer look.

        • JakeMLB

          “a flicker of anger, wiped away with effort”

          What exactly does that mean? It’s confusing. Is it saying that it CAN be wiped away with effort or it WAS wiped away with effort? IMHO, it’s getting far too cute and purple. And what exactly is a “flicker” of anger? If it’s only a flicker, isn’t the second half of the sentence redundant? Why does one need effort to wipe away anger if said anger only flickered? Good writing is clear and concise.

          • Nicholas J

            “Why does one need effort to wipe away anger if said anger only flickered?” -JakeMLB, 2014

          • Citizen M

            “A flicker of anger, controlled with effort.”

          • brenkilco

            Well actually the anger could dissipate naturally and the suggestion here is that it is being forcibly suppressed so really…hey, it was a knee jerk example, off the top of my head intended just to make a point. Relax.

          • JakeMLB

            Wasn’t attacking you. Just having some fun with the language. Don’t take it personal :)

          • brenkilco

            No offense taken. Just flicker of anger that, you know, flickered.

          • JakeMLB


    • Citizen M

      writers have become WAAAAAY too obsessed with avoiding the dreaded
      “unfilmable”. We see this in Carson’s example as he uses “clenched
      teeth” and “glares”.

      Telling an actor how to act an emotion is as bad as telling a director how to shoot a scene.

      It’s not a case of ‘avoid altogether’, it’s a case of ‘use sparingly’.

      • leitskev

        I am curious, unless a writer is shopping the script directly to the actor, why does he care what the actor thinks? The only thing the writer should worry about is conveying his story to the reader and making the reader think it would make a good film.

        • Casper Chris

          I agree with you. It’s a concern blown out of proportions.

        • Citizen M

          If you simply say “He clenches his teeth and glares.” what does that tell us? Maybe he’s angry. Maybe a wasp stung him in the butt. Maybe he’s contemplating murder but holding himself back.

          If you specify the emotion and/or intention, but not the way of expressing it, you give the reader all the information he or she needs, and you leave the actor free to use his talent and creativity.

          • leitskev

            Unless I’m confused, it sounds like you agree with what I said. I don’t like the “clenched” and “glares” stuff. I would rather give the reader a sense of what the character is feeling. As I did with my examples above.

  • brenkilco

    When dealing with individual scenes seems like the first question should be do I need it.

    Take the example from Cloud Factory Why not just


    • leitskev

      I try to look at scenes this way: there should be a beginning point, a turning point, and an end point. Often there is a double hinged turning point, which is to say there are two, the second reversing the first.

      For example, the funeral scene. She’s greeting guests, in as good a mood as one can expect. Maybe the mom had been sick and suffering a long time. Death was a relief to her and the family. That’s the set up. Then the brother shows. She’s pissed. Tries to hide it, but we know. That’s the first turn. She hugs her brother, but she’s cool. He knows she’s pissed that he was late, that he had not visited the mom in the last days. But then the father shows up. This is the second turning point.The parents had been divorced. He’s a jerk. He picks on the brother who was late. Maybe this was really why he was late. The sister comes to his defense. Puts the old man in his place. The brother and sister share a smile. They have now rebonded. That’s the end point of the scene.

      If the scene is really set up well, it’s been established that we want the brother and sister to reconnect. The story has created that anticipation in the audience. So when the brother arrives, we’re interested. And then we see her angry. That creates tension because we want to see them bond again. And then the father comes in. It creates new tension, but it’s a turning point that causes brother and sister to re-bond. So we have a fulfilling conclusion to the set up.

      • brenkilco

        Excellent example. And since this is a scene and not the movie perhaps the question of why the brother hadn’t visited the mother in her final days could be raised and left hanging to be answered later. So the scene provides immediate interest as a sort of self contained unit and pushes the story forward.

        In general I think the more things a scene can do the better it is. I mean if a scene can develop character, create tension, provide essential info, get a laugh and make everything look absolutely natural, well that’s probably a pretty good scene. Hey, if it were easy everybody would be doing it.

        • leitskev

          I have read McKee’s Story twice. Enjoyed the work, there is much there to learn from. But he has the annoying habit of many theorists of saying things like “every scene should look like…” I first read story not long after I began writing. I remember reading his description of how every scene should go positive to negative or negative to positive. The way he described it it made perfect sense to me.

          But then I did something more people that study these theories should do. I applied this theory to film. And it fell apart faster than trailer park to a tornado. What I found was that many scenes went positive to more positive, or negative to more negative. So McKee was correct in that scenes should not be static, but he was far overstating the case so he could construct his rule. In fact, I found that often of the most memorable scenes in classic films did not fit his rule. Also, often a scene experiences a reversal then ends up back where it began. So it goes, for example, negative to positive then back to negative.

          So McKee’s theory, like the rules, can be helpful and useful. But we should guard against any absolutes. Except thou shall not bore and confuse. That works,

          • Nicholas J

            I think you can make the case that a scene turning from positive to negative and back to positive is actually two scenes. Isn’t that how McKee defines a scene? As a change or turn? So two turns would equal two scenes. (Not sure, I haven’t read the book in years. Now would be a good time to revisit.) In the end it doesn’t matter, because if things are going through changes within your scenes like that, you are doing your job.

            And I remember the parts about laws of antagonism or whatever, where he mentions the negation of the negative or something. I’d think you could carry over that principle into scene turns as well, making the argument that a scene going from bad to worse or good to better qualifies as a turn.

            I also believe he doesn’t say that every scene needs to turn, but that it’s a good goal to set for yourself. No scene that doesn’t turn.

            I don’t think these “gurus” assign necessity to their rules, but the people who try to tear them down certainly act like they do.

          • leitskev

            McKee is definitely insistent. And slicing what is clearly a single scene into one is certainly an artificial construct. I mean let’s say we have a dinner scene. Gary is with Brenda on the first date. At the beginning she’s miserable and we can see it. Eventually he tells a joke that begins to turn things around. She’s laughing. The scene has gone negative to positive. But then he puts his foot in his mouth and says something stupid that offends her. She’s back to being miserable. Do we want to call that 2 scenes?

          • Nicholas J

            You could argue that it’s two scenes since it’s two changes, but I won’t. And if you wanna talk McKee, I don’t think he would either. He would say those are beats, and that it’s not even one scene. He’d probably look at what comes before and what comes after, looking for a more drastic change, and then combine that with the dinner and call it a scene. And remember, according to McKee, a change in slugline has nothing to do with what constitutes a scene.

            For the sake of discussion I dusted off my copy of Story. Here’s some excerpts relevant to our comments:

            “In theory there’s virtually no limit to a scene’s length or locations. A scene may be infinitesimal. In the right context a scene consisting of a single shot in which a hand turns over a playing card could express great change.”

            “No scene that doesn’t turn. This is our ideal. … Adherence to this principle may be difficult, but it’s by no means impossible.”

            “There is however, one exception: a story can go from positive to positive or negative to negative, if the contrast between these events is so great, in retrospect the first takes on shades of it’s opposite.”

            And on the necessity of all this…

            “Only by carefully and creatively shattering or bending the Classical form can the artist lead the audience to perceive the inner life hidden in a Miniplot or to accept the chilling absurdity or an Antiplot. But how can a writer creatively reduce or reverse that which he does not understand?”

          • leitskev

            Excellent quotes. I really enjoyed reading Story…both times I read it. I definitely think that it would twist the definition of “scene” into something strange if the dinner scene I described was considered 2 scenes. But McKee has some flexibility demonstrated in the quotes you selected. The thing is, when I applied the theory to movies I watched, I found there were a lot, and I mean a lot, of scenes that had no value change. Especially in comedies it seemed. Often these were some of the most memorable scenes from the films.

            Again, as I said, the theory is helpful. We just have to be careful not to let any of these theories lay too strong or generalized a claim. I myself like to put a turning point or a double turning point in my scenes. But the fact is that it just doesn’t always fit that way, because scenes are not isolated, they are part of the tapestry. Thanks for the quotes!

          • Nicholas J

            I’ve always taken it as a general idea that if a scene is making you laugh, scared, excited, etc, it doesn’t really matter if it’s pushing the story forward, just as long as there aren’t too many of these scenes. And if a scene isn’t making you laugh, scared, excited, etc., going back and retooling the scene to both turn and push the story forward may help you accomplish the emotion you are looking to achieve.

            But as an amateur writer, I’m always aiming to get more from these scenes by having them push things forward. It never hurts the scene, but it almost always improves it.

    • Ange Neale

      Hi brenkilco,
      Caught unawares about this article here, so my reply is 20 hours after your post.

      Would you do me the favor of popping back and looking for my reply to Carson as it explains why this scene he pinpointed as wanting should remain:

      It pays off 2 set-ups, there’s a call-back, there’s a set-up for an upcoming scene, there’s both dramatic irony for the audience and bitter irony for the protag, some exposition and character reveal — that’s 8 things that this one scene accomplishes.

      And it isn’t a page and a half, btw, it’s less than a page — one line of it rolls onto a second page.


      • brenkilco

        You clearly feel strongly about this. I appreciate your fine writing but must disagree. While you can argue that you accomplish a number of things dramatically in this scene I’m afraid a typical reader or viewer may find them all somewhat negligible. Boiled down the scene exists merely to show that the women have it rough and that Jenny resents but accepts this. Frankly that has or could have all been established during the first leg of the train journey. Yes, insult is now being added ironically to injury but who cares. The practical objective is to get Jenny back on the train and you don’t need a page to do it.

  • Casper Chris

    Like I said to Ange, it seems like a lot of her important story beats are so subtle as to be almost invisible to the reader/watcher. It’s not that they’re not there, but they happen “under the surface”, reason why I suggested she turn TCF into a novel. I even suggested Ange might be a novel writer at heart as she seems more interested in what’s going on inside her characters.

    I recently watched this Robert McKee interview and funnily enough the very first question relates to this.

    McKee basically divides conflict into three levels:

    1. Extra-personal conflict. Characters in conflict with their physical / social worlds
    (film excels here)

    2. Interpersonal / relationship conflict
    (theater excels here)

    3. Inner conflict / emotions / contradictory desires etc.
    (novels excel here)

    When Ange was defending her story decisions, it was constantly at the level of inner conflict (3). Here’s an example of Ange defending her conflict/drama:

    Number 1 — exhaustion, homesickness and frustration are all emotions we can empathise with.
    Number 3 is anger at being set-up to take the fall for something no pilot should’ve been blamed for. Again, an audience will be able to empathise. It’s no less cinematic than every courtroom drama.
    Number 4 — once upon a time, being outed as gay or lesbian in the press would’ve been an incredibly humiliating, career-threatening experience, and because some of her colleagues feel they’re worked so hard for what respect they do get, Jenny’s being outed sets them at odds with her. They fear they’ll all be tarred with that brush.
    Number 5 — so Jenny’s first instinct is to flee home to her family, It’ll be at the price of her blossoming relationship with Allison, which isn’t even sexual at that point.
    Number 6 — once Jenny gets to think about things before her ship sails from Liverpool, she spends a night in the shelter. We see her drawing a heart with JGM loves ACBP — it’s the first time she’s acknowledged how she feels about Allison. This scene is also an important set-up for another plot point: the children’s ship. She’s in the shelter with a young mom and two boys bound for Canada on the ‘City of Benares’. Jenny’s booked on it, along with hundreds of others, including 90 children. She turns up at the dock, and sees an older brother poking his younger brother. The little one lashes out and gets busted, told off. He complains that it wasn’t fair that the woman who told him off hadn’t heard his side of the story. This resonates for Jenny. It’s her fight or flight moment. If she leaves, she’s running from bigots who’re just bullies with poison pens

    You can tell that Ange has put some serious thought into her inner conflict (which is not necessarily bad, but in film that inner conflict should manifest strongly on the two other levels, most notably on the extra-personal level).

    Robert McKee:

    “If you’re trying to make a career choice, as to “what kind of writer should I be?”, you really need to ask another question, “which level of conflict in life really interest me the most?” […] I know a lot of writers whose interest are not at the level of conflict that the medium in which they’re writing is strongest in. A lot of independent filmmakers for example are really interested in inner conflict…. so they should be writing novels and not films of people staring into space, coming to big decisions in their life or whatever, bore people. […] A lot of writers don’t understand their own insticts. […] You have to figure out whether you’re in love with the “art in yourself” or “yourself in the art”. And to many people go into film especially, or television, because they’re in love with the idea of themselves in the art; they want to be in the movies, or in TV, or even in the theater or whatever, when they’re natural talent and interests lie elsewhere. It’s a critical career choice because it has to pair up with what really interests you.”

    I couldn’t help thinking of Ange as I listened to this. I think she loves the idea of seeing her name on the big screen. Unfortunately her innate writing instincts and interests seem to be much more compatible with the novel medium.

    • astranger2

      That McKee quote is extremely powerful.

    • Ange Neale

      Hey, Casper, it’s 19 hours since you’ve posted this.

      I only just found out perhaps an hour and a half ago that Carson had even mentioned ‘The Cloud Factory’ in another article, so I’m scrambling to catch up here.

      I hear you, mate! I’m still trying to assimilate all of what transpired last week in terms of plot and storry; this was a complete surprise.

      If you have the time and inclination, you might want to check out my response to Carson himself. It’ll probably be right down the bottom where no-one will see it.


  • Nicholas J

    My process to accomplish a subtle, yet dramatic scene:

    Step 1: Setup a scene for potential drama.
    Step 2: Have everyone yell their feelings at each other.
    Step 3: Realize it’s terrible.
    Step 4: Hate myself.
    Step 5: Bang head against table.
    Step 6: Take a nap.
    Step 7: Rewrite the scene using different emotions, something more low-key.
    Step 8: Swap out on-the-nose dialogue with subtext.
    Step 9: Realize this writing thing isn’t so bad after all.
    Step 10: Reread the scene a couple days later and realize it’s still terrible.
    Step 11: Repeat steps 4-10 endlessly until deadline.

    Try it out, hope it works for you!

  • fragglewriter

    Great What I Learned Tip.

    I’m rewriting my script, outlining/treatment first of course, and adding in drama/conflict. I’ve realized the fastest and best way to add in drama is to unfortunately add more characters to the beginning of the script. I know for amateurs, that might not be the best choice, but I realized that if I kep the character count the same or low, I wouldn’t have “Natural” conflict to the story. Allowing more characters into a scene, allows for different views, conflict and subtext.

    I’m outlining the script as I go, and notice tons of changes before even typing out the script. I’m withholding as doing the treatment as I go along, will help with writing the script, so that I don’t add too much and/or not enough.

  • Casper Chris


    Empire list of 10 Greatest Movies Ever (reader votes):

    1. Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back
    2. The Godfather
    3. The Dark Knight
    4. The Shawshank Redemption
    5. Pulp Fiction
    6. Star Wars: A New Hope
    7. LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring
    8. Jaws
    9. Raiders of The Lost Ark
    10. Inception

    “Inception is boring! Too much exposition!”

    Guess not…

    • fragglewriter

      The Dark Knight and LOTR? Seriously? What the hell happened to Goodfellas?

      • Nicholas J

        It suffers from a severe lack of wizards and superheroes.

    • mulesandmud

      Ancient Chinese proverb:

      Be wary of any court that accepts internet polls as evidence.

      • Casper Chris

        I was talking about popularity.

        I said I don’t know too many people who find Inception boring. Then someone else replied saying they find it boring too.

        • mulesandmud

          You were talking about exposition and boredom. Yes, Inception is popular, and yes, lots of people find it boring. Life is crazy that way. Claiming otherwise is a logical fallacy called affirming the disjunct.

          • brenkilco

            Speaking of disjunction, how did the Godfather sneak its way onto this fanboy top ten?

          • astranger2

            I echo those thoughts, although I’ve gleaned this is more a current popularity poll than one such as an AFI. Because GWTW is Top Five all time without question… imho, lol. Also interesting is while I find Empire by far the best of the series, it’s has the lowest box office totals.

          • Casper Chris

            No, I was talking about popularity when I said I don’t know too many who found Inception to be boring despite its exposition-heavy nature (= it is extremely popular). It seems quite clear that a VAST MINORITY of the people who watched Inception found it boring (that’s not “lots of people” in my book).

            Now, I understand if you didn’t get the “Inception is boring! Too much exposition!” line as it was a reference to another thread, but now that I’ve clarified you need stop putting words in my mouth.

          • mulesandmud

            I haven’t put any words in your mouth. Read your own post again. You’re suggesting that the web poll rebuts the notion that the film is boring or expository (“Guess not…”). Regardless of the older thread, that is poor reasoning, grounded in the fallacy that popularity equates to a lack of boring exposition.

            Call me wrong if you like, but I suspect you know what I mean.

          • Casper Chris

            No, I’m not suggesting that and that’s exactly what I mean by putting words in my mouth. Like I said, I can understand why you might interpret it that way (without the knowledge of what I was referencing), but I’ve clarified two times now, so you need to drop it. “Guess not…”, which is certainly a vague sentence, not to mention incomplete (hence the ‘…’) means nothing more than “Guess not… according to the voters of this poll”. I’m well aware that polled opinions do not equate to some objective truth. Jeez…

          • mulesandmud

            You haven’t clarified much, but starting all of your replies with ‘No…’ is not a great sign for the conversation. Let’s stop.

          • Casper Chris

            Thank you.

          • Bifferspice

            ah wow, we should all have a big top 10 films discussion. that’s a very fast way to know what page someone’s on…

    • klmn

      All recent. No classics like Dr. Strangelove or Duck Soup. Or any of the films that introduced the shots that appeared in many of those listed.

    • Citizen M

      Just because they have the most Torrent downloads doesn’t make them the greatest movies.

      • Casper Chris

        None of these would be on my personal top 10. Except maybe Pulp Fiction. Actually, probably not even that.

        • astranger2

          Interesting list. But “The Godfather” wouldn’t be in your Top Ten? I’m surprised GWTW isn’t there….

  • Linkthis83

    OT: I don’t want to make a big deal out of this. I promise I don’t. I also tend to deal with things directly which is why I’m doing this.

    It’s been brought to my attention that my script breakdowns are awful and that I’m here too much. I’ve always wondered if this was possibly true and so the only way I know to find out is to ask…and to have it done anonymously.

    My solution: If you feel that either, or both, of these things are true, please down vote me. I don’t want to be a negative influence on writers or SS.

    I know I do post too much, but I love the conversation about the craft. That is my over indulgence. I respect the person’s knowledge and insight that made this observation.

    I don’t want up-votes or posts supporting me. My esteem is as confident as always, but I do know that I’m very bold with my script breakdowns and my posts. If you’d like to see less of both, down vote away. :) Depending on the results, then I will lurk more and comment less. Also, if I do script breakdowns, I will send them to the writer directly.

    I shall cast the first vote :)

    • mulesandmud

      Is this performance art? I thought Disqus didn’t do down-votes anymore.

      Just do your thing, Link.

    • Casper Chris

      There’s no downvoting on Disqus anymore.

      Keep breaking down scripts you silly gopher.

    • fragglewriter

      It’s not like you’re being Grendl LOL (just kidding the both of you)

      Opinions are like assholes, everyone’s got one. Translation: Just continue to write your opinion, more than likely, if you don’t agree with the masses, you’ll be downvoted. Not a reason to stop posting or visiting the site.

      Writers who bitch about people who critique their work need to: stop writing, take it as an opinion and keep on writing, take it as advice and use it, or just throw away their computer and say fck it..

      • Ange Neale

        Holy poop chute, fragglewriter — that is the funniest thing I’ve heard about a-holes since my dad told me the following: isn’t it amazing how assholes can open and close without hinges?

    • Nicholas J

      Get out of your own head and keep doing them, who cares what people think.

      If a writer disagrees with your notes they won’t use them. If they aren’t able to tell whether the notes will improve their draft or make it worse then they probably have a lot more to learn anyway.

      I’m sure you give bad notes all the time, but I know you give good ones too. Nobody hits gold every time. FWIW I was considering asking you for notes on one of mine sometime in the future.

    • Midnight Luck

      Who on earth would say such a thing to you?

      It is your life, You can be on here 24/7 if you wish.
      If someone doesn’t like what you have to say, THEY are free to down vote you.
      No one has any right or ability to tell you you can or can’t do something.

      I don’t think you are on SS too much. Who makes that decision? Ok, I guess if your Wife said that, then maybe to her, but then you’d be having this conversation off screen with her.

      And who says another person’s coverage is awful? That is ridiculous. We all have our own thoughts and opinions about our writing, other people’s writing, etc. We put it out there because this has been shown to be acceptable on SS, and people actually WANT it. Why would someone have the gall to tell you something like that? Are they and their postings of higher quality and value? That isn’t possible. It is just opinion.

      None of us are “better” than anyone else. Even if someone had sold 10 scripts and was payed 20 million bucks for them, while some of us may think that makes them better, it doesn’t. They have just been payed more money for their writing.

      Art is a strange thing. What one person thinks is terrible, is considered gold to another. One person can give an opinion about how to do something, how they envision doing it, but it has no bearing on how someone else would see changing it or envision doing it. There are absolutely no “good” or “bad” ideas in this arena. There are only thoughts and opinions.

      Uggh, the ego of people.
      And the unnecessary bad manners.

      I enjoy what you have to say, and am happy to have you as a part of the community.

    • gonzorama

      I up-voted because I don’t want to see you hold back. I usually lurk because I’m at work when all the back-and-forth is going on and I can’t respond quickly. But, Link, I really enjoy what you bring to the SS community.

      All feedback is helpful. Don’t hold back. Your postings are witty, insightful and thought-provoking, even if I don’t agree with them. And that’s what this site does very well. Carson’s articles or reviews open the door for us to create a dialogue about screenwriting. That’s how we learn. That’s how we strengthen our beliefs.

    • leitskev

      I come in once in a while, I recognize your name, I don’t remember ever being bothered by your reviews. Don’t listen to that person, I like it when reviewers take an approach that is: a) bold – don’t be afraid to say what you think; b) respectful to the writer; c) does not try to impress us with film knowledge…or impress us period. Just be honest about what you think in the spirit of helping the writer, and of helping the rest of us by helping the writer. I’m sure your reviews are valued.

    • Kirk Diggler

      Your notes improved the script I’m working on. There was one particular beat that you called into question, you were rather adamant about it. And it confirmed my own suspicion about the scene. Had you been merely lukewarm about it, I don’t know that I would have been so quick to re-work it. But it was the one thing you really called into question and you were correct. Keep doing what you do.

    • Bifferspice

      your feedback on my script was insightful and very helpful. keep posting, please. :)

    • pmlove

      I, for one, am absolutely sick to death of you providing free commentary and notes on my work that I posted in the public domain for comment.

      • Midnight Luck

        -“I am mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” -

    • Linkthis83

      Once it entered my head that I could possibly be having a negative impact on the very site, and people, I value, I couldn’t exorcise it. I didn’t care about what one person thought, but I did care if it was a shared sentiment.

      Thanks for the feedback. My apologies for the dramatic nature of this post. I had to deal and didn’t know a better way.

      • Ange Neale

        Definitely NOT a sentiment I share about you!

  • ElectricDreamer

    “Jacob bursts in, sweaty and ruffled. Marla is SHOCKED. Her brother dares
    to show up five minutes before their mother’s funeral! But, of course,
    she can’t yell at him. Not with all these people around”


    Carson’s right. You see a lot of over-expressed drama in many scripts.
    But the opposite is much harder to find on the page.
    Even though established repression virtually guarantees juicy SUBTEXT!
    Show us the proverbial simmering pot, then ANTICIPATION will keep us reading.

    For example: the writer shows us someone capable of monstrous violence.
    Then in the very next scene — he’s the host of a charity event for sick kids!
    Now we know what he’s capable of, and that tension permeates the subsequent scenes.

    • Logline_Villain

      Have Anton Chigurh put a hole in someone’s head with a cattle gun…

      Then have him discuss “head-or-tails” with a store owner.

      • Malibo Jackk

        What’s he doing with a cattle gun?
        Where did that thing come from?
        You can’t just have some guy walking around with a cattle gun.
        Who is this guy? What’s his motivation?
        — The Bullshit Police

    • Poe_Serling

      “For example: the writer shows us someone capable of monstrous violence.
      Then in the very next scene — he’s the host of a charity event for sick kids!
      Now we know what he’s capable of, and that tension permeates the subsequent scenes.”

      Great point, Electric. Or you can switch it up. He’s the host of a kids’ party and then shows us his monstrous side.

      Here’s a wonderful clip from Curse of the Demon. I love how this scene plays out. Some idle chitchat at a party… chutes and ladders… then suddenly the dialogue and action take a dark, threatening turn.

      • Malibo Jackk

        Camp classic.
        Watched a few more scenes. Wanted to light a fire in the fireplace,
        turn out the lights, and watch some more.

        (Where are Siskel and Ebert when you need them?)

        • Poe_Serling

          Light that fire…

          It’s a classic for sure. A really solid horror film. The keys to why it works so well in my opinion: the straightforward treatment of the subject matter and the overall seriousness that Dana Andrews and the other actors bring to their respective roles.

  • Matty

    This article was a must-read for the picture alone. Unfortunately, no mention of The Room in the article :-(

    I think “The Room” is one of the must see films of all time. For writers. For directors. For human beings. It’s a masterpiece of mise en scène and complex drama. It’s a glorious piece of storytelling that still manages to plumb the depths of human debauchery, betrayal, and heart-break. It’s both a gut-wrenching drama and a knee-slapping comedy. It is true brilliance that brightens the soul and kindles the heart even in the darkest of times, while still shedding light on universal issues. It’s the reason film was made.

    If you haven’t seen it, see it immediately. Seriously. Do it. I recommend no movie like I recommend “The Room.”

    • Citizen M

      I thought it was Mick Jagger channeling Jimi Hendrix with an air guitar.

    • Ryan Sasinowski

      And then read Greg Sestero’s (Mark) book “The Disaster Artist” chronicling how this opus got made!

      • Matty

        Wow, I didn’t know there was a book on the making of it. Where are those amazon drones when you need them?

        I’ll definitely check it out though, thank you.

        • Ryan Sasinowski

          Yeah, dude! Best birthday present a guy could ask for. Totally worth the read!

          • Matty

            You think of everything.

    • Casper Chris

      Post IMDB link.

      • Matty

        Ignore the low rating…. there are many fools out there who don’t know genius when they see it.

        • Casper Chris

          Good gracious… 3.5… I was sure it couldn’t be that one lol… are you trolling us?

          EDIT: Ah, you’re definitely trolling. I remember the “flower scene” posted here some time ago (must’ve forgotten the name). Haha, god awful…

          • Matty

            I’m not trolling at all, sir. This is, quite truly and honestly, a must-see motion picture. So much to be learned from it.

          • Linkthis83

          • Kirk Diggler

            This is a master class in subtext and dramatic nuance.

          • Linkthis83

            Nothing “on the nose” here. Master class indeed.

          • Midnight Luck

            Seriously. Is this a joke?
            I feel so bad for the “actors” in this.
            I think I just shortened my life by a few months just watching that.

            It’s almost like they tried as hard as they could to put all the things you aren’t supposed to do into this.

            Just, wow. Scary.

          • Kirk Diggler

            The writer director, the long haired guy on the roof with the funny accent, spent 6 millions dollars making this film. He shot it on film and high def-video simultaneously. Multiple camera crews, multiple actors for the same role (understudies), because many actors were either fired or left on their own. Built sets even though it wasn’t necessary.

            It grossed something like $1800.

            Although if reports are correct, the story behind the making of this film could become a movie itself, supposedly James Franco might direct. Now when the film plays, it sells out midnight shows in major cities across America. It even plays in London. Crazy.

          • astranger2

            Somewhere Ed Wood is smiling…

          • Bluedust

            Haha, what a story, Mark.

    • Unfinishe

      I encountered the writer-director Tommy Wiseau on IMDB. I had a post criticizing someone — a prominent writer or director — and he comes out of no where threatening me with bodily harm. I saw his credits… that his films have any prominence gives me pause, “Did I encounter the real Tommy Wiseau.” Whoever it was certainly sounded crazy.

  • New Age Indian Guru

    Carson, being positive all the time doesn’t mean that you should reject the wisdom of a negative statement. Keeping people from voicing their opinions in a public forum creates negative energy against you. I understand it’s your site and you have the right to not approve statement you want, but remember, “Don’t touch that!” has saved many people from being burned.

  • Mike.H

    The stringy haired dude”s pic on the article, is it a famished Steve Perry at his crescendo–


  • Citizen M

    I look at the TCF scene and I wonder why it’s there. It doesn’t really show character or advance the plot. It’s more to show the conditions they work under. It should accomplish more.

    It starts with a bad landing by a Spitfire. It bounces and a tyre bursts. Do we need a tyre burst? Surely the plane would swivel round and damage the undercarriage and the runway in a shower of sparks? I don’t really know. But it sounds expensive and dangerous to stage, and basically all it does is cause Jenny to tut-tut. Surely a simple inelegant bouncy landing would be enough?

    In any case, what does it teach us about Jenny? Nothing. If she’s said “Stupid jerk, he kicked the rudder too soon for the crosswind.” or some other pilot-y comment that indicates she knows how to fly a Spitfire we would learn something valuable about her.

    One of the themes of TCF is prejudice against women. If the bad Spitfire pilot had taken Jenny’s seat on the Argus it would be more effective, and pack more action and conflict into the same space.

    Screen time is precious. Try and get two or three things going on in the same scene. Here’s how one might tackle it..


    Jenny, Elaine, Mona, and the ARGUS PILOT walk towards the Argus.

    They watch a Spitfires land. It hits the runway with a couple of huge bounces and weaves crazily as the pilot struggles to control it. Finally it slews to a stop near them and sags to one side as a tyre deflates.

    Out steps a HANDSOME PILOT and walks towards them.

    ELAINE: (soft) Ooh-er. I do fancy a bit of him.

    HANDSOME PILOT: (re tyre) Bicycle pump and some rubber solution, she’ll be right as rain. You chaps off to London? Give us a lift. I have a rather urgent assignation.

    MONA: Sorry duckie, we’re full up.

    HANDSOME PILOT: That’s all right. (to Jenny) You can sit on my lap, darling.

    JENNY: I’m not your darling, and the Argus is only rated for four. Besides which (re the Spitfire landing) you’ll probably bounce me on your knee and make me airsick.

    HANDSOME PILOT: (reacting to her accent) Oh, a Yank. Well, I think those of us who are actually fighting the war should get the seat.

    JENNY: What do you think these epaulettes mean? I’m doing just as much as you.

    Elaine pulls Jenny aside.

    ELAINE: (talking low) Jenny, sweetie, please don’t make a scene. I know it’s unfair, but that’s the way things are. You can get a rail warrant and come down by train, all right? There’s a good girl.

    Elaine links arms with the Handsome Pilot.

    ELAINE: All settled. Come along now, and tell me all about your crashes.

    Jenny stands and fumes as the four walk off.

  • Eddie Panta

    I still say there’s such a thing as a CELEBRATION SCENE — All good times, character intros a la boogie night. Or the montage sequence at the midpoint of SCARFACE —
    Ah, but how short they last, how quick things end up bad.

    And… this is what separates FILM from TV…
    TV is a non-stop narrative of conflict and explanation, like DOWNTON ABBEY, which just give me a big ole’ headache. Just fire all those people downstairs already. So many problems, so little time. All formula. There’s more time in film for visual content.

    But poor Ange. It’s not totally fair, this is a DRAMA. and AOW reviewers ( myself included) prefer much more extreme characters.

    Ange, you’re surrounded by men, I’m sorry.

    • Ange Neale

      Eddie, thanks but please don’t apologize — it’s really not necessary!
      And as I tried to explain last week, some of my favorite people in the world are men, including both of my supervisors at university. I really don’t have a problem with men.
      That said…
      A/ While the last couple of outings have come as a complete surprise, I always knew what I could be getting into when I first threw my hat in the AOW ring;
      B/ a couple of the SS faithful have pointed out to me privately that there’s no such thing as bad publicity in Hollywood and while I’m not a media ‘whore’ by nature…
      C/ I’ve learned a hell of a lot and gotten some terrific feedback, advice and ideas on how to improve it; and
      D/ I am hell-bent on making it better, so this is manna from heaven, and I appreciate that Carson may well have given it more attention than he’s ever given anybody else’s, considering the [X] wasn’t for him.
      While I can’t necessarily act upon all of the advice that I’ve gotten (because it’s occasionally contradictory or would create significant problems like plot holes down the track), it’s gotten me thinking about what people are finding doesn’t work or could be improved upon, or otherwise useful suggestions have resulted, so it’s been a thoroughly worthwhile exercise.
      Apart from a few personal shots, there have been very few downsides as far as I’m concerned.

  • astranger2

    Absolutely true. The plus side is The Cloud Factory may very well be the most well-known title here. ; v )

  • leitskev

    You gave it the the “thou” though.

  • leitskev

    Not disagreeing with you on Godfather, but adding my own interpretation of the opening, which is slightly different. We don’t meet Michael for a long time, but he’s mentioned several times and the Don looks out the window for him. And when he finally arrives, he’s in uniform, which sets him apart. All of this puts the spotlight on him as protagonist. But the question you raise is why not open on him?

    Because what is done first is introduce us to his world and begin to bring to mind the essential question of the story: will Michael go down the law abiding path or the path of the family. When we meet the Don, we see he is powerful, outside the law, but lives according to a certain code.

    The essential dilemma of the story is further revealed through Michael’s conversation with Kay. And then after the wedding we have a strange but necessary interlude scene in Hollywood, a scene which was made necessary because the violence of the family is not well established in the wedding scene, where the Don comes across as a genial man doing favors.

  • ElectricDreamer

    It’s timely reading all this antagonist talk after seeing “Neighbors” today.
    Seth Rogen & Rose Byrne are the antags to Zac Efron’s good-natured frat guy.
    They start all the trouble by resenting what they once used to be.
    But putting that motivator aside, we start with Mr & Mrs. Rogen.
    We think they’re cute because they love their kid, so we don’t despise them fully.
    SPOILERS: And then they go back on their word to their decent neighbors!
    And then I realized it… The movie starts with the villains.

    Watch that movie with Rogen as the villain, it makes for a compelling comedy.
    And perhaps a certain joyous character can echo this effective formula.

    • Nicholas J

      And the Joker is the antag to Batman, does that mean Batman is the villain?

      We are seeing the majority of the movie through the eyes of Rogen, therefore Efron is the villain. It’s fun to watch it the other way around, sure, but you can do this with any movie really.

  • leitskev

    Regarding the rest of your post, as fantastic as it is in many ways, you’re setting the bar too high. The truly great films come together in a way that make everything feel necessary, but it’s hard to do. Look at my example of the Godfather. Why is the Hollywood scene which comes after the wedding necessary to the plot? It’s not. All that was necessary was to have a scene which showed the Corleones were almost as violent as the enemies would prove to be. That could have been done an infinite number of ways.

  • brenkilco

    Any number of great films begin with the protagonist in the first shot. Cary Grant stepping off the elevator in North by Northwest, Paul Newman pulling up in front of a bar/poolroom in The Hustler, Humphrey Bogart arriving at his client’s mansion in The Big Sleep, Jimmy Stewart chasing a criminal across an SF rooftop in Vertigo, Bruce Willis getting off the airplane in Die Hard and about a thousand others. Not hard. Just depends on the nature of the story.

  • leitskev

    That does’t change what I said the least bit. You must have followed what I said since you repeated it with your own take on the wording. Showing the modus operandi of the Don could have been done an infinite number of ways. And technically you could remove the whole thing. The story of Michael’s evolution into the Godfather would not change one bit. Also, I’m not sure you want to cast the Don as the antagonist, which is what you are doing by calling him the Great White.

  • leitskev

    I like your theory on our needing to make the audience identify with the hero. The problem, as with any theory that people try to make universal, is that it does not apply to every film. Not even close. In some films it’s very big stretch to make it fit, which is what theorists always insist on doing, to their detriment. I encourage your analysis and always enjoy your examples. But I caution you against drawing such universal principles. Snyder and McKee did the same thing, and often the story ends up being stretched to fit the theory. The real issue is whether the theory can be a useful guide, and the honest answer is – in some films.

    • Malibo Jackk

      Professional screenwriters talk a different language.
      For the most part, they’re not quoting Snyder and McKee.

      That’s usually the sign of an amateur screenwriter.

      Amateurs spend a lot of time talking theory.
      Professionals spend time talking experience and what works for a particular script.

      Take a listen to the ON STORY podcast where the screenwriter talks about the making of MEN IN BLACK and BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE. He’s talking problem solving. Practical application.

      And he’s not trying to comes up with universal theories.

      And when the studio tells him that you can’t have two lead characters that are similar, that they must be polar opposites (theory) — notice how they solve that problem.

      • leitskev

        I make no claim to being anything other than an amateur trying to discuss and figure out what works. It’s amazing how often people like to resort to that “sign of an amateur” stuff.

        Look, I absolutely agree that it should be about problem solving. That’s the approach I take and my perception is that’s the approach people take who are making movies. Everything I have said indicates I am on that side of the argument.

        It’s not, however, the approach that many analysts, contest judges and gurus seem to take. If one works for a studio making movies they are in a different world than if one is writing spec scripts and trying to learn. Why else do you come to this blog?

        • Malibo Jackk

          You seem to think I was arguing with you.

          And yes I have noticed a difference between the way scripts are rated by contests, for example, and the way professionals approach scripts.

          • leitskev

            Sorry about that. Read your comment when I first got up. I think that theory is fun and to a degree helpful. But I agree the priority of the filmmaker is to make the thing work. Models are helpful, absolutes get in the way.

      • grendl

        Charlie Kaufman went to McKee for “Adaptation”.

        Professional writers have gone to the books to starting out. And everyone talks theory. Aristotle’s Poetics for example. Trying to suggest the gurus aren’t giving their version of his Poetics is wrong.

        They put their own personal spin on it sure, but its all trying to make sense of drama and storytelling.

        All pros were once amateurs. All of them. They didn’t come out of the womb that way. And elevating them to godlike status, especially in a business that puts out a ” Movie 43″ does no one a service.

        Its simply not a valid argument that being a pro means anything other than someone was either stupid enough or dumb enough to pay you for your words. That’s all being a pro means.

        Unless you want to talk about the professional who wrote the “Room”. He got paid for that. He’s a pro.

        Or do you mean good writers versus bad writers, both of which are found inside and outside the fortress wall.

        You seem to spend a lot of time talking about theory too Malibu. Maybe that makes you an amateur.

        Have we seen you at the multiplex, other than standing in line with an 8$ bucket of popcorn Malibo? Or are you just an amateur working up theories about what it means to be a pro.

  • Jaco

    Well put in regards to the main character. Empathy. Give us a REASON!

  • Malibo Jackk

    Thought some might find this interesting.
    Got back a score card from a contest with this comment:
    “Take out the bolding of headlings as well.”

    Don’t want to mention the contest as the review was thoughtful and the overall rating was favorable. (The ‘as well’ referred to a typo.)

    Here’s what was also interesting:
    The contest was looking for each script to address 30 questions.
    When you see something like this I often wonder — does the forest sometimes becomes lost among the trees?
    (Not sure if this is the way studios evaluate scripts.)

    • Citizen M

      Bold Headlings sounds like something from The Hobbit.

      • Malibo Jackk

        Yeah, it was.
        (Damn Hobbit.)

        The actual word comes from crossing ‘headings’ with ‘headlines.’

  • Citizen M

    I read somewhere that rooftop scene took 32 takes. The actor kept forgetting his lines.

  • Ange Neale

    Gotta hand it to you, Carson: very few people surprise me once in a week; twice is a record.

    I appreciate the opportunity to help me (and others) learn by my mistakes, which are many and varied. If I keep at it long enough, I’m sure I’ll have a unique contribution or two to add to the pantheon of scriptwriting fubars.

    I haven’t dived into the comments section yet. I expect there’ll be lots to look forward to in that.

    I certainly don’t discount your last analysis overall, or indeed what I’ve absorbed from a quick read-through of this article. On the contrary, I found the last incredibly valuable.

    While sending Jenny away on a mission was a stretch, as an RAF Medical Services surgeon, there’s no reason Allison couldn’t request a transfer to a British stronghold in the Mediterranean, where the ATA-girls never flew.

    Rewriting the second act to reflect that more plausible choice is what I’ve been doing today while I’ve been oblivious to this article and comments in reply.

    But your analysis of the particular scene outlined above misses a huge dose of irony, two pay-offs and a call-back from previous scenes, and sets up a dramatic irony for the audience in a scene that follows.

    In the earlier canteen scene, apart from the hint at Jenny’s sexuality, we learn that in Elaine’s opinion they have the best job in the world (i.e. that’s the first set-up and the origin of the call-back, and it probably was true for the time), and Jenny herself says that she doesn’t care how they get to their destination so long as there’s a bed and a hot bath (i.e. the second set-up; she’s just plain tuckered out).

    But when they deliver their aircraft, rather than get a lift most of the way home on a bomber the next day (i.e. after a good night’s sleep), Jenny’s told they have to catch the overnight train back to Edinburgh.

    Because there aren’t any sleepers and their choices are “smoking or walking”, they find the train’s packed with servicemen, it’s smoky as all hell, and they must spend the night sitting uncomfortably on their parachutes in the corridor. In other words, fat chance of getting a good night’s sleep.

    (That, btw, was factual — it really used to happen to them. Sometimes they’d catch the troop trains 4 or 5 nights in a row, each time flying again the next day.)

    Then when they do get to Edinburgh, Jenny’s told she’s screwed and now also has to catch the train all the way back to London — in those days, 10 or 11 hours provided nothing broke down.

    If she’d stayed where she was, she’d have slept in a real bed then flown most of the way home in 2 hours.

    When she’s watching the Spitfires land and one pilot botches his landing, I was being ironic: clumsy male pilots can fly Spits but she can’t because she’s female. And no, I’m not trying to assert all male pilots are clumsy.

    The others have seniority and she’s the new girl (we get that info from a very early scene when Winnie says, “Surely she can’t have broken one already”). If there are 4 pilots and 3 seats, the most senior pilots get them. That’s how the system worked.

    When Jenny’s told she has to catch yet another train home and she says, ‘Gosh, there’s a surprise’ and later rhetorically asks, ‘Quit the best job in the world?’, she’s being deeply ironic.

    For every hour she’s flown, she’s spending several more on smokey, bone-shaking trains. This is THE best job in the world? Really? From her standpoint at that very moment, it completely sucks.

    Then, of course, there’s the ultimate dramatic-ironic set-up of the scene which is sending Jenny home on the train while flying in the disabled male pilot to fly the Hurricane fighter all the way south to a base that 22 miles and just a few stops on the train from where the women work. This sort of thing also used to happen to them.

    So, in this one short scene of not even a page: we’ve got a call-back, two pay-offs, a set-up and it’s dripping with irony, dramatic and otherwise.

    If someone can rewrite that to be better in as succinct a fashion, they’ll absolutely have my attention.

    Irony’s partly my sense of humor, which is very British-influenced. I fully appreciate that audiences with ADD who’re used to stuff NOT being either so bitterly ironic or this subterranean just won’t get it.

    I was always aiming for a niche audience that a/ does get irony and b/ can hold the finer points of several scenes in their head at any given time. I know such an audience exists because there are people from this site who’ve told me privately as well as in posts here that they get it.

    Once again, Carson, I appreciate the time and thought you’ve clearly put into TCF.

    • Nicholas J

      You’re still missing Carson’s point in that the scene is not dramatized. Drama is conflict met with action, resulting in something unexpected, then rinsed and repeated, gradually forcing change in both character and plot.

      In the pages posted, Jenny is told she has to ride a train home. That’s the setup for drama. Jenny then replies “Gosh there’s a surprise.” THAT’S the end of your scene right there, after she has given in, as something has now been changed, which is her method of travel.

      But again, it’s not dramatized. Jenny doesn’t attempt to refute the situation in any way, she just concedes to change. So while the idea is right, it’s incredibly boring to watch because there’s no drama.

      This is why Carson’s suggestion to move the scene to when the decision is being made who has to ride the train home is a better option, as it is a better situation in which to create drama. Your scene is simply relaying the result of that decision to Jenny. It is exposition. You could accomplish the same exposition in Carson’s scene and it will be dramatized.

      “If someone can rewrite that to be “better” in as succinct a fashion, they’ll absolutely have my attention.” Will they? Because Carson’s post is staring you right in the face!

      It may be ironic in the broad sense with the male pilot being brought in, but that’s not dramatic irony, and it’s not drama. Dramatic irony is when the audience knows something a character does not. Watch any romcom where the protag is hiding a secret from the love interest and you’ll see a good hour of dramatic irony. So maybe it’s not that the audience is too dumb to get your awesomely deep dramatic irony, it’s that you haven’t actually put any dramatic irony in the scene for the audience to get.

      It’s good that you have all these setups and payoffs and character insights in this scene, but in the end it won’t matter because you haven’t infused it with drama.

      Didn’t you get my audio recording yet in the mail yet?! “draammmaaaaaaaa…..”

      • Ange Neale

        Nicholas, I do get it.

        There is both drama and dramatic irony in this scene and it sets up still more of it. Carson’s missed it and I’ve apparently been too subtle to put it in caps and underline so everyone gets it.

        Let’s go through it step by step.

        There’s a Hurricane fighter waiting to be flown from this airbase to one that’s 22 miles from the women’s base — 400 miles away.

        Both Jenny’s colleagues AND the audience know the Hurricane’s there — it was told to them in the previous scene by the Watch Officer when he tells the women ‘there’s nothing going south; at least nothing you ladies can fly.’

        I.e. Jenny can’t fly the Hurricane home because she’s a woman.

        Jenny’s oblivious to its existence. Fearing her reaction, her friends have kept that piece of information from her. The audience knows something the protagonist does not.

        As per your explanation, this is dramatic irony.

        In the following scene, after Jenny has gone, a male pilot is brought in to fly it. He only has one arm.

        The audience have now seen that the pilot who will fly it only has one arm. This, too, as per your definition, is dramatic irony.

        Jenny doesn’t find out one-armed men can fly fighters until later. It comes as a shock to her, but not to the audience.

        It’s also bitterly ironic for Jenny because she has to catch the train 400 miles home. She’d be pretty annoyed at being left in the lurch as it is, but if she knew about the Hurricane and the one-armed pilot, then, yeah, she might quit.

        Like the audience, Elaine knows these two pieces of information — it’s why she asks Jenny not to resign, which on the surface would seem like an over-reaction if it was just a typical administrative or scheduling snafu. That’s subtext in her words, which Jenny doesn’t pick up on.

        You wrote:

        “So maybe it’s not that the audience is too dumb to get your awesomely
        deep dramatic irony, it’s that you haven’t actually put any dramatic
        irony in the scene for the audience to get.”

        I think we’ve established that statement is clearly false, and I can only suggest you ask Carson why the hell he didn’t pick up on it since he’s read 6,000 scripts and you’d think he’d recognise it when he saw it.

        I’m certainly at a loss to understand it, but then I’ve probably read this thing 6,000 times.

        Let’s move on to “drama”, or what is perceived as the lack of it, at least in this scene. You wrote:

        “It’s good that you have all these setups and payoffs and character insights in this scene, but in the end it won’t matter because you haven’t
        infused it with drama.”

        By your definition, “[d]rama is conflict met with action, resulting in something unexpected, rinsed” etc.

        Jenny’s there because the ACTION she was expecting to take was to be able to fly home. She was made to pass up a good night’s sleep and a flight most of the way home on the PROMISE of a flight home from here.

        The CONFLICT is that she can’t and she doesn’t have seniority to pull rank on someone. She’ll be pissed off. Just because she isn’t shooting the messengers doesn’t mean she’s not mad as hell.

        I’ve deliberately stayed away from that because HOW to play it is up to a
        director and an actress.

        What Jenny wants to do — fly home — conflicts with the limitations RAF policy places on her — woman, thou shalt not fly Hurricanes, and ATA scheduling — they haven’t provided an aircraft big enough to take them all.

        There was also another set-up I’d forgotten about in the previous scene which was paid-off in this one, too. It has dramatic consequences, which, like everything else, have also been missed.

        One of Jenny’s colleagues took a couple of shots at Jenny to her friend,
        Elaine. (I.e. “Americans — they’re so emotional.”) The audience knows about that, too, but Jenny doesn’t. More dramatic irony, but that’s beside the point.

        It’s the same pilot who overheard the WAAF asking Jenny out, so it could even be driven by homophobia.

        Mona, the pilot who made the disparaging comments, doesn’t speak at all in the scene Carson highlighted.

        If Mona was decent, she’d be embarrassed for shooting her mouth off and she’d keep quiet for misjudging Jenny.

        If she was just being a snob or a homophobe, she’d be sullen and keeping quiet for being proven wrong about Jenny’s reaction to bad news.

        Either way, there’d be residual tension between Elaine and Mona because of it.

        How, by your own definition, is that really NOT dramatic?

        Action — Mona shooting her mouth off by disparaging Jenny — plus conflict — Elaine taking the opposing point of view and wanting to defend Jenny = drama.

        Okay, so I haven’t highlighted it BY WRITING IT IN CAPITALS THAT ELAINE AND MONA SEEM REALLY TENSE. (I hate the whole capitals and underlining thing because it can get so overdone.)

        But the scene accomplished several other things that if I ended it with
        the first comment as you suggest, suddenly they’re all hanging out there and don’t get paid-off, or called-back or set up for the next scene.

        Why move them all further down the track when they get the job done where they are?

        Carson’s suggestion on how to improve the scene at first glance seems doable.

        But Jenny’s an experienced pilot. If an Argus lands, she’d know it’s a four-seater without having to physically count the seats. Because there are four of them plus the pilot, plus the weight of their parachutes (4 x 40 pounds apiece in those days), she’d know that long before the pilot ever put the brakes on that there was no room for her.

        So Carson’s suggested solution for one perceived problem (that IMO isn’t a problem if one actually understands what’s really happening in the scene) creates a new problem — a plausibility problem.

        It’d be like a modern-day pilot not knowing that a Blackhawk is a helicopter, or a NASCAR driver not knowing that a Chevy is a car.

        I still haven’t finished taking up all the feedback from the second AOW, Nicolas, let alone last week’s. I’m trying to assimilate and figure out what to do with a veritable mountain of it, and now there’s more from today. It’ll take me a while.

        I’m not saying “No” to anything that’s been suggested recently, I’m just saying, “Gimme a break and let me think ALL of this through before I rush off and try to attempt a page 1 rewrite, especially if it’s not actually required because those who made suggestions didn’t take the time to fully understand what I’d written.”


        • Nicholas J

          “How, by your own definition, is that really NOT dramatic?”

          Again, these are all setups for drama, not drama itself.

          Let’s say you want to dramatize the conflict you’ve set up of Mona, Elaine, and Jenny. Using a similar scene, here’s how I would do it.

          The Turnhouse Watch Officer comes to the girls (ALL of them, don’t leave Jenny off screen) and says they have a plane they can take back, but it only has room for 3 women instead of all 4. I don’t care what type of plane it is, but that’s your job. If it really seats 4, maybe one of the seats is already taken by a man. Even better if he’s not as important as the 4 women. He’s going back and one of the girls isn’t because women are seen to be more expendable. Boom, conflict plus some theme.

          Now it’s up to the 4 girls to decide who gets the short straw. THIS is where you externalize the drama. Make it clear to us that Mona is uncomfortable being in close quarters with Jenny, and thus tries to convince the group that Jenny should be the one to stay. And no, she doesn’t come out and say, “Jenny should stay because I saw her and that woman flirting before and I think she might be gay and I can’t handle sitting in close quarters next to a lesbian for two hours!” She does it instead through subtext that isn’t buried too deep so we can still easily read into it.

          Maybe Jenny knows the exact layout of the seating, and says that Mona is small and if she sits in a certain seat Jenny can squeeze in next to her or something. Mona is of course repulsed by that option. Elaine tries to work it out between Mona and Jenny, but ultimately gives in and won’t stand up for Jenny.

          Jenny, feeling rejected, now has to travel by train. End of scene.

          So you have conflict (3 seats for 4 girls), action (Jenny offers to squeeze next to Mona), unexpected result and more conflict (Mona is repulsed by having to sit next to Jenny), etc. You have opposing forces, character, theme, and most importantly — it’s DRAMATIZED. And it can all be done underneath the surface through subtext, therefore, it’s a subtle scene.

          Instead, using the way you have it written, I am supposed to gather that Mona is possibly homophobic because she was in the background of a scene where a different character flirted with Jenny and then later Mona says that “Americans are too emotional.”

          I’m sorry, but that’s not being subtle, that’s just not doing your job. Nobody — no matter how smart or how many thousands of scripts they have read — will make that connection.

          Don’t leave it to us to do your job for you and read into the thoughts of characters with very little to go by. This isn’t a novel. It’s film, you need juxtaposition. Mona watching two women flirt tells us nothing about Mona. Mona watching two women flirt and then refusing to sit next to one of the women tells us everything.

          IMO my scene is a hundred times more entertaining and you can still get in every single thing you did in yours. If your entire script was dramatized in the way I’ve shown, I’d watch this movie in a heartbeat, and I think a huge audience would too. That’s the only reason I keep after you about all this.

          And don’t come back and say my scene can’t work and give some historical excuse as to why. It’s your job as a writer to make it work, to use the elements and retool the scene to fit.

          • Ange Neale

            No, I’m not going to say that at all, Nicholas, because what you’ve suggested here IS something I can work with.
            Thanks for that!

        • Citizen M

          It is not drama that Jenny is not allowed to fly the Hurricane south. She knew when she joined the ATA what she was permitted to fly, so she knew that Hurricanes were off limits. It’s in her logbook or whatever they call it. So the best she could do is grouse about the fact and complain that she is perfectly able to fly the Hurricane and it’s a waste of her time and talents. But she can’t reasonably throw a tantrum and cause drama about it. It’s part of the job, an irritation, not a dramatic highlight.

          Regarding drama between Mona and Elaine — who cares? They are minor characters. We experience emotion via our protagonist Jenny. If it doesn’t happen to her, it doesn’t rock our emotional; roller-coaster.

          • Ange Neale

            Oh, absolutely Jenny knew she couldn’t fly the Hurricanes.
            She didn’t know her one-armed Dad could if he wanted to.
            I was trying to gradually build the pressure on her — a few pages after this particular scene, I almost kill her in a crash-landing.
            I read somewhere you slowly ramp up the pressure, building up to the inciting incident.
            Can’t even remember where I read that now, but it seems like I wasn’t building it nearly enough.
            Either way, my bad.

      • Linkthis83

        This is an excellent observation and post. I’ve been working on the puzzle that is THE CLOUD FACTORY myself. Glad to see you doing this.

        I do not truly agree with your scene example in your next reply to Ange. With the exception of Mona observation. I didn’t infer that because Mona saw Jenny getting hit on that she thought Jenny might be a lesbian. How could I? Mona only saw this. Mona could’ve thought a number of things.

        The reason your example didn’t work for me is because I feel it is obvious that Jenny isn’t going because of seniority, there’s no drama in that. And I think Jenny’s reaction to flying into the birds, and her reaction to losing a seat on the plane, is to show the type of person Jenny is. How she handles difficult things. I do not think Ange’s delivery of this is EFFECTIVE.

        What I think truly needs to be set up better is the dynamic/relationships between these four women.

        • Nicholas J

          “The reason your example didn’t work for me is because I feel it is obvious that Jenny isn’t going because of seniority, there’s no drama in that.”

          But this is what I mean when I say retooling the scene to make it more dramatic. Don’t make it because of seniority, make it because something like Mona’s uncomfortableness with Jenny. Maybe Mona can be the one in charge here and is the one to decide. Give Mona seniority so she is obviously going. Then it’s down to Jenny and Winnie, as maybe they can be on equal footing in the ranks. Mona obviously picks Winnie, the non-threatening straight one.

          If the whole point of this scene is to show Jenny losing out because of her possible sexuality then dramatize the scene to reflect that. Not saying that it IS the point of the scene, but then again maybe it should be. It is the theme after all.

          • Linkthis83

            Well, because it’s a script/story she can retool it this way. The reason it’s automatically not an option, for me, is because they are military pilots. So seniority would win out any way — in my mind. That’s where I would get stopped by story logistics and then probably say your example is forced drama.

            I do agree that this is an opportunity to show “drama”. Ange even states in her reply to you that Mona’s motivations COULD be driven by homophobia. She doesn’t declare that they are.

            I still think it could work if the girls are planning to get on the plane and at the last second a jeep pulls up and a certain guy needs to be flown back. This guy, is currently insignificant to the war effort at this moment. Whatever his purpose is, he is not needed where he is going, but he’s getting the spot because he is a man.

            Also, the reason these pages Carson highlighted aren’t effective, is because of how the characters/situations have been set up to this point, in my opinion, of course.

    • kenglo

      Ange, I read the first few pages, and I agree with Carson’s analysis, the DRAMA/CONFLICT is lacking. It’s a great STORY, but you need more OOOMPH! More SOUL.

      I can see why he stated that you ‘didn’t agree’ or tried to ‘explain’ things to him as to why you did this or that.

      The story and choices of the characters shouldn’t have to be ‘explained’, simple as that. They either do or don’t do,

      SHOW what they do or don’t do based on their choices or dialogue, his biggest takeaway from this particular article, to me, is that every scene, every line, every word, should reveal some sort of character. I dunno. You write well, and who am I to judge, but, ya gotta step back, look at the work…and LISTEN. My dos centros! Good luck!

      • Ange Neale

        Witwoud suggested “add salt.”
        You guys are suggesting “it needs chilli, too.”
        I have actually been trying to listen.
        I’ve only had time to get through half of the feedback from the last AOW.
        Swamped in it now.
        On the bright side, this is actually a good problem to have.
        Daunting, but good.

  • Citizen M

    Just do your own thing. We’re all rooting for you.

    • Ange Neale

      I know so many are and I really appreciate it.

  • Marija ZombiGirl

    Hey Ange :)
    Yes, I read your response a little earlier. I’m working right now so I don’t really have the time for going into every detail but I will check back this evening (I’m in Europe, its 2 p.m. here).

    • Ange Neale

      Oh, I completely understand, Marija!
      I have that problem all the time.
      I’m in Australia.
      It’s usually late at night when AOW & AF is released – I stayed up until 3 in the morning responding to the AF — bad idea though. Apparently I get really defensive when I’m tired.

      • Marija ZombiGirl

        You know, I don’t know if it’s being defensive or just trying to explain your intentions :) There’s a fine line, obviously, and it’s not because we’re explaining what we tried to do that we’re completely closed off to all outside advice. I mean, who DOESN’T want to defend what they’ve been slavering over for months ? And I think you are open to outside suggestions, I admit to having a hard time understanding why people find you so defensive…
        I’ve been there myself and was quite surprised by the other person’s agressive response since there was nothing of the sort in my explanations (from my point of view but hey, this is the internet, we only have words and emoticons to express ourselves with, not the sound of our voice).

  • Bfied

    “So know what your theme is, what you want to say. The story is informed by that. Every single scene.”

    I have a question for you on this subject in regards to Stephen King’s ‘On Writing,’ and I understand this is more in line with writing novels than scripts, but hear me out.

    I was browsing a chapter regarding theme (I’m going from memory here) and he makes note that – obviously – most good stories are typically about “something.”

    He goes on to state that he doesn’t necessarily know what that “something” is before or when in the process of writing his story, and prefers to begin his story more situation-based, such as “What if… (insert compelling situation here).”

    The reason for this method being, he believes too often that working backwards from theme can often make the story too heavy-handed or preachy.

    I’m not suggesting that Stephen King’s method of writing (especially since it’s not screenwriting) is the correct way or the only way – far from it. I’m a strong advocate of a writer finding their own method, which I’m still trying to do.

    So, grendl, my question to you is this:

    Do you think screenplays could actually support a more ‘theme based’ (I hate saying that) approach due to how vastly different they are from novels in their more restrictive and efficient form?

    I think they might.

    I know I prefer stories with a running theme throughout compared to those that are about little or nothing.

    As an amateur, I think I’m discovering I may prefer to work this way as well – starting with what it’s ‘about’ – rather than trying to think of the situation first.

    I’ve read tons of interviews with screenwriters who prefer to work this way – they know what they want to write ‘about’ before they actually have the other puzzle pieces.

    Furthermore, I’m not suggesting a theme needs to be extremely ‘heavy-handed’ or ‘preachy’ in a movie; to me that’s where the skill of the writer comes in, to delicately weave the theme of the story throughout as if it appears to naturally emerge.

    I can understand King’s quip with heavy-handed, preachy themes for 300-1000+ pages of a novel, but I think maybe the form of movies support a more ‘theme based’ approach.


    • leitskev

      “What it’s about” is not the same as theme. “What it’s about” is something you know from the beginning of your planning the story. Theme is something that usually emerges during the construction of the story and after its conclusion. King builds his story around a “what if” question. He generally writes without much of a plan(according to his On Writing). The theme emerges over time and can be implemented better on the rewrite in subtle ways.

      I did some research on the question of theme a couple years ago, and most screenwriters and novel writers are in agreement with King…that theme emerges more toward the end of the first draft. It’s used to unify and tighten a story. But the story seldom begins with theme.

      For example, you might have a story built around this “what if”: what if a guy on his way home from his crappy job to his unhappy marriage stops in a bar for a beer…and wakes up naked in the Amazon jungle. The story becomes about figuring out what happened and how to survive and get home. The theme is something explored through that “what if”. Maybe it’s about learning to appreciate what you have, or it’s about there’s no place like home, or it’s about learning to have the courage to change your life. Those are things that emerge in the telling of the tale, and in the rewrite those areas can be strengthened in subtle ways.

  • leitskev

    I understand the difference, G, between antagonistic force and villain. And I have no problem with calling Sally an antagonistic force. But you tend to torture the reasoning of your principles to the point where they result in strange conclusions. That should be a warning sign that something is off. You might be the only person on the planet that thinks Don Corleone was the antagonistic force in the Godfather. Sure, if one takes the position that the Godfather is a tragedy and Michael was unable to overcome the pull of his father into the crime family, then in that sense the Don is a force that unwittingly brings Michael in a negative direction. However, it twists the definition of antagonism to absurdity. The entire drama showcases the Corleones trying to survive against their enemies. The obstacles they face are the antagonistic forces. It’s not even clear that the audience doesn’t want Michael to take on the role helping the family. When he moves his father in the hospital, it’s a first step and we cheer it as an audience. When Michael proposes he take out the cop and their rival in a meeting, we hope Sonny will accept his plan. We root for Michael to succeed because we care about the family so we want it to be victorious over its enemies. The darkness of all this is something we are reminded of later in the film, but during the course of the story we are all in…rooting for Michael to win.

    I enjoy your posts. But get over yourself. Nothing you say is difficult to understand. Your posts are entertaining, sometimes insightful, and in no way genius or groundbreaking or difficult to follow. Learn to listen as well as to post so you won’t find yourself going down a rabbit hole of twisted logic where you conclude Don Corleone is the antagonist in the Godfather. No one will take anyone that says that seriously. No one.

    • Bfied

      “You might be the only person on the planet that thinks Don Corleone was the antagonistic force in the Godfather.”

      I’d also have to disagree with you on this one, leitskev.

      • leitskev

        I think what you guys need to take a look at is the difference between a character’s internal journey, or arc in many cases, and the external one. The antagonist force generally involves the external journey. For example, in a mountain climbing movie, the antagonistic force is the mountain because it stands in the way of the character and his external goal…to reach the top. But let’s say the mountain climber is in a race with another character to the top. And they encounter a storm and are forced to give up their rivalry and work together. This requires personal growth, growth which was enabled by the antagonistic force of the mountain. So the mountain sparks the growth, but it is nonetheless the antagonistic force. And that’s how it usually works. Darth Vader causes Luke to surrender to the force and become the man he must, through his opposition. Not Obi Wan through his guidance.

        In the Wizard of Oz, the wicked witch opposes Dorothy’s goal…getting to the Wizard and ultimately home. But it’s the witch’s opposition that forces Dorothy to learn what she needs to learn. So the witch provides the opposing force to the external goal, but also creates the necessary conditions for Dorothy to grow, her internal goal.

        The tricky part about the Godfather, and maybe this is throwing you off, is that when we look back over the story it’s not clear what the internal goal is. It’s a tragedy and a moral tale in that we watch a decent man descend into becoming the head of a crime family. However, for most of the movie we tend to root for Michael to achieve this goal. So are we satisfied or horrified when he finally becomes the Godfather? I think the point of the story is both, because the story has caused us to root for him the whole way, only to leave us realizing when he lies to his wife and the door is closed that he has succeeded, but has become the very thing both he and his father were determined he would not.

        The key thing to be aware of is the external goal. And quite clearly the focus throughout the story is on Michael and the family triumphing over his enemies. Those enemies are the antagonists. They set the story in motion by shooting the Don. From that moment the external goal is for the family to survive. We root for Michael in all his endeavors toward that end. We’re not sitting there going “don’t shoot the cop!” We’re hoping he will succeed.
        In Star Wars, what is the one thing opposing Luke’s internal development? In the first movie, it is Hans Solo, who represents the temptation to do the selfish thing and to not trust in things like the force. So Hands is the opposing force to his inner development…but certainly you wouldn’t call him the antagonist. And Vader does not tempt Luke to the dark side until Empire.

        Internal development is a complicated thing. The opposition of the antagonistic force usually plays a critical role, but so do other characters, such as trickster or mentor archetypes. The Don is clearly the mentor archetype. You can argue he is the shadow by representing Michael’s dark side, or that he is the trickster because his contradictory influence sends Michael down the dark path, but that just shows how complicated these forces can be. If he’s not the mentor, then these archetypes are starting to really lose their value as story guides.

        The critical thing is to focus on what is opposing the external goal when you are looking for the antagonist.

      • leitskev

        an·tag·o·nist [an-tag-uh-nist] Show IPA noun
        a person who is opposed to, struggles against, or competes with another; opponent; adversary.
        the adversary of the hero or protagonist of a drama or other literary work: Iago is the antagonist of Othello.

        It’s an opposing force. Don Corleone never opposes Michael. He’s a mentor and an ally. Sure, you might consider him a bad role model, or you might contend that Michael’s desire to impress him or live up to him is what brought him to head the family, but that’s all internal stuff. If you go by that, it will be impossible to ever clearly identify antagonistic forces in story without the help of a psychologist. Or at least an amateur one!

        • mulesandmud

          Some interesting thoughts in this thread, buried in the semantics. Dictionaries are only so useful for close-reading drama.

          Specifics are better: Who then is the antagonist of The Godfather, if not Don Vito?

          • leitskev

            The antagonists are the opposing families. At no point does Don Corleone ever provide any opposing force to the goals of Michael. Even if you say that Michael’s goal was to stay out of the family business…that was what the Don wanted too! To argue that Michael’s love for his father is the reason he went into the business, or his need to prove himself, or anything similar, you are getting into the complicated world of internal dynamics. Apply that to other films and you will end up with some very strange ideas about who the antagonist is. For example, is Indiana Jones unseen father the antagonist in Raiders of the Lost Ark? Is Matty’s dead father the antagonist in True Grit? You have to look at the external goals of what the hero is trying to achieve. Luke wants to rescue the princess, not learn to trust the force. Matty wants to catch her father’s killer, not replace the father/daughter bond. Indiana Jones wants the ark, not learn that those he cares about are more important than the objects he chases. These other things are internal needs. They might ultimately be more important, but the drama is built around the external goal. The thing getting in the way is the antagonistic force. In the Godfather, it’s the Tattalia family and other enemies that get in the way of the Corleone goal of surviving. We don’t have to put that antagonistic force in one man or villain. You could even make the argument that the story goal is for Michael to assume the mantel of Godfather, and the attack by the other families initiates this process. That’s classic antagonistic force. Don’t over think this. The antagonistic force is that which opposes the goals, external goals, of the heroes.

          • mulesandmud

            Bear in mind, I’m not grendl, and am not arguing on his behalf, or even on behalf of his ideas. I do think that he brings up some very valid points about the nature of antagonism and opposition in stories, and points to the way that in fact the central gravitational force in The Godfather is the push-pull relationship between Michael and his family’s business, as personified by his father. Call it antagonism or not, there’s truth there.

            You’re both awfully dug in on this conversation, so much so that the question of who’s right is overshadowing insights on both sides.

            In one of your counterarguments, you suggest how ridiculous it would be to consider Han Solo the antagonist of Star Wars: A New Hope. What an interesting thought experiment! Han is indeed the moral and philosophical opposition to Luke in almost every scene, and in fact the climax of the film is as much about the conversion of Han as it is about the defeat of the villains. Vader and the Empire are the story’s external/existential threat, for sure, but they function like a force of nature; they might as well be a supernova (Death Star?) about to explode. The story’s traditional antagonist is almost entirely peripheral to Luke, and Vader’s absence in Luke’s story creates a void that is filled by Han’s opposition.

            That’s a brilliant and relatively novel analysis of one of the most discussed films of all time; don’t undervalue it. Just like in your answer that the multiple Corleone ‘enemies’ act as revolving antagonists of The Godfather, you’re identifying the fluidity of antagonism in film stories. If the antagonism of The Godfather is, as you suggest, shared, then might the Don not contribute on some level? What about Sonny? Or Kay? In romantic comedies, the love interest may function as the antagonist according to most story models, and that to me opens up the discussion in fantastic ways: why can’t an object of affection also be the primary agent of conflict in other genres, as well?

            Point being, you guys are touching great points. Don’t reduce the conversation to who’s right about the dictionary definition of ‘antagonist’. That seems a little like tossing away diamonds while mining for copper, no?

          • leitskev

            You are right that the idea should be constructive conversation. Where Grendyl tends to provoke people is where he completely discounts anyone’s opinion, even when his position is indisputably odd. I went out of my way to complement G for his interesting comments, but his default setting seems to be snide arrogance. Which I can tolerate if the opinions are are truly genius or at least correct. Thus the reason for my intolerance here.

            Mules, I think the thing to keep in mind is the distinction between a character’s internal need and his external goals. The internal world is immensely complicated. If you look for the antagonist force there it will lead you to such strange conclusions that the word loses its meaning. Hans Solo is not the antagonist in Star Wars. But by using Grendyl’s logic, he can be. So can Princess L, or the uncle on the farm, or C3PO through his reluctance.

            More useful is to look at Jung’s archetypes, or Campbell. Hans is the classic trickster, who is an ally of Luke, but can lead him astray.

            What is Michael’s goal in the Godfather? To protect the family. That remains the goal in all 3 of them. There is some irony involved, as the means of protection he uses ultimately destroys his family and kills his daughter, but it doesn’t change the fact that his goal is always to protect the family. Even when he has his brother killed. One can psychoanalyze what’s in his head, fine and good to do that. But the antagonistic forces are the things that oppose his goal of protecting the family.

            The Godfather II continues that theme, and continues to play with that irony. Vito’s needs to cross into lawlessness in order to protect his family. His crossing into evil is born in necessity, not sin. But that evil will one day destroy his family. The opposing forces are there even before he turns criminal…there in the crime families who oppress his neighborhood. Once he takes them on, they remain the opposing force…the antagonists…throughout the story. Even when he tries to take the Corleones legit, they are there, conspiring against him. But what choices does he have?

            There are some. For one thing, he did not have to let the evil consume him such that he lost his marriage. That never happened to his father. He didn’t have to kill his brother. And in Godfather III, he could have gotten out of the business of he was willing to accept a lesser status for his family. There was no way to make his power, a power founded on crime, truly legit. Had he given it up his family might have remained unharmed.

            Is Vito the antagonist in all 3 movies? See how strange these positions can lead one?

            Darth Vader is Luke’s antagonist not because he is Luke’s father. We don’t even find that out until Empire. He is the antagonist because he stands in the way of the goal: rescue of the princess. Classic story line. After the princess is rescued, the goal becomes destroying the death star. The goal has nothing to do with daddy issues, Luke thinks his father is dead.

          • mulesandmud

            I’ll leave the daddy issues to grendl, if it’s all the same to you.

            Your emphasis on internal vs. external is valid, and of course the Campbell archetypes will hold true in Star Wars, since Lucas applied them consciously (and encouraged Hollywood to subsequently take them as gospel).

            The Godfather II gives us a much more complex picture of character types, though. It presents two stories: Vito’s rise and Michael’s plateau/fall. In the Vito storyline, we see all of the most classic archetypes acted out in an act of unapologetic gangster fable: the noble orphan hero, the cruel crime boss, the quest fulfilled. In the Michael storyline, we see every one of those archetypes shattered and subverted; a power-mad hero, a helpless villain, and the quest invalidated. The Godfather II, like The Godfather, is an epic that wears many faces and challenges those traditional frameworks. To say that Hyman Roth (or Fanucci in Vito’s story) is the antagonist ignores the actual plot of the film. By the middle of the Godfather II, via one of the more deft sleight of hands in film history, Michael has become his own antagonist.

            Point being, these films, Star Wars included, work hard to bend their archetypes in ambitious ways. The fact that Luke and Vader barely know of each other’s existence for the majority of the film, and never really confront one another, is testament to that. It’s worth nothing that the most traditional antagonist of A New Hope is probably Grand Moff Tarkin, who is the primary threat to both the Princess and the Rebels. Vader is just his muscle, a memorable hood ornament with an old beef against Ben Kenobi. And yet, the film spends even less time with Tarkin than with Vader, choosing instead, as you suggest, to generate its conflicts through other character relationships. The fact that even a film as programmatically mythological as Star Wars can find flexibility in this model suggests that character categories can take us only so far, and that a script’s own story specifics need to take the reins at some point.

            And for your own safety, those who attempt to hold up The Godfather III as a model for proper storytelling do so at their own peril. Coppola sure doesn’t.

          • leitskev

            That’s why the external vs internal is so essential. In Star Wars, it is the Empire that is the antagonist, most epitomized in Darth. The Empire holds the princess. The empire is bringing the death star to destroy the rebel base planet. Even had Obi Wan killed Darth, the antagonistic force does not change. It’s the Empire. Vader is just a focal point and personification. Likewise in the Godfather, it’s whatever alliance of families opposes the Corleones. It can change. It doesn’t matter.

            Do we want to say Vito is the antagonist in GF II even though he is dead(not withstanding the flashbacks)? See how this kind of thinking can get muddled? If we go by Grendyl’s logic, Vito Corleone can die the day before the wedding in GF I, and we never meet him, but you guys consider him the antagonist. It’s not a sensible approach.

            When did I hold up GF III as a model?

            Internal goals are murky. Dorothy has to learn there’s no place like home. She has to learn that she has the power within her to go home whenever she learns that the people there truly love her even when it seems like they don’t pay enough attention to her. There’s a powerful message in that. And the real thing preventing her from doing this is herself. But that does NOT mean she is the antagonist! This is the classic story arc. A character has an external goal or problem. And she has an internal need or flaw. She must overcome that flaw, and she does so in pursuit of the goal. The antagonist is a vehicle for growth of the hero because the opposition is what forces the hero to grow. So in a real sense, the antagonistic force is necessary and good. But only in regard to the internal growth of the character.

            When you immerse yourself in a story, you’re not generally worried about the growth of the character. Your worried her succeeding in her goal. When she succeeds, and grows in the process, we grow a little ourselves through the adventure. But like the hero, the growth only occurs as we struggle with the character through the antagonistic force…that which is opposing the external goal.

            It’s not just semantics. Understanding antagonistic force is critical. And it’s elemental. The internal journey the character faces is interesting, often complicated and subject to a variety of forces. Just as we are in our own lives. These things are explored through the simple external tug of war created by the story where antagonistic forces battle the protagonist.

          • mulesandmud

            I don’t consider Vito the antagonist of The Godfather. I consider it an interesting thought. There’s a distinction. If you’re asking me to cast a vote one way or the other, then the discussion may have run its course.

            Also, am not sure why you’re keep applying blanket antagonists, either Vito or Vader, to entire trilogies. Of course that won’t work. Is that a response to me, to grendl, or what? Seems unwieldy, and not very useful to us here.

            Grendl’s Vito theory, crackpot or not, maps out the well-trod ground of The Godfather in an illuminating way. Your Han Solo notion does the same for A New Hope. That’s the best we can hope for in conversations like this: a fresh outlook that reconsiders or refracts accepted wisdom.

            Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt. We’ve all got a shelf full of McKee and Campbell, have digested it well, and are here to talk serious shop, not bring each other up to speed on the basics. I don’t lurk on these boards for guru cliff notes, I come for close readings and crackpot perspectives. Bring on the murk. Bring on the gray. Stories are messy up close; I’m here to talk to other folks who have been rolling around in the mud.

          • leitskev

            Ok, Mules, I hear ya. I don’t think I did apply blanket antagonistic forces to trilogies. In whatever film we’re dealing with, the antagonistic force is simply the force standing in the way of whatever the protagonists’ goals are. But here’s the thing: if Vito is the antagonist in GF I, as in Grendls’s theory, because Michael is motivated by a desire to prove worthy of the old man’s love or legend, isn’t he then also the antagonistic force in II and III? That was my point. It demonstrates the fallacy of calling internal forces the antagonistic force. That’s why, for example, Mattie’s father is not the antagonist in True Grit, which he would be under Grendl’s logic…even though he’s dead.

            And like you, I am cool with exploring crackpot ideas! That’s why I read Grendl. But it had to be pointed out that his antagonist theory will lead to absurd conclusions. One fdoesn’t need McKee of Campbell to understand that, or Aristotle. It’s common logic.

  • Ange Neale

    It’s so bad it’s actually kind-of hilarious. Disturbing, but hilarious.

  • Ange Neale

    Sorry for late response, Will.
    Not trying to make excuses here, but possibly I’ve taken a bit too much to heart the adage that writers shouldn’t tell actors how to play a scene any more than they should tell directors how to set it up and shoot it.
    Back to the drawing board — but not for a while.
    Got a mountain of feedback to wade through and assimilate.


  • Ange Neale

    No, I don’t mind your two cents worth at all!
    Some of these ‘two cents worth’ have been incredibly valuable.

    I read somewhere ramp up the pressure on the protag. Start slow and ramp it up. A few pages after the scene Carson used, the aircraft she’s flying leaks carbon monoxide into the cockpit and she’s almost killed crash-landing it.

    Apart from breaking 8 bones and collapsing her lung, wiring her jaws together for a month and making her eat through a straw, the shittiest thing I had done to her in the version in the most recent AOW and last week’s AF was to ‘out’ her in the press.
    In the original version posted in an AOW in March, I killed them; machine-gunned courtesy of two Luftwaffe raiders.

    Some people seem to be either forgetting that or oblivious to it. I’m not afraid to be mean to my protags.

    That ending only went because everyone hated that I bookended it and I wasn’t satisfied with how it turned out without the bookends.

    I know that ‘outing’ in the press these days seems like nothing more than a photo op and a chance (to borrow from Jodie Foster) to launch a fragrance, but in those days, outing would often have been a career-ending, soul-destroying, possibly suicide-inducing thing to have happened to a person, especially when it was done for political advantage.
    Right now, I’m hatching a plot to tear them apart when Jenny leaves hospital.
    That’s what I was working on while I was blissfully oblivious to Carson posting yet another article.
    Please make him stop… I’m drowning in feedback.

    Seriously though, I always welcome it.
    Thanks for your thoughts!

  • Ange Neale

    Thank you, grendl.
    I appreciate most of the criticism is sincerely meant, and that people are freely giving of their time, experience and good will to help me improve my work.
    It’s actually quite humbling.
    The tough criticism’s often the most valuable.
    Despite that I defend my choices and some take that as not listening, I actually do listen, and ‘The Cloud Factory’s better for it.
    It’s still got big problems, but not nearly as many as it had three months ago and they’re not insurmountable.

  • leitskev

    So Auntie Em is the antagonist in the Wizard of Oz since she is the reason Dorothy runs away, and what Dorothy needs to learn is that she is loved at home? And Obi Wan is the antagonist in Star Wars because he torments Luke into accepting the force? And Mickey is the antagonist in Rocky because his rejection of Rock pushes him to prove he’s not a loser? Good luck with this theory, Grendl. Good luck with finding someone to support your claim that Don Corleone is the antagonist in the Godfather.

  • Bfied

    Just to drive home the point, in ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ the father is the antagonist to Olive. Just saying.

  • leitskev

    You seem to have an obsession with identifying the father figures with the antagonist. We don’t know, and Luke doesn’t know, that Vader is his father! Not until Empire.

  • astranger2

    The father was also the antagonist in Pat Conroy’s other film adaptation “The Prince of Tides.” Although I’d have to mull that over more. In “Tides,” it could be well argued it’s the mother later who drove Savannah to attempt suicide and erode Tom’s (Nick Nolte’s) self esteem, potentially destroying his family too, that is the antagonist. Maybe it’s possible for the antagonist in a novelistically-styled film that spans decades, to morph in a story that travels in flashbacks and backstory, from one person to another…

    Two separate antagonists, based on two distinctly different time periods in the protagonist’s growth and character arcs…

    Although, neither Tom’s father or mother at any time, bounced a basketball off his forehead, and called him, “his darling little girl.”

  • astranger2

    In another of Pat Conroy’s adaptations, “The Prince of Tides,” the father is the antagonist there also. Initially at least. He is the driving force the mother and children rally against. An abusive, working-class shrimper who takes his business failures out on his two sons, daughter, and wife — the man the mother wants the family to escape, for a better life.

    In one scene, where he adamantly complains about the gourmet dinner she prepared, they watch as the mother, in a rage, fixes a different meal — the main ingredient, dog food. She adds onions and cajun spices to disguise the taste, and the children can barely contain their laughter as the father gobbles it down, calling it one of the best meals he’s ever eaten.

    The film is essentially novelistic though, and follows the family from childhood to adults, and many personal tragedies.

    Later the oldest son is shot by authorities. Savannah, a successful poet, attempts suicide. Tom has problems maintaining a stable marriage.

    During this time the status-hungry mother, has long divorced her shrimper husband, and married into money.

    Now, the parents seem to have reversed roles. Tom now takes his children to visit his father, who treats them with kindness, and warmth.

    The mother, now fully immersed in her upper crust social scene, is distant, and emotionally unaccessible. She is too proud to acknowledge their poor, and troubled past in any way, and it blocks Tom’s and Savannah’s chance to purge themselves of past demons. The mother is now the antagonist.

    With “The Great Santini,” it was much cleaner.

    No one bounced a basketball off of Tom’s forehead, and goaded him to “squirt out a few” because he was his father’s favorite little girl…

  • mulesandmud

    The final scene of The Godfather II is amazing for the way it makes the shadow of Don Vito the subject of the scene, and hence of the whole film. A masterpiece of dramaturgy that overturns every last preconception and romantic notion about this family that the first film revered so deeply and the second film watched crumble.

    I seem to recall reading once that originally Brando was supposed to appear in the scene, but he dropped out. One of those little movie miracles; the absence means more than the presence would have, and with Brando that’s really saying something.

  • astranger2

    When you were in deep discussion about whether or not fathers could be antagonists, the first thing that popped into my mind was the song, “Father and Son.” And how Steven’s so masterfully changed inflection singing the different roles. … later when he appeared and sang it live at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame awards, it definitely brought tears to my eyes…

  • astranger2

    Something about this discussion has been bothering me, not letting go, in a subtly irritating manner, like the pebble in the shoe.

    And it’s Cat’s vibrant rendition of “Father and Son” that kept insisting I take my shoe off to examine…

    In the song, the son, filled with the angst of coming manhood, struggles stridently to be heard — his yearning to be acknowledged stressed in every verse… yet, the father, far from being the Great Santini, is the polar opposite. He doesn’t yell or scream, or berate… most maddening of all to his son, he calmly just never listens…

    The father is so wise, he has no need to hear the anguish of his son’s coming of age. After all, every young man goes through this passage. Nothing new. The father patronizingly smiles, and answers questions that have not even been asked…

    Never mind the hormonal rage coursing through the son’s body, demanding answers now…

    As your Don Corleone illustration points out, an antagonist doesn’t have to be purposely in opposition… The most powerful antagonist can be the most well-intended… (and we all know where the road paved with good intentions leads… )

    I often unintentionally post obtuse remarks here. But I rally for you because when you occasionally go off into rants, you can produce great insights into the craft, and life… And for me, that’s why we listen to Mozart, stare at a Picasso painting, read a Hemingway novel, or watch a Kubrick or Hitchcock film…

    You crack a bowlful of eggs, and in an artful way, try to make sense of this scrambled omelet of a world — not that you always succeed — but you try. While others have either long given up, or ran out of breath…

    And, I for one, am appreciative… ; v )