Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Greetings

This was the scene during one of my walks along Novi Road, to break up the long hours of writing at my computer. 

It reminds me of you--my friends, family, clients, and customers over the years. For all of you I am most thankful. 

The fertile richness of your lives have given me a sky-blue clarity of who I am and to what I have been called. 

Like the swan, a protagonist in the midst of the sea, we are all in the midst of personal sojourns. We begin as orphans, then as wanders, then warriors and finally we give ourselves to martyr's work order to make our world a better place where truth, beauty and goodness can reign.

With deep appreciation and my prayers for a blessed Holiday,
Stan Williams

Monday, November 17, 2014


I have my expectations of ANNIE. I hope they're not ironic.
Stories are all about Ironic Expectations and Reality. 

This essay is NOT about the upcoming movie ANNIE, but I'm including this image taken of me recently standing next to a lobby display to make a point. The stories of our natural lives can be filled with expectations which may not be the reality...and that can be entertaining or not, depending on how the surprises conform to natural law.

I get to work on some interesting films. Sometimes it's only to read a single, early draft of a movie and comment on it as I did with ANNIE. I saw an early script, sent in my comments, and as is typical I've heard nothing since.... except what we all read in the trades and see in trailers. I'm cautiously excited about the release of ANNIE next month and you can be sure Pam and I will be buying tickets to see it opening weekend. I have expectations.

The traditional story of Annie is filled with expectations that are turned on their nose, but yet, in the hands of crafted storytellers, the seemingly impossible juxtapositions come off as natural, and we the audience buy into the character's lives and situations. To the extent that stories expertly juxtapose impossible situations with natural law reality- - dramatic irony is created that magically engages the audience, even when the audience knows the story beforehand.

So, with that set-up, let me tell you about...

Yesterday, Sunday, November 17, 2014.

It was generally normal...except that I was more observant than normal.

So, I woke up this morning, the Monday after, thinking about the juxtapositions of several things that, seemed normal, and they were, very normal, except they were great examples of dramatic irony that pervades our lives and how observation can lead to an emphasis of time and place in storytelling that will always create interest and engage audiences.

For this exercise, let's use these definitions:

The reality IS NOT the expectation...when you don't think about it. (Gut sense.)

The reality IS the expectation...when you think about it. (Logical sense.)

The cool thing about great stories is that both IRONY and NATURAL LAW must work together. It's not an EITHER/OR situation, because good storytelling makes AND/BOTH true.

Here are examples from my day, just yesterday. How many can you find in your day's activities?

Irony/Natural Law Juxtaposition No. 1 - Regular vs Mob Mass
I attended a MASS MOB here in Detroit. This is where on a particular Sunday people from all over the metroplex descent on an old but beautiful parish buildings for mass... which originally were occupied by capacity crowds, but since populations have moved to the suburbs, the inner-city church are only sparsely attended.
Typical Sunday Attendance - Expected
Mob Mass Sunday Attendance - 2X S.R.O. Reality 

Irony/Natural Law Juxtaposition No. 2 - Exterior vs. Interior
The Mob Mass was held yesterday at Our Lady Queen of Apostles parish in Hamtramck, MI...a multi-ethnic city totally surrounded by Detroit. It's estimated that 19 different languages are spoken within it's 2.1 square miles of land. Historically it was settled by Poles, and this parish still is Polish. As is true of many Catholic Churches the outside is fairly boring and plain. the inside however is transformative. This is the irony and metaphor, too, of Christ and Christianity. On the outside things may look like everything else, but inside, there is something glorious, incarnational, and divine that is not what was expected. Even in movies that are not overtly religious, this illustrates the character transformation that audiences look for in good stories, and that character transformation is often told with sets that transformative like these two pictures. That domed image is a celebrated mosaic, and astounding to see up close.
OLQ of Apostles - INTERIOR
OLQ of Apostles - EXTERIOR

Irony/Natural Law Juxtaposition No. 3 - Mountain Top vs. Village at the Bottom
Also yesterday I took in the St. Cecilia Sing at the Detroit Cathedral. Sponsored by the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, the afternoon event featured some of the best choral and instrumental groups from around the Detroit Archdiocese. My wife plays flute and sings in one, directed by Glenn Porzadek. The groups were diverse but extremely talented, and the afternoon was punctuated by the organ mastery of the virtuosity of Cathedral organist Joe Balistreri on a 32-rank Austin organ. The glory, warmth, and beauty of the inside concert was in contrast to what was outside when we left. Cold, snow flurries, and a lady who's jeep was blocking traffic because she ran out of gas. I got her some gas and helped her on her way. But, later we saw a car nearly lost in a ditch and repair truck preparing to get it out.  There was the mountain top experience and the natural law reality of the village outside.
The Mountain Top Experience
The Village at the Bottom of the Mountain

Irony/Natural Law Juxtaposition No. 4 - Transfigurations and Demons Transformed
My reference above to the Mountain Top Experience is to a couple stories that are juxtaposed for Ironic and Natural lLaw effect in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 17. First we read about the Transfiguration of Christ on a high mountain. There, the Apostles, Peter, James and John see Jesus in a aura of light talking with Moses and Elijah. So starling is the experience that Peter, James and John want to build a swank spiritual retreat enter on the mountain top to they and others can experience this spiritual high, and no doubt charge admission. (Much like the St. Cecilia Sing, except admission to the concert was free.) But instead, Christ leads them off the mountain top to the reality of the village below where they are confronted by a man with his demon possessed son, begging Jesus for help because Jesus' disciples could not cast out the demon. Jesus says, "O unbelieving and perverse long do I have to put up with you?" Then Jesus calls the boy over and heals him. The Irony is that without thinking much about the situation the Apostles want to stay up on the Mountain Top, but the Natural Law reality (if they would think about it) is that there's much to do in the village below. There are demons to get rid of and cars to pull out of ditches.
Heavenly Irony - Spiritual Retreats
Village Reality - Demons

Irony/Natural Law Juxtaposition No. 5 - Muzak vs. Life Talent
At the end of the day Pam and I went to The Masters Restaurant in Madison Hts, MI with her choir for dinner. Throughout our dinner in a private dinning room this gentle jazzy trumpet music was coming over what we thought was their muzak system, although it sounded a bit too good for traditional elevator music coming out of cheap ceiling speakers—the expectation. As we were leaving, Glenn walks us to the door and then pulls me into the bar to show me where the music is really coming from. Meet PLEZE RAYBON, playing his muted trumpet and singing with his iPad playback. Pleze is what we call in the industry "talent"...hidden in Madison Hts.  I was mesmerized, came home, purchased and downloaded his two CDs from CDBABY.COM. Listening to them now.
What we expected.... but the irony awaited us.
The reality, the talented Pleze Raybon.

These are the kind of wonderful surprises that stories can provide our audiences and readers if we will only observe the space and time around us, and learn how to use IRONY and NATURAL LAW. Let's review these two organic definitions again...

IRONY - The reality IS NOT the expectation...when you don't think about it. (Gut sense.)
The seemingly impossible plot point.

NATURAL LAW - The reality IS the expectation...when you think about it. (Logical sense.)
The skill of the writer makes the impossible seem not just reasonable, but normal.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Moral Premise MEET-UP

At the request of a number of workshop attendees and book fans, to have some sort of additional access to a Moral Premise event, I am launched a monthly MEET-UP event here in Northville, MI. 

Information about the 2-hour informal gathering at a Northville's STARBUCK'S LOFT (302 E Main St, Northville) PDF MAP, to discuss screenwriting tips, techniques and to get peer-to-peer feedback, can be found here; Novi-Screenwriting-Moral Premise Meetup

Next Meeting Wednesday, December 17, 2014 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM.

I encourage others around the country to begin something like this, and using my materials. I will give support as possible, but of course attending may be difficult

Stan Williams

Cell: 310-962-8696

Saturday, November 8, 2014

ST. VINCENT - My Picture of the Year


Director/Writer: TED MELFI
Starring: BILL MURRAY (Vincent)
CHRIS O'DOWD (Bro. Geraghty)

IMDB Log: A young boy whose parents have just divorced finds an unlikely friend and mentor in the misanthropic, bawdy, hedonistic war veteran who lives next door.

This picture is too good to be true. I may never analyze it just out of respect to the talent displayed. It is a classic example of structure while turning the tables on the traditional concept of Protagonist and Antagonist. 

Here are some notes that have come from out Screenplay Meetup Group discussion in Northville, MI. As the discussion continues I'll add more.


The Movie's tag line is "LOVE THY NEIGHBOR"... but on first appearances the neighbor (Vincent) is not very lovable; and it appears as if Vincent is not loving anyone else in return. Thus, everyone needs to love each other. It's a challenge. But then the curtain is slowly pulled back to reveal that things are not what they seem. No spoilers here...perhaps after the movie leaves theaters. 


The Conflict of Values articulate the inner world-views that create the outer physical-conflict. The values must be naturally opposing.  These same set of values are at work between the all the characters in conflict in a movie, but may personify themselves in different ways. We only need one of these pairs for the film, but our discussion suggests the following possibilities:

Selfishness v. Selflessness
Self-Centered v. Others-Centered
Inward v. Outward
Apathetic v. Engaged
Narcissistic v. SSacrificial
This results in a Moral Premise Statement like this:

Friday, November 7, 2014


MICHAEL JANN - Emmy Nominated TONIGHT SHOW writer
Making the invisible visible.

That's the job of the filmmaker, and even the novelist, although, I think, the novelist has the more difficult time of it.

Show, don't tell.

That's the mantra of all storytelling, although, again I think, the novelist has it more difficult.

Make it visceral, not abstract.

That's the job of all communication. Although our essences are spiritual, we identify ourselves primarily in physical terms.

Psychological Values leads to Physical Actions.

That's the concept that The Moral Premise concept builds upon. But, what matters to film audiences and novel readers is what transpires in the physical realm. Our psychological world may house and care for our moral motivations, but something does not become part of our neighbor's universe (and the larger realm of humankind) until we push it into physical space.

These are the storytelling dilemmas all of us storytellers are faced with. And, perhaps I've made this a bit more difficult to resolve by sticking to my strictly speaking "inner to outer" litany. I mean by that, this: Most of the time when I speak or write bout The Moral Premise it is in this form:

Inner Value leads to Outer Action.

But to the screenwriter and the even the novelist, that inner value has no practical identity until it is made visible through some action. I know this, but I don't always practice it. In helping writers with log lines and moral premise statements I may get there, but my mind isn't purposely doing so, i.e. making physically explicit the inner motivations. 

This was brought to my attention recently in dialogue with MICHAEL JANN, Emmy nominated writer who wrote for THE TONIGHT SHOW with both Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon. He's been working on a few screenplays in his post TONIGHT SHOW reality when he wrote me this about current screenplay (this used with his permission):
I’m so happy right now!  After reading your chapter 10 again (more carefully, this time), I got less rigid with my prose, and more “writer-y”, and fine-tuned my Moral Premise to: 
“Hiding behind masks and shields leads to isolation, loneliness and misery. But, giving yourself to others in an authentic way leads to community, intimacy and love”. 
It was so cool to express my virtue and vice in external terms (moral, i.e., affecting others). rather than internal terms (abstract, i.e., affecting only the hero).
Now the woman he falls in love with must confront this same moral premise.  She might boast that she doesn’t hide behind a “mask", but she bludgeons people with her “honesty”, which is still hiding  (albeit in a different way -- behind a shield, rather than a mask.)  Now they both have to confront the moral premise:  "Hiding is bad, authenticity is good."
To some, this may be subtle. But the distinction is worth emphasizing because it empowers the writer (and the director and actors) to communicate effectively with audiences. I wrote Michael back:

You make a good point that I’m not sure I’ve ever emphasized, although I’ve come up with MPS like this. But I need to make this more explicit. The human process is still internal value drives external behavior, but for screenwriters I won't argue with your insight.  While the novelist would speak in more internal terms, the screenwriter can’t … except perhaps on a 3x5 card taped to the frame of his computer. “Hiding behind” is more physical than “lack of self confidence” or “selfishness.” And, “giving yourself” is more physical than “self confidence” or “generosity”.  “Hiding…” and “Giving…” are “action” terms, which is a key concept for actors.
At this point I referenced ACTIONS: The Actors' Thesaurus by Marina Caldarone & Maggie Lloyd-Williams, (also available as a SmartPhone APP, it appears.) In my own directing efforts I've found this book invaluable when working with actors at table reads, centering their performance on actionable interpretation of lines and scenes. ACTIONS also contains an excellent introduction explaining Stanislavski's acting method and the necessity of "finding an action for a particular moment or line of text." I think I should write about this book and how it can help screenwriters connect better with actors and audiences.

In a followup email to the above, Michael pointed out the practical benefit of thinking more visible, physical, and actionable:

That finesse point was the biggest thing I learned from both you and then from John Truby.  He talks about how the hero's flaw must be a moral, i.e. negatively affecting other people. The example he gives is if a guy is alone in his bedroom doing heroin, we don't really care and it's not much of a story. But if his kid is waiting at the school bus stop while he's in his room doing heroin -- now you've got a story. I recall him initially apologizing for the word "moral", in anticipation of the "I don't want to moralize" backlash. But that's why I thought I would share this development today with you, as you have always been a fearless proponent of that idea. Seeing it come to life for me made me today made me really happy and I immediately thought of you -- the Moral Premise-Meister! 
Thanks, Michael, for the kind words, but even more so for the great insights.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Valuable Thesaurus Tools for Use with The Moral Premise

Here are three books (hardcopy or Kindle) that perfectly dovetail with The Moral Premise. I have just listed them on my Recommended Book List under the WRITING section with links to all three to Amazon, and my Amazon reviews (which are also below).

THE POSITIVE TRAIT THESAURUS: A Writer's Guide to Character Attributes
THE NEGATIVE TRAIT THESAURUS: A Writer's Guide to Character Flaws
both by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

The dynamics of the Moral Premise mechanism require polar opposite values. Positive and Negative Traits are close cousins to values. In fact, Angela and Becca explain that the traits they index and detail in their thesaurus can be used four ways: (a) interactive, or action, (b) identity, essence, (c) achievement-based, or goal, and (d) moral attribute, or motivation. It is this last use that perfectly dovetails with The Moral Premise statement. Use their Positive Trait Thesaurus with their Negative Trait Thesaurus to write your Moral Premise statement. The Kindle version's index e-links to exhaustive describe page for each trait. These are great resources for writing, too, after the MP is figured out, because of the myriad examples the authors provide for the trait's cause, how they suggest character behavior, character thoughts, and at the end of each descriptive page a list of opposing traits that cause conflict...potential polar opposite values. These two books are the perfect working companion to The Moral Premise astute writer.

THE EMOTION THESAURUS: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression 
by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

This guidebook may appear to be designed principally for novelists, but it is a great resource for screenwriter's as well. All stories are about emotions, which can be described as the moral motivation behind action. Without emotion no action takes place. Think of that. Even a cold-blooded killer is driven by emotion. Emotions are the direct consequence of a character's positive and negative traits and motivational values. As the authors state: "Without emotion, a character's personal journey is pointless. Stakes cease to exist, the plot...dry..." and the journey for the reader or viewer meaningless." I've written about how log lines and many stories fail because there are no stakes involved. Values and emotions are prerequisites for successful storytelling. Angela and Becca also have designed this book for the critical purpose of SHOWING, not TELLING emotions. Novelists and Screenwriters alike have this goal. It's the SHOWING that connects the audience or reader, and sutures them into the story by identifying with the characters. It's the key ingredient of well-told stories, and the ingredient missing in the didactic flops that preach. This is the "hot blood" the "right-brain" the "grease" that makes the Positive and Negative Trait books productive.