Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Scene-Sequel Roller Coaster

I'm preparing for a story meeting with a client this morning. In the process I created two slides (below) to guide our conversation. My client is not a novelist or screenwriter, but a public speaker. She's wanting to keep her audience engaged as she makes her presentations and tells her story. She's a fairly animated person, and is already engaging to listen to. But she sees the need for more structure to a long series of short talks that would benefit from following a pattern, thus helping her audience over time to see where she's going.

The basis of the slides (which I have used extensively in my workshops and in my Storycraft Training on-line series, came from studying a number of other story gurus, and so I give credit to: Dwight Swain, Randy Ingermason, Jack M. Bickham, and Thank you one and all.

Think of the SCENE as an action, external, or physical scene, and the SEQUEL as the mental, internal or psychological scene. Both screenwriters and novelists through their craft SHOW both of these, and a speaker or dramatist does the same, although the minute craft are a little different (which we will not delve into here.)

Each scene or sequel is broken into three parts of unequal lengths. 
  1. In the GOAL your protagonist will physically attempt to attain something.
  2. In the CONFLICT your protagonist will meet with people who try to stop her.
  3. In the DISASTER  your protagonist will be defeated.
  4. In EMOTIONAL REACTION your protagonist will internally respond to the defeat. 
  5. In DILEMMA THOUGHT your protagonist naturally transitions into an internal monologue about what to do next. There are various options that create the dilemma, each with a positive or negative consequence, and unfortunately the protagonist will not be able to know what the unintended consequences will be. This creates an increase in anxiety and enhanced dilemma. 
  6. In DECISION your protagonist chooses one of the options thought through in the previous step. And this launches your protagonist in to the next Scene-Sequel duplex with a goal to achieve.

The desired roller coaster effect (whether it be physical or psychological) follows the black arrows I've drawn on the diagram. The bird's-eye view of this is that the Scene is generally a downward dread, and the Sequel gives us an upward hope. And, when you string them together in a longer form composition, you end up with an endearing and engaging roller coaster, as seen in the diagram below.

Friday, November 17, 2017


(posted November 17, 2017)

The webisodes are complete and have been edited together into a short 45 minute movie. But we are going to wait until after the upcoming Holiday Season to stage a Crowd Funding Launch event with a theatrical premiere. That will occur in S. E. Michigan probably late in January 2018, and the Crowd Funding Campaign will run through Valentine's Day.

Following the launch premiere we will begin to post the webisodes one every few days for the rest of the world to see.  Thank you for your interest. Please share with us your email address (below) so we can keep all our friends informed.  Thank you! (Stan Williams)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Trailer for ANNALIESE! ANNALIESE! Webisode 2 - ON THE RUN

Here's a trailer for our second ANNALIESE Webisode - ON THE RUN. Sign up for following us on Indiegogo via the link at

Friday, September 29, 2017


Here's a trailer for our first ANNALIESE Webisode - THERAPY. Sign up for following us on Indiegogo via the link at 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Advice to an Aspiring Screenwriter

Dear Aspiring Screenwriter:

So you want to be a screenwriter. 

First, here's the basis from which I give this advice. I do not work physically in Hollywood very much. Although I have given workshops there, attended the parties (which is how you meet the players), been taken to lunch by studio executives, I've been on the "lots," have pitched stories to a dozen studios, and I have been hired to work on over a dozen major motion pictures as a story consultant. I've also advised dozens of professional screenwriters and novelists on their various projects. While I've written a dozen screenplays, none have been produced into a major motion picture. But I have written and produced hundreds of projects in every conceivable media for corporations, non-profits, cable, Internet and broadcast television, and I continue to do that. The latest is a webisode series in support of a feature that you can read about at So, that's my experience (as of September 2017.)

Second, here's my advice for what it's worth.

Your goal should not be to write a screenplay. Everybody does that, including the gondola driver in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE and every waiter and taxi cab driver in Los Angeles.  Having a screenplay that you've written doesn't mean much. Hollywood is buried in screenplays, and many of them good. Your goal should be to get what you write produced, anything, and regularly. Why? Because, you’re not really a screenwriter until what you’ve written is produced. It’s like the old philosophical adage that a tree that falls in a forest doesn’t make any sound unless someone is there to hear it. You need people to pay attention to your output. How to do that? To become a full time respected screenwriter the common career paths are one of the following. 

1. Write REALLY good stuff that your target audience likes. It's gotta be good. See my blog on stories (below).

2. Write a novel that sells over 1,000,000 copies. This will put your story expertise in demand, and the novel can be sold to a producer with money and you can negotiate to write the screenplay. Or, just write the screenplay after the novel is successful and producers will want to talk to you. I've worked with more than one novelist that this has happened to. 

3. Write short, inexpensive screenplays and produce them.  Yes, YOU produce them. Create your projects with close friends you already know and who have an interest in making motion picture projects. It does not matter if what you create is for the Internet, disc, VOD, television, cable, or even if you rent a motion picture theater to show it...and you can do that easily. But make stuff, at first cheap, and as you gain acceptance raise the bar and do better stuff.

4. Move to Los Angeles or New York and make friends with aspiring filmmakers at your interest and experience level. Grow with them. Work with them. Support their work, and they’ll support your work…if its any good. 

5. If you can’t move to LA or NY then find a content niche where you live, and try to find committed friends or associates who will collaborate with you in getting things made. That could be through a university, cable access program, or church group. BUT THE KEY is that those you work with have to be as committed as you are to making projects. If they are not, or can’t, then find someone else. Don’t burn any bridges because those friends who want to work with you but can’t, may help you funds projects in the future. 

6. Get a regular job working for a corporation or non-profit that needs videos made for promotion, training, and public relations. They will pay you a salary and pay for your projects. Of course, you need experience before they’re hire you. So, write and produce anything on a regular basis and learn as you go (No. 1, 2 and 5). Many of these organizations will need lower experience people to help and you can learn on the job. That’s how I did it years ago. In college I majored in Physics so I had a technical background but my hobby was producing radio programs for the college radio station. Then I took up photography and developed a good portfolio over a few years. My media work, although it wasn’t television or film landed me a job as an assistant in the film production department at Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Michigan (USA), and that’s where I learned to be a writer, producer, director and editor over the next 7 years before I left and started my own company.

In between all this you can self teach yourself a great deal with all the resources that are available for free on the Internet. If you haven’t found it yet, check out my story blog:
and my online training series which is the heart of my consulting and workshops I’ve given over the years at:
It’s not free, but it’s good.

May Providence shine on you.

Stan Williams

Friday, July 21, 2017

Stan's Speaking Appearances

I've been asked to make an appearance and talk about writing at two events in October 2017, both in S.E. Michigan.

Saturday, October 21, 2017
Oakland University, Rochester Michigan USA
Click here to Register.

My topic: 
The Sequence Method (75 minutes)
This presentation will explain a way to keep your readers and audiences emotionally involved from the beginning to the end. The method makes use of Nested Story Diamonds. We will first review the features, advantages and benefits of the story diamond used in Hollywood and by novelists. We will then show you how to nest the basic story diamond with sub-plots, sub-goals disasters and the alternating action of protagonist and antagonist. When structured right, these elements will emotionally capture your audience's attention and keep them involved. We will also briefly describe the interplay of the Scene/Sequence concept of Goal, Conflict, Disaster, Emotional Reaction, Thought Dilemma and Decision. By the end of the session you will be able to quickly structure a story that will be easy and fun to write. And it will keep your reader emotionally connected. As usual, I will use a host of colorful graphic slides to illustrate all of this.


Saturday, October 28, 2017
ACFW - Great Lakes Chapter Meeting 
La Herradura Restaurant, Novi, Michigan USA
To Register: See instructions lower-right on flyer below.

My topic:
So You Want to Make a Movie of Your Book
The ins, outs, sideways and the reality of movie adaptations.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The $40 DISCOUNT for smart storytellers is still going on at
Did you like Hacksaw Ridge? 
If so, you can probably answer the necessary questions. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Why Invest in Movies?

When I wrote the last blog post on The Sequence Approach, inspiration hit. I wrote a screenplay in about 10 days that had been languishing in the back of my mind for a number of years. Yes, there had been two false starts.

But after Christopher Pratt's observation that Story Diamond beats should be repeated in each and every one of the sequences, I had to try it. Ironically, I had said as much as that in my workshops, but I had never tired it. 

I had just trashed the last false start to something I was calling BAD3. It was a romantic comedy about Brad, Annaliese and Derrick, and how they were all millennials afraid to make commitments, and how they shared an electric car with the license tag that read B.A.D.3. I asked, "Can three millennials find happiness in their loss?"

After Mr. Pratt's inspiration, I combined Brad and Derrick's characters, and wrote ANNALIESE! ANNALIESE! It took two days to beat out, and eight days to write—one sequence per day.

Now, granted there have been a number of revisions since, but the basic structure has held up through perhaps 12 reviews by readers, and nearly many revisions by me...although the revision number is only 4.3.

Enough people liked it that I began making plans to shoot the ultra-low budget RomCom late this year or early next. But like anything, the roller coaster drama of getting a film made can be more dramatic than the actual story where the writer makes great effort to install the maintain the roller coaster.

Now, we're at the point where two things happen at once, and neither one can happen without the other. It's the Catch-22 of motion picture development. We have to cast the picture. But talent agents don't want to give you the time of day until the  picture is fully funded. And one of the hardest ways to fund a movie is through Private Equity Financing.

I have invested in my fair share of shorts and full length television programs and I can tell you the decision to spend money on high risk ventures (even if you're convinced of the upside) is difficult. Now as I approach investors for ANNALIESE! ANNALIESE! I had to finally write down what was inside my head for so many years. The blog posts linked below are the result, and they should help anyone looking for funding. Now, not all these ideas are original with fact, probably none of them are. Over the years I've read many a book and blog on the topic. So, none of this is copyrighted, use it if it helps.


stan williams

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Sequence Approach (Paul Gulino)

[UPDATE: Please see Christopher Pratt's comment at the bottom of this post. It's instructive.]

Today I listened to a recorded webinar of ScreenwritingU's Chris Soth explaining a bit about Paul Gulino's book "Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach."  Soth calls this structure the Mini-Movie Method (MMM). It was really a sales pitch for ScreenwritngU's 30 day course on the same. Strangely, they kept comparing the MMM (with it's 8 Turning Point beats, which actually has 15) to Syd Field's 3 Act Structure as if the 3 Act structure had only 2 beats (not 8). Those two beats being the turning points at the end of Act 1 and 2. Clearly, there is a lot more to go on that the Act 1 & 2 climaxes, and any number of books, workshops and blog posts (this blog included), will explain the wonderful world of structural beats to you.

But considering that those eight segments of a movie (each 12.5%) of the whole, as INDIVIDUAL movies or long sequences, each with a beginning, middle and end, did intrigue me. The idea is nothing new, but Soth explained it in a fresh way that is worth sharing and expanding on. (Actually his explanation that intrigued me was because, although I had Gulino's book on my iPad for the last 2 years I had not read it. Am correcting that now.)

Let me challenge you to think about a movie as a number of long sequences, each with a beginning, middle and end. The 2016 Best Picture, MOONLIGHT, is constructed with three long sequences, each about a gay-black man raised in a poor, drug invested part of Miami. The three parts tell the the coming of age story of this person: First, as a boy (called Little); second, as a teenager (called Chiron, his give name); and third, as an adult (called Black). The three sections are each preceded by a title card, simply:




This simple and direct structure, made explicit to the audience, was one (of many) reasons the screenplay won an Screenwriting Oscar for BEST ADAPTATION.

What Gulino (and Soth) propose is that you divide your feature into 8 parts, two for each of the major 4 segments: Act 1, Act 2A, Act 2B, and Act 3. These 8 parts are the same segments (less the Prologue and Denouement) you'll see on my Story Diamond  or on the linear representation of a Story's 13-20 Beats --- both represented below in miniature. (Click on the links above for posts that explain. And, click on any diagram for a larger version, that you can actually read.)

[BTW: I have updated the StoryDiamond again, and for the first time in six years edited and updated the Annotation or Notes Document that goes with it. If you use the Story Diamond I encourage you to download the latest at the links herein.]

Now, here's the new thing I came away with. If we think of each of these 8 segments, or sequences, or mini-movies as each having a goal that the protagonist needs to achieve, then it's like you have 8 subplots, which run sequentially, as opposed to most subplots that run in parallel.  Here's a diagram I crafted. Below the diagram is a further explanation. (You can click on any image to make it bigger.)

1. One good way to hook your audience is that each of the sequences has a goal. Let's call the first seven, "subgoals," as the end point of each of the subplots. (In the digram, the subgoals are symbolized by the red stars). The story must be constructed in such a way that each subgoal MUST be achieved before the next subplot can be engaged, and the next subgoal be achieved. That is, the first subgoal is logically nested and necessary before the second subgoal can be pursued and achieved. This is very much like a video game (which I don't play) where to get to the end of the game you have to acquire all the earlier magic lanterns, or pots of gold along the way. If you miss one, you stop dead in your tracks. 

The trick is to construct a story where the eight subplots and subgoals are logically dependent, nested and chronologically sequential. The later goals all have to be subservient to the earlier goals. (Soth used INDIANA JONES AND THE LOST ARC as an example.)

2. Of course, each of the subgoals MUST support the final main goal. This is what I teach about subplots (that run in parallel) and their subgoals—e.g. every subplot goal must be related to the single moral premise, and the virtues and vices associated with it. That is, every subplot has to struggle with the same conflict of values, but perhaps in a different way.  In Gulino's Sequences (and Soth's Mini-Movies) the subplots are sequential, and logically dependent. This is brilliant. 

3. The process suggests that just after each goal is achieved, there is an increasingly terrible and epic failure on the part of the protagonist, which causes his hopes to descend into fear. According to the Moral Premise theology (yeah, I should start a religion), these immediate descends are the consequence of two related forces: (1) the action of the antagonist, and (2) the weakness of the protagonist, which is a milder form of the powerful vice exerted by the antagonist.

Do I need to point out the emotional roller-coaster effect this of my bully pulpits? 

This perfectly follows an age old concept of novel writing—in every scene-sequel sequence there is a DISASTER that spurs the action forward. Here's a diagram from my on-line workshop (Storycraft Training). An explanation follows.

Novel Scene-Sequel Sequence (simplified)
Running from left to right in the above diagram. (1) The protagonist has a physical GOAL to achieve. (2) The protagonist takes action to achieve that goal, and in so doing creates CONFLICT with the antagonist. (3) Because of the conflict, the goal is not fully achieved, resulting in a DISASTER. (4) The protagonist experiences an EMOTIONAL REACTION, which acts as a motivation to keep going. (5) The protagonist spends some time evaluating in his mind (THOUGHT) the DILEMMA faced, until... (6) The protagonist makes a decision about the next goal and takes the fist steps to achieve it. [And the process REPEATS starting with the new goal.]
Now, I've added a couple of things from my other workshop sessions (c.f. Storycraft Training). Let me repeat the diagram for ease of reference.

4. Each sub goal has to be harder to achieved, and the conflict and tension associated with its accession has to be higher than the last subplot and goal. I have gradated the vertical scale into +8 and -8 levels. 

5. Likewise the disasters (represented by the black dos) are increasing terrible. Thus, the goals and the disasters, get farther and farther apart, creating an escalating emotional roller coaster. the dipole here is HOPE vs. FEAR—a good way to convey it on an emotional level, which for a story is critical. Of course there are other ways to define the roller coaster, e.g. rationally (Is the protagonist progress toward the goal progressing or retarding?), and/or morally (Is the essential truth of the moral being tested true or false?

6. Lastly, going back to my earlier description of the 13-20 beats, the Turning Points and the Pinch Points have a characteristic difference in how each of those seven disasters occur. The odd number disasters (above, i.e. 1, 3, 5, 7) are initiated or caused by the antagonist's power, whereas the even number disaster (above, i.e. 2, 4, and 6) are caused by the protagonist's weakness, blindness, and poor judgement. 


MOONLIGHT and Screenplay Rules

Each year I read one or both of the screenwriting Oscar winners. The theory is, in doing so, I'll learn how to write better screenplays and help others do the same.  In this case the learning from MOONLIGHT (Best Adaptation) was two fold.

I watched the movie on iTunes, then found the PDF shooting script HERE. The challenge I knew was to discover how Barry Jenkins wrote something that was so interior in scope, and was so silent. While there is some action and dialogue, the interior emotional tension is thick.

A screenplay is suppose to describe what is SHOWN and HEARD on screen, without TELLING us what the character is THINKING. The screenwriter describes the setting, the props, the posture, the bodily response, and when all of that is done rightly, then we give the writer permission to tell us what is actually going on inside the mind.

The adage is, learn to do it well, and then you can break the rules. Here's an excerpt from the third act. There are somethings here, expertly done, but they break the rules. Can you identify the rule breakers? (I use the term "rule breakers" with derision. )

This starts on page 79.
  1. We watch the children at play a moment longer. We’ve seen none of these kids before, we’ll see none of them again. 
    A final beat of this, then... 
    A door closed -- Black’s car parked deep in the corner of this parking lot, in the farthest back corner away from street light, obscured by low-hanging shade trees.  
    The diner is away from us, across the parking lot. Black takes it in a moment, pulls on a fresh shirt. 
    He’s moving, crossing the parking lot at an easy clip. It’s quiet out, a few passing cars to Black’s left running north on Biscayne Boulevard, no foot traffic -- can hear the SOUND of his footfalls on the pavement. 
    As he nears the threshold of this diner, takes the handle on the entry... 
    CLOSE ON: an old school bell, the sound of it jingling as the door it’s affixed to parts. 
    And right away, the sound of music, something old, soft, and lilting (think Aretha Franklin’s One Step Ahead). 
    Black scanning this room, his view of the place a clue for us: this is definitely the same diner we saw Kevin working in during the earlier phone call. 
    All the details are there, the old-school register, vintage chairs and table-tops. And in the corner, that old school jukebox blessing us with Aretha. 
    ...on the move now, crosses the diner with eyes down and ahead of him. There’s a counter lined with stools, directly opposite the staging station and adjacent the register. 
    Black eases up to the counter, places his cell atop it and takes a seat. 
    No one stirs at Black’s movement, no one watches. Looking about the place again, we notice the other patrons: a quartet of college girls in a corner booth shoring up for a night on the town, an elderly gentleman sitting to himself, staring into a cup of mild coffee. 
    As Black watches the elderly gentleman... 
                    VOICE (O.S.)                                        (moving)                                            Be right with you. 
    A figure moving past, carrying an urn over to the old man, sets a new cup down and pours a fresh coffee, scoops up the old cup as he moves on. 
    As he crosses to the girls, we see him better: it’s Kevin. 
    We watch as he speaks to them; can’t hear any of it but from the feel of it, very jovial, Kevin is good at this work. 
    A beat of watching Kevin here, isolated bits of him from Black’s perspective: Kevin’s lips as he speaks, the hand he rests to his neck instinctively.
    Finished with the girls, Kevin turns back toward the counter, hands full with their spent dishes. As he approaches, he looks right at Black, right at us... 
                    KEVIN                                                (moving)
              Be right with you, boss, just                           let me get this out the way.
    ...and moves past. 
    Somehow, Kevin has not noticed him. 
    Something lodged in Black’s throat, without thinking places his hand there: Am I breathing? 
    He must be, he’d better be: those dishes discarded somewhere in the back and... here comes Kevin. 
             How you doin’ tonight, what                            can I get you?
    Kevin flipping through a stained note-pad, hasn’t bothered to look up yet. As he does, his eyes settle on Black’s. 
    Kevin watching this man. And Black watching back, the two of them silently holding each other’s gaze, pure curiosity. 
Here's what I noticed throughout the script, but I'll restrict my examples to the passage above.

1. The tone and mood of MOONLIGHT is expertly included in the visual descriptions. The setting, the lights, the movement (all visual), are also metaphors for what the audience should be feeling. We're not TOLD how the audience should feel, but phrases like those underlined SHOW us.
  • "Black's car parked deep in the corner of this parking lot..." 
  • "the farthest back corner away from street light, obscured by low-hanging shade trees."
  • "...away from us, across the parking lot..."
  • " foot traffic -- can hear the SOUND of his footfalls on the pavement."
  • "...the sound of music, something old, soft, and lilting..."
  • "...with eyes down..."
  • "...staring into a cup of mild coffee..."
But the "rules" tell us that we should never use past tense verbs, present participles, break the fourth wall, use adverbs or gerunds. And all of those "errors" are used extensively throughout the MOONLIGHT script. Can you see them in the bulleted list above? Here are a few more.

2. We're told: Don't break the fourth wall. Yet, the MOONLIGHT script includes the audience/reader a great deal.
  • "We watch..." 
  • "We've seen..."
  • "We see..."
  • "...he looks...right at us..."
  • "...we notice..."
3. We're told: Avoid adverbs, present participles, and gerunds. Yet, they're everywhere. 
  • "scanning the room..."
  • "blessing us with Aretha."
  • "Looking about the place..."
  • "an elderly gentlemen sitting to himself, staring into a cup..."
  • "As Black watches the elderly gentleman..."
  • "...watching Kevin..."
  • "Kevin watching this man. And Black watching back. The two of them silently holding each other's gaze..."
4. We're told: Only describe what can be seen, and never say what the characters are thinking:
  • "..but from the feel of it, very jovial..."
  • "...Something lodged in Black's throat, without thinking places his hand there: Am I breathing?"
  • "He must be, he'd better be..."
NOW, this is NO CRITICISM of BARRY JENKINS. The screenplay reads easily, visually, and most of the writing is PRESENT ACTIVE. But to communicate this interior sense of emotions, the gerunds, the adverbs, and the other things work wonderfully. 

Yes, you might argue that this is an example of learning to follow the rules so you can break them. But here's what's different about Jenkin's situation. He had written and directed a bunch of shorts, but this was only his second full length movie, and his first, MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY, was something he directed for $13,000 and no studio readers were involved. Add to that, Plan B executives (Brad Pitt) had seen Medicine for Melancholy and liked it and wanted to work with Jenkins, so with Plan B behind him,  they persuaded a A24, new distributor, to get behind Moonlight as their first feature to finance and distribute.  (Jenkins also said in an interview I watched from a Netherlands film festival, that the OSCARS SO WHITE protest from 2015, heightened awareness of movies by black artists.) So, Jenkins was not in a situation where the grammar or the format was ever an issue. His previous work and his connections spoke louder than the grammar of his screenplay. In other words, the executed work is what's important, not the screenplay's grammar.


This is further reinforced when voting occurs for the Best Screenplay categories. It was clear to me (having lived it numerous times) that no common Hollywood reader had ever read Jenkin's screenplay without being told by their boss, first, "We're going to make this movie." Of course, I don't know for sure, but I'm willing to bet MOONLIGHT was never subjected to the anonymous eyes of a first tier reader. Had it been, I'm sure it would have been immediately rejected. But yet, like a Quentin Taratino script, it wins an Oscar. (And, PLEASE, do not tell me that Quentin Taratino has learned how to write a script so he can break the rules. If you've ever, ever seen a Taratino script you would know by page 2 he never learned the rules in the first place.)

Yesterday, I wrote four screenwriters I know in Hollywood, all who have worked on many films that were produced and two who are Academy members. I asked if those voting for the BEST SCREENWRITING categories actually read the scripts they're sent. The answers came back: "Probably not," and "Usually, no." What they do is watch the finished movie and infer what the screenplay was like. 

So, I'll say this I have in past posts. If you're a screenwriter that wants to waste your time, heave your screenplays at the anonymous studio blockade, and see them bounce off into the rubbish pile. They may be Oscar winners, but 90% of the readers in Hollywood wouldn't recognize it as such. Readers generally are not going to take the time to understand your story, but find fault out of a personal bias or tell you to follow the rules. For the rest of you, who want to get your screenplays made....ignore the obsessive format and grammatical rules, and find someone to help you make the story into a film.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Roller Coaster Action Scale and How Bad Scale.

I frequently write and talk about the importance of a logical and emotional roller coaster for a story's main spine. (See: That is, how does the audience perceive the protagonist's (hero's) progress toward the visible, physical, and highly ironic goal.

On a logical level the roller coaster can be evaluated as to whether or not the protagonist is making objective progress or has experienced a set back.

On an emotional level the roller coaster can be evaluated in terms of the audience's fear for the protagonist's safety or eminent demise.

Often the two roller coaster "tracks" coincide.

One thing I have not talked or written about that much is how the heights and depths of the roller coaster track should escalate as the story continues, which is just the opposite of an amusement park's coaster, where the tallest hill is at the front. Your story's tallest hill and deepest valley should be at the end, the Climax in Act 3.  In my own writing I have taken the threats of the antagonist and listed them on a spreadsheet or scrap of paper and attempted to make sure that each successive threat was greater than the one before.

Here then is a generic list that will help you do that. I don't think I came up with it...found it on a Stickies' Note. Make up your own and create  your own for each story, and each subplot (arc) of each character's goal. If you came up with this list and sent it to me, or if I copied it off some other blog, please tell me and I'll give you credit. The higher the number the deeper the valley.
Action Scale for Roller Coaster Chart
0 establishing
1 transition
2 looks
3 friendly banter
4 debate between friends
5 talk between enemies - walk near enemy
6 threat threshold
7 slow chase - stalking
8 chase / threat of gun or capture
9 bullets fired
10 imminent death
Now here's another list like the above, sent to me by novelist Mary Connealy ( Mary writes Romanic Comedy Westerns. Fun reads. Back in 2010 we shared an email thread in which she wrote this to my response after reading her novel, "Petticoat Ranch" (Barbour, 2006). I had complained that she didn't kill off the bad guy. This excerpt from her email will give you an idea of her writing. Love it. (Sorry, Mary, I didn't ask your permission to use this, but I think it's past the statue of limitations...and it's deliciously good.)
Mary writes: 
I'm sorry I didn't kill Judd off, very bloodthirsty of you, but I know what you mean. I did stab a stake through his leg and I PROMISE YOU he was hanged, so rest easy. :) 
I've killed a few villains in my day. Read  Cowboy Christmas if you want a bad guy who is particularly dead at the end.  Deader than dead. I've made two notes of how bad guys die in fiction, movies, books,  whatever. 
First is the 'Good bad guy' syndrome. The good bad guys tend to die
while the bad bad guys go to prison. The moral there? Prison is worse than
death???  When the bad bad guy DOES die, you can judge how bad he is by the number of times he died.
1. Shot through the heart. Bad. 
2. Shot through the heart, stumble back into an electric grid and be
electrocuted, very bad. 
3. Shot through the heart, stumble back into an electric grid and be
electrocuted, then fall six stories, very horribly bad. 
4. Shot through the heart, stumble back into an electric grid and be
electrocuted, then fall six stories and land on a highway and get
run over by a semi, miserably ugly viciously bad. 
5. Shot through the heart, stumble back into an electric grid and be
electrocuted, then fall six stories and land on a highway and get
run  over by a semi, which overturns and explodes...well, you get
the progression.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Mistakes: The Mystery of the Wizard Clip Demon

It's confession time.

When I find the time I DO write screenplays....that will probably never get made. Yes, I do write a lot of stuff that does get produced, but generally only for my documentary/corporate clients. (In fact, we just finished a hour long television special in December, but I can't talk about it or even show the trailer until the client gets their release scheduled figured out. It's looking like July if they can four-wall the theater.)

But back to the screenplays I'd love to see made. As much as I consult with filmmakers and storytellers in various genres, it's always surprising to me how I (supposedly the expert at some of this stuff) am totally blind to it.

Case in point. Here's the "comp" poster, log, and synopsis for the seventh major draft (over as many years) of a project I just sent off to The Black List for evaluation and the WGA (again) for registration.

GENRE: Historical Haunted House Drama-Comedy 
LOG LINE: The "true story" of a demonic infestation from Early American history. Refusing last rites to a dying sojourner, an Early American farmer battles a haunting and enterprising demon who destroys the family's home and farm while bargaining for their souls. 
SYNOPSIS: In 1795, Adam Livingston and his family were farmers in the Shenandoah Valley. A visiting stranger became deathly ill and begged his host to find a Catholic priest to come and administer last rites. But the Livingston's, who despised Papists, refused. As he died, the stranger cursed the Livingston homestead. Immediately after, a demonic presence came to haunt. The poltergeist, among other things, made a name for itself by cutting crescent moons out of linens, silks and leather goods  Why crescent moons? They say the demon was the moon god. And since no human would speak a demon's real name, it settled for a nickname—The Wizard Clip. Over 2-3 years the Wizard destroyed the family’s homestead. Admitting that the Haunt had religious intents, Adam begged various preachers to come and exorcise his property. But they could do nothing but run away. Then, after a couple of nightmares, he discovered that to achieve his greatest desire, he would have to embrace what he hated most.

The mistake I warn others often about, but that I've made for the first five drafts on this story was this:

I was loyal to the historical record. 

This is particularly true of life stories. Several times a year a client will come to me and with great excitement tell me the adventurous story of their aunt battling city hall, or their brother who battled the cartel in Texas. Inevitably there's a slow beginning, middle or end so that all the exposition can be crammed in. Or some event cannot be eliminated because the writer's mother-in-law would be offended.

And yet, at the same time these writer's will claim that they want their story to be embraced by main stream audiences who long of the big and regular emotional roller coaster ride of a well-structured story designed to entertain mainstream audiences.

Well folks, you can't have it both ways...usually.

In my Wizard Clip story (above) the historical record tells how Adam Livingston battled the demon tooth and nail for three years, but was unsuccessful in getting it to leave them alone. (SPOILER AHEAD) Then he has a nightmare of a man performing some kind of incantation followed by an otherworldly voice that says, "This is the man who can relieve you." Of course Adam doesn't know what that means, but starts asking around...and some neighbors...whom he had previously despised (because they were Catholics), tell him that the dream was that of a Catholic priest celebrating Mass. So, the McSherry's introduce Adam to Fr. Denis Cahill, who eventually comes (after some earlier failed attempts), celebrates the Mass in the Gathering Hall of their farm house...and the demon never comes to haunt again.

Being a Catholic, the story sounded cool to me. So that's what I wrote and stuck to for the first five drafts. (I was loyal to the historical record.) That is, for Acts 1 and 2 my protagonist/hero is Adam Livingston. And then suddenly in Act 3 I switch heroes to the priest.

DUMB! I would never tell you to do that for your story, but that's what I told myself for five years.

My mistake was made crystal clear to me in a very short review I got back from The Black List two years ago, which pointed out that I had switched protagonists in Act 3, and all the emotional collateral I had built up in Acts 1 and 2 were suddenly, and without explanation, thrown out with the bath water.

I was distressed. So, I decided to write a novel, went on a 10 day research trip to Virginia where the events occurred, and a year later I traced Dennis Cahill's life to his grave in Pittsburgh. You see, I had figured out that the story was really about the priest, BECAUSE he's the one that does the hand-to-hand combat with the demon in Act 3.

EXCEPT... the historical record and a lot of cool scenes and action are about Adam Livingston...not the priest...who still doesn't show up until Act 3.

It takes months, but finally I start to listen to my own advice....resulting in the last two drafts where Adam battles the demon in Act the excited CHEERS of my wife, Pam, when she reads it.

Ha! Ha! Well, we will see what my anonymous Black List evaluators think.

Such is my advice...(if I'd only listen to it). Write movies for the public, and not ABOUT your family or close friends...or ABOUT a pubic figure that everyone knows everything about (e.g. biopics).

It's for the restructuring reasons that such successful movies being this way:

and my favorite
(from American Hustle)

Of course,  your opening title could be:


And because movies are generally understood to be fiction...make everything up...even the opening title.

Friday, January 6, 2017


Tonight Pam, and I screened a preview of Scorsese's SILENCE with a group of friends in Ann Arbor. As usual, Scorsese presents a compelling story with a moral dilemma that few of us think about or want to think about.  SILENCE is also the kind of film I wish Christians could learn to produce—hard hitting, unflinching, explicit faith, deeply spiritual, and very difficult. No easy answers here. This is not a film about praying, getting saved, and all is happy at the end. But it is a film about praying...when God is silent...which often it seems that He is...and what real faith entails.  

No analysis, too early. But here are the links:

IMBD and Trailer

Blog post by Jesuit Consultant Fr. James Martin S.J. on SILENCE

Transcript Martin Scorsese Interview with Fr. James Martin, S.J.

YouTube Martin Scorsese Interview with Fr. James Martin, S.J.