Saturday, June 5, 2021

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Moral Premise in Beijing Cafe

A friend in Beijing sent me this picture of her afternoon tea in a Beijing cafe. Although there are two versions of the Moral Premise that have been translated into Mandarin, this is the English print version printed in Michigan USA. (!) I have no idea how it got there. Oh wait. I think she bought the book in Germany when she was there as a student. Things get around.

Friday, May 7, 2021

The Importance of Surprise, Revelation, Sacrifice, & Beauty in Successful Stories

Recently I posted something from Chris Vogler on the importance of "wishing" in successful stories. Here is something just as important, on surpriserevelation, sacrifice, and beauty.

 I've enjoyed Jordan Peterson's perspective on the important of narratives in culture. Now, he interviews one of the best storytellers of our time, Randall Wallace.  Some highlights are quoted below.

Jordan Peter's recent podcast with Randall Wallace
has some profound moments in terms of narrative and storytelling. It's long (2 hr 22 min).  Randall Wallace is not only an A-List screenwriter, but also a producer, director, and novelist. It is always challenging to listen to dialogue between two effective, responsible, achievers... who are smarter than the rest of us.  Excerpts follow.


[29:40] WALLACE: There's a quote from Mary Oliver that a friend shared with me recently. It's, "keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable." I find that in a great story, or in any great piece of art that surprise is the central currency of its power. There's an element, if you will, of revelation. I think it was Paul Tillich (Carl Bart), I'm not, sure who said: "Religion is man's way to God and is always erroneous, but revelation is God's way to man and it's always perfect." Well, there's a revelatory aspect to any great story when you're telling someone a story and they didn't see coming what just happened. That's what makes them awake that's what stabs them broad awake.

In Braveheart so many people said to me it was when the woman that William Wallace loves, when her throat is cut that's when suddenly they knew they were not in a typical action movie. Even to the very end of Braveheart there would have been many people in Hollywood, and were, who thought well that this movie needs to end with his friends swinging in on vines and saving him. We can't end an expensive historical epic movie with a guy beheaded and disemboweled. But that was where it had to end for me. But how we get there and what it says surprised me and surprised the audience too, and in that I would think is how it becomes resonant.

I was doing a charity screening of Braveheart a few years ago. For the first time in oh, two decades, to sit in a theater and actually see the movie screened not on television but projected in a theater and doing it for a charity in Austin, Texas. At the end of the movie, I walked up onto the stage to do a Q and A. The first person who stood up was a young woman in the front row, 19 years old. So, she wasn't born when Braveheart had come out. I was surprised that she stood up first and she said: "Mr. Wallace, I don't have a question I just want to tell you something. My fiancée died six months ago and before he died, he told me he wanted me to watch Braveheart so I would understand the way he loved me."  And I did I… I had to stop. I… I couldn't go on for several minutes it shocked me it moved me it surprised me . 

PETERSON: You said that you write love stories. and I guess she put her finger on that really profoundly.

WALLACE: There's the idea that that men want to be courageous. They want to be willing to

sacrifice themselves for what's worth sacrificing for. And women want a man like that and they, the women, want to be participants in that story, in that same journey for themselves. To me it's narrative that can give you that more than any abstract explanation.

[33:49] PETERSON:  There's a strong association between something that's informative and something that's surprising. If you can predict it, technically speaking, it doesn't contain any information and so information always comes in the form of surprise… we are wired to attend to what's informative because that's what updates and teaches us. So, then you said revelation comes in the form of surprise and I would say that's virtually the case by definition isn't it? Imagine you're viewing a narrative through a particular lens. 

You're in a cognitive perceptual structure, a frame of reference that you're using to track all the actions and to make sense of them, and to make predictions. And if something unexpected happens that means that you've just learned that [your previous] frame of reference is no longer applicable to the current circumstance. So, what that really does mean is that something transcendent, at least from the perspective of [your] current frame of reference, has in fact occurred. That's a mini miracle in some sense, right? Because a miracle is something that doesn't obey the laws that you're currently following… so a surprising revelation is a mini miracle… 

I would also say the narrative does something else. It doesn't just surprise you it also gives you a new frame of reference instantly within which that surprise now makes sense. If it doesn't then you're left unsatisfied by the movie…  I've seen that often in particularly in movies… the writer will throw a whole variety of things up in the air and it's really compelling. Then about three quarters of the way through the movie you think it'll be really something if all of that gets tied together [by the end.] Then it doesn't, right? It falls flat. It doesn't end in a manner that does justice to what's been set up. 

That's a classic narrative structure. There's a stable state to begin with, and then something that disrupts it and throws everything into a state of chaos temporarily, and then the establishment of a new state. A good story definitely does that for us.

Around the 53 min mark Wallace tells the story of writing Braveheart and taking an early draft to Jack Bernstein (who wrote Ace Ventura). Wallace says Jack and him are polar opposites. After reading it Jack told Randall, "this is the best thing of yours I've ever read."  The story surprised Jack (and Randall). It had that revelatory quality of love in it. William Wallace did what he did, because of love. So, there's a connection between love and revelation—the revelation of how much one loves. 

Then there is this about the importance of sacrifice around the 46 min mark. Peterson is talking about the stories in the Old Testament, but it has profound meaning for fictional characters in our movies.

[46:00] PETERSON: One of the great human discoveries was that of sacrifice. It was the discovery that you could modify the present so the future was different... You can give up something that you're deeply committed to in the present, something of extreme value, and obtain something of even more value in the future yeah... It's a cataclysmic discovery.

While you can give up something that you own, you can give up something that
you love. You can die for something, or you can sacrifice your entire life to it. The last of those is the ultimate sacrifice — to give up your entire life for the sake of the highest ideal. ... That is what everyone admires and that's what we all look for in stories that's what compels us... It's the basis of romantic attraction... associated with generosity...and share the fruits of your sacrifice. There's cosmic significance to the idea of sacrifice.

WALLACE: I agree with that completely... that's what is at play when you're making the sacrifice. There's this other element of faith in it... instead of it just being a negotiation, central to the sacrifice... is a transforming commitment, that the person [sacrificing] is being transformed.  

[59:41] PETERSON: There isn't anything that's more valuable than beauty, and I mean that from the cold-hearted conservative capitalist perspective. It's stunning how valuable beauty is. The most valuable artifacts in the world are paintings I know, except ... factories that make computer chips. Single artifact paintings are worth 150 million dollars at the at the upper end, along with ancient manuscripts that are works of timeless art. It looks like an investment in beauty is one that pays off as long as the thing remains in existence. I don't know how much everything in Europe that's beautiful cost but it was plenty, and it's paid back in spades and is only going to become increasingly more valuable as the past becomes more and more scarce, which is happening very very rapidly. I mean, these countries have more tourists than people, and it's all a consequence of art and beauty.

WALLACE: In Rome there are something like 150 cathedrals. If you went to three or four a day, in a month you couldn't visit them all. And and everyone you walk into takes you to a different place, which is exactly as they they were intended to do. 

[74:58] PETERSON: People have no idea [about the importance of beauty]. That's why I wrote chapter eight [Try to make one room in your home as beautiful as possible.] They have no idea how much they're starving for beauty. It's a hunger that goes far beyond, well let's not say that -- it doesn't have to go beyond material hunger -- but no matter how well fed you are, without some relationship to beauty, there's too much suffering in the world for it to be viable. Beauty, along with truth, is the antidote to suffering. It's not optional. It's crucial and you can tell that by its economic value. For those who are hard-headed you can't point to anything with more economic value. Period.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Final Draft 12's Beat Board, Outline, and Script Insertion Function

You that follow the Moral Premise know I'm sort of a Story Structure freak. But then my Story and Script consulting clients encourage me. I have been continuously helping writers structure their screenplays, scripts, and novels since 2007... and I still enjoy it. (But then I'm being paid to do it. THANK YOU.) 

If you've rented or purchased lessons from my on-line Storycraft Training you also know how much I rely diagrams (graphic metaphors) for beating out a story and structuring it properly so it will emotionally connect with audiences. 

Over time I've come up with some fairly simply ways of beating out stories (on paper or electronic cards) and then copy-pasting the content of those cards into Final Draft for writing. It has worked well. 

Recently, Final Draft released Version 12 with an updated Beat Board, Outline, and Script Insertion Function that is very exciting. I've spent some time with it, and have begun to turn some of my recent clients onto its functionality. I'm not sure how "smooth" it works on PC's, but I'm on a Power Mac, and in my environment it has a ways to go so the operation and functionality are smooth and easy to use. But the ideas are very good, and I want to encourage writers to encourage Final Draft to keep working on this. 

So, as part of a new addition to my on-line Storycraft Training series, Lesson 11 - Visualizing Story Structure, I included a short video to introduce writers to what Final Draft is doing. You will find it below. I've used a bit of editing (Final Cut) to make this look smoother operating than it currently is, but with some encouragement I hope they get it polished. Please write Final Draft via Feedback and encourage them.

Here's the video.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Did You Ever Wish For....?

Working on a script the other day I ended up reviewing part of Chris Vogler’s book THE WRITER’S JOURNEY (3rd Edition). Chris wrote the foreword to The Moral Premise, and I was honored that he did it, considering his fame in Hollywood as a premiere story guru. I have been fortunate to work with him for a few days on some projects years ago.

The chapter I read (perhaps for the first time) in his thick Third Edition is titled Stories are Alive (starts on page 299).

He worked for Disney for years, on staff, as a lead story researcher. This paragraph on page 307 is important. 

He writes about the power of wishing.

Wishes of heroes are the strong point of identification for many people, since we all have wishes and desires that we secretly cherish. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons we go to movies and watch TV and read novels — to have our wishes granted. Storytellers are, most of the time, in the wish-granting business. The Disney empire built its entire corporate identity around the belief in wishing, from its theme song “When You Wish Upon a Start” to the wish-granting fairy godmothers of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella to the genie who grants three wishes in Aladdin. Hollywood executives and best-selling novelists aim to know the secret wishes of their audiences and fulfill them.  (p 307)

In another place Chris writes that a good way to begin a story pitch is to ask “Did you ever wish for ________? Well, that’s what this story is about.”   It’s a good way to connect with the folk you’re pitching to.

Thanks, Chris. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Final Draft 12 - Exciting Additions


[Here is a later post about this Final Draft 12 function with a video from Storycraft Training.]

As a story and script structuralist I have long experimented with various graphic programs like Keynote (Apple's answer to Powerpoint) to graphically represent and revise a story's outline. The interrelationship of Acts, Sequences, Scenes, Beats and story motifs and accents are critical to creating a story and outlining it before writing...or even during the writing process.

A client recently sent me several Final Draft files where he had used Final Draft's Beat Board to outline his ideas. We were both using Final Draft 11. His work was good and helpful, but elaborating on the story's structure using the Beat Board was a frustrating experience because the Beat Board was too limiting in a graphic sense. It just didn't allow for what I considered common sense flexibility. So, I went back to using my favorite program—Keynote (Apple/Mac). 

In the process I sent a number of suggestions to Final Draft about how to improve the Beat Board, so it could actually be used, and not appear as a mostly useless sales decoration.  They wrote back and said..."Hey we just released Upgrade 12, you might want to take a look." 

My first impression, after looking at a half-dozen tutorial videos on FD12 is WOW! They have made significant upgrades in terms of outlining a script IN Final Draft.  I paid $79.99 to upgrade from FD11 to FD12. The major additions include:

  • Outline Elements
  • Outline Editor
  • Track Changes
  • Flow Lines (on the Beat Board)
  • Beat Board Collaboration
  • PDF Import

I encourage you to go to FD'sYouTube channel at  otherwise known as:

and see if this is worth it to you. I do not know yet, but it appears to be a useful revision upgrade to my favorite script writing software. 

I'm not sure if FD12's Outlining and Beat Board revisions will sideline Keynote but I'm going to give FD a thorough looking over. I'm hoping that I can find a way to do a beat level outline for an entire screenplay and have the beats seamlessly find their way into FD's scripting window. Right now, my method of beating out a story in Keynote requires that I copy and paste each beat into FD script page. It's easy, and works well, but tedious. 

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Stan Williams

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Brothers of the Wind

Tonight, Pam and I watched Brothers of the Wind (2015) directed by Gerardo Olivares, Otmar Penker. It is a nature drama about a young boy who nurtures a baby eagle into adulthood. Both the eagle and the boy must over come death defying obstacles to find their place in the world, bonding over their desire to be free.

We watched it for free on Amazon Prime. 

There are only 3 actors, and the most incredible footage of golden eagles you've every seen. Shot in the high Alps of Italy, Austria, and Switzerland it's an incredible achievement in cinematography, and falconeering, which will keep you on the edge of your seat and gasps of beauty. It's spectacular. 

See the trailer here:

Saturday, January 2, 2021

REVISIONS: Your Story's Emotional Roller Coaster & Intellectual Balance

This is really a post about how to plan a REVISION to a manuscript once the first draft is complete. 

Successful storytelling requires that you keep your audience emotionally involved in the story.  Designing an emotional roller coaster and intellectual balance into your story's structure is critical.

Here is an example from a recent first draft novel effort  and what I did to help the author know how to approach the revision. The revision's goal was to ensure that the manuscript reflects a solid emotional roller coaster effect, and an intellectual balance of story elements.

Here are some of the story fundamentals:

Genre/Era: Historial Novel - 1790s

Settings: Maryland, New Orleans, Sailing Barque 

Themes: Persistence, Pride, Supernatural

First Draft Length: 186,000 words / 388 pages / 26 Chapters / 136 Scenes

Storylines: 2 Protagonists (Character A and B) 

Conflict of Values/Moral Premise Value Dipoles: Pride and Arrogance vs. Humility and Meekness (where Meekness is the quiet strength and persistence to do what is morally valid in correspondence with natural law). 


Questions for the Author:

1. Where can the draft be shortened?

2. Is there a regular emotional up and down to the story?

3. Is there a reasonable balance between the five elements that the author believes will make the novel interesting, educational, and entertaining? (i.e.) 

(P) Philosophical reasoning

(H) Historical description

(S) Story connections and plot

(A) Action

(D) Disasters

4. Of the four main character groups (A, B, C, D) how many words are given to each storyline?  (There are four storylines that converge at the end.) 

5. Where are the IDEAL turning points (pretending there is only one protagonist) and where are the ACUTAL turning points? Since this story has two major storylines and two significant protagonists, the ACTUAL turning points for each of the two story lines will not likely sit next to the IDEAL.  Which turning points or setups (to the turning points) need to be sharped with respect to the Conflict of Values and the Moral Premise Value Dipoles?

The Process:

There was no attempt for the analysis to be precise (e.g. paragraph by paragraph), but to give the author a general overview of the draft's flow (e.g. page by page). 

1. The draft was printed out without gaps for chapter gaps. (Scrivener thinks this is a 550 page paperback novel. To make the process more manageable for analysis, fonts, page size, and columns were manipulated to get manuscript down to 388 pages. 

2. In a few hours, the pages were manually scanned and the category of content for each page was approximated: (a) Philosophical Reasoning, (b) Historical Description, (c) Story or Plot, (d) Action, or (e) Disaster. A letter (P, H, S, A, D) was written in the margin of each corresponding page for reference in step 4.

3. In Excel a column was numbered from 1-388. (The chart at right has been turned sideways from the original excel plot. The YELLOW row contains the page numbers from 1 on the left to 388 on the far right.)

4. In the adjacent column the letters corresponding to P, H, S, A, or D were manually inserted. (See TAN row at right)

4. Using Excel's formula for "IF (logical test, true, false)" a number was inserted in the next adjacent column whereby P=1, H=2, S=3, A=4, and D=5. The numbers arbitrarily assign emotional levels to the different content, where Philosophical Reasoning pages might be the more boring (=1), and Disaster Descriptions are probably the more exciting (=5). (See GREEN row at right.)

5. Using Excel's "Insert Chart" function a bar chart was generated, and sized to line up with the three columns. (See the BLUE bar columns at right. The shortest blue columns represent pages deemed Philosophical in content. The tallest blue columns represent pages deemed descriptive of a Disaster.) The "Emotional Roller Coaster" we are after is superimposed as a red line atop the blue columns. 

6. In Excel using the "IFCOUNT" function, the number of pages principally deemed portraying each of the five content were summed:

Philosophical (P) = 27

Historical (H) = 43

Story/Plot (S) = 145

Action (A) = 102

Disaster (D) = 71

7. Using Scrivener, in which the novel was drafted, the total number of words in all scenes principally relating to the four principal character groups and storylines are:

Character A = 103,121

Character B = 65,086

Character C = 26,300

Character D = 5,493

8. Identify in the rows of the chart the IDEAL major turning points as if there is only one protagonist for the 388 pages: Inciting Incident: 12.5% = Page 48 // Act 1-2 Break: 25% = Page 97  // Moment of Grace (Mid Point) 50%  = Page 194 // Act 2-3 Break: 75% = Page 291 // Final Incident: 87.5% = Page 339.  (It may be helpful to also identify the ancillary beats between these major turning points.)

9. Label the major events (peaks and valleys of roller coaster) with specific descriptions of the Disaster, Significant Actions, and Internal Decisions by the main characters on the bar chart.

10. For each storyline, identify and label the ACTUAL turning points and ancillary beats IF they exist. (If they don't exist, you're going to have to create them in Item F below.) Hand note on the chart the turning points that need to be sharpened or added.

Action Items for Author to Consider:

A. Where multiple adjacent pages are the same emotional level, break up the flatness with pages that have a different emotional level, e.g. There is one section where Philosophical Reasoning and Historical Descriptions continue for 10 pages. This can be shortened (by deleting pages), or be made more interesting by Action or a Disaster pages. Exception: There is no need to lessen the emotional content of a major disaster that continues for 9 pages (one place), nor the ending which Action and Disaster pages dominate for 19 pages. ACTION REQUIRED. MARK IT IN THE CHART MARGIN.

B. There is one sequence of 30 pages where there are only 6 Action pages, 0 disaster pages, and 9 Philosophy or Historical pages.  P or H pages in this section need to be deleted or A or D pages need to be added. ACTION REQUIRED. MARK IT IN THE CHART MARGIN.

C. Review Story pages and see if many of them can be time compacted to shorten the timeline. ACTION MAYBE REQUIRED. MARK IT IN THE CHART MARGIN.

D. The ratio of PHSAD to each other is not bothersome. It's good that the slower elements (P & H) are by far the fewest. NO ACTION NECESSARY

E. The Character Groups and Storyline lengths (Items 7 above) are appropriate since the word counts depict the relative importance of each character and group, i.e. Character A is the close knit group that is or supports the Protagonist. NO ACTION NECESSARY

F. After the above actions are taken, examine the manuscript at the ACTUAL TURNING POINTS (see Item 10 above). 

(1) If the Actual Turning Points exist, wordsmith the manuscript to reflect the conflict of values with the characters struggle. Remember, all stories must logically follow a natural cause and effect. The causes in a story are the values that motivate the characters; in this story's case those values are PRICE/ARROGANCE vs. HUMILITY/MEEKNESS. The actions are what the characters do physically to fulfill their closely held values.

(2) If the Actual Turning Points DO NOT exist...create them...which will require your story plot to be manipulated. Do not fret about hitting the IDEAL turning points. Follow the organic nature of your storylines and put the actual turning points in the vicinity of the Ideal. 

Here's the chart after doing all the above. 

Next step: Revise the Manuscript accordingly. 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Hollywood and History

Controversy always swirls when Hollywood produces a movie about some moment in history and seems to get the facts all wrong, favoring instead the spectacle and the dramatic. The audience loves it, but the historians (supposedly) hate it. 

But if it wasn't for the spectacle and drama of the movie, would anyone even be curious about the historical moment?

A wonderful take on this juxtaposition of fictional spectacle and historical truth, is explained eloquently by practical historian and researcher Brian Allison in this interview on the Townsends YouTube channel in the episode titled: Spies, Espionage and Secret Writing in 1770's.
the particular few sentences about but this start about 15:12, although the whole episode is fascinating. 

Brian gives you permission to change the facts in order to get people interested. 

"The best way to use Hollywood is as a gateway..."

Saturday, October 24, 2020

The Chosen - A Few Notes on Structure

As many of you know I'm a Catholic Christian, although I was born and raised Evangelical-Protestant. Consequently, I've been exposed the the worse of Christian "faith" films over my life (my father had a bit part in a Ken Anderson film decades ago), and I personally know a few of today's current faith-based filmmakers.  Generally, I cannot stand to watch such "faith" films. They are sanitized and generally lacking in organic verisimilitude. I've walked out on more than a few, and often squirmed low into my seat. I put "faith" in quotes because the producers of most such films do not exercise any faith at all in their audience with their on-the-nose didactic dialogue and plots. 

There are exceptions. Long ago I loved Zeffirelli's TV series Jesus of Nazareth (1977) with Robert Powell, Anne Bancroft, Ernest Borgnine and James Farentino, Olivia Hussey, and Christopher Plummer.  (I should watch it again to see if I still like it.) And then there's the classic horror tale directed by Mel Gibson: The Passion of the Christ with Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, Monica Bellucci, and other great performers. And lately there's something much different that is very good 80% of the time, and that's Dallas Jenkins's The Chosen with Jonathan Roumie, Shahar Isaac, Para Patel, Elizabeth Tabish, and the fabulous Erick Avari. 

Last night we had guests over for dinner and after we retired to sit in front of the big video display and voice of the theater speakers, we opened up a BluRay disc of The Chosen (Pam bought a case for Christmas gifts) we watched Episode 1  - I Have Called You By Name.  During the episode I kept thinking back to some recent "faith" scripts I've read as part of my script consulting practice and why The Chosen works most of the time. 

The Chosen has garnered a strong following for a number of valid structural and storytelling theory reasons. Let me recount a few. (I'll avoid the things that make me squirm.)
  • ALL of the main characters have serious character flaws. Such flaws allow us to identify with the characters because (subliminally) we know we are flawed. We can see ourselves bending rules, becoming legalistic, being paranoid, and having really bad things happen to us or those we know, and then responding selfishly. 
  • Each of the characters in The Chosen has a physical goal they are trying (by hook or crook) to achieve. 
  • Nicodemus wants to return to anonymity.
  • Nicodemus's wife wants him to continue because it gives her social status.
  • Simon wants to pay his taxes without losing his boat and home.
  • Andrew wants to help Simon stay out of trouble by cheating at betting brawls.
  • Simon’s wife wants peace and romance, and for Simon to wash because he smells. 
  • Lilith/Mary Magdalene wants to end her life because of her shame.
  • Matthew wants power, isolation and riches.
  • Quintus wants to collect taxes for the fish caught on the Sabbath. 
  • None of the characters have stated spiritual goals (this is good). Good characters have inner psychological or spiritual goals, but they should be portrayed non-verbally, not put into dialogue. Spiritual goals are akin to the moral values of the moral premise. But they are not physical goals, which is how we identify initially with characters. Our brains subliminally take the physical images and interpret them as metaphors for what's going on psychologically and spiritually. While The Chosen is a Christian story, we never see any of the characters praying, or reading the Bible (there wasn't one), or preaching…except Nicodemus, who, when he preaches, is NOT preaching the Gospel but pontificating like a typical flawed, legalistic Pharisee. 
  • Another aspect of at least the first episode, is that the scene structure is much like a Seinfeld episode. The producers have managed perhaps six subplots interwoven, each seemingly unrelated to the others, but with each scene ending in disaster or disappointment, which serves not only for a dramatic roller-coaster, but drives the narrative forward like the 7th chord of the musical composition that demands resolution. 
  • The subplots all deal with everyday issues that the 21st century audience can identify with: money, romance, competition, power and politics. The script is only secondarily concerned with spiritual issues, and only in a Pharisaical way are spiritual themes mentioned explicitly.  For the main characters, nothing is easy. At stake are fist fights, fraud, insanity, political power, abuse, etc.
  • And the best structural aspect of The Chosen is this: The stories are NOT ABOUT JESUS. That is JESUS IS NOT THE PROTAGONIST. If anything he's the antagonist. Finally, someone got this right. The series is about the flawed CHOSEN. Remember that.
This is all viscerally accentuated by great art direction, props, costumes, sets, direction, casting, and cinematography, which are not script issues but are interpretation of the script and the way the script acknowledges the verisimilitude organically in the story. 

The story we see on the screen is best when it becomes a physical-secular metaphor for the deeper spiritual issues which are handled only in a subliminal way. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Introducing the Beat Plate (8 Mini-Movie Template)

During a recent story consultation I unwrapped the Story Diamond and laid it out vertically in an Apple Keynote file based on the eight-mini-movie scheme. In the image of the template at right, each mini-movie is 12.5% of the story. The straight forward layout provided an easy to manipulate document that allowed us to beat out the story over Zoom by sharing my screen.  (See Moral Premise's Writing Aids page.)

While the structural elements (colored boxes) are locked in place, the white boxes can be typed in with any style or color of text, and the boxes can be changed in size or moved easily. 

The template at right is laid out for four characters, where each of the character's main beats journey vertically from top to bottom. But this is probably not as practical as using the entire beat plate for one character's entire main plot. Thus  you'd have much larger boxes and probably only one column. (see image below)

One of the great aids this template suggests is to start each mini-movie with the character's goal for that 12.5% or 12.5 pages, and end each with a disaster where the mini- goal is NOT achieved, and which spurns the character on to the next chapter in the story.  Only the end of mini-movie 8 ends with success. This also provides the dynamic and REGULAR roller coaster effect you want for your audience (no dull or slow spots, if the disaster escalate and truly endanger your protagonist's achievement of the goal.)

The template (as displayed here) should also remind you that the story is about the protagonist (thus the most beats) and less about the other characters (with fewer beats.) 

At the Moral Premise's Writing Aids page you can download a jpg or (larger pdf) as a guide and create your own, or for $10 I'll send you the original Keynote file for you to save and manipulate at will.  

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Writing Convincing Movie Dialogue - 20 Tips

In preparation for a Zoom appearance at a film school where I was asked to talk on the topic "How to Write Convincing Movie Dialogue," I prepared an essay with 20 Tips and numerous links to YouTube examples. This is now Lesson 12 on my 
Storycraft Training series.

I believe that if you have previously purchased the entire series you will be able to access the new Lessons (11 and 12) free of charge. If you can't, let me know, and we'll figure something out so you can. 

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Hard Work Pays Off - Bragging Rights

I've been working long distance with screenwriter Rich Mauro on a drama titled WHEN WE WERE GODS for about 4 years, the last two intensely. It's a story I believed in early on, and signed on as Executive Producer to further develop it. We've since produced a Look Book, and short documentary video about the development (HERE). We received expectational coverage a while back from The Austin Screenplay Awards (Finalist), The Black List, and WeScreenplay. You can read about that coverage  HERE

Recently, Rich submitted a recent draft to the International Screenwriters Association (ISA) for their Development Slate. Yesterday, he received notice that WHEN WE WERE GODS is in the finals for that consideration. The coverage of the script was the most extensive and glowing that we've received. 

Now, let me clarify my participation in this effort. I am NOT the writer. The story is entirely Rich's. My contribution has been to the screenplay's structure, format, and grammar. I did make three detailed passes on the script making hundreds of very small but nuanced changes in an effort to make the read efficient, visual, and empathic. If I had a suggestion to move or delete a scene, Rich had to agree beforehand, and often he would make the change and improve it still. The whole process went back and forth dozens of times. 

So, it's refreshing to read coverage that appreciates our hard work.  Here are excerpts from ISA:


Excerpts from ISA Development Slate Evaluation


When We Were Gods is a compelling script that demonstrates the writer’s ability to provide for imagery and story. There are some scenes here that would really pop on the screen. The writer makes solid choices. …

Initially, we did worry about the page count. It sits right at 120. … However, as we finished the script, we found…a deeply involved story that calls for some deeply involved moments. The standing count is fully justified.

…the scenes are wonderfully crafted and boast some impressive visuals.

The script has a polished look and feel… It is a genuine pleasure to read a script that is this well cared for.


Conceptually speaking, there is a lot to like here. The era and setting are wonderfully established. The story is rich with conflict.  

When We Were Gods is the sort of script that could easily get attention and for a number of reasons. To start with, there is a strong redemptive theme here. Höss is not a bad man, but a good man led into doing bad things. And what really works here is that the writer doesn’t over explore this theme. It simply lies there on the surface of the page, waiting for the reader to acknowledge it. The writer has a subtle style that really pushes these scenes together in unexpected ways.

So, we have religion and hope clashing against the regime of the Nazi empire in a compact setting. The building drama is thick, palpable. And the accompanying visuals that push the story are bold and telling.

When We Were Gods would easily affect a wide demographic. Though this takes place 80 years ago, the elements here are just as human as any who stand today. Man is capable of all the best and worst things. And man must be held accountable for it all.


The writer does a good job of providing for structure. The acts each openly support one another, and the result is a story that is well-paced and progresses naturally, without any hindrances to slow or disrupt it.

We were quickly impressed with the writer’s ability to provide for imagery. … Here, instead of dialogue, the scene focuses on a note passed from one character to another. Little is said but the note really seals the moment. Kolbe is a quieted man of intellect and this scene exemplifies the nature of his character with very little being said.

…there is a lot of building drama as we move through the conflict and towards the resolution. So much is happening and so quickly. Höss’s beating of Kolbe suddenly turned the story on a dime.

The closing here is impressive. At first, we thought the writer overstepped. The shot of the dandelions seemed an impressive choice to close on, but the writer kept going. We were unsure of this choice, even after the first pass. We then read the last two scenes again and, well, wow. Visually, this would be heart wrenching to see on the screen. This not a very practical choice to close on but the artistry of the scene, of the imagery is impressive.


These are strong characters. Seriously. …To tell a story like this with anything less would be a disservice to the tragedies of the time.

Höss is a remarkable protagonist. At first, we expected a very predictable arc. It’s easy enough to predict, considering the obvious redemptive tone here that is set early on with Hedwig’s closing line on page 3. And yet, there is more subtlety here than we expected and that’s what makes this story work so well.


The writer has a strong voice for the genre. The mechanics here are quite good. The direction is concise, sharp and to the point. We see, with ease, the writer’s vision. As well, dialogue also proves to be very good. The characters interact quickly and with relevance. The scenes are not bogged down with needless prose and monologues.

Imagery rules the day here. There are some solid visuals that really sell the story and would impress upon the screen. The writer clearly knows how to take full advantage of the medium and in a way that would impress an audience/viewer.

Dialogue is quite good. The writer does a nice job here, allowing the characters to speak for themselves. Often, a writer might think, ‘what do I want to say here?’ but that is the wrong question. The right question is, ‘what would this character say here?’.

When a writer trusts his or her characters enough to speak for themselves, dialogue will read as more authentic to both that character and the overall story. The writer clearly has a grasp for pushing good dialogue.


When We Were Gods goes deep and it should. This kind of story requires depth, but it also requires a subtle touch, a building tension that connects an audience to both the good and bad of humanity. The imagery here is solid. The writer really makes good use of the medium to visually impact the reader/viewer. The characters are meticulously crafted and arc very well.

We feel comfortable in recommending this script for the ISA Development Slate.

Thank you for the opportunity to read this strong and compelling story. We wish the writer well in all endeavors.