Go ahead. Try to stop reading.

Absolutely nothing is going to divert my attention from this.

As a screenwriter working on making it as a professional, that’s been the underlying message for every one of my scripts.

I strive to create stories so involving, compelling and entertaining that each one immediately sucks you in and grabs your attention to the point where you have no desire whatsoever to stop reading.

You need to find out what happens next.

This is what I want when I read somebody else’s script, and it’s definitely what I aim for when I write mine.

Throughout the entire process of putting a story together, from the first spark of an idea to finishing the so-many-I’ve-lost-count rewrite, it’s a goal we’re consistently seeking to reach.

Being as objective as possible, take a look at your latest draft. How does it make you feel? Do the pages zoom by, move at a snail’s pace or just kind of plod along?

Does reading it excite you? Make you want to keep going? Can you easily visualize what’s happening?

Do the characters seem so developed that you actually care about what happens to them?

Always be challenging yourself as a writer. “Is this the best it can be?” “How can this be better?” “Would I pay to see this?”

You want your script to be irresistible, so do what it takes and put in the effort to make it that way.

Anybody can tell a story, but only the truly dedicated are willing to devote the time to learn how to tell it in the most effective way possible.

Stuck, but not trapped

Not necessarily so
Not necessarily so

No matter how hard you plan ahead, or how much you think things through, there will be times when you discover you have written yourself into a seemingly inescapable corner.

Your story comes to a screeching halt. All that momentum disappears. No doubt about it – you’re stuck.

“How is this possible?” you ask yourself. “How could I not see this coming?”

Rest assured, this happens to a lot of us. It’s frustrating when you miss a small detail or two that ends up throwing a monkey wrench into the works.

The important thing is now that you realize there’s a problem with your story, you can begin the process of fixing it.

Start by figuring out the source. Does it stem from something from much earlier or from just a few scenes before?

How much of an impact does it have on the overall story? If you took it out, how drastic would the changes be? (If not very, then maybe you didn’t even need it at all)

Here’s something very important to consider – is this the only way things could happen? If you were to take another stab at it, what could you change that would get the same point across but in a different, more effective way?

Don’t be reluctant to make those changes. You want your script to be the absolute best it can be, right? So take advantage of this opportunity to unleash that creativeness.

Not only will you be thinking your way out of that corner, but honing your skills as a writer so it’s not as tough next time (and there will be a next time).

Yes, it’s great when things go smoothly, but it doesn’t happen that often – that’s why we have rewrites.


Know the route you need to take

There's something to be said for taking the scenic route
Which way now?

After having reached the midpoint of the pulpy adventure spec outline, I’d been struggling with getting to the next plot point.

Not helping was the almost total jettisoning of material from the previous draft. The story had since changed in a drastic way, so there was nothing to salvage.

While I knew where the story had to go, I couldn’t figure out how to get there.

The midpoint sequence ended the way it had to – hero fully committed to achieving his goal, but now on several levels, and the antagonist getting closer to achieving his.

But what happens next?

Exploring several options, something finally clicked and I remembered a very simple rule we all tend to sometimes forget:

It’s not what could happen, it’s what has to happen.

THIS is what the characters need to do to move things forward (with your protagonist being the primary mover), and the more challenging we can make their journey, the better.

There are plenty of options of how things can play out in your story, but it will take some effort (and a lot of rewriting) to find the one that it needs.

You mind running that by me again?


What we seek is somewhere between these two
Top choice is too much, while the bottom is too little

Pop quiz!

Pick any high-profile, mainstream popcorn summer movie from the past 10-15 years, and explain, in as few sentences as possible, how the story unfolds.

This doesn’t mean provide a logline; this is about having a plot that’s easy to understand.

Okay. Pencils down.

There’s been a disturbing trend of overstuffing a story and bombarding the audience with just too much information. It’s gotten to the point that a lot of the time, the details we need to know get lost in big expositional info-dumps, which makes us struggle to follow along, or at least keep up.

Who hasn’t had a lot of questions about the movie they just watched, but those questions are more along the lines of “What happened?”  You want somebody to want to watch your story again because they want to relive the great time they had the first time around, not because they seek answers.

I could list several recent major releases that had too many elements which simply made it less of an experience to watch them. Sometimes the details made no sense, or the explanations behind them weren’t adequate enough. If I have to go back and think about something from earlier on, then everything that came after that doesn’t have my full attention, which makes me not enjoy it as much.

Is it really too much to ask that a story be kept relatively simple to understand? This doesn’t mean to dumb things down.  It is possible to write a smart story with simple details. One of the many reasons certain older films still hold up is because they are smartly-written stories told in a simple, straightforward manner.

THIS is what has to happen, and THIS is how we get there. Of course you’re going to throw in complications, but that doesn’t mean you make it overly complicated.

It’s very tempting to want to show off your writing skills and keep adding stuff into your story, but that usually results in just too much going on.

There’s a big difference between throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks and carefully plotting out what happens.

Keep things simple when telling us what we need to know, and leave it at that.

Put ’em through the wringer

Work on your script AND a load of laundry at the same time!
Work on your script AND a load of laundry at the same time!

As work on the pulpy adventure spec plods forward, one of the key components of a solid script is constantly reminding me to use it to its fullest potential.

Conflict.  Without it, you won’t have much of a story.

While each scene should be advancing the plot, theme and character development, there also needs to be some kind of conflict.

You know that analogy about structure that involves your character getting stuck up a tree and having rocks hurled at them? Being stuck and the rocks would be the conflict.

(I can just imagine the studio note – “I love it! But does it have to be rocks? And how about a bush instead of a tree?” But I digress.)

Characters need to keep encountering obstacles that prevent them from achieving their goal.  Your job is to make those obstacles tough for them.

Here’s where things get interesting and how to make your script stand out from the rest – those obstacles can be in the form of just about anything.

Conflict doesn’t mean there should be a major argument or a slam-bang, knockdown punch-fest; more like the confluence of two opposing ideals with some degree of intensity.

Say you’ve got a character who absolutely needs to be somewhere at a certain time. It’s up to you to think of different ways to make their journey anything but easy. Lost keys, flat tire, car won’t start, traffic jam, and so on.

As the story progresses, so should the levels of conflict. Start off on a small scale, and then build so things just keeping getting worse. This can also be combined with raising the stakes so the reader/audience can’t help but wonder “How are they going to get out of this one?”

Something else to consider: try to make the conflict organic. Don’t have something happen because the story needs it to; make it feel like it belongs. Going back to the earlier example of the character trying to get somewhere – it makes more sense they would get pulled over for speeding, rather than, say, abducted by aliens or attacked by zombies (unless that’s part of the story).

Simply put, you have to put your characters through hell before they can get what they’ve been trying to get the whole time. If you’ve done a good job in making us want to root for them, the more we’re going to want to see them succeed.