Tuesday, May 9, 2017


So yesterday I had the pleasure of writing a one-page synopsis for a client of mine. I say pleasure because I love to play with words.  I love the challenge of taking strings of sentences and cutting them down to something shorter.  Of course, this is part of the fun of screenwriting - the economy of words.  We get to try and say what would take a normal person (screenwriters aren't normal right?) 100 words to say, and do it in 17.  Oh, the fun.

But doing it in your screenplay is one thing.  We all grow and learn and challenge ourselves daily to go in and make lines shorter, cut dialogue so it moves better, cut action to be as fast as possible.  And we enjoy it, or at least we should, or we are doing the wrong thing.

But how do you go about cutting your entire world of story and characters down to a one-page synopsis of about 600-700 words.  It's a chore.  And not a fun one.  How do we decide what to put in there and what to leave out?  It is always a difficult choice and it is hard to always pick the right ones.  There are two things that I suggest you keep in mind when trying to get a selling synopsis together that manages to make the magic of the script come alive on that page:

1) Have someone else write it for you.  We all have writing colleagues.  When you do a script swap, you can easily ask each other to write up a synopsis for each other as well as feedback.  The reason this can help, at least as a rough draft option, is that you get to see what a person on the outside of your script world (because admit it, we become part of that world and we have to fight to get out) felt and saw and focused on in your script.  This can be an invaluable tool for seeing the story points that really make the screenplay work.  You can then take this document and toy and play and make sure it hits all the marks you want it to.

2) Write it yourself through your tears.  This is always hard.  And of course it is, you have so many favorite aspects of your script and you want them all to stand out and be seen.  But the synopsis is about selling the concept and characters and twists and turns and emotional highs and lows.  You need to start it off with your main character and who they are and the world they are in.  You then tell us what happens to them to push them out of their comfort zone.  You then want to tell us a few things that happen as obstacles that present danger or comedy or heartbreak.  You want to give us that rock bottom moment and tell us how your hero/heroine is going to rise above and put themselves in a place where they will overcome all odds... or not.  And that RIGHT THERE is the trick.  You want to sell them on your story and characters and unique view on the world. But don't just throw the money shot at them.  Leave them wondering, give them something to think about, something to want.  A synopsis is the perfect sales letter; more important than the pitch, as it gives them a little tidbit, a morsel to salivate over and yearn to know where the story ends - if you do it right.  Because if you give it all away, then why do they even have to read the script?

The thing to remember is that you want to make sure your unique voice as a writer comes through in your synopsis; that we can feel your characters and world and want to fall into that world and spend time with those people.

Easy, right?  Good luck.

Now go... and Write Hard!

Friday, May 5, 2017


I don't know about you, but I can never shut the characters up in my head.  And if you ever tell a non-writer this, they look at you like you might be as crazy as they assumed you are.  But I wouldn't have it any other way.

There is nothing like that moment when you are doing all you can to bring a character to life and you just can't figure them out, or they don't feel right, or they just aren't coming together as the person you want or need them to be -- and they tell you exactly who they are.  Creepy, I know.

Yes, it's a crazy feeling, and it sometimes makes you wonder if you actually may be crazy.  But then you do the sane thing and put them down on paper, you give them a voice, or they give themselves a voice, you allow them to play, you watch them grow, you challenge them and get completely surprised when they do things you never had planned for them.

But you have to be careful... you have to remind them, and remember yourself, that you must be the one in control in the end.  You have to make sure that the story still makes sense.  Sometimes a character can pull us in another direction, or make us want to play in a way that may not serve the story in the best way possible.  And I am a huge proponent that character is key, that they must be what drives the story, not the other way around.  But you also have to remember there are a handful of other characters around them that are all going to be affected by the actions of your main character.  So you have to keep a close eye on them and make sure that the choices and actions they make stay within the confines of the story path you have set out upon.

A lot of writers will have their ending in mind from the start.  But a lot won't.  If you have an ending in mind, then it is a lot easier to just let your characters stay on the path you want them to be on, while allowing them some breathing room to grow.  If you don't have an ending in mind, it can be harder to contain your characters and keep them on track.  There is no right or wrong way when it comes to knowing your ending.  Myself, sometimes I have my ending in mind before I outline, and sometimes I don't.  But I do like to let my characters run a little free, as they begin to do the most interesting things.  But I also make sure to reign them in if they take me to a place I don't want them or the story to go.

Remember, when you are creating and writing your characters, that you want to do everything in your control to make them feel like real, living, breathing, deep, and dimensional people to whoever is reading your script.  That is the ultimate goal.  So if you have to let them out to run and play, in light or dark ways, get in trouble, hurt themselves or others, disappoint you or make you proud, especially in the story exploration phase as you are plotting out your story, then, by all means, let them run.

And enjoy those voice in your head.

Now go... and Write Hard!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017


It amazes me how intense and defensive people get about the finer details of screenplay formatting.  I will say firstly that screenplay formatting is extremely important. But, at the same time, it is not the most important part of a screenplay - off the start.

Basic screenplay format is key.  You must have proper sluglines, you must have proper margins, you must do the basics like using all caps when you introduce characters for the first time, and have the proper positioning of parentheticals. But if you write within a proper industry standard program, like FADE IN (my favorite), all of these things will be pretty much automatic.  But the thing to remember is that basic formatting is all you need to worry about off the start.  What you should be focusing on more strongly, is getting the story down on that page.

Final passes are the time for making sure you use style and focus with your formatting choices to make that story pop, and push and pull the reader in the directions you want them to go, in emotional and mysterious and active ways.

Too many writers, it seems, worry too much about whether or not to use the word WE or to use CUT TO or to have a CONT'D if a character speaks again after an action line.  Or whether to underline or use ALL CAPS over a few words they want to have stand out, or whether to bold a slugline or not.  Nobody will care about any of this, unless you use them poorly and sloppily.  But using them with finesse is the trick!  Half the battle of screenwriting is mastering the use of the words on the page, and the way those words come across.  An action line can be written in many different ways.  Such as:

Jake stares at the open grave before him.  He lightly darts his eyes to see the shovel just out of his reach. He moves his hand toward it and the shadow of the man behind him moves as well. Jake spins his body with force, rolls, scoops up the shovel, and slams it into the man's kneecap, slicing the clothing and flesh, buckling the man to the grass.


Jake stares at the open grave, his knees deep in the soft earth. From his peripherals, Jake sees the handle of the shovel. Without hesitation, he darts his hand to it -- rolls -- whips the shovel up --SLASH -- blood splatters from the severed kneecap of the man standing over him.


We see the shovel just out of Jake's reach. His hand quivers... then -- whoosh -- he grabs the shovel, rolls to his back, and with all the energy he has left swipes the edge of the shovel through the kneecap of the man behind him.

The thing is, none of these are wrong.  And at the same time, none of them may be the best way to write this sentence.  Every writer is going to write this action section different from the other.  And that is the point, isn't it?  To be different?  To not read exactly like the next writer?  Yes, there are format "rules" to stay within, but they are not the end all and be all of choices.  You can do things in a way that makes certain things stand out, or certain action explode, or time to stop and focus, or slow down for us to feel the beat and cry.

Basic format must be followed, I agree.  But every single working writer I ask tells me the little things, the choices that push or stretch certain standard expectations, don't matter, if done well.

And that is the key.  You must do it well.  And not just the formatting, but the entire thing.  If the formatting is standardly perfect, and the story sucks and the characters are shit, then it doesn't matter.  And if your formatting is a little different in a couple spots, or you use a lot of ellipses, or you bold and underline your slugs at the same time -- if the story kicks as nobody will care.

It's all about pulling that reader into the world of the characters and story, and manipulating their minds to feel like they are watching something.  And however you choose to do that, well, that is your choice.  Nobody elses.

Now go, and WRITE HARD!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017


The process of writing a screenplay is a tricky one.  And that is because there is no correct way to have a process happen.  You hear certain people say you MUST outline your script or you MUST get the vomit draft down as fast as humanly possible, or you MUST test your logline out of 100 people for reactions before you type a single word.


That's bull.  There is no one writer that is the same in this world.  So there should be no one process the same.  I have tried so many different processes over the years - tweaking and changing based on hearing what writers I admire do, or how a book made sense to me... and all they did was pull me away from what my gut was telling me to do from the get-go, and that is: DO YOUR OWN DAMN PROCESS!  So I have created my process by using bits and pieces of things I have learned from everyone else, and finalized my gut feelings, and made it my own.  As should every other writer.

I used to sit down and try to write ten ideas a day.  It was exhausting, and I never found a gold mine.  All of my best ideas came to me out of the blue.  And when an idea comes to me out of the blue I write it down and lock it away and think about it.  And the very next thing I do is feel around for what character this idea should happen to.  And thus begins my process.  My process is one of more thinking than writing.  I will sit and talk in my head to this character, ask them questions, see how they would react in the situations I find myself in over the day.  I get to know who they are, putting pieces in of people I know or have met over time.   I build them into something real and interesting, I find quirks, I find issues, I make sure they have beliefs that in some way go completely against they way I look at things - and it creates conflict in myself, which allows me to make that person more dimensioned and deep.  And as I get to know that character, I start to think of different situations that would happen that would COMPLETELY throw him or her off balance.  Because the most fun happens when the obstacles in a movie challenge the character not only physically, and emotionally, but philosophically.

It's like in HACKSAW RIDGE.  The main character's deep belief was that he would not shoot a gun, but going further than that - never even hold a gun.  So then he is put in situation after situation where he has to pick up a gun to be successful.  And yet he doesn't.  It created instant internal and external conflict in that character and made the drama high in every moment.  And then there is a moment when he must save another man, and to do so he picks up a rifle.  And you as an audience member are floored.  You actually catch your breath at this small action, because of the conflict that has been there.  And you almost want to scream out and tell him no!!  And then he does the unexpected... he uses the rifle not to shoot, but to roll up a blanket with it and use it as a handle to pull an injured man across the ground to safety.

Because every fantastic moment in any movie, in any story, is when the character is challenged, and they stay true to who they are.  Good guy or bad girl.

For me, the PROCESS begins there, and then many more boxes are ticked off along the way.  Going forward I will move step by step through my own process, not in an attempt to get you to drink the Koolaid of how I do things, but to show you someone's process on a deeper level, and if it helps you in your own process in even the smallest way, then that would be something cool to have happen.

So.... get out of here, and WRITE HARD!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Here we go...

I am going to start this blog thing over and freshen things up and begin a consistent cycle on here.  I love talking shop and offering my advice and insights on the craft and world of screenwriting.  So feel free to follow and comment as you see fit, and thanks for taking the time to hear me spout words that may or may not be wisdom ;)


So yesterday I had the pleasure of writing a one-page synopsis for a client of mine. I say pleasure because I love to play with words.  I...