Kuro5hin.org: technology and culture, from the trenches
create account | help/FAQ | contact | links | search | IRC | site news
[ Everything | Diaries | Technology | Science | Culture | Politics | Media | News | Internet | Op-Ed | Fiction | Meta | MLP ]
We need your support: buy an ad | premium membership

Screenplay, part 2: The Revenge

By Pseudonym in Media
Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 04:24:46 PM EST
Tags: Movies (all tags)

This time, it's personal.

In part 2 of this series, we look at the main characters in a typical movie and how they fit into the overall plot. We conclude with a look at the opening of a movie.

Continued from part 1.

A short note about rules

One of the things that we're going to go through is rules. Breaking rules is fine, but only if you know what you're doing. The reason for this is that breaking a rule has an effect. If you don't know what that effect is, and that effect is not your intention, you should not break the rule.

That, by the way, was the first rule. We're all geeks here and we all spotted the self reference. Move along.

Dramatis personae

A narrative features one character, called the protagonist. (There are exceptions to this which we will deal with in a moment.) Our story is the story of the protagonist.

You can spot a protagonist using the following guide:

  • The protagonist is the character through whose eyes the story is told. Note that this is not the same as the character through whose eyes the story is filmed. Some films are set up as being shot by a character playing the part of the director (e.g. This Is Spinal Tap, Drop Dead Gorgeous and, with a slightly different twist, The Truman Show). This "director" is invariably not the protagonist.
  • The protagonist is the character that the audience is expected to sympathise with.
  • If a character is the narrator, or speaks direct-to-camera, it's probably the protagonist. Examples: Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) in Annie Hall. Counter-example: Austin Powers, where Basil Exposition (Michael York) does what little narration there is, but the protagonist is Austin (Mike Myers).
  • If the story is told in flashback, the person flashing back is almost always the protagonist. Example: In Edward Scissorhands, the character of Kim (Winona Ryder) flashes back, and is the protagonist. Counter-example: Saving Private Ryan, although the main story in this film is arguably not a flashback as they are not Ryan's (Matt Damon/Harrison Young) memories. Alternatively, this could be interpreted as yet another weakness in what is already a very weak script.
  • The protagonist does not die, except possibly at the very end. Example: Joe Gillis (William Holden) in Sunset Boulevard, Lester (Kevin Spacey) in American Beauty.
  • The protagonist undergoes real and significant change. In Toy Story 2, for example, Woody (Tom Hanks) undergoes a big change but Buzz (Tim Allen) does not. This is a big clue that Woody is the protagonist. Counter-example: James Bond films. If you want to change Bond, you basically have to hire a new actor to play him. This is a special case, because Bond films are a long series where the protagonist has already been introduced in the last 500 movies.

The last point is particularly important for the screenwriter. If the protagonist does not truly change, the resulting movie will seem weak. One upshot, for example, is that if you want to show a character who does not change, you must put in another character who does change to be the protagonist. This technique is used, for example, in Amadeus, where the character of Mozart (Tom Hulce) is shown through the eyes of Salieri (F. Murray Abraham).

Multiple protagonists

It is also possible for a film to have multiple protagonists. By far the most common situaiton is where there are multiple narratives.

One common organisation is the flashback narrative, where one narrative is told in the "current" time and another is told in flashback. As mentioned earlier, the character flashing back will pretty much always be the protagonist in the "inner" story. In Titanic, for example, Rose (Kate Winslet) flashes back from the present (where she is played by Gloria Stuart), but in the "outer" story, the protagonist is Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton). Note that Rose undergoes real change in the inner story, but in hearing the story, it is Lovett who undergoes real change.

Another possibility is sequential or tandem narrative. We see this in a number of recent films such as Pulp Fiction, Short Cuts and Magnolia, which are made up of a number of stories, each of which has its own protagonist. Note that sequential/tandem narrative does not need to have different protagonists in each story. See, for example, Sliding Doors, where Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) is the protagonist in both stories.

Yet another possibility is one story which just happens to have a lot of protagonists. Films like this are very hard to write, and generally they work by making all of the protagonists pretty much the same and putting them in pretty much the same situation (e.g. a party, a reunion, a siege (real or metaphorical), a "road trip", putting them in the same college fraternity or something like that). The movie then tends to be about how they all react to the situation. At one end is a film like The Big Chill, which has something like nine protagonists, however the number is usually much smaller. Some ex-Saturday Night Live-sketch films, for example, are based around two protagonists which are pretty much the same (e.g. The Blues Brothers, A Night at the Roxbury). Some children's films which feature one or more kids in the same situation are also multiple-protagonist films (e.g. Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, The Parent Trap).

If, after all this, the protagonist is not identifiable, you may have a film with an incoherent story on your hands. This is not necessarily a bad thing. For example, films structured as sketch comedy (e.g. Monty Python and the Holy Grail) are usually pretty incoherent, but are great to watch anyway. However, it can also be a sign of bad writing. In America's Sweethearts, for example, the protagonist is Kiki (Julia Roberts), but for various reasons she is not identified as such until far too late in the film. Indeed, from the opening, you would expect the protagonist to be Lee (Billy Crystal). (More about the opening later in this article.)


The other main characters are best understood by how they relate to the protagonist. The most important of these are the antagonists.

Generally, a story will contain at least two subplots, which we will call the action line and the relationship line. Each subplot has at least one associated character, the action line antagonist and the relationship line antagonist.

In an action film, such as a James Bond film, the action line antagonist is usually the "villan" (i.e. the character who forces Bond, the protagonist, into various actions to achieve his goal, namely to save the world from the evil plot), and the relationship line antagonist is the "love interest" (i.e. the "Bond girl"). In a romantic comedy, the relationship line antagonist is the person whom we know the progtagonist is Meant To Be With(tm), and the action line antagonist is the person who tries to keep them apart.

Ideally, each subplot should feed off each other. The action line should force changes in relationship and the relationship line should affect the action. Failure to get this right can make a script seem weak. In the case of a movie based on a TV series (e.g. The X Files: Fight the Future, Star Trek: Generations) the effect is usually to make the film seem like a long episode. The reason for this is that this is how a TV series episode is often structured. The epsiodes are supposed to be largely independent, and even if there is ongoing development of the cast (relationship line), it will almost certainly be separable from whatever thing the cast is doing this week (action line).

Aside: This effect is more subtle in some TV shows than in others. Star Trek: The Next Generation was one of the most blatant serial offenders. A typical episode could give you the impression that there were two short episodes (one relationship-based and one action-based) which were just edited together. TV shows which do not suffer from this effect tend to be those which are planned out more in advance (e.g. The Nanny, Babylon 5).

Occasionally, you might find a film where there is no action line antagonist. We won't go into this in detail, but some notable examples are:

  • The "disaster movie", where one or more protagonists are involved in a natural or man-made disaster (e.g. The Poseidon Adventure, Airport 77, Twister, Deep Impact). In such a film, the relevant force of nature plays the part of the antagonist.
  • The "creature feature", where the antagonist is played by one or more monsters (e.g. Alien, Predator, Jaws, Starship Troopers etc). As in the disaster movie, there may still be a "villain", such as Ash (Ian Holm) in Alien, but the real antagonist is the creature.
  • In some romances or romantic comedies, there may not be a specific person keeping the would-be lovers apart, but it could just be circumstance (e.g. When Harry Met Sally, Four Weddings and a Funeral).

It is also possible to have multiple antagonists (e.g. Tea With Mussolini, Time Bandits). The rules for this are pretty much the same as with multiple protagonist films: Make the antaongists all pretty much the same and put them in the same situation.

Other notable characters

Protagonists often have sidekicks. They are often likable and charismatic, and they spend most of the film in the shadow of the protagonist.

The job of the sidekick is partly sounding board, partly source of advice, partly source of gags (if it's a comic relief sidekick) or some special jobs mentioned below. The sidekick might be a spouse/lover (if said spouse/lover is not the relationship line antagonist), a cute animal companion (if this is a Disney animated feature, anyway) or part of the "team" (if the protagonist is part, most likely head, of a team).

One role which a sidekick may play (though this role is not limited to a sidekick) is the foil. The foil is put in the same situation as the protagonist, but acts differently. The job of the foil is then to provide a contrast with the protagonist in how they achieve their goals, invariably to make the protagonist look good by comparison. The foil is often punished for his or her misbehaviour. One notable non-sidekick example is Cypher (Joe Pantoliano) in The Matrix. He is in the same position as Neo (Keanu Reeves), but Neo does the right thing and Cypher does the wrong thing, and is punished for it. A foil need not be a villain, however. It may simply be a team member who attacks the foe in the obvious but wrong way, depite the protagonist's objections.

A special kind of foil is the Mercutio character named after the character in Romeo and Juliet. A Mercutio character may or may not be a sidekick, but the important point is that Mercutio's death signals the "point of no return" for the protagonist. More on the point of no return next article.

When designing your cast, less is more. Shrek, one of the highest-grossing films of 2001, basically only had four characters in it plus bit parts. (They were: A protagonist, Shrek (Mike Myers), a relationship line antagonist, Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), an action line antagonist, Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow) and a sidekick, Donkey (Eddie Murphy).) Most films do not have more main characters than this, and many have less. More characters means more time you have to spend introducing them and correspondingly, your script will be that much harder to write. If nothing else, remember that stars are expensive, and we can't all afford a Robert Altman cast.

The opening

I hope you all did your homework this week. I wanted you to notice two main things: One is how long you have to grab the audience's attention, and the other is how much of the set-up is done before the film even starts. All of this is important when you design the opening.

One of the themes that will come up many times is that there is one thing you cannot waste in a movie, and that's screen time. A novel can be put down and come back to if the reader gets bored. An audience you have captive for 100 minutes or so, and they will not forgive you if you waste their time.

So how long did it take you to decide whether or not you were going to enjoy the film? If you're like most people, it was ten minutes in. One exception is if the film opens with an action sequence (e.g. Raiders of the Lost Ark). If this was the case, it was ten minutes after that sequence finished. This is the amount of time that you have to get the audience hooked.

What do you need to do in this time? You need to introduce your protagonist amd, if possible, clearly identify him or her as the protagonist. The second thing you need to do is establish what "normal life" is for this person. The third thing you have to do is cause the inciting incident. This is the incident which starts the story.

First thing first: Establishing normality. As a writer, of course, you need to first determine what "normal" is. We'll look more closely into this when we look at creating characters in a later article. For now, we just need to determine what "normal" as contrasted with life after the inciting incident.

What's an inciting incident? Linda Aronson in Screenwriting Updated gives the example of a "shaggy dog story". "There was an Englishman, a Scotsman and an Irishman who meet a lion on the road." The inciting incident (meeting a lion on the road) is the point at which the story starts.

Now I should point out, in fairness, that many great works of cinema have their inciting incident later than ten minutes in, however, novice writers are well advised not to try this, because it means you need something else to keep the audience interested for that time, and that's harder to write. Sometimes, however, it has to be done, and the usual reason is that it takes that long to get the audience understanding the normal life of the protagonist. This is often a valid excuse in, for example, historical "costume" dramas or science fiction, where the universe of the film is sufficiently far removed from that of the audience that you need the extra time to lay down the ground rules.

Another example is Rocky, written by Sylvester Stallone (and deservedly winning a "best original screenplay" Academy Award(TM)). The inciting incident is the heavyweight champion giving Rocky (Sylvester Stallone), who is an obscure club fighter, a shot at the title, however, it happens half an hour into the film. The reason for this is left as an exercise (we'll discuss it in the followups), but the point is that by doing this, out of necessity, the writer set himself up for a difficult task.


The highest ranked story was the Orestia Trilogy set in a refugee family of Polish Jews in New York in the fifties. This is a fascinating idea, but it's way too hard for a collaborative exercise due to the amount of research involved (I know almost nothing about the New York of the fifties). Sorry, but I said I might veto ideas. However, don't let this dissuade you. You can still work on the exercises with this story if you want to, and if you are a fan of uphill battles.

Second highest rank was equal with Othello the Hulk, and Goldilocks in the 21st century. Let's run with them and see how far we get.

First homework exercise is to (surprise surprise) see a film. For the purposes of this exercise it might be worth using a film you've seen before. Identify the protagonist. In one sentence, describe the protagonist's normal life. What is the inciting incident? How long into the film (or if the film starts with an action scene, how long after that) does the incident occur? Who is the action line antagonist? Who is the relationship line antagonist? Are there any other significant characters, and if so, what roles do they play? Please report back what you found; others may find it interesting.

Second homework exercise is to develop one of the above stories (or your own if you don't like them). Identify the protagonist in your prototype story (i.e. Othello and Goldilocks respectively). Choose a character (it need not be a person of the same age, or even sex) to be your protagonist. Describe their normal life in one sentence. Now examine the inciting incident in the prototype story. How could this incident be adapted to your scenario? Suggest a possibility.

Here's an example for you: Consider Jack and the Beanstalk. The protagonist (Jack) starts off normal life poor. His mother tells him to sell the family cow. How might this be adapted to the modern day? One possibility is that our protagonist is unemployed, and doesn't particularly want to be employed, and whose wife tells him to go and get a job. (Pop quiz: This is the opening of an actual film based on Jack and the Beanstalk. What film am I referring to?)

Next time...

In part 3, which will appear in a week's time, we will look at the traditional three act movie structure, the nine main points in a three-act film and, if we have time, we'll start looking into the concept of character.

Incidentally, I'm curious to know how well this format works. This is partly an experiment in collaborative learning, and I want to debug the process as we go if I can. Would, for example, people appreciate followup material in diaries?


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Which cliched line should we use?
o "We need backup!" 11%
o "It's not my fault!" 8%
o "Don't die on me!" 17%
o "You disappoint me." 12%
o "She's gonna blow!" 16%
o "I'm only three days from retirement." 33%

Votes: 86
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o part 1
o Also by Pseudonym

Display: Sort:
Screenplay, part 2: The Revenge | 86 comments (80 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
all this, but still... (5.00 / 1) (#4)
by SocratesGhost on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 01:06:34 PM EST

I don't know what a protagonist is. If I'm already familiar with the dictionary defintion, I don't need your descriptions. But if I go by your descriptions, this is like describing a teacher by saying that they are in a classroom, they are surrounded by students, and they have a lot of books.

I drank what?

all this, but still... (none / 0) (#9)
by emmtareu on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 05:05:25 PM EST

the protagonist(s) is/are the main character(s), the good guys.

[ Parent ]
what about the anti-hero? (none / 0) (#17)
by SocratesGhost on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 06:28:23 PM EST

and isn't the bad guy a main character? What about a play like Waiting for Godot, who are the good guys and bad guys there?

If anything, the protagonist is usually a character for the audience to experience the drama. Usually he's the good guy(don't we all think we're good), but occasionally he's the bad guy and he's just a vehicle to carry us through the story (like Hannibal Lecter). The antagonist provides obstacles for the protagonist: their wrestling match is the basis for the dramatic story. Note, that in this case, the ordinarily good guys (the cops) can be antagonists.

Actually, Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal both break down what it means to be a protagonist/antagonist.

My point is, there's a lot more to a protagonist than what this article tells us.

I drank what?

[ Parent ]
Protagonists and anti-heroes (none / 0) (#46)
by Pseudonym on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 12:20:46 AM EST

The protagonist is not necessarily a "good guy". The protagonist is the person the audience identifies with. Often this means relative good. For example, the protagonist may not be a "good guy", but at least he didn't kill the foil, like the action line antagonist did. (This is how many westerns are written.) Or he may be a serial murdering mobster, but at least his motives are pure, unlike the scheming politicians who surround him. This reminds me of the immortal line from True Lies where Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) asks Harry (Arnold Schwarzenegger) if he has ever killed anyone, and he replies, "Yes, but they were all bad." Goodness is relative in the movie universe.

Part of this has to do with character. One of the things that will come up is that character is not a product of what you do in your normal life, it's what you do under pressure. Anyone can do the right thing when it's easy, but when it's hard, that's when true character shows. For the anti-hero, anyone can be a "bad guy" when it's easy, but when an even worse guy kills your best friend, that's when your true character shows.

sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
[ Parent ]
Lecter (none / 0) (#76)
by rusty on Thu Sep 26, 2002 at 11:11:48 AM EST

I don't think Hannibal Lecter has been the protagonist in either of those movies (I haven't, obviously, seen the new one). In both the first and the second, Clarice Starling is the protagonist. Lecter, I would say, is the foil. "Hannibal" sucked so much I barely remember it, so I'll go with what I recall of "Silence" here:

Protagonist: Clarice Starling
Foil: Hannibal Lecter
Action antagonist: Crazy serial killer "suit of skin" guy.
Relationship antagonist: I forget if there was a love interest or not. Actually, Lecter may have been the "relationship antagonist" by forcing Clarice to confront her own memories of her father and her motives for doing what she does.

For Hannibal, Lecter does take more of role in the action, but I still think he's basically a plot device more than a leading character.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Relationship antagonists, love interests (none / 0) (#79)
by Pseudonym on Thu Sep 26, 2002 at 07:37:06 PM EST

Lecter is indeed the relationship line antagonist, in the first one at least. (I haven't seen Hannibal; I heard it sucked.)

Think about the two subplots in Silence of the Lambs. One is Clarence Starling catching the serial killer and the other is Clarence Starling's relationship with Lecter. There is one antagonist each (the crazy serial killer and respectively).

IThis goes to show that the relationship line antagonist does not have to be a "love interest". This is a point I should have stressed a bit more. It often is a love interest for various reasons; audiences know about love (or at least they know about the movie universe ideal of love) and identify with it, so they like to see it.

The Star Wars films are a good example. Note that these films are multiple protagonist films (of a special form which we will look at later), however the main protagonist, Luke (Mark Hammil) does not have a love "interest". In A New Hope, for example, his relationship line antagonist is Obi Wan (Alec Guinness).

sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
[ Parent ]
Hmm. Lecter evolving from anta- to protagonist? (none / 0) (#84)
by LaundroMat on Sun Apr 27, 2003 at 05:42:46 PM EST

Considering the article, I'd say Lecter evolved from an antagonist in Silence of the Lambs to the protagonist in Hannibal.

After all, Hannibal was about Lecter, and the audience was obliged to experience the movie primarily with and through him. This is probably due to the enormous popularity of the character after Silence of the Lambs, and the evolution from anatgonist to protagonist probably lies at the basis of why Hannibal was not a good movie.

"These innocent fun-games of the hallucination generation"
[ Parent ]

Not necessarily (none / 0) (#85)
by Pseudonym on Sun Apr 27, 2003 at 08:31:41 PM EST

I still haven't seen Hannibal (probably never will either), but this doesn't necessarily make the film bad. In fact, making a minor character the protagonist in a subsequent film can be a good way to get over the inherent difficulties in writing good sequels.

The Godfather movies use this technique, for example. So, technically, does the Star Wars series (where the protagonist in episodes 1-3 becomes the action line antagonist in episode 4), but this probably doesnt count. Can't think of any other examples offhand.

sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
[ Parent ]
True (none / 0) (#86)
by LaundroMat on Mon Apr 28, 2003 at 03:21:41 AM EST

But I should have elaborated more. I can see why making a minor character the protagonist can be a good move for a sequel. The problem with Hannibal however is that although the character was very popular with the audience, the personage is rather 2D. So Lecter does not make a good protagonist, and the whole movie suffers from it.

Incidentally, I was just thinking: most of the evil guys in movies are a bit shallow as a character, so it's probably unwise to cast them as protagonists. Exceptions occur however: witness "The Dentist" (but not "The Dentist 2").

"These innocent fun-games of the hallucination generation"
[ Parent ]

Case-based reasoning required here (none / 0) (#21)
by Pseudonym on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 07:49:24 PM EST

I think the best way to get a feel for who the protagonist is in a film is to see some films and identify the protagonist or protagonists. I'm kinda sorry I had to bring up multiple protagonist films so early, but more and more films (and in particular more and more of the good films) are multiple-protagonist films these days, so if I told people "go see a film, find the protagonist", the chances are fairly good that they would find a multiple-protagonist film and be lost. Fact is, the overwhelming majority of films are single-protagonist.

sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
[ Parent ]
then let me ask this... (none / 0) (#33)
by SocratesGhost on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 08:36:44 PM EST

why do i care about who the protagonist is? You say that it's a rule to have one, you tell us how to spot one, but this doesn't tell us how to create one, except that he's supposed to change... maybe.

Hmm. I feel like I'm being harsh on you, but I'm not meaning to be, because I really like what you're doing. Rather, I think you're addressing one of the most important aspects of writing, but not telling the full details. I think it's important to stress that the protagonist represents the viewing audience and it is through the protagonist that the the audience is drawn into the storyline. This isn't to say that the protagonist is the narrator (that's something different), but someone through whom the audience participates in the story's events emotionally, whether we would make that character's choices or not.

Tony Soprano, is a great example of this. Most people would not live (nor choose to live) as Tony does, but we experience the show with him, empathize for him, and we even hope Tony will do the right thing because we would do the right thing if we were him. We know better than that, though. As a result, it is through him that we become involved in the world of the Soprano's.

I drank what?

[ Parent ]
Understood (none / 0) (#38)
by Pseudonym on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 08:54:56 PM EST

I hear what you're saying. I'm partly in a bind because this isn't a screenwriting course at film school. This is an experiment in getting information across via a new medium, and it's mostly to encourage people to be more intelligent audiences, and as such I'm never sure how much to tell and how much to let people find out for themselves. :-)

Creating a protagonist, incidentally, is for a later article, when we look at the whole concept of character.

sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
[ Parent ]
i look forward to reading it (n/t) (none / 0) (#44)
by SocratesGhost on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 10:03:50 PM EST

I drank what?

[ Parent ]
Speaking of bad scripts... (none / 0) (#8)
by lithmonkey on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 05:01:54 PM EST

... i had the distinct displeasure of witnessing the horrible train-wreck of a movie Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever this Saturday. No words can describe how incredibly bad this film is, at least not from my limited vocabulary. The people who made this movie need to be hit in the face with something heavy and blunt. I feel bad for the residents of Vancouver BC for having this film made in their lovely city.

heh... (none / 0) (#10)
by faustus on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 05:12:06 PM EST

...I was invited to see that movie. I declined and idled on IRC instead.

[ Parent ]
and yet according to this "guide" (none / 0) (#14)
by dr k on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 06:05:52 PM EST

the script followed all the right rules. There was conflict, there were obstacles to be overcome, the story kept moving forward. Granted, you could fit all of the dialog on one side of a cocktail napkin, and the microscopic-assassin-in-the-bullet-kills-the-antagonist ending was poorly established, but what else would you expect with a director from Thailand who has been consuming Rutger Hauer movies for ten years and dreams of directing the next Mission Impossible?

American audiences deserve this kind of movie.

Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]

And on the other hand... (none / 0) (#22)
by Pseudonym on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 08:00:06 PM EST

Pulp Fiction got almost everything wrong, at least in terms of structure, and yet remains one of the best and most innovative screenplays ever written (and a really good film, too).

One thing to keep in mind is that filmmaking is a group activity. A lot of people need to do their job right for a film to work, and the writer is only one of them. Indeed, the writer is often the first to get on a film project but is also often the first to leave. Joss Whedon has lamented on this topic in a few interviews.

sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
[ Parent ]
Devil's in the details (none / 0) (#24)
by carbon on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 08:11:54 PM EST

The pattern given in the story is extremely generalistic; claiming that a movie being close to this guide results in entirely formulaic plots is like saying that having people talk to each other and do things in a movie generates formulaic plots (after all, all the other movies do that). Moreover, the story never claimed that fitting the pattern is what makes or breaks a good movie; it's all done from an analytic point of view, and with several hints toward the idea that a truly good movie tends to break or bend these rules considerably.

The idea of having a character (or characters) whom the story is about is effectively essential to at least some degree; how boring would a movie be if it was just about nobody in particular? Yes, it might be possible to do something creative that way, but the problems with such a drastic approach (for example, how can you have character development if you dont have any primary characters to develop?) are insane.

Wasn't Dr. Claus the bad guy on Inspector Gadget? - dirvish
[ Parent ]
the point (3.00 / 1) (#32)
by dr k on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 08:32:30 PM EST

"[T]he story never claimed that fitting the pattern is what makes or breaks a good movie[.]"

This story never did much but wave its hands around to make you think there was some information there. "Ya gotta know the rules, son. Ya gotta know when ta break em, too." I guess you missed the postmodern revolution.

Rules are constraints, and constraints can be a very productive creative tool. But teaching people how to subvert those constraints won't make them more creative. It just means you are unwilling to follow the rules in a game of your own devising.

Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]

The obligatory R. Altman potshot (none / 0) (#75)
by rusty on Thu Sep 26, 2002 at 11:00:57 AM EST

how boring would a movie be if it was just about nobody in particular?

Hey, don't knock it. Altman's made a whole career out of that.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

In all seriousness... (none / 0) (#80)
by Pseudonym on Thu Sep 26, 2002 at 07:40:07 PM EST

Robert Altman films are mostly multiple protagonist films. Sometimes the work and sometimes they don't. However, they're never about nobody in particular, they're mostly about lots of people.

Curious thing: Altman is the master of ignoring his scriptwriters. M*A*S*H, for example, was carefully written by Ring Lardner. When it came to filming, Altman directed his cast to be familiar with what was supposed to happen in the scene, but not memorise any lines. The entire movie was basically ad libed. To say that Ring Larder was not happy is putting it mildly.

The irony is it won an Academy Award(TM) for the screenplay.

sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
[ Parent ]
Heh (none / 0) (#81)
by rusty on Thu Sep 26, 2002 at 09:16:44 PM EST

Pardon my personal prejudice. There are Altman films I enjoy tremendously (M*A*S*H being one of them, in fact), but the movies of his that I don't like just drive me up a freaking tree. I think it's because so much of Hollywood is perfectly willing to kiss his ass that no one will even admit when he tosses up a total clunker. It's like it doesn't matter what he does, he'll get praise and awards for it anyway. That, I think, is what drives me nuts more than anything.

Plus, when they're bad, they're unwatchable. Like, high school drama club with a big budget unwatchable. Just so bad. Why isn't there one person who's in charge of vetting Altman films and deciding which ones to release and which ones are just wankery? The world would be a better place, I tell you.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Boy, you are an ignorant git, aren't you? (none / 0) (#78)
by Kintanon on Thu Sep 26, 2002 at 02:33:34 PM EST

Following the basic guidelines provided doesn't garauntee a good movie. Nothing does. But the guidlines are things you can use to help you understand the necessary components of a movie. Then you can decide which ones to throw out and which ones to keep and which ones to modify. But if you just film whatever comes across your mind, with no regard to whether anyone will like it or not, then certainly no one will like your movie except for a few snobbish jackasses who like to think they know art when really they only pretend to like anything that is universally hated.


[ Parent ]

yes (none / 0) (#82)
by tps12 on Sun Sep 29, 2002 at 11:04:51 AM EST

I could tell that was terrible from the trailer. And I like every trailer. I predict it will lose money.

[ Parent ]
Lebowski (none / 0) (#11)
by Scrymarch on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 05:17:54 PM EST

In fairness someone has rated Podiatrist and the Pea at 5 since you wrote / starting writing this article.

The Big Lebowski, Cohen Brothers:
Protagonist: The Dude (Jeff Bridges)
Normal Life: Bumming around, drinking White Russians, Bowling
Inciting Incident: Pretty obvious - In a case of mistaken identity with another man named Jeffrey Lebowski, toughs break into The Dude's house, piss on his rug, and threaten that he has to pay the $1m that he owes.  As a side note, TBL has a very clean setup, with a narration scene-setter leading straight into the inciting incident, followed by more scene setting (bowling alley).
Action Line Antagonist: The other Jeffrey Lebowski, (The Big Lebowski), a rich man whose complicated life provoked this mixup.
Relationship Line Antagonist: Not obvious to me
Other antagonists: A number of other related characters make The Dude's life difficult.  It's kind of a detective story structure, they act as colour and chaff.
Sidekick: Walter (John Goodman), an angry Vietnam vet, who both drives the plot and provides comic relief.  Most characters in the movie are comic; it's a comedy.

I'll probably post another Othello comment later.

I don't believe I didn't realise that jewel thief movie was based on Jack and the Beanstalk.

Well done! (none / 0) (#40)
by Pseudonym on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 09:24:00 PM EST

I see you know the movie in question well. Did you intend the double negative, BTW?

sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
[ Parent ]
Double negative (none / 0) (#63)
by Scrymarch on Tue Sep 24, 2002 at 08:04:17 AM EST

Now I'm no more a grammarian than a screen writer or the President of Iran, but I'm pretty sure that's not a double negative.  The two "negatives" occur in the context of different tenses, so they don't cancel each other out.

I don't [currently] believe I didn't [previously] realise that X

Seriously, you pointing that movie was based on an archetype rather blew me away.  But I'm a sucker for analogies and juxtaposition.

[ Parent ]

please stop (2.83 / 6) (#12)
by dr k on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 05:52:02 PM EST

This is awful, just awful. I guess you've found an audience for this series, people clearly like the "How To" stuff. But all of these rules you suggest are part of the reason why movies seem so formulaic, so insipid, so lacking in quality these days. Not that there isn't a demand for bad movies -- the studios always need some extra cans lying around that they can package to foreign markets for a few extra bucks. But let's stop the pretense and rename this series: "How to be a Hack Writer."

Destroy all trusted users!

All writing is highly formulaic [n/t] (none / 0) (#15)
by cr8dle2grave on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 06:17:45 PM EST

Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

[ Parent ]
You wish. (nt) (none / 0) (#16)
by dr k on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 06:24:18 PM EST

Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]
Meaning??? (none / 0) (#18)
by cr8dle2grave on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 06:41:55 PM EST

I have no idea what you mean here, but I suspect a personal slight was the intent.

Anyhow, you are incorrect if you assume that good writing is not formulaic (and pervasively so). Narrative structure is highly conventionalized and failing to generally conform to those conventions would result in a narrative not easily recognizable as such by an audience. Narratological elements structure plot in much the same way as grammatical syntax structures a sentence. Would you presume that good writing is not generally constrained by grammar?

Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

[ Parent ]
good versus formulaic (none / 0) (#19)
by dr k on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 07:04:42 PM EST

Writing that is forumulaic is neither pervasive nor good. If it is good you should have no problem finding a dispropotionate number of examples. If it is pervasive, these examples should be easy to find.

You will only get yourself into trouble by suggesting that the audience is to storytelling as grammar is to writing. Certainly one can construct a audience-centric grammar of storytelling, you can call it narratology if you like. But it is a glass bead game that has failed to deliver. There is no reason to expect a grammar to be useful at that level.

Let me suggest this: plot is a property of the artifact, it is not concerned with the act of writing. A road movie only has a plot once it is finished.

Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]

Re: good versus formulaic (none / 0) (#26)
by cr8dle2grave on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 08:19:37 PM EST

Writing that is forumulaic is neither pervasive nor good.

Poor writing that is criticised for being formulaic is transparently so, but that does not demonstrate that good writing is not formulaic as well; it is only executed better. And yes, it is pervasive, all stories recognizable as such are formulaic.

You will only get yourself into trouble by suggesting that the audience is to storytelling as grammar is to writing.

I would indeed, but that is not the analogy I made.

Certainly one can construct a audience-centric grammar of storytelling, you can call it narratology if you like. But it is a glass bead game that has failed to deliver. There is no reason to expect a grammar to be useful at that level.

Narratology is hardly my own term, it has been in wide use for a long time. As for an "audience-centric grammar", do you perhaps mean a reader reception theory? If so, what is your criticism of that general theoretical framework? Calling it glass bead game doesn't say much. And as for its ability to deliver, I would say reader reception theories have been far more successful than alternate approaches.

Let me suggest this: plot is a property of the artifact, it is not concerned with the act of writing. A road movie only has a plot once it is finished.

I have no idea what you are saying here. Plotting is most certainly as aspect of writing.

Do you have in mind a piece of writing you believe is not formulaic?

Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

[ Parent ]
re: re: (none / 0) (#41)
by dr k on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 09:24:46 PM EST

"What is your criticism of that general theoretical framework?"

It is a glass bead game. Your failure to understand -- or appreciate -- the allusion does not mean it has failed to reach the audience it was intended for. How's that for reader reception theory?


"Plotting is most certainly as aspect of writing."

Ah, plotting. You misrepresent me, I spoke only of "plot". But that's only fair, I gave you attribution for a false analogy.

Plotting is, presumably, the act of constructing a plot. However, it is quite common that one's effort at plotting does not match up with the plot produced by writing. Now perhaps plot is this formulaic thing you seek. Alas, writing is now the formula, and the plot is the result.

What's the formula, Kenneth?

Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]

Reading and plots (none / 0) (#48)
by cr8dle2grave on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 03:38:09 AM EST

It is a glass bead game. Your failure to understand -- or appreciate -- the allusion does not mean it has failed to reach the audience it was intended for. How's that for reader reception theory?

By calling reception type theories a glass bead game I presume you intended to characterize them as a nihilistic game of knowledge manipulation, or something to that effect? If so, that seems to me a mischaracterization. So what, more precisely, do you have in mind? And whom, more precisely, did you have in mind? Eco? Iser? Juass? Or maybe you were thinking more along the lines of feminist resistant reading?

Ah, plotting. You misrepresent me, I spoke only of "plot". But that's only fair, I gave you attribution for a false analogy.

Fair enough.

Plotting is, presumably, the act of constructing a plot. However, it is quite common that one's effort at plotting does not match up with the plot produced by writing. Now perhaps plot is this formulaic thing you seek. Alas, writing is now the formula, and the plot is the result.

I'm not exactly sure I understand what you are saying here, but I don't think I disagree. I would basically agree with you that plotting (or emplotment) is the construction of plot by the author. The important question is therefore one of how to attend to the process whereby the primary discursive level of the text, the literal one-after-another succession of letters and words, gives rise to the figurative or rhetorical level of the narrative; home to the trope, figurae, metonymy, metaphor, synecdoche, frames, scripts, mythemes, character, motivation, action, and so on. I'd also agree with you when you write, "writing is now the formula, and the plot is the result," insofar as I hold that plot and the whole of the rhetorical level of a text is an effect and not a cause.

What's the formula, Kenneth?

Are you suggesting that my position is of a Burkeian nature?

Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

[ Parent ]
writing (none / 0) (#59)
by dr k on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 10:25:33 PM EST

"The important question is therefore one of how to attend to the process whereby the primary discursive level of the text, the literal one-after-another succession of letters and words, gives rise to the figurative or rhetorical level of the narrative[.]"

I shall have to do some reading about this reader reception theory. But I think most figurative elements "arrived at" by the writing process start out as happy accidents in the text. A skillful writer is able to capitalize on these accidents, simply because the skillful writer pays attention to what he writes. It is an iterative process, and starting with the plot means you have to iterate backwards. Hm, "backwards iteration" has a nice ring to it.

Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]

Not so (none / 0) (#27)
by skim123 on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 08:24:52 PM EST


ebola 90210 HIIIIIIIII!!!! Iusje
Blueueueueueueueueue<u>ueueueue</u>!! HAHAHAHO? HO? Blingbling!Blingblow ,,, ^ Horay for today today for Horay***

Of course to have any meaning, any commercial merit, or any interest from others, yes, it has to be quite formulaic.

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.
PT Barnum

[ Parent ]
Gibberish excepted, of course (none / 0) (#34)
by cr8dle2grave on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 08:40:35 PM EST

But that is the point. Writing freed entirely from the constraints of convention and formula would be nothing more than gibberish.

Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

[ Parent ]
I know, I was backing your point! :-) [n/t] (none / 0) (#43)
by skim123 on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 09:47:07 PM EST

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.
PT Barnum

[ Parent ]
Crawl then walk (5.00 / 2) (#20)
by Pseudonym on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 07:45:16 PM EST

I anticipated this objection in the first section.

What it boils down to is a general rule of life: You need to know the rules before you can break them intelligently. In this case, we need to look at the typical cast and typical structure of a "formula film" before we can look at advanced screenplays, because advanced screenplays are variations on the traditional "formula" film.

sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
[ Parent ]
variations (none / 0) (#25)
by dr k on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 08:12:13 PM EST

And tennis is simply ping pong played while standing on the table.

You want there to be rules because you want there to be a golden ticket into Hollywood. You want there to be rules because you either want to sell them to some sucker, or you are that sucker.

If you want to be a good writer, go out and do something. Stop regurgitating stuff you read in a book.

Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]

You know not... (none / 0) (#28)
by cr8dle2grave on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 08:27:49 PM EST

...of what you speak. All skilled writers were first astute readers, and thereby the student of great writers who came before them from whom they learned the tricks of trade.

Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

[ Parent ]
emulating your masters (none / 0) (#35)
by dr k on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 08:41:00 PM EST

does not make you great. Hell, emulating yourself doesn't make you great. Look at George Lucas.

Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]

No, but... (none / 0) (#37)
by cr8dle2grave on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 08:46:29 PM EST

...failing entirely to emulate the master ensures that what you write will never be great.

Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

[ Parent ]
don't be absurd (none / 0) (#39)
by dr k on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 09:05:18 PM EST

The phrase "failing entirely to emulate the master" is meaningless. For a writer to "fail entirely" that writer must not write. Such a writer does not exist -- writers write.

Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]

fail at what? (none / 0) (#67)
by eurasian on Tue Sep 24, 2002 at 07:35:49 PM EST

i think one needs to define what "failing entirely" is referring to. if that goal that one is "failing entirely" to achieve is to write ANYTHING, then yes, we have a writer who doesn't write, who is not a writer. just some guy. who doesn't write.

however, is that goal is to write WELL, then one can fail entirely and still write, and still be a writer.

i would think, anyways.

[ Parent ]

Nope (none / 0) (#30)
by Pseudonym on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 08:30:37 PM EST

There are rules because films have a history. Audiences know, if only on a subconscious level, that a character who wears glasses is smart, for example, because they've seen it a lot of times. Many of the best movies are made by people who bend or break those rules, but the very worst movies are made by people who don't even know them.

sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
[ Parent ]
Look here... (4.50 / 2) (#77)
by Kintanon on Thu Sep 26, 2002 at 02:26:23 PM EST

Pay attention to this you stupid Fuck, it's going to be important later in life:

Some things work.
That's right, there are formulas which serve a purpose and do exactly what they are meant to do. If your purpose falls in line with one of those formulas, you use it. Otherwise you're a stupid fuck. If your purpose is close to one of the formulas, modify the formula to fit. Combine mulitple aspects of each formula. Figure out what works and what doesn't work, and make your own formulas. But EITHER FUCKING WAY you have to understand the formulas first. If your goal is to make a movie that people will enjoy, then you need to study movies that people enjoyed. Gee, what a NOVEL FUCKING IDEA.
Now, take your illiterate, swill spewing, crack smoking, wish-I-could-write ass back to the slime covered bridge it crawled out of and shut the hell up.


[ Parent ]

please stop with the high-art crap (none / 0) (#49)
by tres on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 03:42:57 AM EST

Sorry, we all can't live in the foo-foo world of journals, spoken-word and poetry.

Anyone who is producing something knows that it they'd be foolish not to study the canonical screenplay before attempting to write one. Better works are based upon a deep study of content and praxis.

All writing can be abstracted in the same way. The abstraction doesn't reduce the value of the works; rather, it gives a clear means by which to approach the work, and a way to see how artists have innovated with the medium.

The writer of this made it clear that this is a starting-point. It is not intended to be Learn Screenplay writing in 24 hours.

Professional writers know that ideal of "true originality" is something that doesn't exist. Authors don't just conjure works from the ether of their mind. That's what journal writing is. Enjoyable works aren't the kind of verbal diarrhea that blogs and journals so ardently spew. Writing is a study, and it is a lot of hard work. It's not something that you just do or don't do.

I find your reaction most interesting. Rather than attempting to give an example of something that you believe would be the right way to do it, you have simply criticized the work of this writer and the work of other screenplay writers in the industry. You sound more like a critic than a writer.

[ Parent ]

the very narrow spectrum (none / 0) (#58)
by dr k on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 09:28:58 PM EST

On the contrary, I think this series of columns is intended to be a "Screenplay Writing in 24 Hours" crash course. And the audience is eating it up, despite the lack of evidence that this kind of approach has ever consistently produced quality scripts.

People like you who assert that originality is a myth fail to perceive how much you have narrowed down the spectrum within which you choose to work. Given the chance, you would assert that 90 to 120 minutes is the ideal length of time for a film. And the characters should speak in English. The film should be in color. You would assert these things, but pay little attention to them when you crank up your writing machine to churn out another three act action/comedy featuring a strong female lead, because your software won't let you produce something that isn't 90-120 minutes, in English, in color.

Further, you have obscured the underlying form of what you do with a thin encyclopedia of genres, and an even thinner guidebook of plot structures. But never mind that, you've got an incident and a quirky character, and you are going to make money fast. And that is great if you truly aren't interested in being a master writer, if you simply want to write lowgrade porn as a hobby.

Yes, writing is a study, but it should be a study of "why", not "how."

Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]

On The Destructive Ideal of "True Originality (none / 0) (#61)
by tres on Tue Sep 24, 2002 at 02:27:21 AM EST

Any work, whether it be The Tempest The Sound and The Fury, Moby Dick, or The Brothers Karamazov, is based on the outside influences upon each work's respective writer. None of these works was the product of the ideal "creative genius" so widely romanticized in this culture.

The romantic notion of any of the above mentioned works being a work of "true originality" is a farce. It's led so many budding writers down the wrong path, toward the belief that they must somehow be more than who they are in order to write well. It gives them an impossible dream to fulfill before they can "become" a writer.

I admire your well-intentioned motives, but I don't know whether you understand that this notion of "true originality" is (if you'll forgive the cliche) a double-edged sword. The ideal of a original work, a genius, or a "right" way of writing a story or screenplay ruins most writers. The fear of living up to the ideal of originality drives them from ever writing anything for public view. They give up because it's impossible to live up to the ideal.

As I stated in my last post, writing is a study of content and praxis. It is a combination of both the "craft" (which thinks writing is like painting terracotta statues of Mary) and the "art" (which thinks writing should only be done by the ordained). It's a process of self-examination and exploration. And it's damn hard work.

Finally, because you don't like the Hollywood style, the "craft" of writing, or the business of films, doesn't mean that everyone should feel the same way. That's my point. It's not about what I think the ideal length of a film is. It's not about using software(?) to write. I'm talking about the plain and simple fact that if you have a better way to do it, you should provide evidence of it rather than simply sniping at the work of others.
But you won't because you don't.

[ Parent ]

truly original (none / 0) (#62)
by dr k on Tue Sep 24, 2002 at 05:14:13 AM EST

What is truly original is the notion that I ever purported a value to originality. I didn't. I didn't even allude to a hint of a suggestion that originality was worth seeking. I overlooked it the first time you put it in scare quotes, but now I must ask that you stop.

Your model of content and praxis is rather weak and unhelpful. It obscures the many different aspects of writing, much like the above story presents an unstructured hodgepodge of ideas related to but not quite equal to the act of writing.

I gave you some hints at a better model, which I will outline now. I must give credit to Scott McCloud. He suggests there are 6 steps to the creation of a work: idea, form, idiom, structure, craft, and surface. In general, a student will move from the latter steps back towards idea and form. Many people master the craft of writing -- it is, after all, just grammar and dialog. Not so many people are aware of structure, which is what this story and uncountable scriptwriting guides tend to address. Fewer still are able to grapple with idiom (genre, if you will), which is where some of the rule breaking starts to come in.

The masters of idea and form are the ones you claim I romanticize. You need master neither to become a professional writer. But don't tell me I should admire the mere professional.

Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]

That Was Me? Well, I Want My Paycheck (none / 0) (#64)
by tres on Tue Sep 24, 2002 at 04:28:06 PM EST

People like you who assert that originality is a myth fail to perceive how much you have narrowed down the spectrum within which you choose to work.
The implicit assertion in this statement is that there is true originality. And my quotes were quoting my first post, not yours.

My "model"--content and praxis--is no model. It's an abstraction, a description. It's not a method, it's a viewpoint. I don't proscribe using it, I use it merely to describe how I see things.

Again, back to the point: because you don't like the Hollywood style, the "craft" of writing, or the business of films, doesn't mean that everyone should feel the same way.

I'm not asserting that your way is wrong, my way right, or anything of the kind. My way works for me. I'm not about to proclaim mine is the way for everyone.

I am asserting that if you want to want people to learn what becoming a master writer is, you should give evidence of how rather than simply criticizing those that don't know. (And thanks for pointing me in the direction of Mr. McCloud.)

The other point is, you spend more time using ad hominem attacks against other people than you do discussing the subject matter. From the original response until your last post, you didn't provide any evidence that your position actually is a better approach to writing. You simply generalized and categorized me as the bad guy of writing. I suddenly became the screenwriter of every moneygrabber that's ever been made.

Well, if that was me, I'd like to know when they're going to start paying me for it.

[ Parent ]

an hominem nauseum (none / 0) (#68)
by dr k on Tue Sep 24, 2002 at 07:54:24 PM EST

Well, that's not very sporting of you.

I think you meant "prescribe", not "proscribe".

The implicit assertion of my statement was that you are unable to see the forest through the trees. You pooh-pooh the suggestion that writers should pursue something beyond their current reach, because you want to preserve the value of your meager skills.

If you don't like it, take your sorry baseball and your brother's dog-chewed glove home and cry to your mommy. Then get out your colored chalk and write your lame script ideas down on the sidewalk so I can come by later and laugh at your backwards 'e's before I whip out my dick and piss your words away while you watch.

Come on, you sorry punk-ass bitch, why don't you get on the phone and call your Hollywood big dick buddies like Joel Schumacher or Steven Spielberg and tell them I said their movies sucked ass and it made you sad.

You filthy, hunt-and-peck typing, dog fucking, incorrect word using, slanderous monkey. Why don't you just give me your account password right now, and I'll promise to return it once you've bought a dictionary and looked up ad hominem. Then you can clean my toilet.

Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]

ad homonym (none / 0) (#69)
by tres on Tue Sep 24, 2002 at 08:32:47 PM EST

I'd say that you proscribing any kind of writing is much more apropriate anyway.

Probably a Freudian slip.

Later little journal-writing troll.

What a waste of my time.

[ Parent ]

ad nauseum (none / 0) (#70)
by tres on Tue Sep 24, 2002 at 09:06:10 PM EST

That's something called irony.

Of course, you don't learn about that by reading "how to write" books. That's something you need to study in order to recognize.

Butt ewe wood knot under-stand.

ewe only under-stand spellin.

ewe bee as helpful as a junior-hi teacher.

More interested in seamin' like ewe know somethin than ewe are in discussin it.

[ Parent ]

I suppose you'd rather we wrote some tired... (none / 0) (#71)
by tres on Wed Sep 25, 2002 at 09:39:36 AM EST

adolescent, cheesy, bullshit poetry.

Maybe you should find out what a metaphor is, then come back and talk about how people should write.


Brandon, if I were you, I'd deny this is mine because it is one stinky pile of shit.

Anyway, thanks for the laughs.

Keep on trying, someday you might become a "master writer."




      by Brandon Joseph Rickman

Looking closely
There is a pattern
The order
Small little dots spin round and round
In an restless activity
Atoms they be.

Looking closely
Pulling back
There is a structure
Green enclosures in a jumble
Flowing water
Peaceful motion
The stem of a plant.

Look more closely
Pulling, back
Small petals
Peeking out in a circle
Bright colours
Smiling, dancing

Ah, looking more closely
And pulling back
Flowers in a pattern
Yet without symmetry
Because they dance about
On the fabric,
Yellows and blues
And the petals on flowers
On her dress.

Looking closely
Now pulling back
The dress flows down
The feminine figure
Smooth curves and grace
The flowers in warm places
The symmetry from left to right
A pattern of hair and flowers
As she begins to spin
To dance.

The waves of the flowers
Ever shifting
In a wild field of color
Dancing off her dress
Into her hair, in the sky
Looking closely
Past the details
Past the patterns and the symmetries
And the jumping and the dancing
She spins
   but I glimpse her face
   the flash of an eye
   a kiss for lips

Looking closely
Pulling back
Pulling back
Not an empty field
But full of wildflowers
Dancing in the sun
Each one bright
Waiting for a kiss
From the sun
Each one in turn
The beautiful

[ Parent ]

ah yes (none / 0) (#73)
by dr k on Wed Sep 25, 2002 at 04:21:24 PM EST

A poem written 12 years ago. Say, trhurler, do you not have anything better to do with your time?

Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]

I agree (none / 0) (#54)
by godix on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 06:53:03 PM EST

with your basic idea that most movies are formulaic, insipid, and lacking in quality. I disagree that these rules are the problem though. Many great movies follow exactly the rules set forth in this article. The great movies that don't follow these rules usually intentionally break the rules in a way so blatent that no one can see the movie and not realize a rule is being broken, these are usually called 'art films'. Those types of movies prove what Pseudonym said in the first paragraph, before you figure out which rules you can break you have to know what the rules are.

Don't mind the plummeting noise, mojo always makes that sound after I post.

[ Parent ]
strucuture is structure (none / 0) (#66)
by mveloso on Tue Sep 24, 2002 at 06:17:13 PM EST

There is what works, and there is what doesn't. 98% of the people follow the rules, and their output is filler. The other 2% transcend the rules, and we have good movies!

If you've never made anything, it's impossible to understand how useful rules (or guidelines, if you prefer) can be. In the computer industry, the equivalent would be:

* design patterns
* template code
* that old CGI/perl thing you had lying around that you use to hack on
* sample code

After all, there are 26 letters in US english, and they can only be put together in certain ways (mostly).

[ Parent ]

Yeah. (none / 0) (#13)
by Noam Chompsky on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 05:53:36 PM EST

This is very interesting. I would like to learn more, but not on kur0shin. I am sure you did not absorb knowledge of the craft watching movies, and was wondering if you could cite your references and bibliography.

Faster, liberalists, kill kill kill!

Fair enough (none / 0) (#23)
by Pseudonym on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 08:07:52 PM EST

I was going to put a bibliography in this article, but it had already gotten too long. I'll put one in next article, okay?

sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
[ Parent ]
Top three references (none / 0) (#29)
by twh270 on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 08:27:58 PM EST

A (somewhat) comprehensive bibliography is great, for those of us who have time to really dig into this. I'd like to read a bit more, but don't have time for more than one or two books. So I'd like to know your top two or three references.

I'm really enjoying your articles. Your writing is clear and enjoyable, and -- perhaps most important -- is understandable by this intelligent-but-ignorant layman.


[ Parent ]

Will do (none / 0) (#31)
by Pseudonym on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 08:32:25 PM EST

I'll put the top three references as a reply to the main story so others can see them. OK?

sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
[ Parent ]
Brief bibliography (none / 0) (#36)
by Pseudonym on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 08:44:34 PM EST

Several people have asked for a brief bibliography on screenwriting. I'll produce something a little more comprehensive for a future article, but here are my personal top three introductory books:

There are many others which are invaluable, but these, IMO, are some of the best to start with.

The other thing you have to do is read screenplays. Drew's Script-O-Rama has an excellent collection to start you off. NOTE: Do not read the transcripts! Read the scripts! Especially look for drafts which are pre-"shooting scripts". Shooting scripts are what you get once the director has been over the script adding camera directions and so on.

sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
more invaluable tips for writers (none / 0) (#42)
by dr k on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 09:35:54 PM EST

It is helpful to actually write something. Probably a good idea to let someone read your scrawlings as well, someone who can be moderately objective. If your story has lots of sex it in, or deals with incest, this may make your mother uncomfortable.

If you choose to go to a writing workshop, it is a good idea to flirt with the instructor, even if they are the same gender as you. Offfers of cash and sexual favors are tried and true ways to connect in the movie industry. But don't be a slut.

Oh, and stop reading Tom Clancy novels.

Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]

This article has had a horrowing effect on me (5.00 / 1) (#45)
by kholmes on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 11:07:46 PM EST

This article has described 80% of all the movies I have ever seen. This is why I don't like movies! Its as if Hollywood was one giant adlib book!

This is why I browse at the video rental store with intense suspision. I pick up a movie, read the back of it, wondering if this movie would be worth spending two hours of my life watching, and inevitably put it back on the shelf.

I've long suspected that most movies followed some sort of a formula when they write it. I thought it might have been the marketing people applying demographics to the movies storyline. I hadn't considered it would be so simple. I suppose most screenwriters are taught this formula?

I hate romances! I despise watching the twisted mating rituals sex pot A and charming B go through before they are allowed to fuck. In the real world, they just fuck, the only obstacle being the zipper. I hate action flicks! I'm tired of being bombarded with sensations to bring some sort of satisfying emotional rise out of me. I'm an introvert and can feel myself being manipulated.

I want to be inspired! I want to think about the movie in bed before I sleep. I want to wake up thinking I can change the world. I want to re-watch the movie as if it was new.

Some movies have this aspect, but most fail.

You say that there are movies with advanced storylines that don't follow the formula. So please, spare me some trouble and identify some movies with advanced storylines. Help me like movies again!

Disclaimer: I apologize for this rant even before I post it. Its offtopic and off base. I find Hollywood in general very unappealing. I'm a geek in a geek's world. There is no such thing as magic.

If you treat people as most people treat things and treat things as most people treat people, you might be a Randian.

more 'discovered' than 'invented' (5.00 / 1) (#47)
by mdevney on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 01:25:37 AM EST

The rubrick kholmes outlines isn't taught to screenwriters any more than to anyone else.  It's a product of watching movies, and watching audiences, and deciding what works and what doesn't.  

If you ever see a movie that doesn't fit this model -- 2-5 main characters, love interest, action, setting and incident within the first 10 minutes -- chances are it will suck.  You'll walk away from it thinking "That movie was long and pointless, why did I waste 2 hours on that?"  

Joseph Campbell did a book on this, "The Hero With a Thousand Faces," in which he defines in far more detail than these articles what makes a story good.  Myth, book, movie, they all have the same structure and earmarkings, which make them "good".  Not that following the formula makes anything good, but that the human mind responds in certain predictable ways.  Having an introductory sequence 30 minutes long bores people; that's one of the predictable ways.

[ Parent ]

and yet boredom (5.00 / 1) (#55)
by dr k on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 06:57:14 PM EST

is a crucial element in a horror film. Jeez, who are these dumb teenagers, why do I care? Oh, look, now they're in class. Oh, look, now they're at a party. Hey, who's severed head is that?

Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]

Like Supernova (none / 0) (#60)
by DavidTC on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 11:27:31 PM EST

That film broke all the rules, and conquently sucked ass.

-David T. C.
Yes, my email address is real.
[ Parent ]
It is always better to... (none / 0) (#51)
by bayankaran on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 08:17:45 AM EST

...to know the so called rules, before breaking them.

In that sense these series of articles may work.

You say that there are movies with advanced storylines that don't follow the formula. So please, spare me some trouble and identify some movies with advanced storylines. Help me like movies again!

Even the standard video store will have a small collection of foriegn films which are usually better than the typical homebrewn stuff. A good international film festival is another venue. But all of this will take some effort from your part.

Check out this list...it is no way complete and has some glaring omissions, but most of films listed are good.

[ Parent ]
Write-In Vote (none / 0) (#50)
by moeffju on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 07:40:36 AM EST

"Don't worry, honey, I will return."

Count of Monty Cristo (Spoiler alert) (none / 0) (#52)
by Misc on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 09:29:38 AM EST

Protagonist: Edmond

Normal Life: Living in the village with his finacee and father. Spending time with his best friend.

Inciting Incident: Edmond receives a letter from Napoleon which he promises to deliver. The letter is never mailed however he is caught with it and falsely accused of treason. The recipient of the letter was the sentencers father, (a Naponleon sympathizer) so Edmond is sent to a remote prison as a coverup.

Action Line Antagonist: Edmonds best friend who steals his wife and betrays him. He is responsibile for the Edmonds behaviour later in the movie.

Relationship Line Antagonist: The finacee. She is in love with Edmond, but ends up with the best friend out of desperation.

Sidekick: Edmond starts out with the action line protagonist as a sidekick. After the betrayal he finds a new sidekick in a local pirate.

This movie was actually pretty entertaining.. I'm afraid my comments here may sway people to never see it...


My Opinion (none / 0) (#83)
by gauntlet on Mon Sep 30, 2002 at 12:24:23 PM EST

The friend was never the sidekick. From the very beginning, he was portrayed as being somewhat opposed: "Too bad it can't always be this way."

The pirate was the second side-kick, however. The first side-kick was "priest," whose death was a motivating point of the plot for the protagonist.

Into Canadian Politics?
[ Parent ]

Dramatica (none / 0) (#53)
by Genady on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 01:32:14 PM EST

Ahhhh, aren't most of these rules ripped right from Dramatica? If not, and someone want's some more in-depth theory Dramatica.com would be a good place to start. Never mind about the software (I've tinkered with it, it's not bad and might actually be worth $50) but the theory book is what you're looking for. It's actually an interesting method for constructing caharacters and stories that are palletable.

Dramatica Theory Book PDF

Turtles all the way down.
No idea (none / 0) (#56)
by Pseudonym on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 07:10:44 PM EST

I've never seen Dramatica. I'll check out the link now, though, thanks.

On the contrary, my articles are ripped from a number of books, screenplays and so on, digested and spat out. I don't claim originality for any of the specific material. Hell, if I was original, I might be tempted to actually be a screenwriter. :-)

sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
[ Parent ]
Definatly then check out Dramatica (none / 0) (#57)
by Genady on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 07:16:00 PM EST

Ohhh. Well then, yes, go check out Dramatica NOW! Because from your writing, you've discovered the tip of the iceburg yourself. Very interesting reading for people that want to make their creativeity a bit more structured.

Turtles all the way down.
[ Parent ]
Poll write-in option: (none / 0) (#65)
by it certainly is on Tue Sep 24, 2002 at 05:23:13 PM EST

"I'm gettin' too old for this shit!".

kur0shin.org -- it certainly is

Godwin's law [...] is impossible to violate except with an infinitely long thread that doesn't mention nazis.

Homework #1 (none / 0) (#72)
by cr8dle2grave on Wed Sep 25, 2002 at 12:42:58 PM EST

A little late... just like old times ;)

Leaving Las Vegas:

Protagonist: Ben

Normal Life: He is an executive with a film production company who has a wife, a son, and a drinking problem. The protagonist's normal life is not actually shown in the film as it opens after his wife has left him and he has begun a descent in to severe alcohol induced self-destruction.

Inciting Incident: There is a case to be made that the inciting incident occurred prior to the opening of the film when Ben's wife left him. Although, you don't fully realize this fact until the secondary inciting incident, the loss of his job, occurs about 10 minutes into the film -- punctuated by the fact that the credits don't appear until after Ben has lost his job and announces his intention to go to Las Vegas.

Action Line Antagonist: Ben, or more precisely his self-destructive alcoholism, plays the role of the action line antagonist in this film.

Relationship Line Antagonist: Sera

ps. Would the Jack and the Beanstalk structured jewel thief film you were thinking of be Small Time Crooks?

Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

Jack and the Beanstalk (none / 0) (#74)
by Pseudonym on Wed Sep 25, 2002 at 07:42:23 PM EST

Nope, though I haven't seen Small Time Crooks, so for all I know it might fit.

Two people have got it so far, incidentally.

sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
[ Parent ]
Screenplay, part 2: The Revenge | 86 comments (80 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
Display: Sort:


All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. The Rest 2000 - Present Kuro5hin.org Inc.
See our legalese page for copyright policies. Please also read our Privacy Policy.
Kuro5hin.org is powered by Free Software, including Apache, Perl, and Linux, The Scoop Engine that runs this site is freely available, under the terms of the GPL.
Need some help? Email help@kuro5hin.org.
My heart's the long stairs.

Powered by Scoop create account | help/FAQ | mission | links | search | IRC | YOU choose the stories!