Gone Girl. Hmmm. The Equalizer. Zowie! Got a character question for you…

Saw GONE GIRL last night. Didn’t care for it. Can’t quite figure out why.

It was well done, but, because I’d read the book, I can’t tell if the surprises were guessable or not. Certainly the film had solid “blows the character’s world apart” act breaks. I don’t know if I cared about the hero all that much. I wanted him to win, but I wasn’t ever convinced that he was ever really in grave danger. I walked out and felt, “Meh.” It never really grabbed me and petered out at the end. The ending was like the book and what was vaguely odd in the book became, in the movie, unsatisfying in the extreme.

Have you seen it? What did you think?

I REALLY REALLY liked THE EQUALIZER. What a wonderfully fun roller coaster ride. I enjoyed every minute. Nary a misstep. He’s a fascinating character and the story works like a Swiss watch. Nice, stately beginning and then the adrenaline kicks in.

And, boy does it ever. If you like shoot ‘em ups, this is the movie for you.

Working on the sequel to my book and that still-dark-outside early morning work has generated a question for you.

Can you tell me of a memorable “character steps on the stage for the first time” moments? Like meeting Don Corleone for the first time. Or, when we meet Trapper John in Altman’s M*A*S*H. I’m writing about that crucial moment where we meet the hero for the first time and am looking for marvelous examples.


Thank you!


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Michael Arndt on Beginnings

This is on the TOY STORY 3 Blu-Ray DVD feature. Thought I’d share. This is amazingly helpful.

introduce the character
introduce the world
the thing they love to do most – their grand passion
Woody loves to play with Andy.
Marlin loves his family and a wife
Mr. Incredible (a.k.a. Bob) loves being a superhero.

and they have a flaw
Woody loves being Andy’s favorite toy
Marlin is insecure about being a parent
Mr. Incredible doesn’t want to share being #1

introduce dark storm clouds
Andy… birthday party … everyone frets…
Nemo… outdoors where they are not safe
Bob… things will change when they marry… resentment from normal people against super heros

something blows the hero’s life apart! (inciting incident!)
Buzz arrives. Woody is displaced.
Nemo… family is killed except one egg
Mr. Incredible, and superheros get banned…

and their grand passion… is taken away from them!
changes their sense of their future will be

add insult to injury
Woody is replaced by a doofus… Buzz thinks he’s not a toy, thinks he can fly, and they think he can fly… everyone is impressed for wrong reasons
Nemo… we know the world he lives in in unfair
Mr. Incredible is trying to do wright thing, ad they are banned…

comes to fork in road
must make choice on how to adjust
if they do the right thing, the story is over
make the unhealthy choice… we are rooting for him to do the unhealthy thing, because we feel his pain

Woody knocks Buzz out the window, and now he can’t stay in Andy’s room without getting Buzz back
Marlin must get Nemo in open ocean… he has to go after his son, who says I hate you… gets caught by diver… Marlin has a goal for rest of story
Bob’s wife tells him to make choice, and it’s boring, but he lies to wife, and we are rooting for that, because we saw how much he loves being a super hero… sneaking around leads to crisis and then you’re into the SECOND ACT…

story comes out of deepest desires
and darkest fears
the thing they love is taken away
and it’s unfair
and they have to take journey and will get back what they lost…
and fix the flaw

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Filed under Details, Good Writing, Screenwriting, Uncategorized, Writing Process

Drawing a Line

I just went up to my office door, which has a Post-It note or two stuck there. My office is a wreck, always has been. But a vertical space is pretty easy to keep tidy. At least it is for me.

One of the Post-Its is a list of the major projects I’m working on. Since I put it up, I’ve drawn three lines through projects. Two are finished. THAT felt good.

One I abandoned.

That felt even better, in some ways.

I had this great idea for a TV series for a long time. Based on true events from our nation’s past, I had the idea to set it in the modern era and repeat history. Great idea. The problem was, I had no business writing it. None. Just because I thought it a lovely idea, didn’t mean I needed to waste my precious time working on it. For years, I’ve thought, “I’m capable of anything. There’s nothing I can’t do well, if I spend enough time and energy on it.”


Knowing when to quit is a wonderful thing. I am not suited to write a political thriller. I need to be writing what is more or less easy for me to write, not make some giant (impossible) stretch into, not only, unknown territory, but suicide mission territory. Why be stupid?

Drawing the line through that project suddenly gave me MONTHS of free time, yawning ahead of me, to devote to something I am suited to write.

I am changing my tune about this stuff. I used to tell people, “If you watch bank robbery movies more than anything else, you should really think about writing bank robbery stories.” I don’t think that any more. I think you need to write what you want to write, but to take a long hard look at your skill set before you dive into the deep end. What are you naturally suited to write? What are you better at than the other folks on their laptops at the Starbucks? What are you better at than anybody?

That’s what you need to be doing.

I can’t tell you how good it feels to look at that Post-It note, knowing I won’t waste a year of my life on an idea that I am 100% unqualified to write.

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Gonna Be At The Story Expo?

Howdy, howdy!!

I’m giving two talks next Saturday at the Los Angeles Story Expo.


Everybody in the screenwriting world will be there, including me.

I’ll be pontificating about: Beating Writer’s Block. Working on that lecture now, and, to my surprise, I have a LOT to say on the subject.

I’ll also give a talk from Your Screenplay STILL Sucks! Greatest hits from my upcoming book. Well, it’s upcoming if I can finish writing it.

So, hope to see you next weekend in Los Angeles.



Filed under Screenwriting, The Business, Uncategorized, Writing Process

How Do You Know Your Work Is Finished?

When you put it away for a while, pull it out and find it hard to believe that YOU wrote it cause it’s so good. That’s a sure fire tip off.

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Show. Don’t tell. They tell you this all the time!

Here’s my example, from something of mine.

I looked at his mother. What a pathetic mother she was. Instead of standing up and defending her child against a screeching neighbor, she just sat there holding her Oreo over her glass of milk, not dipping it, frightened like a deer when a car is about to mow it down.

Don’t tell us she’s pathetic. SHOW us that she’s pathetic.

I looked at his mother. [CUT THIS… What a pathetic mother she was.] Instead of standing up and defending her child against a screeching neighbor, she just sat there holding her Oreo over her glass of milk, not dipping it, frightened like a deer when a car is about to mow it down.

So, the readers get to figure out that she’s pathetic. Much more satisfying for them. If they don’t figure it out, it’s your fault.

I looked at his mother. Instead of standing up and defending her child against a screeching neighbor, she just sat there holding her Oreo over her glass of milk, not dipping it, frightened like a deer when a car is about to mow it down.

Do one entire rewrite concentrating only on the Show Don’t Tell problem. Once you start looking, you’ll find it everywhere. Like roaches.


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No One Is More Arrogant Than A Beginner

So sayeth Elizabeth Ashley.

One of my students has gone on to critique scripts. The apple doesn’t fall far… He’s a hell of a writer and gives excellent notes. He sent me this email.


I just read one of the worst scripts I have ever encountered. I have a new respect for your suffering.

Let’s see… hm….

1. wrong font… arial all the way
2. dialogue made me want to jab a fork into my eyes
3. how about this: fade up/fade down. Could you hear my shriek?
4. typos
5. naked slug lines… I honestly don’t even think he knows what that means
6. characters just appear in dialogue. I can only assume that they are ghosts since there is no identification on them at all… and this isn’t even a sci fi script
7. interchanging names. What in the hell. If you’re calling him Jeff, why in the hell would you call him Chuckles? That’s annoying and confusing and makes me hate you, dear writer
8. so freaking boring I prayed for a coma
9. spoke to him about getting your and Blake’s books and he said he didn’t need them, that my suggestions were null and void because I’m not a Hollywood producer
10. wants to film in two months, has no money raised and actually called Leonardo Dicaprio’s agent
11. wonders why I refuse to help him at this point

What is wrong with people!?

Again, my respect to you and your reading of material that makes you want to throw yourself into boiling pits of lava.


That sounds far, far worse than what I am sent, probably because I require clients to read my book before they send the script. Precisely why I wrote the book, so you can solve problems on your own.

My favorite part, and I have sadly seen this before, is the “You can’t know anything because you’re not in Hollywood.” Well, does one also think, “You can’t write because you’re not in Hollywood.”??? Gosh, I hope not.

What about the idea that ANYbody’s idea that improves your work is a good thing?


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