Plot Twists

Plot Twists

I’m not a fan of the plot twist gimmick just for gimmick’s sake. A story has to be good FIRST, and then twist can just add another layer to the fun. There are films that sacrifice logic and character to make the twist work, and that just burns me up.

In any case, this article does a good job of listing all the ways you can write a twist:

How to Write Plot Twists That Really Mess with People’s Heads

  • Anagnorisis: The sudden critical discovery of information, like the true identity of a character (The Sixth Sense, Fight Club, The Usual Suspects)
  • Analepsis: A flashback that reveals new or different information about a past event (MarnieOnce Upon a Time in the West)
  • Unreliable narrator: A realization that the narrator has lied about or manipulated information given throughout the story (Memento, Shutter Island, The Usual Suspects)
  • Peripeteia: A sudden reversal of a character’s fortune (Million Dollar BabyTitanic)
  • Poetic justice: an “ironic twist of fate” in which good is rewarded with or bad is punished by something related to the deed or misdeed (ex: a murderer being shot with the very gun he used to kill his victim, a staunch anti-drug politician being arrested for possession of narcotics)
  • Chekhov’s gun: a character or device that seems to have a minor role suddenly becomes important to the story (Buddy in The Incredibles, Rick’s grenade in The Walking Dead)
  • Red herring: a false piece of information that leads characters in the wrong direction (The DiVinci Code)
  • In medias res: starting from the middle of a narrative in order to deliver information over time (Raging BullKill Bill: Volume 2)
  • Non-linear narrative: a narrative told in non-chronological order, forcing the viewer to piece information together (Pulp FictionMulholland DriveRashomon)
  • Reverse chronology: a narrative told in reverse order, forcing the viewer to piece information together (Memento, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
  • Deus ex machina: A sudden and unexpected introduction of a character, device, or event that ruins or saves the day (War of the Worlds, Avatar)
Raise The Stakes

Raise The Stakes

There’s a great article from Gideon’s Screenwriting Tips called “25 Ways to Raise the Stakes in Your Script.” See the full article here:

Writers must explain how not achieving their goals will affect the characters, not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually too. It needs to be deeply personal.Some ways to raise the stakes for your main characters by examining the repercussions if they fail:

  1. They lose the respect of their close family and friends
  2. They lose respect for themselves
  3. They lose the respect of those who depend on them
  4. They damage a professional relationship that relies on the success of the mission
  5. They will lose a bet
  6. An embarrassing misunderstanding will occur
  7. Deep emotional pain and turmoil will result
  8. They will be forced to confront their biggest fear
  9. Their belief sand moral compass are challenged
  10. A meeting or deeply wanted connection will be missed
  11. A closely-held secret is revealed
  12. A lie will prevail while the truth will be hidden
  13. A war or deep conflict will start
  14. Someone will die or be seriously injured
  15. They must sacrifice an innocent person
  16. They cause harm to somebody else
  17. They will be banished from their homeland
  18. They are forced to give up something valuable
  19. They underestimate the cost of their goal
  20. They take an unnecessary risk
  21. They are forced to change their plan or their goal
  22. A meeting or deeply wanted connection will be missed
  23. Their plan will be severely set back
  24. A villain will escape or be be set free
  25. Justice will be miscarried

BONUS LINK! Another good article on raising stakes here:

Just when you think you know first acts…

Just when you think you know first acts…

Personally, I believe the second act is the hardest part of a screenplay to write. So when a listener wrote in to Scriptnotes asking about his troubles with first acts, I was a bit perplexed. What’s the big deal?

Then John and Craig went on to lay out what the first act can and should accomplish. Wow! Now I need to reevaluate some of what I’ve written. I have a new appreciation for screenplay structure after listening.

Check out THE END OF THE BEGINNING episode of Scriptnotes at

Legal Agreements

Legal Agreements

Since we were discussing contracts at last meeting, there’s a good overview at LA Screenwriter.

Why is it a good idea to be comfortable with contracts? As Ken Aguado says…

  • Filmmaking is a business, and businesses run on contractual agreements.
  • Contractual agreements help define the business relationship between people and/or companies.
  • If you don’t define the business relationship with your collaborators or employers, they may not be your collaborators or employers for long.

See the whole article at:

5 Legal Agreements Every Screenwriter Must Know.

Script-A-Palooza 2017 winners

Script-A-Palooza 2017 winners

Congrats to our Script-A-Palooza Winners!

We had a great time performing and seeing screenplays performed at the last general meeting of RAFAS (Rochester Association for Film Arts and Sciences). Overall, it’s always a great opportunity to share short subjects with the world and get actors, directors, and crew interested in your work. I’m looking forward to even more entries next year!

Got a desire to see your writing put to screen? Get some feedback at a RWW meeting and let RAFAS help match you with a cast and crew!

1st place:
“Time to Feed” by Curt Markham

2nd place:
“Biometrics” by Shawn Essler

3rd place:
“Mama Masta” by Joanne Casey

A Note About the Writing Process & the Step Outline

A Note About the Writing Process & the Step Outline

As we go through the process, from idea & theme to script, questions have arisen regarding the step outline.

If we think of the process as Most General (idea & theme) to Most Specific (script), the Step Outline falls somewhere in the middle.  The Step Outline is the blueprint you will follow when you get to the actual script writing.

It needs to be specific in regards to the sequence of events starting with FADE IN and ending with FADE OUT. It should lay out “What” will happen, while supporting the theme. Save the “How” until you are at the script phase.

A couple of other benefits can come from creating a Step Outline. Is your story long enough to fill 100 pages of script? Does the story make sense based on your Steps? Are there other opportunities for plot development once you review the Outline?

The tendency to “write too much” in each step … to embellish … gives a false sense of security about the eventual length of the script. Each step should average about 3 pages of script.

Remember, a Step Outline is a tool you will use as you sit before your computer and type “FADE IN”. It will allow you to focus only on “How” you want to communicate that event, adding all the character bits and scenes necessary to do it.

It allows you to focus all your creativity on how to craft that communication in the most creative way possible.

The following article by Dan Bronzite provides more info on the subject.

Story Planning & How To Step Outline A Screenplay

by Dan Bronzite

What Is A Step-Outline?

Okay, so you’ve got this great idea. You think, if only someone would make a movie out of it! Then it hits you.. Hey, why don’t I write it myself?! Well, why not? Go for it! But before you jump into the deep end you need to lay the foundations for your screenplay.

Plan Your Story!

Many novice screenwriters make the mistake of leaping head first into a full screenplay without taking the crucial first step of outlining their story – otherwise known in the biz as “step-outlining”.

A step outline is essentially a step by step breakdown of your story. By planning your story structure in advance you will save yourself a whole lot of time in the “rewriting” stage of your project because no matter how good you are at screenwriting, all writers have to learn to love rewriting!

Step Or Scene?

A “Step” really means an “Event” in the progression of your story, and this means that each step can consist of more than one “Scene”. A Montage sequence is one good example or:

Joe leaves his apartment, gets in his car, drives to the bank.

Although in a screenplay this totals three scenes, in a step-outline it is only one step since the nature of creating a step-outline dictates that you focus on the main story event and do not get into too much detail. Unless something big happens to Joe while he is getting into his car, the scene can be described within the overall event. What then happens when Joe enters the bank is another step.. and so on.

Another example could be a car chase. In a screenplay, each location that the cars involved in the chase pass through is technically a scene, but since we’re dealing with the same story event, the entire chase and collection of scenes is referred to as a step.

Or supposed your screenplay has your Hero bravely dashing into a burning building to save a child while other fire-fighters frantically do their best to put out the blaze. Technically, each room your Hero searches in constitutes a scene, and every time we cut back to the other fire-fighters, they are separate scenes too, but when planning your story, it is much easier to think of this as one single event and as such, a single step.

Outlining vs. Rewriting

The thing is, I never used to outline my movies before I wrote them. I just sat down with a pad and a pen and jumped right into it. To be fair, it was a liberating experience. A “stream of consciousness” as they call it in literary circles. What pops into your mind, suddenly appears on the paper. The flow takes you away with it … but beware, before you know it you are ten pages into your feature script and you have no idea of where you are going or indeed, where you came from.

Like I said, I never used to think this was a problem, until I was faced with the dreaded experience of having to rewrite absolutely everything I wrote another one hundred and fifty times. And this wasn’t for development execs or producers. It was for myself. I was and still am my own worst and best critic. I know when something I have written works and when it doesn’t.

Being a director too, I have always thought visually and approached each screenwriting project as if I was going to put it on the big screen myself without anybody’s help. This may be unrealistic, but it enabled me to view my work from a different perspective. An objective one. I learnt the basics of pace and cutting out of a scene early and into one as late as possible. I now look at all of my stories as pictures. I see them as paintings rather than words. And I see the entire scene-to-scene progression of my screenplays as maneuverable blueprints rather than an adhesive concoction of prose and dialogue stuck together and to the page.

Confused? I’ll try to explain further.

When you write a film script either straight onto a pad or punch it directly into your computer, the worst thing you can do is imagine that these words are chiseled in stone. That the scenes in the order you have created them are rigid and will remain where you put them for all eternity. You have to see the script as a reflection of your original idea that can now be molded and shaped into the story it was always meant to be.

The problem is, when you don’t plan out your screenplay first, this is much harder to do. That’s why I started outlining scripts before writing them. Well, that’s actually a lie. I started outlining them because producers and development execs wanted to see the ideas for my pitches and I couldn’t just hand them a bunch of scribbled notes. These outlines then developed into longer treatments and before I knew it I was already in the habit of “step-outlining” first and writing screenplays second. It was a bizarre, subconscious transition, but I’m extremely glad that it happened.

Since planning out my screen stories step by step (or from major event to major event) I have been able to focus my cinematic ideas and nail down the real central structure of my screenplays and their principle character arcs before committing myself to the script itself.

It does take a little commitment, especially if you are eager to start writing dialogue and getting to know the characters populating your new world up close and personal, but if you try to curb your enthusiasm for just a few days and hammer out the central event driven plot beforehand you will most certainly save yourself a whole load of time and screenwriting headaches in the end.