Writing Exercise: Imagine Another Life

September 10th, 2015 by

On Twitter, there is a tradition called Throwback Thursday in which people post photographs of themselves from the past. With that in mind, check out this poem:

Another Life

By Deborah Cummins

My mother, 18, the summer before she married,
lounges belly-down in the sun,
books and grass all around, her head on her hands
propped at a jaunty angle.
She smiles in a way I’ve never seen
at something beyond the camera.
This photograph I come back to again and again
invites me to re-write her life.
I keep resisting, certain
I’d have no part in it, her first born
though not exactly. A boy first,
two months premature, my brother
who lived three days, was buried in a coffin
my father carried. “The size of a shoe box,”
he said, the one time he spoke of it.
And my mother, too, offered only once
that she was pregnant and so they married.

Drawn to this saw-edged snapshot,
I’m almost convinced to put her in art school.
Single, she’d have a job in the city,
wouldn’t marry. There’d be no children
if that would make her this happy.
But I’m not that unselfish, or stupid.
And what then, too, of my beloved sister,
her son I adore?

So let me just move her honeymoon
from the Wisconsin Dells to the Caribbean.
Let the occasional vacation in a Saugatuck cabin
be exactly what she wanted. The house
she so loved she won’t have to sell.
Winters, there’s enough money to pay the bills.
There are no cigarettes, no stroke, no paralysis.
Her right hand lifts a spoon from a bowl
as easily as if it were a sable-hair brush
to an empty canvas.
And the grass that summer day
on the cusp of another life
is thick, newly mown, fragrant.

What a beautiful poem. Provoked a lot of thoughts including this one…

Writing Exercise: Find a photograph. An old photograph of you. Now imagine an alternate future. Where did you go? Who did you become? Consider the choices you made… only in another life, you made different decisions at various forks-in-life’s-road.

Create a short story which reflects your other life.

You may listen to Garrison Keillor reading the poem by visiting The Writer’s Almanac.

A great question to ask about your Protagonist

September 8th, 2015 by

In my workshops, one line of questioning I often pose to the writers I work with about their story’s Protagonists is this: Who would they become if your story didn’t happen?

If the specific events the Protagonist participates in and specific characters with whom they intersect in your story don’t play out the way you imagine… if the Protagonist goes on with their life unaffected and unchanged because they somehow miss out on the story you had planned…

What would happen to them?

This question actually arose for the first time in a workshop I led years ago at UCLA. We were discussing The Wizard of Oz, focusing on how at the beginning of the story, Dorothy feels a sense of alienation, like in some very real way she doesn’t belong where she lives:

  • She’s a young girl surrounded by people older than she (in the Kansas scenes, there are seven other humans and each of them is an adult).
  • Everyone on the farm — from Auntie Em and Uncle Henry to the hired help Hunk, Zeke, and Hickory — has a specific job or task. Dorothy does not.
  • Nor does she have anyone (other than Toto) to play with, one reason she gets into trouble while “walking along the railing between the pig pens” and falling in, necessitating Zeke to rescue her (this incident reinforces how she just doesn’t fit in with the ways of the farm).
  • She even dresses differently than everyone else in a crisp blue-and-white dress whereas the others wear dingy work clothes.
  • Perhaps the single biggest contributing factor for Dorothy’s sense of alienation is a fact we may tend to overlook: she is an orphan.

So we can say Dorothy begins The Wizard of Oz in a state of Disunity: She’s living in a home that doesn’t feel like home. She yearns to “fly away” to some dream-like place “over the rainbow” where she will find a sense of belonging.

Indeed it takes a magical trek through Oz with all its challenges and complications, allies and enemies to help Dorothy transform from an alienated girl into someone who by the end feels about the farm and its people — “there’s no place like home.”

But what if she had not gone to Oz? No running away. No tornado. No yellow brick road. No encounter with Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion. No realization that her home in Kansas really is a home.

As we considered that question, one of the writers raised her hand and said this: “I think she could have grown up to become Miss Gulch.”

Ooh. Interesting thought. With no Oz experience, Dorothy may never have experienced being a true part of a family with Uncle Henry and Aunt Em. She may never have felt loved and accepted. She may have developed a cynical view of life. Always different than other people. Increasingly isolated and bitter.

From that perspective, Miss Gulch represents a glimpse of Dorothy’s future… if she did not go to Oz.

Hence the value of the question: If your story does not happen to your Protagonist, who will they become?

In Citizen Kane, if Charles Foster Kane had not been plucked from his idyllic life in Colorado, he may have remained a perfectly happy fellow.

In Casablanca, if Rick Blaine had not reconnected with Ilsa Lund, he may have remained a broken cynic.

In The Apartment, if C.C. Baxter had not spent those few days with Fran Kubelik in his apartment as she recuperated from her suicide attempt, he may have become another corporate toady.

In Tootsie, if Michael Dorsey had not lived as Dorothy Michaels, he may never become a better man, still stuck with his sexist tendencies.

In Up, if Carl Fredericksen had not gone on his adventure to South America and found a surrogate family, he may have simply lived out his string of days until he died… alone.

The point of the question is this: What does your story mean to your Protagonist? It’s another way of asking my very favorite question of all:

Why does this story have to happen to this character (Protagonist) at this time?

It’s not an arbitrary thing. Their life leading up to FADE IN. The inciting incident. The world of adventure they enter. The many characters they meet along the way. The complications, roadblocks, and reversals. Everything that happens is part of the Protagonist’s narrative destiny.

And a great way to sharpen your focus on what that narrative destiny is all about is to ask…

Who would my Protagonist become if this story does not happen?

Here’s what I’d like to see in comments: Take one of your favorite movies and pose that question about the story’s Protagonist. See what you come up with.

Then try it with the story you’re working on now.

Black List writers on the craft: Story Concepts (Part 1)

August 3rd, 2015 by

Over the years, I have interviewed over 40 Black List screenwriters. This month, I will run a series featuring one topic per week related to the craft of writing.

Black List logo

This week: How do you come up with story concepts?

In this first set of responses, the writers take a more ‘naturalistic’ approach which is to say they wait for inspiration to strike them:

Aaron Guzikowski: “I don’t have a specific way of doing it. Something occurs to you while you’re driving down the street, and it just seems like a good idea. I think anything that presents itself in my brain as something that I’d like to see on‑screen, and then you just want to make it real so you can see it. It’s all very selfish.”

Michael Werwie: “I think the more observational you can be in the world, the more open you’ll be to ideas in whatever form. I often put ideas together in the shower, or driving, or random moments when I least expect it. I think when an idea has story potential, it’s something that sticks with you. I’ll often carry it in my head, sometimes for a few years before I actually get to breaking a full story.”

James DiLapo: “It hits me. I don’t go looking for them, they come looking for me. I find that the entry point for me typically, is the setting, and the world. Getting a chance to live in that place, and flesh out the characters and story within it, is where I get the most rush.”

Kyle Killen: “I wish I knew where I found things – I’d look there more often. Notions, ideas, thoughts, they just sort of come to you all the time and some stick around long enough that you decide you should try to do something with them.”

Eric Heisserer: “If I could figure that out then I would be able repeat that process ad nauseam until I had a giant library of ideas. I don’t know how they come or where they come from. Sometimes I’m seized by one in the middle of the night. Sometimes it’s a slow accumulation of different little pieces that Voltron up to give me a story. Sometimes it’s during a conversation or an argument. It happens at random times. They can show up in my brain fully formed, or I have to work long and hard at it. The end product is no better or worse, but there doesn’t seem to be one way to map the genesis of an idea. I guess that’s probably good, because if there were then a lot more people would do this, and I don’t need the competition.”

Stephanie Shannon: “I don’t have a set method. I’m trying to be better about actively looking, reading articles and listening to NPR, that sort of thing. I know people do that, and I want to do more of that. I find that if I try to think of ideas like it’s a job, then it’s more difficult. That’s one of the things I want to work on, being more attuned and open to ideas and paying attention to potential stories around me.”

We’ve all been there, I suspect. Standing in a grocery line. Driving in our car. Out for a walk. When suddenly – wham! We get an idea. Perhaps it’s a concept which immediately suggests a story. Or maybe it’s merest seed of an idea which requires reflection to grow into an emerging narrative. But this spontaneous combustion, if you will, is absolutely one way story concepts come into being, a spark of inspiration seemingly out of nowhere.

For some writers, this may be all they need. However in a world of entertainment with so many different narrative platforms — movies, TV, web, books, social media — and a voracious appetite for new stories, the competition for the Next Big Thing is fierce.

What if you are the type of writer who does not naturally come up with story ideas? What if that sudden bolt of illumination is a rare commodity?

Tomorrow and for the rest of this week, we will learn how other Black List writers I have interviewed take a more proactive approach to generating story concepts, and the variety of ways they engage in that practice.

Which writers deserve a Hollywood Walk of Fame star?

July 31st, 2015 by

Yesterday I posted this, a campaign to get Raymond Chandler a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In the process of researching this project, this shocking fact came to light:

How many “solely” novelists or screenwriters have a star on the Walk of Fame?

Answer: None. All novelists and/or screenwriters on the Walk of Fame are also producers, directors, actors, or animators.

No writer has a star solely based on their writing? How absurd! When I tweeted the post, Travis Larson suggested this:

Great idea. Which screenwriter, TV writer, or novelist would YOU suggest get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?

For background, the Hollywood Walk of Fame comprises more than 2,500 five-pointed terrazzo and brass stars embedded in the sidewalks along 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street in Hollywood, California

As a reference point, you can go here to see a list of people who have stars, and here and here for some other websites about the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In another tweet, Travis suggested this writer: Dalton Trumbo. Check out his IMDb page, an astonishing roster of movies to which he contributed his writing expertise including Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Roman Holiday, The Brave One, Spartacus, Exodus, and Papillon. Plus he was one of the Hollywood Ten, blacklisted writers who were sentenced to one year in prison and forced to work incognito. There is a biopic coming out in 2016 called Trumbo starring Bryan Cranston at the writer. Yes, Trumbo deserves a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

39a) Older Dalton Trumbo photo

Dalton Trumbo

Here’s my suggestion: Anita Loos. She was the first screenwriter to emerge as an actual star, a darling of Hollywood tabloids. She has 137 writing credits on IMDb in a career which began in 1912 and spanned four decades. She even co-wrote a book on the craft called “How to Write Photoplays” (1920).

Anita Loos

How about you? Which writers should get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?

Help get Raymond Chandler a Hollywood Walk of Fame star

July 30th, 2015 by

I get hit up all the time to help promote a variety of causes. Normally the best I can do is offer a retweet. Otherwise the blog would become more like a clog… jammed with requests for money. But this one is different. Bill Boyle and Aaron Lerner have taken up a most worthy crowdfunding campaign: To get Raymond Chandler a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Some background from the IndieGoGo page:

The paperwork and approval process have been completed.  The Chandler Estate has given us their blessing, and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce has approved a star for him.

It’s about time that Chandler was honored.  His private detective, Philip Marlowe, remains one of the archetypes of the hard-boiled crime fiction genre and has  influenced generations of mystery writers.

It could be argued that Chandler created the Hollywood mystique, and if it were not for him there may not have been a Hollywood Walk of Fame.  His novels are the engine behind what was to become “Hollywood Noir.”  Chandler had an immense stylistic influence on American popular culture and, in particular, the Hollywood style of film noir.

His books have been turned into eighteen movies to date and three television series.  Chandler’s screenplays were no less noteworthy. Double Indemnity and The Blue Dahlia were Oscar-nominated for Best Screenplay,  and the critically acclaimed Strangers on a Train remains his great collaboration with Hitchcock.


How many “solely” novelists or screenwriters have a star on the Walk of Fame?

Answer: None. All novelists and/or screenwriters on the Walk of Fame are also producers, directors, actors, or animators.

Let’s make Raymond Chandler the first. He deserves it.

Raymond Chandler (seated) from the movie Double Indemnity
which he wrote with Billy Wilder

During our conversations with Aaron and Bill, I was surprised to discover these stars require private benefactors. This from Bill:

Yes, every star is paid for except the 1,500 ones that were first laid in 1959 paid for by a $1.25 Million tax assessment. After that there was a fee which I believe was initially $5,000 and has progressively increased.

Rarely do people buy the stars themselves. They are usually sponsored and paid for by the studios, production companies, recording companies and the ceremonies are coordinated to take place at the same time as a film or television series is launching.

This is why no screenwriters. In fact there isn’t even a writer emblem. The five existing emblems are; Film, Television, Radio, Recording and Live Theatre. Studios and networks don’t get much millage out of sponsoring a star for the screenwriter thus they were again ignored as were the writers whose work has played a huge role in motion picture production; J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Ian Fleming etc.

Seriously, no writer has a star solely based on their writing? Preposterous. But of all the writers to be ignored… Raymond Chandler? Here’s a promotional video Bill and Aaron put together which gets at the utter inanity of this situation:

I have featured Chandler on the blog before. For example, you can go here to listen to an amazing conversation in which Chandler is interviewed by none other than Ian Fleming. Yes, Ian “The name is Bond. James Bond” Fleming. You can go here to read a 1945 Atlantic Monthly essay penned by Chandler about his experiences in Hollywood. You can go here to read a letter Chandler wrote to Alfred Hitchcock. But perhaps what could really help sell this idea is to provide a few choice quotes from Chandler’s writing to remind us all of what a unique writing voice he had:

“To say goodbye is to die a little.” — The Long Goodbye

“From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.” — The High Window

“Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.” — The Big Sleep

“I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.” — Farewell, My Lovely

“He snorted and hit me in the solar plexus. I bent over and took hold of the room with both hands and spun it. When I had it nicely spinning I gave it a full swing and hit myself on the back of the head with the floor.” — Pearls are a Nuisance

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen.” — Red Wind: A Collection of Short Stories

Perhaps no writer captured the atmosphere of Los Angeles from that era better than Raymond Chandler. Think of film noir without his contributions. It’s literally unimaginable. Plus he was just a damn fine writer. If anyone deserves a star on Hollywood Boulevard, it’s Chandler.

Hence my support of this campaign. Here is how your money will be allocated:

More from Bill:

If there were no Raymond Chandler there would certainly be no Philip Marlowe and if there were no Philip Marlowe there would arguably be no Hollywood Noir or Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Currently of the 3,000 stars on the Walk of Fame there are none for a writer or screenwriter.

Let’s change that.

Today we begin our Indiegogo Campaign to get Ray a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. We need to raise $54,000 in 40 Days. With your help we can do this.

Below is the link to the Campaign. Check it out and review the amazing perks that we have put together for those who donate.

Everyone who makes a donation of any amount will receive a personalized certificate with a mock-up of the star that acknowledges your support in this campaign.

Here are the key links to help make this dream a reality.




IMDb: Raymond Chandler

If you’re an L.A. resident…

If you’re a fan of film noir…

If you’re a novelist, screenwriter, or TV writer…

If you’ve read and enjoyed Chandler’s novels and movies…

Step up like I’ve done: Contribute some money to see to it Raymond Chandler gets a deserved star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

There are 37 more days in the campaign to make this happen. Spread the word!

Go here now and make a contribution.

Do it for Ray.

Words of Wisdom from Hunter S. Thompson

July 23rd, 2015 by

July 18 was the birthday of writer Hunter S. Thompson. There were a surprising amount of tribute pieces and mentions of him on that day, among them an item which included a bunch of his quotes. Here are two I thought especially relevant for writers:

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’

When we type FADE OUT on a script after however many drafts it’s taken us to reach The End, I think we should feel something akin to what Thompson described above:

So we shall let the reader answer this question for himself: who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?

Oh, yes. If a person feels the Siren’s creative call, to do anything less than follow it, regardless where it leads, is a tragedy. We have one life. One. To ignore our Bliss is a loss. But to follow it is a gain… of limitless measure.

“Buy the ticket. Take the ride.” That’s not only something Hunter S. Thompson said, it’s the title of a documentary about the writer and progenitor of Gonzo journalism. To see the doc, go here.

For the article featuring a bunch of Thompson quotes about life, go here.

One Key to Character Development: Get Curious

July 14th, 2015 by

In my current Prep: From Concept to Outline workshop, the online message board discussion was about subplots. In the workshop, we explore my principle on that subject: Subplot = Relationship. By identifying key characters and their relationships, we zero in on them as subplots, each with their own specific Beginning-Middle-Ending arc and impact on the story’s central plot.

One of the workshop’s writers in commenting on another writer’s story provided several great questions about some of that story’s characters in terms of who they are, why they are, how they are, and so forth. Here is my response:

Thanks, Christine, for your post as it not only raises some good questions for Will to ask about several subplot relationships, it also points out the importance of curiosity for the process of character development. Note how you list a number of questions. That is curiosity put into action. Questions provide windows into the lives of characters, revealing inner states of mind and emotion, as well as personal history and backstory.

So when you have an impression about some aspect of a character – let’s say, you get a sense they are an introvert – ask: Why is she an introvert? How does being an introvert impact her social life? Does she like being an introvert? Does she wish she could change? Is her introversion innate to her as part of her nature or is it a characteristic forced upon her by life circumstances? If the latter, what are those life circumstances? Does her introversion impact the way she speaks? Does her introversion impact the way she has feelings or even allows herself to have feelings?

All that and more based on a single impression. Obviously, the questions here lead to other impressions of the character which lead to other questions. Pretty soon, you have a fleshed-out sense of the character, one that will almost assuredly influence the emergence of the story’s plot via her relationship with other characters.

That’s what curiosity can do for you in terms of developing characters.

Here’s a great quote from Tarantino: “I need to know where these people [his story’s characters] come from. It’s a universe I’m creating, and I have to know my universe backward, forward, and sideways. The audience doesn’t need to know, but they need to know I know.”

The bridge to that level of understanding is questions you ask about and of your characters.

So one key to character development: Get curious.

Questions can be amazing tools in both character development and crafting a story. And curiosity is the engine that empowers the question-answer process.

“There are no original story ideas, only original ways to tell them”

July 3rd, 2015 by

Last week, we had a terrific discussion about the movie Ex Machina. In it, Marija Nielsen made this comment:

My takeaway is that this movie beautifully demonstrates my belief that there are no original story ideas, only original ways to tell them. We should always look for various ways into the story we want to tell and try out different walking shoes, even if they clash completely with the clothes we wear. That is the only way we can find the diamonds.

To which I responded with this:

Marija, you hit this one square on the head:

“…there are no original story ideas, only original ways to tell them.”

Story ideas have all been done before. However…

The crafting of the story structure. The shaping of each character. The presence of our voice. The exploration of various themes. Pace, scenes, atmosphere, tone, and all the rest, those specific ways we bring a story to life are our conduits for originality.

That’s an excellent takeaway… and sounds like a blog post waiting to happen!

Name one movie released in 2015 that is utterly and wholly original, a story which has never been told before. There are none. Every basic premise or plot, story conceit or idea has been told or used before.

That’s the ‘similar’ part of Hollywood’s business theory: Similar But Different.

The ‘different’ part comes in when we, as writers, put our individual stamp on the material, hopefully reflecting an “original way” to tell the story.

In all honesty, I find this freeing. We are freed from trying to generate a new story idea because there are no new ones. On top of that, what we can bring to a script is something we can grow and control: Our voice. That’s where the originality comes into play.

So cheer up! Every story’s been done before. Now go about the business of discovering what is uniquely ‘you’ as a writer, then bring that awareness to bear on the stories you write.

HT to Marija Nielsen for her observation.

“Effective Feedback: The Little Known Secret To Pixar’s Creative Success”

July 2nd, 2015 by

Ed Catmull, one of Pixar’s founders, came out with a book last year called “Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration”. I’ve got it and have it in my To Read stack. In the meantime, here is an overview via Digital Tonto of one section of the book focusing on feedback. Catmull makes four points on the subject:

Every Idea Starts Out As An Ugly Baby

People tend to think that great works are born out of sublime inspiration.  There may be some truth to that, but it’s only a small part of the story.  Catmull calls Pixar’s initial ideas “ugly babies,” because they start out, “awkward and unformed, vulnerable and incomplete.” Not everyone can see what those ugly babies can grow into.


Feedback Requires Candor, Trust And Empathy

While rushing to judgment can stop the creative process in its tracks, excessive positivity can be just as bad.  The only way an ugly baby idea can get better is through honest feedback. You have to identify problems before you can solve them and the sooner that happens, the better.  Every creator has to face hard truths.

However, that requires trust.  An idea is never just an idea, but also a part of the person who puts it forward.


Keeping The Cooks Out Of The Kitchen

One of the key principles of creativity is that you want to take ideas from everywhere.  Truly original ideas never come from any one place, but from synthesizing disparate domains and applying them to a new context.  However, while casting a wide net is great for generating ideas, it’s often fatal for developing them


At Pixar, there is a group called the “braintrust,” made up of a small group of the company’s top directors and producers that is charged with giving feedback to films in development. Importantly, everyone on the braintrust is a filmmaker and is capable of putting themselves in a director’s shoes.


The Purpose Of Feedback Is To Move The Project Forward

One of the most interesting things that Catmull had to say was that, although he had met an extraordinary amount of creative geniuses—and I would assume he included Steve Jobs in that group—he had never met “a single one who could articulate what it was that they were striving for when they started.”

Not a single one.

Often, feedback sessions are seen as a chance for people to give their input.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The purpose of creative feedback is to move the project forward. Anything that does not fulfill that purpose—not matter who it comes from—has no place in a feedback session.

Every single one of these points is directly relevant to the story-crafting process of a screenwriter, TV writer, novelist, any storyteller.

* We have to accept the fact that our stories are imperfect, sometimes significantly so. We ought not look at this as a reason to quit the story, rather we should call it what it is: A starting point.

* We have to be willing and able to receive honest feedback, no matter how tough it is to hear. That said, we have to trust the creative instincts of the people providing the critique.

* Feedback from too many sources can be ruinous as disparate takes on the material can lead to nothing but confusion, so we should seek out reactions from a small group of readers we trust or a respected evaluator of scripted content.

* We need to suss out the intention of the people critiquing our stories because believe it or not, there are a lot of a-holes out there who get their kicks by deriding scripts and degrading writers. Seek out people who will be honest, who we can trust, and who we know are offering feedback in the spirit of advancing our project toward a better draft.

One approach: Become part of a writers group. Not your friends, family, or inexperienced writers, but people who know Story, and qualify per Catmull’s advice.

If you can’t source a writers group, I can recommend the workshops and classes at Screenwriting Master Class. Our philosophy of constructive critique exemplifies the four points noted above. Moreover you not only get peer feedback, but also comprehensive comments from Tom Benedek or myself.

Then the bonus: Many of our workshop writers go on to create writers groups. It’s something Tom and I actively encourage. There are writers who took online classes with me over a decade ago who still have ongoing writers groups.

Writing is rewriting and feedback is one of the crucial aspects of that process. Ed Catmull has articulated the spirit of the Pixar approach and it’s one we, as writers, ought to try to emulate as part of our own feedback system.

For the rest of the Digital Tonto post, go here.

HT to Deborah Salter Kawaguchi for a link to the article.

Another Story Idea Straight from the News

June 30th, 2015 by

Every April for six consecutive years, I have run a monthly series called A Story Idea Each Day for a Month. It’s exactly like it sounds: I post a story idea every day for 30 days in a row. We brainstorm possible ways to take each story, then I give them away for free.

The one thing they all have in common: My source for each story idea is the news. Here are links to 180 story ideas I’ve surfaced via various news services over the last 6 years:

Which leads me to this recent news article from the Daily Mail: ‘I am the Watcher. Bring me young blood’: Family forced out of $1.3m dream home after being targeted by terrifying stalker.

A New Jersey family say they’ve been forced out of their luxury home by a stalker who identifies himself as the home’s ‘Watcher’ in letters threatening their children’s safety.

Maria and Derek Broaddus began receiving letters last month – just days after closing on the $1.3million dream home in the idyllic community of Westfield.

‘Why are you here? I will find out,’ the letter read.

‘My grandfather watched the house in the 1920s and my father watched in the 1960s. It is now my time. Do you need to fill the house with the young blood I requested?’

The letter is signed ‘The Watcher’.

I had already flagged this story for next April’s series, then this: Hollywood Eyes “The Watcher” – True Scare Story Packaged Around Town.

In a nightmarish story straight out of a horror film, a New Jersey family was forced to leave their idyllic dream home after becoming tormented by a terrifying stalker who calls themselves “The Watcher.” In two days, the macabre report made national headlines and has already captivated Hollywood interest. I’m hearing that in a mad scramble to be the first out of the gate, several packages are being shopped all over town, with names like James Wan and Bryan Bertino in the mix. Sources confirm that interest is swelling and the project is taking shape at the likes of Blumhouse Productions, Dimension Films, New Line Cinema, and Universal. Several different takes on the true terror tale are being pitched across the board, some unofficially, with rights still up in the air.

While it looks like I won’t be able to include this story in the 2016 version of A Story Idea Each Day for a Month, assuming it gets set up as movie deal, the larger point is this:


It is virtually impossible to overstate the importance and value of a strong story concept for a spec script. The best way to find a great one is to generate a lot of them. And one source for story ideas: The news.

All you need to do is be a watcher…

Of the news, that is.