Break your story in prep

September 29th, 2014 by

Have you ever started a script and not finished it?

Has it ever taken you 4, 5, 6 months or more to finish a script?

Have you ever gotten so lost when writing a story, you became incredibly frustrated?

Chances are you did not do enough story preparation.

Don’t you think it’s time to approach writing like most professionals do and break your story in prep?

Screenwriting Master Class offers a 6-week online Prep: From Concept to Outline writing workshop, a unique approach to develop your story, enabling you to crack it before you type FADE IN.

The beauty of this approach is three-fold:

  • You can go into the page-writing part of the process with confidence because you’ve already broken the story.
  • Since you won’t be overwhelmed with finding the story when writing pages, you can focus your creativity where it should be — characters, dialogue, themes, mood, pace, etc.
  • By devoting six weeks to prep, you will almost assuredly cut the overall amount of time you spend writing your script and increase the odds you will finish your draft.

Here are a few testimonials from writers who have participated in the Prep: From Concept to Outline online workshop:

“‘From Concept to Outline’ is a course I wish I had known about a couple of years ago. I would recommend this whole-heartedly for anyone who is about to embark on their first script or ANY script. This lays the foundation stone to your story.” – Camilla Castree

“This has been an outstanding class. I’ve taken a few from other sources and most don’t live up to their promises (they shall remain nameless). But here, I’ve learned so much and gotten way more than my money’s worth.” — Daniel O’Donahue

“I went into Scott’s Prep class doubting I’d ever finish a script; I came out with the tools, confidence and inspiration to power through a complete first draft in just a few months. Amazing!” — Jessica Sada

In the nearly four years I’ve been teaching through Screenwriting Master Class, I’ve led multiple Prep workshops as it has proved to be one of the most popular classes we offer. Why? Because it works! If you fully engage yourself in the six stages of this process, you will end up with an outline you can use as a springboard for writing your screenplay.

Moreover I hear from writers frequently who have taken the workshop, how they continue to adapt and use it on other stories. I’m not saying it’s the way to break a story, however it has proved to be a viable approach for many writers.

What the workshop consists of:

* Six lectures written by me

* Six writing assignments which take you from a Protagonist Character Treatment all the way to a Narrative Throughline outline

* Six due dates to spur you to make progress on your story

* Online forums with feedback from myself and your fellow writers

* Weekly teleconferences for yet more feedback

In other words, a structure which steers you through the prep-writing process… from concept to outline.

I will be leading just 1 more session in 2014 starting October 27. Here’s your chance to give yourself a holiday gift: A fully worked-out story into which you can leap on January 1st, a great way to start the New Year typing FADE IN with confidence you know where you’re going.

For more information, go here.

As always, Tom and I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!

The mysteries of writing dialogue

September 8th, 2014 by

There are many intangibles about the craft of screenwriting. Much of that derives from the fact that story itself is organic. Stories — good ones, at least — are not formulas. They are not widgets. Rather they are living, breathing entities with a heart, soul, and even will of their own. They slip and slide as we develop and write them, creating a series of challenges as we try our best to solve their mysteries.

Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than with dialogue. When I pose the question, “How do you write dialogue” to professional screenwriters, the most common response is basically this: I don’t know.

Common advice as to how to learn to write good dialogue:

* Listen to real-life conversations to get a sense of how people talk.

* Read scripts and watch movies – or better yet listen to moviesin order to grasp the feel and flow of film characters talking.

* Simply keep writing, that the more you pound out pages and knock out original screenplays, you will develop your ear for dialogue.

All of those are reasonable points. But aren’t there principles and practices we can learn to help bring into focus a writer’s ability to craft compelling, entertaining and effective dialogue?

That was my thinking when I sat down to create the fifth class in the Core curriculum – Core V: Dialogue.

As with everything I teach about screenwriting, it starts with character. Isn’t it obvious the more you know and understand about your story’s characters, the more likely their respective voices will emerge into your consciousness?

Beyond that, it’s not just about hearing them, it’s about choosing the most impactful dialogue to support the point of each scene and drive the plot forward.

Hence the fifth Essential Screenwriting Principle: Dialogue = Purpose.

In a screenplay, there is almost zero room for extraneous dialogue, rather every line should tie into the Plotline and/or Themeline.

In Core V: Dialogue, we dig deep into this subject through 6 lectures I have written:

Lecture 1: Introduction to Dialogue
Lecture 2: Finding Your Character’s Voice – Inward Journey
Lecture 3: Finding Your Character’s Voice – Outward Expression
Lecture 4: Subtext
Lecture 5: What Is Not Said
Lecture 6: Realistic Dialogue

In addition there are several Insider Tips, analysis of several movie scripts, opportunities to workshop dialogue in some of your own original scenes, a 75-minute teleconference, and much more.

A testimonial from a writer:

“Scott is so generous with sharing his knowledge and it’s a great blessing to those of us who are just starting off/been doing it for years/need a reminder/need inspiration. I just completed the Core Dialogue course and I can honestly say he delivers back your investment threefold.” — Sabina Giado

There is no right way to write. Every writer is different. Every story is different. And you can learn everything you need to know about the craft of screenwriting by doing three things: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages.

However if you want to explore the subject of dialogue in an immersive fashion and from a distinct character-based perspective, I invite you to join me for this 1-week online class which begins Monday, September 15.

For more information, go here.

Why haven’t you finished that script?

September 2nd, 2014 by

You know, that story you’ve been kicking around for months. Maybe it’s pretty well worked out, but you just can’t summon up the energy to type FADE IN. Or you have a partial draft and you’re stuck, not sure which way to go. Or a story concept you think has strong potential, but you’re battling your own Voices Of Negativity…

The simple fact is an unfinished script is nothing but potential. And nothing but potential is… nothing.

Maybe what you could use is this.

* A structured environment with actual due dates to inspire you to knock out pages.

* A workshop where you receive constructive feedback from a group of writing peers.

* A mentor who is a professional screenwriter and educator to accompany you on your writing journey.

That’s what we offer at Screenwriting Master Class with our Pages I: The First Draft workshop. 10 lectures [written by me] to spur your creativity, 10 teleconferences to review your pages, 10 due dates to motivate you to get from FADE IN to FADE OUT.

If you are comfortable with the sequence approach to screenwriting, you will feel right at home in this course.

If your grasp of story structure is a weak point, this workshop will help you ground your understanding.

If you have trouble finding the discipline to deposit your ‘derriere on chair’ and write, Pages I takes that problem on in a direct, practical and supportive manner.

Some thoughts by writers on the singular importance of the first draft:

“Then comes the great leap which is the first draft, I call it ‘the muscle draft,’ where you just muscle it out. You don’t worry about what you’re missing, you just get through it, get to the end.” — Darren Aronofsky

“Even if you write it wrong, write and finish your first draft. Only then, when you have a flawed whole, do you know what you have to fix.” — Dominick Dunne

“The first draft is nothing more than a starting point, so be wrong as fast as you can.” — Andrew Stanton

“Sometimes you’re swinging your way through a first draft like a blind miner with a pick-axe. That’s OK. Get it done, nothing else matters.” — Justin Marks

“First drafts are for learning what your story is about.” — Bernard Malamud

Winding Road Final

If you’re looking to go on that unique journey of discovery which is a first draft and could use the structure of an online workshop to help guide you through the process, go here to learn more about Pages I.

Our last session for 2014 begins Monday, September 8, so this is a great chance to make this year count in terms of your creative work.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!

Style = Voice

August 25th, 2014 by

How you approach screenwriting style is a reflection of your writing voice. This is the case whether you are intentional about it or not. A professional script reader, who plows through hundreds of scripts per year, will pick up on a script’s sense of style – or lack thereof – from the very first line of scene description. Therefore it stands to reason you need to think about your writing voice as conveyed in your script’s style. And that is what Core IV: Style is all about, exploring the breadth and depth of the 4th essential screenwriting principle I teach in the Core content of The Quest:

Style = Voice

Start with this question: Who tells your story? Obviously, when you sit down to create a screenplay, you write the story. But when a manager, producer, agent, or studio executive reads your script, who tells your story to them?

It is someone who remains largely invisible, but whose presence is felt from FADE IN to FADE OUT. Someone about whom many screenwriters have little knowledge and yet traffic in that unseen world every time they write a scene. Someone who can make a screenplay a great read – or something less.

Let’s call it Narrative Voice.

Narrative Voice is not a narrator per se. You will never see it with its own side of dialogue. In fact, you will never name it in your screenplay. But Narrative Voice is there. And it is a critical aspect of your script’s success.

What is Narrative Voice?

Narrative Voice is the storytelling sensibility you bring to your screenplay through your writing style. Think of Narrative Voice as your script’s invisible character. Although silent, it is present in every scene, every line, every word you write. As you develop and sharpen each visible character in your screenplay, you also need to figure out who your Narrative Voice is, what your Narrative Voice sounds like, and how your Narrative Voice will play an active role in the telling of your story.

In Core IV: Style, a 1-week online class I will teach starting on Monday, September 1, you will learn about:

* The ins and outs of Narrative Voice

* Elements of screenplay style

* Psychological writing (Perspective, Proximity, Perception)

* Imagematic writing (Verbs, Descriptors, Poetics)

* Action writing (Lines, Paragraphs, Direction)

And much more. The course consists of four components:

  • Lectures: There are six lectures written by me, each posting Monday through Saturday.
  • Writing Exercises: These optional exercises offer you the opportunity to test out your own writing style, plus the chance to workshop and receive feedback on one of your own loglines.
  • Teleconference: We will have a Skype teleconference call to discuss course material.
  • Forums: The online course site has forums where you may post questions / comments.

Our study scripts: Wall-E, The Hangover, The Dark Knight, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Last Boy Scout, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Chinatown, The Matrix, Black Swan, Legally Blonde, American Beauty, Little Miss Sunshine, Basic Instinct, Unforgiven, True Grit, The King’s Speech, and Winter’s Bone.

For those of you who have not taken an online class, the interface is extremely easy. Plus online classes can be an amazing experience. Most of the activities you can do on your own time — download and read lectures, review and respond to forum discussions, upload loglines and track comments. In addition, I’ve been teaching online for over a decade and it never ceases to amaze me how much of a community emerges in such an environment.

Core IV: Style is one of eight classes in the Core curriculum. Here is the schedule for the remaining five classes, the only time I will be offering these courses in 2013:

September 1: Core IV: Style

September 15: Core V: Dialogue

October 27: Core VI: Scene

November 10: Core VII: Theme

December 2: Core VIII: Time

Choose one or two depending upon your interests and needs. Or if you’re really serious and want to save some coin (nearly 50% off), consider The Core Package which gives you immediate access to the content for all eight Core classes which you can go through at your own pace, as well as the option of taking each 1-week online course.

“When I found out about Scott Myers’ Screenwriting Master Class, I signed up for the first module, to test the waters, but before the week was out, I’d signed up for the rest [The Core Package]. Wish I’d known about it all those years ago! Value for money, solid understandable notes, a teacher who’s been there and done it, plus swapping ideas with fellow writers – it doesn’t get any more real.” — Philip Brewster

I have gotten to know dozens of professional script readers throughout the years and I can let you in on this little secret: A writer’s voice as exhibited in screenplay style goes a long way toward winning them over and getting you favorable script coverage.

For information on Core IV: Style, which begins September 1, go here.

For The Core Package, go here.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!

The First 15 Pages

August 19th, 2014 by

A guest post from Tom Benedek, screenwriter (Cocoon), educator and co-founder of Screenwriting Master Class.

Structure is everything. Perhaps. Breaking down the moving parts of the opening pages of the best screenplays yields a means to understanding their creative DNA. Putting all those pieces together — character intros, plot points, color of setting — is job one.

AND there is that other realm of it — writing style. Emotional attitude. Tone.

As I start writing the first script pages on a new project, I want two things to be going on. I need to get all this information about the story and the characters set in motion and I want to engage my reader emotionally. One and the same? Yes and no. All the ingredients for a wonderful script may be in the writer’s mind, in notes, in outline form. But the means, the voice on the page has to deliver all that and build this special emotional bridge with the reader.

Bringing your own unique voice into your screenwriting work is crucial and difficult. You can’t direct on the page. But you can emphatically present the moments of the story from your own point of view, bring your emotions to the piece. Simultaneously, the job is just tell the damn story. But this trick of keeping the voice of the storyteller in there somehow matters.

“In the broadest possible sense, writing well means to communicate clearly and interestingly and in a way that feels alive to the reader. Where there’s some kind of relationship between the writer and the reader — even though it’s mediated by a kind of text — there’s an electricity about it.” — David Foster Wallace

Creating that “electricity” is so difficult and essential. Your passion for your story and characters may just offer all that from the beginning. For most of us, it becomes necessary to labor over the words – to create that electricity in the text.

“Writing well in the sense of writing something interesting and urgent and alive, that actually has calories in it for the reader — the reader walks away having benefited from the 45 minutes she put into reading the thing — maybe isn’t hard for a certain few. I mean, maybe John Updike’s first drafts are these incredible . . . Apparently Bertrand Russell could just simply sit down and do this. I don’t know anyone who can do that. For me, the cliché that ‘Writing that appears effortless takes the most work’ has been borne out through very unpleasant experience.” — David Foster Wallace

Most of us mortals, David Foster Wallace included, are forced to manufacture that electricity in rewrite. It may be there in fits and starts (or everywhere, bless you) in that first draft. Mainly, it is just essential to start out mindful of what you want and to have thought through the main ingredients of your script. So they will be evident in those first 15 pages you rough out. You won’t find your voice unless you start writing. So — you have to get those first 15 pages into script form. Then, you can edit them and reinforce your emotional bridge with the reader.

I will be teaching a one-week online class at Screenwritingmasterclass.com next week: The First 15 Pages. There will be plenty of consideration of the essential structural ingredients — character building, plot development techniques, etc. for the opening pages. The class will also consider the practice of writing – finding your voice, fulfilling your creative mandate as you write or rewrite the first 15 pages of any script project. By reviewing the essentials in a few great scripts, you will see where the magic is — along with the sound structural fundamentals. Here is the link to the class.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!

Tom is a wonderful writer and teacher, and this is the type of learning experience that is crucial to the craft: Learning how to get into your story setup in an effective and entertaining way. So I encourage you to check out Tom’s new class here.

Character = Function

July 28th, 2014 by

In a screenplay, characters exist for a reason. Unlike a novel, a writer doesn’t have unlimited time to introduce characters willy nilly, rather the limitations of a script’s length compels us to handle characters with one eye always on how they connect to the plot. Moreover almost all movies feature a Protagonist who goes through some sort of metamorphosis. As a result, it’s almost certain all of the primary and even secondary characters in a story tie into and support the Protagonist’s transformation.

All of this translates into a 3rd essential screenwriting principle I teach in the Core curriculum:

Character = Function

This may sound reductionist. It is precisely the opposite. Much like an actor asks, “What’s my motivation,” digging down into the core of their character’s persona, so, too, do we as screenwriters delve into characters to determine what their core essence is and how that plays out in terms of their respective narrative functions. Once we make those discoveries, we can shape our characters in unlimited ways, all the while playing to how they function in relation to the narrative.

That is the starting point of Core III: Character, a 1-week online class I will be teaching starting on Monday, August 4. In this course, you will learn about:

* Five primary character archetypes: Protagonist, Nemesis, Attractor, Mentor, Trickster

* Protagonist Metamorphosis Arc

* Nemesis as opposition and ‘shadow’

* Attractor as the character most connected to a Protagonist’s emotional development

* Mentor as the character most connected to a Protagonist’s intellectual development

* Trickster as the character who tests the Protagonist’s will

* Different Protagonist paradigms

* Working with archetypes and switching Protagonists

And much more. The course consists of four components:

  • Lectures: There are six lectures written by me, each posting Monday through Saturday.
  • Writing Exercises: These optional exercises offer you the opportunity to workshop one of your own loglines and receive feedback from class members.
  • Teleconference: We will have a Skype teleconference call to discuss course material, a great opportunity to interface directly with me and other writers in the course.
  • Forums: The online course site has message boards where you may post questions / comments, almost always a place where remarkable conversations and analysis takes place.

We will analyze the following movies: The Wizard of Oz, The Apartment, The Silence of the Lambs, Slumdog Millionaire, Citizen Kane, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Life Is Beautiful,

For those of you who have not taken an online class, the interface is extremely easy. Plus online classes can be an amazing experience. Most of the activities you can do on your own time — download and read lectures, review and respond to forum discussions, upload loglines and track comments. In addition, I’ve been teaching online for over a decade and it never ceases to amaze me how much of a community emerges in such an environment.

Core III: Character is one of eight classes in the Core curriculum. Here is the schedule for all of them this summer and fall, the only time I will be offering these courses in 2014:

July 7 – Core I: Plot
July 21 – Core II: Concept
August 4 – Core III: Character
September 1 – Core IV: Style
September 15 – Core V: Dialogue
October 27 – Core VI: Scene
November 10 – Core VII: Theme
December 2 – Core VIII: Time

Choose one or two depending upon your interests and needs. Or if you’re really serious and want to save some coin (nearly 50% off), consider The Core Package which gives you immediate access to the content for all eight Core classes which you can go through at your own pace, as well as the option of taking each 1-week online course.

“Joining Scott’s class is one of the best decisions anyone could make when deciding to embark on the journey of writing a screenplay. His passion for teaching and screenwriting could not be more inspirational. I couldn’t wish for a better teacher and mentor!” — Theodora von Auersperg

“Your unique lectures helped me think about character in new ways, and will inevitably change the way I approach new ideas and outlines. And I’m blown away and impressed at the level of personal feedback/communication from you. I don’t know how you do it– androids couldn’t manage their time more efficiently than you.” — Bob Corsi

I have spent years studying Carl Jung, who was a huge influence on Joseph Campbell, and as the Hero’s Journey may act as a paradigm for narrative generally, I am convinced there is a similar universality in movies relative to these five character archetypes. Moreover these archetypes are a key to character-based screenwriting, providing writers a non-formulaic way to engage the story-crafting process.

For information on Core III: Character, which begins August 4, go here.

For The Core Package, go here.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!

The Physics of Story Concepts

July 24th, 2014 by

One of the aspects of teaching that is fascinating to me is how situations arise which engender new metaphors and takes on content that not only enlighten the writers who take my courses, but also provide new insights for me. For example in my current Core II: Concept class, the title of Lecture 1 is “The Concept of High Concept”. In that lecture, I posit this:

Most people in Hollywood would probably define ‘high concept’ this way: A story that can be summed up in 1-2 lines. However just because you can summarize a story in a few lines does not necessarily mean it’s a high concept. For example the description, “A manipulative woman and a roguish man carry on a turbulent love affair in the American South during the Civil War and Reconstruction” does not make Gone With The Wind a high concept movie. It isn’t. In fact the film is in some ways the antithesis of high concept because it is a sprawling epoch featuring dozens of characters, numerous semi-independent subplots, and a multitude of themes. It’s also proof a movie does not have to be a high concept to be both great and successful.

No, in defining ‘high concept,’ we need to be more specific: A story idea that can be summed up in 1-2 lines. A high concept movie must have a clean, simple, and basic idea.

We can even go more granular by talking about story-conceit, which I would define as the “central premise of the story.” With the movie K-9, it was the premise of a human cop teamed up with a dog cop. With Inception, it’s the premise that people can enter into other people’s dream states. With Groundhog Day, it’s the premise that someone has to relive a day over and over again.

One of the writers in the class, Rob Hoskins, asked if I could clarify the idea of a story-conceit. As I was thinking about how to approach my answer, I was struck by an example from the field of physics. Here was my response:

Consider the shape of an atom:

Imagine the path of the electron, that circle, is your logline. It’s longer, more expansive 20-25 words.

Now imagine the nucleus at the center of the atom. That is your conceit. It’s what is at the heart of the logline, the most basic narrative elements, perhaps 4-6 words.

So let’s consider the logline for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: “A troubled child summons the courage to help a friendly alien escape Earth and return to his home-world.” That’s the circular electron shell.

What would be the nucleus, the most basic narrative element? How about this:

Boy befriends alien.

It’s that single identifiable and unique aspect of the story that lies at the foundation of the narrative, the center of the atom, if you will.

How about It’s a Wonderful Life: “An angel helps a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman by showing what life would have been like if he never existed.”

What’s the conceit, the nucleus at the center of the atom?

What if you never had been born?

As you generate, assess and develop story concepts, one angle to focus on is that granular level which I suggest we can call story-conceit: The single, identifiable element that hooks a reader/listener (this ties into my principle: Concept = Hook).

One way to think about it is physics: If the logline is the electron shell, the story-conceit is the nucleus.

Consider the story you’re working on now: What is the conceit? What is the story’s nucleus? That single element that is the very foundation of your story’s narrative appeal?

I don’t know about you, but the response from participants in my Core II: Concept class was immediate. This metaphor crystallized everything. They got it. And so did I in a new and refreshing way.

The thing is this type of illumination and education goes on all the time in my classes, the result of conversations between writers and myself. Never ceases to amaze me.

Note: As I made clear in the class, a writer doesn’t have to traffic in high concepts to succeed at the craft. It is, however, the lifeblood of the Hollywood development system and has been for decades. So at the very least, it’s beneficial to understand that mindset.

Concept = Hook

July 14th, 2014 by

Whatever degree of importance you attribute to your script’s story concept… it’s probably not enough. Here’s how I begin Lecture 1 of my Core II: Concept class:

The foundation of any movie is the screenplay. The foundation of any screenplay is the concept. Therefore it stands to reason which story concept you develop and write as a script is a critical choice. And that is precisely why I created the second part of the Core curriculum – to understand how movie industry insiders think, provide you with proven methods to generate story concepts, and develop analytical skills to help you decide which ideas are the most viable ones for you to write.

Don’t believe me? How about this:

“Most aspiring screenwriters simply don’t spend enough time choosing their concept. It’s by far the most common mistake I see in spec scripts. The writer has lost the race right from the gate. Months — sometimes years — are lost trying to elevate a film idea that by its nature probably had no hope of ever becoming a movie.”

– Terry Rossio (Aladdin, The Mask of Zorro, Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl)

Ideas cost NOTHING and require ZERO risk. And yet, oddly, the LEAST amount of time’s usually spent in the idea stage before a small fortune is dumped on a whimsy that’s still half-baked… Ideas cost nothing yet have the potential to yield inexplicably long careers and happy lives.”

– Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Zak and Miri Make a Porno)

In the Core content of The Quest, we work with eight screenwriting principles, and the second one is this:

Concept = Hook

On Monday, July 21, I will begin teaching Core II: Concept. In this 1-week online course, you will learn:

* The lowdown on high concept

* Genre, Cross Genres and Sub-Genres

* Hollywood’s obsession with ‘similar but different’

* Brainstorming and recycling

* Gender bending and genre bending

* How to test your story concept

And much more. The course consists of four components:

  • Lectures: There are six lectures written by me, each posting Monday through Saturday.
  • Writing Exercises: These optional exercises offer you the opportunity to workshop one of your own loglines and receive feedback from class members and myself.
  • Teleconference: We will have a Skype teleconference call to discuss course material.
  • Forums: The online course site has message boards where you may post questions / comments, a lively source of some great conversations.

For those of you who have not taken an online class, the interface is extremely easy. Plus online classes can be an amazing experience. Most of the activities you can do on your own time — download and read lectures, review and respond to forum discussions, upload loglines and track comments. In addition, I’ve been teaching online for over a decade and it never ceases to amaze me how much of a community emerges in such an environment with writers from all around the world including Europe, South America, Asia, and Africa.

Core II: Concept is one of eight classes in the Core curriculum. Here is the schedule for all of them this summer and fall, the only time I will be offering these courses in 2014:

July 7 – Core I: Plot
July 21 – Core II: Concept
August 4 – Core III: Character
September 1 – Core IV: Style
September 15 – Core V: Dialogue
October 27 – Core VI: Scene
November 10 – Core VII: Theme
December 2 – Core VIII: Time

Choose one or two depending upon your interests and needs. Or if you’re really serious and want to save some coin (nearly 50% off), consider The Core Package which gives you immediate access to the content for all eight Core classes which you can go through at your own pace, as well as the option of taking each 1-week online course.

I cannot overstate the importance of working with a strong story concept. Therefore Core II: Concept may be the single most important thing you do to put yourself in a position to succeed as a screenwriter.

For information on Core II: Concept, go here.

For The Core Package, go here.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!

“The Secret of Effective Motivation”

July 10th, 2014 by

A guest post from my colleague and friend Tom Benedek:

In approaching character development and story, we are always dividing things between the internal and external motivations of our characters. The protagonist deals with an external conflict AND an internal conflict. Generally, plot elements are in front. In constructing a story, it may be the plot that pops into our heads first. BUT, the motivation of our characters, the internal “Whys?” of what the plot means to them, will drive the story. Scott Myers and yours truly will keep repeating that character drives plot. We can use many examples from fine film stories, movies, scripts to make this point clear.

But, now we have some actual science on this. Yes, scientists have proved this in a set of experiments. In a study of cadets at West Point, the U.S. Military Academy, they found that more ultimately succeeded if they were internally engaged in the work they were doing for its own sake than if they were more concerned with just the result of their success. The scientists are calling them internal and instrumental motives.

Here is a small excerpt from the July 4, 2014 New York Times:

THE SECRET OF EFFECTIVE MOTIVATION

Here are two kinds of motive for engaging in any activity: internal and instrumental. If a scientist conducts research because she wants to discover important facts about the world, that’s an internal motive, since discovering facts is inherently related to the activity of research. If she conducts research because she wants to achieve scholarly renown, that’s an instrumental motive, since the relation between fame and research is not so inherent. Often, people have both internal and instrumental motives for doing what they do.

What mix of motives — internal or instrumental or both — is most conducive to success? You might suppose that a scientist motivated by a desire to discover facts and by a desire to achieve renown will do better work than a scientist motivated by just one of those desires. Surely two motives are better than one. But as we and our colleagues argue in a paper newly published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, instrumental motives are not always an asset and can actually be counterproductive to success.

We analyzed data drawn from 11,320 cadets in nine entering classes at the United States Military Academy at West Point, all of whom rated how much each of a set of motives influenced their decision to attend the academy. The motives included things like a desire to get a good job later in life (an instrumental motive) and a desire to be trained as a leader in the United States Army (an internal motive).

How did the cadets fare, years later? And how did their progress relate to their original motives for attending West Point?

We found, unsurprisingly, that the stronger their internal reasons were to attend West Point, the more likely cadets were to graduate and become commissioned officers.

Also unsurprisingly, cadets with internal motives did better in the military (as evidenced by early promotion recommendations) than did those without internal motives and were also more likely
to stay in the military after their five years of mandatory service — unless (and this is the surprising part) they also had strong instrumental motives.

So, scientific research seems to prove that character is more important than plot. Our readers/ audiences won’t stop caring about plot. But those twists and turns of story must be driven by strong internal character stories. Our characters need real and concrete reasons for how they behave within the constraints of the stories we spin. That’s what keeps people watching/reading. The other interesting thing that leaps out for me from this study – what we write must matter to us personally. Calculating what ought to work in the marketplace is not enough. We have to be internally motivated to write what we write. This is at the heart of the best storytelling.

No better way to grapple with all this, tell the story that you must tell and develop, of course, a solid story outline with great character hooks than the six-week Screenwritingmasterclass.com Prep: From Concept To Outline class. The next one starts next week: Wednesday, July 16.

I am looking forward to working fellow writers through this great curriculum this summer. You can have a solid story outline to start writing this Fall through the writing exercises in this class.

For more information on the Prep workshop, go here.

Plot = Structure

June 30th, 2014 by

A screenplay is a unique literary form. It both tells a story and serves as a blueprint to make a movie. As such, understanding structure is a critical component to the craft. Check out the observations of these screenwriting veterans:

“The reality is that the single most important thing contributed by the screenwriter is the story structure.”

– William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, The Princess Bride)

“The construction is the most important thing. It’s like building a house–you have to build the outside properly before you put the bits and pieces inside afterward. Get your story, get your architecture right, and you can always add your dialogue afterwards.”

– Charles Bennett (The 39 Steps, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea)

In the Core content of The Quest, we work with eight screenwriting principles, and the very first one is this:

Plot = Structure

On Monday, August 26, I will be starting a new cycle of Core classes, eight of them in all, beginning with Core I: Plot. In this 1-week online course, you will learn the importance of Plot = Structure as well as:

  • Key theoretical concepts from Aristotle, Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung
  • The reality of Hollywood and the “Whammo chart”
  • The External World and Internal World of a screenplay universe
  • Metamorphosis: Screenplay structure grounded in character
  • Analysis of movies including Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Silence of the Lambs, Shakespeare in Love, The Verdict, The Sixth Sense, Up, and others

And much more.

The course consists of four components:

  • Lectures: There are six lectures written by me, each posting Monday through Saturday.
  • Logline Workshop: This optional writing exercise offer you the opportunity to workshop one of your own loglines.
  • Teleconference: We will have a Skype teleconference call to discuss course material.
  • Forums: The online course site has forums where you may post questions and engage in conversation about the craft.

For those of you who have not taken an online class, the interface is extremely easy. Plus online classes can be an amazing experience. Most of the activities you can do on your own time — download and read lectures, review and respond to forum discussions, upload loglines and track comments. In addition, I’ve been teaching online for over a decade and it never ceases to amaze me how much of a community emerges in such an environment.

If you’re new to screenwriting, have intermediate experience, or you’ve read it all, but want to learn the basics of what I teach in The Quest — character based screenwriting — here is your chance to learn the foundation of screenplay structure that goes beyond formula.

Core I: Plot is one of eight classes in the Core curriculum. Here is the schedule for all of them this fall:

July 7 – Core I: Plot
July 21 – Core II: Concept
August 4 – Core III: Character
September 1 – Core IV: Style
September 15 – Core V: Dialogue
October 27 – Core VI: Scene
November 10 – Core VII: Theme
December 2 – Core VIII: Time

Choose one or two depending upon your interests and needs. Or if you’re really serious and want to save some coin (nearly 50% off), consider The Core Package which gives you immediate access to the content for all eight Core classes which you can go through at your own pace, as well as the option of taking each 1-week online course.

Go beyond formula and learn a character-based approach to screenwriting and screenplay structure.

For information on Core I: Plot, go here.

For The Core Package, go here.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!