Saturday, May 5, 2018

Miracles Don't Just Happen, and Neither Do Story Hooks.

Story hooks are very much like miracles. But unlike miracles, your audience won't take the hook on faith. You have to explain it.

I have been working on a non-fiction book that has a couple of chapters that deal with the intersection of miracles and natural law. It occurred to me that miracles are very much like story hooks.

What's a Miracle?

A miracle can be defined as any unique physical phenomenon that defies natural explanation and which appears to have some benefit to a person or group of persons. That definition is an attempt to separate incidents of fate, or natural catastrophes that harm humanity (e.g. tsunami, tornadoes, or ...falling branches—like the one that totaled my wife's car yesterday in our driveway) from a similarly fascinating natural event that saves a person's life or prevents catastrophe. While a tornado may level a house we would not call it a miracle. But the baby that is carried by that same tornado to a field 2 miles away and set down without serious injury—
The view out my office. NOT a miracle, unless it can be fixed.
—that's a miracle!

And of those two events (the house leveling tornado or the tornado as baby transporter) which is the story hook?  The baby for sure.

My examination of miracles for this book I'm the editor of (in which I find myself at times rewriting the material), has revealed that there are many ways miracles can be naturally explained, although such explanations are nearly as miraculous and as fanciful as the event itself. The explanations involve unseen hierarchy of the nature's laws, the hierarchy of species, coincident of event timing, and the intersection of spacial and time dimensions beyond those which we normally perceive (3 of space and the point-dimension of time).

Miracles (and perhaps story hooks, too) seem to have two common components:
  1. There is an instigation or incident from an outside trigger, and
  2. After the outside trigger natural physical laws take over. 
In other words, the idea that a miracle violates or breaks natural laws is probably a false concept. It appears that the unusual event is the trigger, after which Natural Law dominates. (Ah! Now, I'm sure some of you would argue with that. Well, hold on, there's more but I can only type one finger at a time.)

Do Miracles and Hooks Break with Nature?

Now, as I just stated, people of religious faith will challenge me on ideological grounds that miracles do not violate or break a natural law. They will claim that unless there are miracles that defy nature they aren't miracles, and if there are no such nature-defying events then religious faith is dead...and since we can't have that, miracles must defy, violate, or break with nature.  (So much for the circular reasoning of ideology. I prefer evidence, else one could believe in anything....really.)

I'm not going to try to defend religious faith here (although I have it, and I do believe in miracles), but let's examine some ideas and see the story potential in each. My point is that miracles are a good way to conceptualize story hooks...and likewise your hooks should be/could be/must be miraculous...with an explanation of a sort. 

Are These Miracles? Could they be Hooks?

A dandelion growing in the middle of the desert? We'd call that a miracle, but it's an event that can be explained. The miracle here is that a dandelion seed got into the desert mud. After that inciting incident, natural law took over...when the conditions were right we have a blooming dandelion.

We call the development of a human being in a mother's womb and its delivery, The Miracle of Birth, although biologists claim that it can all be least at some level. Frankly, science can explain very little about how it happens nor can they create a baby from scratch. That makes it a everyday miracle, hey get that thumb out of your mouth, you want buck teeth? Why look at that thumb and those teeth...wanna explain either of those?

Aunt Millie being healed of some strange lung disease is one thing...we're not really sure if there was a misdiagnosis, or if some "miracle" drug actually worked, if if an angel visited her in the middle of the night. 

But how do we explain Splash, Jesus walking on water or healing the eyes of the blind, or Moses leading the Children of Israel through the Red Seat on dry land? The skeptic's easy explanation of the Bible miracles is that they're as real as Splash—they didn't actually happen. The person of faith, on the other-hand, is much like the avid story connoisseur...they believe, for there's something of value in the story and the belief. And a good hook or miracle can reveal truth in the story myth that follows.  (Where "myth" is the story vehicle, regardless of it's truth. J.R.R. Tolkien once told C.S. Lewis that the Jesus myth was a true myth worthy of belief. The Chronicles of Narnia were the result.) [Did you ever wonder why those British authors only used initials for their given names?]

Daryl Hannah in a mermaid suit, Morgan Freeman walking on water, or Jesus spitting on a man's eyes are all good hooks, aren't they? How can they be possible? We wonder, we're intrigued, we allow mystery and suspense to pile in...and we become engaged in the story...because of the miracle. We're hooked.  Most people of faith don't want an explanation of miracles (from the ancient past or present day.) But story mavens need something, and I think people of faith need something too, otherwise belief in anything, true or not, would be probable. 

In stories then, when we're presented with the hook, we want to know something about it, like where did it come from, or how does it work? It can't be the writer's convenience and just appear. We can't expect readers or audiences to buy into the ideology just because we said it is so. Even if we can't explain it perfectly, audiences expect us to give it some basis in logic, even if the logic is faulty.  

For example, in WHAT WOMEN WANT, Nick Marshall (Mel Gibson) has a bathroom accident with a hair dryer and a bathtub, that "allows" him to hear the thoughts of women he's near. At first this is just what playboy Nick would want. But then it turns into a curse. Nonetheless, the hook, or miracle is least enough so we can suspend disbelief. And of course it makes no sense, whatsoever. If anything like what happened to Nick happened to a real person, they'd be electrocuted dead. End of movie. 

So, it occurred to me, that some of the philosophical, logical, and scientific understandings of where real miracles come from would help us as storytellers come up with believable hooks. 

5 Rules for Miracles and Story Hooks

1. Miracles and hooks are at first unexplained phenomenal events, seeming impossibilities in the physical realm. But in reality, miracles and hooks do not actually violate Natural Law. C.S. Lewis writes in his book Miracles:
If God creates a miraculous spermatozoon in the body of a virgin, it does not proceed to break any laws. The laws at once take over. Nature is ready. Pregnancy follows, according to all the normal laws, and in months later a child is born.
2. Miracles and hooks are not the same as events of fate or catastrophes which occur due to natural law of occurrences, but without moral purpose. Miracles and hooks are specific to a person or group of people with a moral purpose. That is, a miracle or a hook involves some intelligent, benevolent "person," or "force" that triggers the event.
"Everything in a successful story relates to the character arc described by the moral premise statement, including the hook, which describes the peculiar and person problem of our protagonist....Peter." (personal interview with Stan Williams) ...hey, I needed a quote...can't I quote myself even if I just made it up?
3. After the event is triggered, Natural Law takes over and all other things in the person's life or story transpire without additional miracles or hooks. Natural law is never violated, although the natural laws involved may be unknown.
Scientific discoveries reveal natural laws heretofore unknown which caused events that previously could only be described as unexplained phenomenal, or something God does in secret.  But even if we have some explanation for how the event occurred,  the phenomena's moral purpose defines it as a miracle.
4. The "person" or "force" behind the miracle or hook may be a representative of a higher order species that intervenes in the life of the lower species. 
A miracle to a nutritive plant could be triggered by a brute sentient animal. A miracle to a brut sentient animal maybe triggered by a rational person.  A miracle or hook to a rational person would be triggered by a supernatural entity. In each case, the higher species reaches down into the environment of the lower species to trigger an event. For both agents, in both species, no natural law is broken, although the lower species may not understand the natural law which the higher species invokes. 
For example, a young girl folds her laundry and puts 12 pairs of socks in her drawer. The next morning there are only 9, her three favorite pair of red socks are missing. She wonders if she counted wrong. But then a few days later a miracle occurs and the three missing pairs show up again, in the drawer, perfectly in place. She takes one pair out to put it on, and low and behold she discovers a second miracle, the holes in the heels of the socks have been mended. How did this happen? Well, you guessed it, a higher order species paid her a visit...her mother.
5.  "Persons," and "forces" can trigger miracles by operating in extra dimensions of time and space beyond the 3 dimensions of space and 1 point of time humanity normally experiences. Science fiction is always playing with time and other dimensions. If we're to consider some of the theories surrounding Quantum String Theory we have as  many as 10 dimensions to play with, and all we need is a 4th for Jesus to walk through walls, or for Bruce Nolan (Jim Carey) to hear the prayers that God hears and to walk on water.


So, the next time you're trying to think up a hook, think instead of a miracle. That impossibility that through your craft you make reasonable. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Story Logic of Things Not Seen

'The road to the Stars" in Bentley Kansas |
Photography by @jaxsonpohlmanphotography
How do you describe something incapable of being expressed in words...things that are ineffable?  The ineffability of ideas is what the storyteller must conquer daily. 

For most writers this comes instinctually. But a closer examination of ineffability can be revealing and improve our efficiency. 

Let's start with a story's theme...okay, okay, the story's moral premise...

Hostility leads to making enemies; but
Love leads to making friends.

With nothing more I'll bet you could come up with a story about that... or at least draft a log line. 

But could you do this? Could you describe for me the IDEA of hostility? or the IDEA of love?

No, I don't mean what hostility or love looks like when practiced in life (e.g. making enemies or making friends). The moral premise already tells you that. But what I mean is, can you describe the idea, the thought, the value? 

Ideas, thoughts and values are ineffable. That are not things we can sense with our six physical senses (sight, smell, touch, hear, taste or balance). The materialists among us would be tempted to say that such ineffable things don't exist, because ideas, thoughts, values or even God can't be sensed, at least with our  physical senses. But ideas, thoughts and values do affect us, and often physically. But where are they? When do they exist? Can you point to them? See them coming?

As storytellers we know that ideas and insights exist. We rely on them for our physical reality, because it is the thought, the value, the idea that animates our lives and our characters. We might say it is the ineffable that are the first movers of who we are as humans. 

The mathematician can ponder a proof for years...and then suddenly the insight occurs and a solution reveals itself. Such insights have revolutionized civilization. Gravity, Pi, String Theory. While we can describe the resulting formula you can only describe the insight with words that express vague, rhapsodical terms that sound more like a religious experience.

But the insight is real.  Reality is found in the value that anchors a character's arc, that nails the conflict, that motivates action, and allows consequences to be physically experienced. And yet such reality, per se, is incapable of seen. We CAN describe a character with a mustache sitting on a rock by the side of a road outside Bentley, Kansas at night starring at the Milky Way. But we CANNOT physically describe the value that put the character in that place, lost in her dreams. There you go, DREAMS. You can try to describe a dream, but they're really beyond explanation. You'd have to be there.

So, what do we, as storytellers, do with the ineffable? Well, we have to treat them as real, as the absolute logic behind our stories. But they are invisible. So, we "struggle to find similes for what cannot be said directly..." we look for visual motifs that symbolize ideas, "personifying the forces of nature and hunting everywhere for metaphors and analogies." (W. R. Inge, Studies of English Mystics as quoted by D. Elton Trueblood in The Trustworthiness of Religious Experience. Friends United Press, Richmond, Indiana. 1939).

Are ineffable things real? Do they exist? The materialist or atheist, if they are to be consistent, would have to say, no. But stories cannot exist without the ineffable. Indeed civilization would not be very civilized without the reality of ideas, values, and insights. 

I hope you won't let the irony of this escape you. One of the first rules of storytelling is SHOW, DON'T TELL. But logic demands that our stories begin with and are motivated by what is not seen...the ineffability of ideas, values, and insight...that which make our stories connect with the reality of our readers and audiences. In fact, without the ineffability of these things, there would be nothing to see, smell, taste, hear, touch or run to or away from. Our lives, and our characters are only real (in a physical sense) because of the reality of the ineffable (that which is not seen). 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Scene-Sequel Roller Coaster

I'm preparing for a story meeting with a client this morning. In the process I created two slides (below) to guide our conversation. My client is not a novelist or screenwriter, but a public speaker. She's wanting to keep her audience engaged as she makes her presentations and tells her story. She's a fairly animated person, and is already engaging to listen to. But she sees the need for more structure to a long series of short talks that would benefit from following a pattern, thus helping her audience over time to see where she's going.

The basis of the slides (which I have used extensively in my workshops and in my Storycraft Training on-line series, came from studying a number of other story gurus, and so I give credit to: Dwight Swain, Randy Ingermason, Jack M. Bickham, and Thank you one and all.

Think of the SCENE as an action, external, or physical scene, and the SEQUEL as the mental, internal or psychological scene. Both screenwriters and novelists through their craft SHOW both of these, and a speaker or dramatist does the same, although the minute craft are a little different (which we will not delve into here.)

Each scene or sequel is broken into three parts of unequal lengths. 
  1. In the GOAL your protagonist will physically attempt to attain something.
  2. In the CONFLICT your protagonist will meet with people who try to stop her.
  3. In the DISASTER  your protagonist will be defeated.
  4. In EMOTIONAL REACTION your protagonist will internally respond to the defeat. 
  5. In DILEMMA THOUGHT your protagonist naturally transitions into an internal monologue about what to do next. There are various options that create the dilemma, each with a positive or negative consequence, and unfortunately the protagonist will not be able to know what the unintended consequences will be. This creates an increase in anxiety and enhanced dilemma. 
  6. In DECISION your protagonist chooses one of the options thought through in the previous step. And this launches your protagonist in to the next Scene-Sequel duplex with a goal to achieve.

The desired roller coaster effect (whether it be physical or psychological) follows the black arrows I've drawn on the diagram. The bird's-eye view of this is that the Scene is generally a downward dread, and the Sequel gives us an upward hope. And, when you string them together in a longer form composition, you end up with an endearing and engaging roller coaster, as seen in the diagram below.

Friday, November 17, 2017


(posted November 17, 2017)

The webisodes are complete and have been edited together into a short 45 minute movie. But we are going to wait until after the upcoming Holiday Season to stage a Crowd Funding Launch event with a theatrical premiere. That will occur in S. E. Michigan probably late in January 2018, and the Crowd Funding Campaign will run through Valentine's Day.

Following the launch premiere we will begin to post the webisodes one every few days for the rest of the world to see.  Thank you for your interest. Please share with us your email address (below) so we can keep all our friends informed.  Thank you! (Stan Williams)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Trailer for ANNALIESE! ANNALIESE! Webisode 2 - ON THE RUN

Here's a trailer for our second ANNALIESE Webisode - ON THE RUN. Sign up for following us on Indiegogo via the link at

Friday, September 29, 2017


Here's a trailer for our first ANNALIESE Webisode - THERAPY. Sign up for following us on Indiegogo via the link at 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Advice to an Aspiring Screenwriter

Dear Aspiring Screenwriter:

So you want to be a screenwriter. 

First, here's the basis from which I give this advice. I do not work physically in Hollywood very much. Although I have given workshops there, attended the parties (which is how you meet the players), been taken to lunch by studio executives, I've been on the "lots," have pitched stories to a dozen studios, and I have been hired to work on over a dozen major motion pictures as a story consultant. I've also advised dozens of professional screenwriters and novelists on their various projects. While I've written a dozen screenplays, none have been produced into a major motion picture. But I have written and produced hundreds of projects in every conceivable media for corporations, non-profits, cable, Internet and broadcast television, and I continue to do that. The latest is a webisode series in support of a feature that you can read about at So, that's my experience (as of September 2017.)

Second, here's my advice for what it's worth.

Your goal should not be to write a screenplay. Everybody does that, including the gondola driver in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE and every waiter and taxi cab driver in Los Angeles.  Having a screenplay that you've written doesn't mean much. Hollywood is buried in screenplays, and many of them good. Your goal should be to get what you write produced, anything, and regularly. Why? Because, you’re not really a screenwriter until what you’ve written is produced. It’s like the old philosophical adage that a tree that falls in a forest doesn’t make any sound unless someone is there to hear it. You need people to pay attention to your output. How to do that? To become a full time respected screenwriter the common career paths are one of the following. 

1. Write REALLY good stuff that your target audience likes. It's gotta be good. See my blog on stories (below).

2. Write a novel that sells over 1,000,000 copies. This will put your story expertise in demand, and the novel can be sold to a producer with money and you can negotiate to write the screenplay. Or, just write the screenplay after the novel is successful and producers will want to talk to you. I've worked with more than one novelist that this has happened to. 

3. Write short, inexpensive screenplays and produce them.  Yes, YOU produce them. Create your projects with close friends you already know and who have an interest in making motion picture projects. It does not matter if what you create is for the Internet, disc, VOD, television, cable, or even if you rent a motion picture theater to show it...and you can do that easily. But make stuff, at first cheap, and as you gain acceptance raise the bar and do better stuff.

4. Move to Los Angeles or New York and make friends with aspiring filmmakers at your interest and experience level. Grow with them. Work with them. Support their work, and they’ll support your work…if its any good. 

5. If you can’t move to LA or NY then find a content niche where you live, and try to find committed friends or associates who will collaborate with you in getting things made. That could be through a university, cable access program, or church group. BUT THE KEY is that those you work with have to be as committed as you are to making projects. If they are not, or can’t, then find someone else. Don’t burn any bridges because those friends who want to work with you but can’t, may help you funds projects in the future. 

6. Get a regular job working for a corporation or non-profit that needs videos made for promotion, training, and public relations. They will pay you a salary and pay for your projects. Of course, you need experience before they’re hire you. So, write and produce anything on a regular basis and learn as you go (No. 1, 2 and 5). Many of these organizations will need lower experience people to help and you can learn on the job. That’s how I did it years ago. In college I majored in Physics so I had a technical background but my hobby was producing radio programs for the college radio station. Then I took up photography and developed a good portfolio over a few years. My media work, although it wasn’t television or film landed me a job as an assistant in the film production department at Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Michigan (USA), and that’s where I learned to be a writer, producer, director and editor over the next 7 years before I left and started my own company.

In between all this you can self teach yourself a great deal with all the resources that are available for free on the Internet. If you haven’t found it yet, check out my story blog:
and my online training series which is the heart of my consulting and workshops I’ve given over the years at:
It’s not free, but it’s good.

May Providence shine on you.

Stan Williams

Friday, July 21, 2017

Stan's Speaking Appearances

I've been asked to make an appearance and talk about writing at two events in October 2017, both in S.E. Michigan.

Saturday, October 21, 2017
Oakland University, Rochester Michigan USA
Click here to Register.

My topic: 
The Sequence Method (75 minutes)
This presentation will explain a way to keep your readers and audiences emotionally involved from the beginning to the end. The method makes use of Nested Story Diamonds. We will first review the features, advantages and benefits of the story diamond used in Hollywood and by novelists. We will then show you how to nest the basic story diamond with sub-plots, sub-goals disasters and the alternating action of protagonist and antagonist. When structured right, these elements will emotionally capture your audience's attention and keep them involved. We will also briefly describe the interplay of the Scene/Sequence concept of Goal, Conflict, Disaster, Emotional Reaction, Thought Dilemma and Decision. By the end of the session you will be able to quickly structure a story that will be easy and fun to write. And it will keep your reader emotionally connected. As usual, I will use a host of colorful graphic slides to illustrate all of this.


Saturday, October 28, 2017
ACFW - Great Lakes Chapter Meeting 
La Herradura Restaurant, Novi, Michigan USA
To Register: See instructions lower-right on flyer below.

My topic:
So You Want to Make a Movie of Your Book
The ins, outs, sideways and the reality of movie adaptations.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The $40 DISCOUNT for smart storytellers is still going on at
Did you like Hacksaw Ridge? 
If so, you can probably answer the necessary questions. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Why Invest in Movies?

When I wrote the last blog post on The Sequence Approach, inspiration hit. I wrote a screenplay in about 10 days that had been languishing in the back of my mind for a number of years. Yes, there had been two false starts.

But after Christopher Pratt's observation that Story Diamond beats should be repeated in each and every one of the sequences, I had to try it. Ironically, I had said as much as that in my workshops, but I had never tired it. 

I had just trashed the last false start to something I was calling BAD3. It was a romantic comedy about Brad, Annaliese and Derrick, and how they were all millennials afraid to make commitments, and how they shared an electric car with the license tag that read B.A.D.3. I asked, "Can three millennials find happiness in their loss?"

After Mr. Pratt's inspiration, I combined Brad and Derrick's characters, and wrote ANNALIESE! ANNALIESE! It took two days to beat out, and eight days to write—one sequence per day.

Now, granted there have been a number of revisions since, but the basic structure has held up through perhaps 12 reviews by readers, and nearly many revisions by me...although the revision number is only 4.3.

Enough people liked it that I began making plans to shoot the ultra-low budget RomCom late this year or early next. But like anything, the roller coaster drama of getting a film made can be more dramatic than the actual story where the writer makes great effort to install the maintain the roller coaster.

Now, we're at the point where two things happen at once, and neither one can happen without the other. It's the Catch-22 of motion picture development. We have to cast the picture. But talent agents don't want to give you the time of day until the  picture is fully funded. And one of the hardest ways to fund a movie is through Private Equity Financing.

I have invested in my fair share of shorts and full length television programs and I can tell you the decision to spend money on high risk ventures (even if you're convinced of the upside) is difficult. Now as I approach investors for ANNALIESE! ANNALIESE! I had to finally write down what was inside my head for so many years. The blog posts linked below are the result, and they should help anyone looking for funding. Now, not all these ideas are original with fact, probably none of them are. Over the years I've read many a book and blog on the topic. So, none of this is copyrighted, use it if it helps.


stan williams

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Sequence Approach (Paul Gulino)

[UPDATE: Please see Christopher Pratt's comment at the bottom of this post. It's instructive.]

Today I listened to a recorded webinar of ScreenwritingU's Chris Soth explaining a bit about Paul Gulino's book "Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach."  Soth calls this structure the Mini-Movie Method (MMM). It was really a sales pitch for ScreenwritngU's 30 day course on the same. Strangely, they kept comparing the MMM (with it's 8 Turning Point beats, which actually has 15) to Syd Field's 3 Act Structure as if the 3 Act structure had only 2 beats (not 8). Those two beats being the turning points at the end of Act 1 and 2. Clearly, there is a lot more to go on that the Act 1 & 2 climaxes, and any number of books, workshops and blog posts (this blog included), will explain the wonderful world of structural beats to you.

But considering that those eight segments of a movie (each 12.5%) of the whole, as INDIVIDUAL movies or long sequences, each with a beginning, middle and end, did intrigue me. The idea is nothing new, but Soth explained it in a fresh way that is worth sharing and expanding on. (Actually his explanation that intrigued me was because, although I had Gulino's book on my iPad for the last 2 years I had not read it. Am correcting that now.)

Let me challenge you to think about a movie as a number of long sequences, each with a beginning, middle and end. The 2016 Best Picture, MOONLIGHT, is constructed with three long sequences, each about a gay-black man raised in a poor, drug invested part of Miami. The three parts tell the the coming of age story of this person: First, as a boy (called Little); second, as a teenager (called Chiron, his give name); and third, as an adult (called Black). The three sections are each preceded by a title card, simply:




This simple and direct structure, made explicit to the audience, was one (of many) reasons the screenplay won an Screenwriting Oscar for BEST ADAPTATION.

What Gulino (and Soth) propose is that you divide your feature into 8 parts, two for each of the major 4 segments: Act 1, Act 2A, Act 2B, and Act 3. These 8 parts are the same segments (less the Prologue and Denouement) you'll see on my Story Diamond  or on the linear representation of a Story's 13-20 Beats --- both represented below in miniature. (Click on the links above for posts that explain. And, click on any diagram for a larger version, that you can actually read.)

[BTW: I have updated the StoryDiamond again, and for the first time in six years edited and updated the Annotation or Notes Document that goes with it. If you use the Story Diamond I encourage you to download the latest at the links herein.]

Now, here's the new thing I came away with. If we think of each of these 8 segments, or sequences, or mini-movies as each having a goal that the protagonist needs to achieve, then it's like you have 8 subplots, which run sequentially, as opposed to most subplots that run in parallel.  Here's a diagram I crafted. Below the diagram is a further explanation. (You can click on any image to make it bigger.)

1. One good way to hook your audience is that each of the sequences has a goal. Let's call the first seven, "subgoals," as the end point of each of the subplots. (In the digram, the subgoals are symbolized by the red stars). The story must be constructed in such a way that each subgoal MUST be achieved before the next subplot can be engaged, and the next subgoal be achieved. That is, the first subgoal is logically nested and necessary before the second subgoal can be pursued and achieved. This is very much like a video game (which I don't play) where to get to the end of the game you have to acquire all the earlier magic lanterns, or pots of gold along the way. If you miss one, you stop dead in your tracks. 

The trick is to construct a story where the eight subplots and subgoals are logically dependent, nested and chronologically sequential. The later goals all have to be subservient to the earlier goals. (Soth used INDIANA JONES AND THE LOST ARC as an example.)

2. Of course, each of the subgoals MUST support the final main goal. This is what I teach about subplots (that run in parallel) and their subgoals—e.g. every subplot goal must be related to the single moral premise, and the virtues and vices associated with it. That is, every subplot has to struggle with the same conflict of values, but perhaps in a different way.  In Gulino's Sequences (and Soth's Mini-Movies) the subplots are sequential, and logically dependent. This is brilliant. 

3. The process suggests that just after each goal is achieved, there is an increasingly terrible and epic failure on the part of the protagonist, which causes his hopes to descend into fear. According to the Moral Premise theology (yeah, I should start a religion), these immediate descends are the consequence of two related forces: (1) the action of the antagonist, and (2) the weakness of the protagonist, which is a milder form of the powerful vice exerted by the antagonist.

Do I need to point out the emotional roller-coaster effect this of my bully pulpits? 

This perfectly follows an age old concept of novel writing—in every scene-sequel sequence there is a DISASTER that spurs the action forward. Here's a diagram from my on-line workshop (Storycraft Training). An explanation follows.

Novel Scene-Sequel Sequence (simplified)
Running from left to right in the above diagram. (1) The protagonist has a physical GOAL to achieve. (2) The protagonist takes action to achieve that goal, and in so doing creates CONFLICT with the antagonist. (3) Because of the conflict, the goal is not fully achieved, resulting in a DISASTER. (4) The protagonist experiences an EMOTIONAL REACTION, which acts as a motivation to keep going. (5) The protagonist spends some time evaluating in his mind (THOUGHT) the DILEMMA faced, until... (6) The protagonist makes a decision about the next goal and takes the fist steps to achieve it. [And the process REPEATS starting with the new goal.]
Now, I've added a couple of things from my other workshop sessions (c.f. Storycraft Training). Let me repeat the diagram for ease of reference.

4. Each sub goal has to be harder to achieved, and the conflict and tension associated with its accession has to be higher than the last subplot and goal. I have gradated the vertical scale into +8 and -8 levels. 

5. Likewise the disasters (represented by the black dos) are increasing terrible. Thus, the goals and the disasters, get farther and farther apart, creating an escalating emotional roller coaster. the dipole here is HOPE vs. FEAR—a good way to convey it on an emotional level, which for a story is critical. Of course there are other ways to define the roller coaster, e.g. rationally (Is the protagonist progress toward the goal progressing or retarding?), and/or morally (Is the essential truth of the moral being tested true or false?

6. Lastly, going back to my earlier description of the 13-20 beats, the Turning Points and the Pinch Points have a characteristic difference in how each of those seven disasters occur. The odd number disasters (above, i.e. 1, 3, 5, 7) are initiated or caused by the antagonist's power, whereas the even number disaster (above, i.e. 2, 4, and 6) are caused by the protagonist's weakness, blindness, and poor judgement. 


MOONLIGHT and Screenplay Rules

Each year I read one or both of the screenwriting Oscar winners. The theory is, in doing so, I'll learn how to write better screenplays and help others do the same.  In this case the learning from MOONLIGHT (Best Adaptation) was two fold.

I watched the movie on iTunes, then found the PDF shooting script HERE. The challenge I knew was to discover how Barry Jenkins wrote something that was so interior in scope, and was so silent. While there is some action and dialogue, the interior emotional tension is thick.

A screenplay is suppose to describe what is SHOWN and HEARD on screen, without TELLING us what the character is THINKING. The screenwriter describes the setting, the props, the posture, the bodily response, and when all of that is done rightly, then we give the writer permission to tell us what is actually going on inside the mind.

The adage is, learn to do it well, and then you can break the rules. Here's an excerpt from the third act. There are somethings here, expertly done, but they break the rules. Can you identify the rule breakers? (I use the term "rule breakers" with derision. )

This starts on page 79.
  1. We watch the children at play a moment longer. We’ve seen none of these kids before, we’ll see none of them again. 
    A final beat of this, then... 
    A door closed -- Black’s car parked deep in the corner of this parking lot, in the farthest back corner away from street light, obscured by low-hanging shade trees.  
    The diner is away from us, across the parking lot. Black takes it in a moment, pulls on a fresh shirt. 
    He’s moving, crossing the parking lot at an easy clip. It’s quiet out, a few passing cars to Black’s left running north on Biscayne Boulevard, no foot traffic -- can hear the SOUND of his footfalls on the pavement. 
    As he nears the threshold of this diner, takes the handle on the entry... 
    CLOSE ON: an old school bell, the sound of it jingling as the door it’s affixed to parts. 
    And right away, the sound of music, something old, soft, and lilting (think Aretha Franklin’s One Step Ahead). 
    Black scanning this room, his view of the place a clue for us: this is definitely the same diner we saw Kevin working in during the earlier phone call. 
    All the details are there, the old-school register, vintage chairs and table-tops. And in the corner, that old school jukebox blessing us with Aretha. 
    ...on the move now, crosses the diner with eyes down and ahead of him. There’s a counter lined with stools, directly opposite the staging station and adjacent the register. 
    Black eases up to the counter, places his cell atop it and takes a seat. 
    No one stirs at Black’s movement, no one watches. Looking about the place again, we notice the other patrons: a quartet of college girls in a corner booth shoring up for a night on the town, an elderly gentleman sitting to himself, staring into a cup of mild coffee. 
    As Black watches the elderly gentleman... 
                    VOICE (O.S.)                                        (moving)                                            Be right with you. 
    A figure moving past, carrying an urn over to the old man, sets a new cup down and pours a fresh coffee, scoops up the old cup as he moves on. 
    As he crosses to the girls, we see him better: it’s Kevin. 
    We watch as he speaks to them; can’t hear any of it but from the feel of it, very jovial, Kevin is good at this work. 
    A beat of watching Kevin here, isolated bits of him from Black’s perspective: Kevin’s lips as he speaks, the hand he rests to his neck instinctively.
    Finished with the girls, Kevin turns back toward the counter, hands full with their spent dishes. As he approaches, he looks right at Black, right at us... 
                    KEVIN                                                (moving)
              Be right with you, boss, just                           let me get this out the way.
    ...and moves past. 
    Somehow, Kevin has not noticed him. 
    Something lodged in Black’s throat, without thinking places his hand there: Am I breathing? 
    He must be, he’d better be: those dishes discarded somewhere in the back and... here comes Kevin. 
             How you doin’ tonight, what                            can I get you?
    Kevin flipping through a stained note-pad, hasn’t bothered to look up yet. As he does, his eyes settle on Black’s. 
    Kevin watching this man. And Black watching back, the two of them silently holding each other’s gaze, pure curiosity. 
Here's what I noticed throughout the script, but I'll restrict my examples to the passage above.

1. The tone and mood of MOONLIGHT is expertly included in the visual descriptions. The setting, the lights, the movement (all visual), are also metaphors for what the audience should be feeling. We're not TOLD how the audience should feel, but phrases like those underlined SHOW us.
  • "Black's car parked deep in the corner of this parking lot..." 
  • "the farthest back corner away from street light, obscured by low-hanging shade trees."
  • "...away from us, across the parking lot..."
  • " foot traffic -- can hear the SOUND of his footfalls on the pavement."
  • "...the sound of music, something old, soft, and lilting..."
  • "...with eyes down..."
  • "...staring into a cup of mild coffee..."
But the "rules" tell us that we should never use past tense verbs, present participles, break the fourth wall, use adverbs or gerunds. And all of those "errors" are used extensively throughout the MOONLIGHT script. Can you see them in the bulleted list above? Here are a few more.

2. We're told: Don't break the fourth wall. Yet, the MOONLIGHT script includes the audience/reader a great deal.
  • "We watch..." 
  • "We've seen..."
  • "We see..."
  • "...he looks...right at us..."
  • "...we notice..."
3. We're told: Avoid adverbs, present participles, and gerunds. Yet, they're everywhere. 
  • "scanning the room..."
  • "blessing us with Aretha."
  • "Looking about the place..."
  • "an elderly gentlemen sitting to himself, staring into a cup..."
  • "As Black watches the elderly gentleman..."
  • "...watching Kevin..."
  • "Kevin watching this man. And Black watching back. The two of them silently holding each other's gaze..."
4. We're told: Only describe what can be seen, and never say what the characters are thinking:
  • "..but from the feel of it, very jovial..."
  • "...Something lodged in Black's throat, without thinking places his hand there: Am I breathing?"
  • "He must be, he'd better be..."
NOW, this is NO CRITICISM of BARRY JENKINS. The screenplay reads easily, visually, and most of the writing is PRESENT ACTIVE. But to communicate this interior sense of emotions, the gerunds, the adverbs, and the other things work wonderfully. 

Yes, you might argue that this is an example of learning to follow the rules so you can break them. But here's what's different about Jenkin's situation. He had written and directed a bunch of shorts, but this was only his second full length movie, and his first, MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY, was something he directed for $13,000 and no studio readers were involved. Add to that, Plan B executives (Brad Pitt) had seen Medicine for Melancholy and liked it and wanted to work with Jenkins, so with Plan B behind him,  they persuaded a A24, new distributor, to get behind Moonlight as their first feature to finance and distribute.  (Jenkins also said in an interview I watched from a Netherlands film festival, that the OSCARS SO WHITE protest from 2015, heightened awareness of movies by black artists.) So, Jenkins was not in a situation where the grammar or the format was ever an issue. His previous work and his connections spoke louder than the grammar of his screenplay. In other words, the executed work is what's important, not the screenplay's grammar.


This is further reinforced when voting occurs for the Best Screenplay categories. It was clear to me (having lived it numerous times) that no common Hollywood reader had ever read Jenkin's screenplay without being told by their boss, first, "We're going to make this movie." Of course, I don't know for sure, but I'm willing to bet MOONLIGHT was never subjected to the anonymous eyes of a first tier reader. Had it been, I'm sure it would have been immediately rejected. But yet, like a Quentin Taratino script, it wins an Oscar. (And, PLEASE, do not tell me that Quentin Taratino has learned how to write a script so he can break the rules. If you've ever, ever seen a Taratino script you would know by page 2 he never learned the rules in the first place.)

Yesterday, I wrote four screenwriters I know in Hollywood, all who have worked on many films that were produced and two who are Academy members. I asked if those voting for the BEST SCREENWRITING categories actually read the scripts they're sent. The answers came back: "Probably not," and "Usually, no." What they do is watch the finished movie and infer what the screenplay was like. 

So, I'll say this I have in past posts. If you're a screenwriter that wants to waste your time, heave your screenplays at the anonymous studio blockade, and see them bounce off into the rubbish pile. They may be Oscar winners, but 90% of the readers in Hollywood wouldn't recognize it as such. Readers generally are not going to take the time to understand your story, but find fault out of a personal bias or tell you to follow the rules. For the rest of you, who want to get your screenplays made....ignore the obsessive format and grammatical rules, and find someone to help you make the story into a film.