Sunday, 11 December 2016


The importance of your characters ranges from your hero right down to soldier #11. 

But regardless of the importance of your characters, when you introduce them you need to write their name in CAPS.

When a reader reads your screenplay, at best they read with a 70% focus. The majority of readers have a hell of a lot of screenplays to get through, they don't have time to hang on your every word. They speed-read and get a feel for if your story was clear, the characters popped, the concept is sellable etc... 

This is why we put character names in CAPS the first time we introduce them. This signals to the reader that this is a NEW character. 

Let's start with how to introduce your important characters. 

When a character is a main player, it's better to give the reader more information about them. 

When you introduce a character in detail but then that character only has one line and they disappear from the rest of the script it can be confusing for the reader. 

Don't waste time introducing un-important characters in detail. 

When introducing your hero, you need to cover three aspects - 

Physiology - what they look like. Are they strong, are they weak, are they tall, hunched? Give us a visual picture of them. But don't just list their physical traits. Try to be inventive and creative with the way you describe them. Rather than saying John is fat, you could write John substitutes exercise for eating and his waist-line shows it.

Remember, your job is to entertain the reader as well. When you write dull, dry sentences the reader will start to check out. The more interesting you can write a sentence, the more engaged your reader will be.

The next is SOCIOLOGY - where your character fits into society. Are they a queen, a beggar, a royal Knight, teacher etc... 

The next is PSYCHOLOGY - their state of mind. Are they bi-polar, are they Zen and calm, are they quick to temper, etc... 

You want to get these three aspects of your character across in one sentence.

After you write your character's name in CAPS, you then put their rough age in brackets - i.e... JOHN WILLIAMS (40s) - or MICHELLE JONES (20s).

You can put a specific age if you want - such as JOHN WILLIAMS (43) - but most actors play an age range that is roughly 2 decades. 

Only write a specific age is it's relevant to the plot. 

The other exception is when writing the age for under 20. 

There's a big difference between an 11-year-old and a 16-year-old. 

Likewise, a 3-year-old and a 9-year-old. 

When you introduce characters that are less important it's best to keep their introductions minimal - focus on their function, as that's the most important aspect of their character introduction. 

LUCY RHODES (30s), a paramedic, is the first to the scene, she pulls the glass away and... 

If there is something important for us to know about Lucy's physical trait, then you could describe that also... 

Perhaps Lucy only has one arm. We need to know that so tell us. 

When introducing less important characters only tell us what we need to know for the story to make sense.


While it is inevitable that you will have smaller characters in your screenplay, just because they only have one or two lines doesn't mean they should be any less developed. 

One way readers separate the pros from the rest is how developed smaller characters are. 

If you can get a hold of the screenplay - The Disciple Program - by Tyler Marceca - this script is an example of incredibly well developed minor characters. 

A lot of amateur screenplays have too many minor characters. 

I suggest you go to the screenplay you're working on at the moment and do a pass that just focuses on the smaller characters. 

Your first step is looking to MERGE minor characters. 

Often there are three small characters all serving the same function. 

Why not merge them into one character and develop that character a little more.

If you have one minor character that has six lines, rather than three small characters with two lines each, that merged character with the six lines will feel more real and more developed. 

Once you have gone through and merged as many of your minor characters, then spend a day going through and developing each of your minor characters.

Try to give each their own special attribute, something that makes them feel like they are a real character, not just something thrown in for the purpose of serving the plot. 

Imagine that character's OWN STORY. 

You don't need to go into too much detail, but give thought to who they are and what makes them tick. 

Monday, 28 November 2016


At the heart of every good story is a drama.

At the heart of every good drama is a journey. 

A satisfying journey results in a change in your hero. 

The change in your hero stems from their flaw.

So, in essence, every good story relies on the hero being flawed.

When your hero isn't flawed, then there is no INNER journey.

They can go through an amazing external journey, but all that external shenanigans are really nothing more than spectacle. 

To create an emotional connection between your film and your audience you must give them a hero they can identify with. 

The best way to do this is by giving your hero a flaw.

Now that can be easier said than done. 

How do you figure out what your hero's flaw is?

Typically, you decide your hero's flaw BEFORE you start writing.


Because you can use the hero's flaw to guide the journey of the story. 

But what if you get half way through and realize that the flaw you decided on for your hero isn’t the right flaw? 

What if you have been manufacturing scenes to tie in with your hero's flaw but those scenes have pushed the story in a direction you don't like, or didn't intend to happen?

I've personally experienced this with my writing.   

Many times I've finished writing a first draft, looked at where the hero’s flaw has taken the story and I realized it wasn’t the story I set out to write, it wasn't the journey I wanted my hero to go on. 

That's ok.

Go back and re-write. 

But re-writing from page 1 is tiresome. 

What if there was a way I could find the hero's flaw that best suits the story without having to write in a flawed flaw in the first draft. 

There is a way...


What the hell do you mean by that?

Glad you asked...

Start by doing a rough structure of your film. 

You've got a basic understanding of the Hero's Journey and you use this to etch out the major beats in your story.


This rough outline should be roughly 5-10 pages long.

Ok, first step done.

Now flesh out that basic structure into more detailed scenes.

Don't get caught up fine tuning each scene, just layer in more information on top of that first structure you created.

Ok, so now you should have a document that's roughly 30-40 pages long. 

You should have a really good idea of the journey you want your hero to go on. 

Now this is where you can reverse engineer your hero's flaw.


Whatever the personality traits your hero needs to achieve the goal at the end of the film should be the personality traits they are LACKING at the start of the film.

To use a real life example…

I'm writing a story where a young mother must ultimately believe in herself and stand up for herself and her daughter. 

They are the personality traits she needs to survive the ordeal of the film and to defeat the shadow. 

Now that I know where she needs to end up, I now know where she needs to have come from at the start of the film.

I know she needs to believe in herself by the end of the film...

So I...

... make it that she doesn't believe in herself at the start of the film, she lacks self-confidence.

She also needs to stand up for herself and fight for herself by the end of the film...

So I... her not standing up for herself and not fighting for herself at the start of the film. 

Before I did this process, I was toying with serval different flaws for my hero.

None of them seemed to fit.

I decided to write the story without a definitive flaw for my hero and see the journey that she would have to go on. 


...the one thing your hero doesn't want to do - should be where the story takes them.

While we're talking about flaws... 

...I'd just like to clarify what a flaw is.

A flaw is NOT just a negative personality trait.

It is more nuanced than that.

A negative personality trait could be that someone is a chain smoker. There's nothing positive about being a chain smoker. 


... if that chain smoker just happens to live in a place where everyone else are chain smokers and no one minds them chain smoking - that negative personality trait is NOT a flaw. 


Because a flaw is something that stops your hero from achieving their full potential.

A flaw holds your hero back.

Look at the film JAWS.

You ask anyone what sheriff Brody's flaw is in that film and the majority of people will say that he's afraid of water.

While it is true that he is afraid of water, it's not a flaw as his life is not impeded by being afraid of water.

His job as sheriff and his day to day life doesn't require that he be able to swim. 

NOW - if he was a surf-life-saver and he was afraid of water then that personality trait is a flaw because it affects his ability to perform his job.

What is Brody's flaw in Jaws?

Glad you asked...

... Brody's flaw is that he's irresponsible.


What are you talking about?

When we first meet Brody's son he has a cut hand because Brody has failed to fix the swings.

Later on, he says to his wife and kids, don't play on something else (precisely what eludes me at the moment), I haven't fixed it yet.

Twice we see that Brody has failed to do something that he is supposed to do.

Then later, he KNOWS that there is a man eating shark feeding in the waters around Amity Island – but none the less, he capitulates to the pressures of the mayor and allows the beaches to be left open.

Consequently, a young boy is eaten by the shark because Brody failed to be responsible. 

He failed to do his job, which is to be responsible for the safety of the Islanders. 

Brody's journey from there on takes him on one of responsibility. 

He has to be become responsible for the safety of the whole island. 


Go to a script that you have started to outline.

Don't worry about writing in a flaw for your hero right away.

Flesh out the story without a flaw until you have a really detailed outline - aim for around the 30-40-page mark.

Now that you know where the journey will take your hero, now you know what it is they need to do to survive the ordeal and defeat the shadow, reverse engineer and create your hero's flaw by taking away those personality traits from your hero at the start of the film. 


You've just reverse engineered your hero's flaw.

Sunday, 27 November 2016


What is exposition dialogue? 

Let's firstly look at the word - exposition. 

The dictionary says exposition is, 'a comprehensive description and explanation of an idea or theory.'

In film terms, this means that elements of your story are directly explained to the audience. 

In the world of film directly explaining something to your audience doesn't come across very well.

It is always preferable to SHOW rather than TELL.

We've talked about the importance of having characters SHOW their emotions rather than TELLING them.

It is far better to SEE John being angry rather than John say, 'Damn it, I'm angry as hell.' 

It comes down to the subtly of performance. 

When a character acts in an over the top way their performance feels unrealistic.

Why is this?

Think about real life.

The majority of people don't directly say what their emotions are, they infer it. Their mood changes to reflect the way they're feeling. 

Exposition dialogue divides into two parts.


It is always preferable to SEE all the important plot points of a story than have a character explain what just happened. 

Audiences want to SEE the story unfold before their eyes, they don't want to be TOLD something by a character. 

There's a great example in Aliens.

Near the beginning of the film, Ripley says to someone that she has experience using the power-loader unloading cargo.

That's expositional dialogue as it is a character TELLING us something about the story. 

Later on, we SEE Ripley using the power-loader to unload some cargo.

Then, in the climax of the film, Ripley uses the power-loader to fight the alien. 

Had we not SEEN Ripley using the power-loader it wouldn't have made as much sense later on when we see her using it to fight the alien.

The dialogue where we're TOLD she has experience using the power-loader is really easy to miss. 

Expositional dialogue often stands in place of flashbacks.

Flashbacks really should be avoided in film.


Because a flashback puts the story in the present on hold.

As a storyteller is it your job to ALWAYS MOVE THE STORY FORWARD.


Go to the script you're working on at the moment and go through scene by scene.

Firstly, identify all the instances where you have a character TELLING rather than SHOWING.

Secondly, divide the TELLS into 1) CHARACTER TRAITS and 2) PLOT POINTS.


CT are the make-up of each character's personality. 

Each character will have little quirks that make them unique. 

What is each character's temperament? How do they react under pressure? Are they benevolent, or are they selfish? Are they kind or nasty? Etc... etc... 

Anywhere in your script that you have a character trait being TOLD to the audience, you must delete and replace with an ACTION that SHOWS this character trait. 

That's the first part of cleaning exposition from your script.

Now comes the slightly harder process. 

Cleaning out plot point exposition. 

Plot points are beats in your story. EVENTS. 

It is always far better to SEE an event rather than have a character TELL it.


Imagine the difference between SEEING a murder take place, vs having a character run into a bar and yell to anyone that's listening, 'Someone just got killed out in the alley!'

The difference should be obvious.

To see something first-hand is far more impactful than hearing about it from an intermediary.


Go to all the instance you have where you TELL an event rather than see it and delete that dialogue, replacing it with THE ACTUAL EVENT. 

For a lot of people, this process will be very difficult.

For some people, it will completely change their script. 

If you find that you have a script that has a lot of EVENT BASED EXPOSITION, then you might need to go back to page 1 and look at the WAY you tell your story. 

A small amount of event based exposition is fine. But if you find that you have event based exposition more than three or four times in your script, you really need to go back to square one and reconsider the WAY in which you are telling your story. 

A great example of event-based exposition that really works in a film - is in JAWS.

The scene where Quint tells Brody and Hooper about his experience with sharks when the Indianapolis went down in shark-infested waters. 

It would have taken away from the moment to film that monologue as a flashback. It would have also cost a huge amount of money. 

In this instance, there's no other way for us to KNOW why Quint is obsessed with killing sharks. Until now, that aspect of his personality has been a MYSTERY. 

Here, just before the final showdown with Jaws, we understand why Quint is the way he is by way of plot point exposition dialogue. 

This is one of the ONLY moments in Jaws where there is plot point exposition dialogue. 

The rest of the story unfolds before our eyes.

There are instances where we are TOLD that Brody has a fear of water, which is character trait exposition dialogue - but we are also SHOWN his fear of water multiple times.   


Firstly, there really should be no instance in your dialogue where you have one character tell another character about a personality trait of any of your characters.

There's no excuse not to SHOW personality traits. 

The only exposition you should be writing in dialogue are events that are critically important to understanding the present story line, where you can find no other way to SHOW that event. 


Just say you have two characters working together on a heist.

A third character is engaged to work on the heist, but there is a huge amount of tension between one of the first two characters and this third character.

Finally, the other character asks, 'What's up between you guys?'

In this instance you have two choices, you can either go into a flashback to show what happened in their past that is the cause of the tension, or you can have the other character simply say, 'we had a falling out over a deal that went sour.' - or something to that effect. 

I would suggest you use plot point exposition dialogue like this only if it is IMPERATIVE to understanding the present storyline.

Here's another test for you...


Go to the script you're working on at the moment.

It should now be completely free of any instance where you have exposition dialogue talking about character traits.

Look at the instances where you have exposition plot points in dialogue.

DELETE the first one.

Now read the scene.

Does it still make sense?

Quite often you will find that exposition dialogue that tells about previous plot points can be deleted without it altering the story.

You will often find that by deleting the exposition plot point dialogue you will create mystery.

Think about our example used above - the three guys on a heist but there's tension between two of the guys. 

Once you know WHY there's tension there's no longer any mystery surrounding that subject. 

If you delay answering that question you have created a mystery that will keep the audience guessing. 


Unanswered questions will keep your audience engaged.  

Wednesday, 23 November 2016


Today's post comes back to the common mistake of the writer directing from the page. 

In descriptions, it's very common for amateur writers to unnecessarily direct the actor and the camera.

But this error is not limited to descriptions. One of the most common mistakes I see are writers directing how an actor should deliver their lines.

This is a huge no-no for various reasons.

The main one being that it's a huge insult to your actors. 

The second being that, while you think you're helping the actor to deliver their lines, what you're really doing is making it more difficult.

Let's look at some examples... 



Hi, Michelle, it's been such a long time.
I missed you so much.

Here's a RULE for you - never ever write '(beat)' in dialogue. 

Let your actor find their own natural pauses. 

When you write in where you want the pauses in dialogue to go, what you're really doing is stifling and limiting the actor's creativity. 

Take a look at the way Christopher Walken delivers his lines.

His oratory style is unique. His timing is unlike any other actor.

To write in pauses in dialogue for Christopher Walken would be to ruin one of the greatest aspects of his performance.

Never write a beat in dialogue - EVER.

Before writing a screenplay it is a really good idea to spend at least one day studying acting. 

See what it's like to be an actor reading a screenplay. 

When you see what an actor looks for in a script then you are better equipped to write an actor-friendly screenplay.

Another thing that actors dislike in a script is broken up dialogue. 


Michelle, I was wondering what you think about...

John opens his desk drawer and takes out a sheet of paper.

...this. Run your eyes over it, tell me what you think. 

Actors HATE dialogue written like this.


Because it breaks their flow. 

They don't want to read part of a line, then have an action forced upon them, then have to pick up the line after the action. 

UNLESS it is imperative to the plot to have the action take place mid-sentence, have the action take place BEFORE or AFTER the dialogue.



John opens his desk drawer and takes out a sheet of paper.

Michelle, I was wondering what you think about this. 
Run your eyes over it, tell me what you think. 



Michelle, I was wondering what you think about this. 
Run your eyes over it, tell me what you think. 

John opens his desk drawer and takes out a sheet of paper.

Having the action before or afterward doesn't really change the scene at all, but it does allow the actor to have all their dialogue together in one byte. 

Other forms of pauses in dialogue are '...' - also known as - ellipses.

Michelle... I was wondering if you could take a look at...
You know what? Don't worry about it.

DON'T use ellipses in dialogue ever.

It's pretty much the same as writing (beat). You're telling the actor how and where to find a pause.

A much better way to write is...


Michelle, I was wondering if you could take a look at,
you know what? Don't worry about it.

Just use commas and let the actor decide how they want to deliver the line. 

Here're some more tips for dialogue.








Because, again, all of these are directing the actor, which is an insult to the actor and stifles their creativity.

When you underline a word in dialogue you're asking the actor to emphasize that word.

Same with bold and italics.

When you write something in CAPS - you're essentially asking the actor to YELL those words.

What if the actor feels the line would be better delivered in a whisper? 


This brings us to...


Far too often I see amateur writers put how they'd like the dialogue delivered in parenthesis.

I told you not to go in there.

Never ever do this.

If the tone of the dialogue is not clear from the context of the scene, then you need to re-write the scene so as the context is clear.

What if the actor doesn't want to deliver the line with anger - what if they want to switch up their delivery and surprise the audience by delivering their line in a different way?

Let the actors do their thing.

The best use of parenthesis is to direct WHO the dialogue is being delivered to when it is unclear.

When you only have two people in a scene it's clear who is talking to who. 

Or is it?

What if an actor speaks to themself?

In this instance, you can write...

(sotto to self)
And hell might freeze over.

Sotto is short for 'sotto voce' - which means, 'a spoken remark in a quiet voice.'

OR, 'intentionally lowering the voice for emphasis.'

The best use of parenthesis is when you have more than two people in a scene and you're not sure who is talking to who.

In this scene, we have JOHN, MICHELLE, and MIKE.

(to Michelle)
You don't have to do it, you know?

In this instance, without the parenthesis telling us who the dialogue is directed to, we're not sure if John said that to Michelle or Mike.

Writing screenplays is all about clarity. 

Use parenthesis to help make your story clearer.


Go to the screenplay you're working on.

Do a dialogue-pass focusing on the main issues I've highlighted here.

1) Remove all the (beats) from your dialogue.
2) Remove all the ellipses from your dialogue.
3) Remove all the bold, caps, italic and underlines from your dialogue.
4) Only use parenthesis to help clarify WHO a piece of dialogue is spoken to. 
5) Remove any instances where you have one piece of dialogue broken by an action that could just as easily come before or after the dialogue.

After making these changes your dialogue will read clearer and better.