Thursday, 30 June 2016


Last night I Skyped with Rick Ramage, the creator of The Screenplay Show.

Go ahead - check it out, and sign up to get updates.

The interview with Rick was supposed to go for maybe 15 minutes, nail a few questions, then do a write up. But Rick is such a wealth of knowledge and so easy to talk with that the conversation went on for over an hour.

During that time Rick offered many fantastic insights into the world of screenwriting. Rather than condense it all into one post, I'll do a series of posts until I've exhausted the interview.

Rick is an accomplished writer. In his own words - 'Writing is the only job I've ever had.'

He has setup, sold or optioned more than 40 projects over the last 25 years. He's received pay-checks for spec screenplays to the tune of $2.5 million, and has worked with some of the best Hollywood has. 

The Screenplay Show is a ten episode web series presented in a fun and unique narrative style. Crafted like no other writing series. Rick will expertly guide you through every aspect of the art, craft and business of screenwriting.

DtS: What was the genesis of the concept for The Screenplay Show?

RR: A writer friend asked me to do a seminar, I was nervous about that because I don't do public speaking. I've been in the business for 25 years but I've never really done that. I thought to myself: what am I going to say for six hours? So I called in my editor and said let's do this visually. If someone wants to know about a character arc, we're going to show them what a character arc is visually, as apposed to just lecturing about it, I didn't want to just be a talking head. And the seminar went really well, but what really surprised me was that people had just as many questions about the writing experience as they did about the nuts and bolts. 

DtS: That's something I come across a lot as well. People want to know what it's like meeting managers, agents, lawyers, they want to know about the business end of it a lot.

RR: Absolutely. And so what I had sort of evolved. I thought what if I approach screenwriters in the medium that they're used to. I've met a lot of really talented directors and actors over the years that have informed the way I go about my screenwriting. They were generous enough to share their story with me for one purpose, and that's to get the story right. My approach to screenwriting has evolved over the years. It didn't come from books, or gurus, it came from doing it. I got into the business in a dream fashion, I sold a script right out of film school.

DtS: So you did do film school?

RR: I first wrote a book, and sent it to someone I really trusted, and they asked me if I wanted to be a professional writer or is this just going to be a hobby? And I said, no I'd love to be a professional writer, and he said okay, I'm going to treat you like one - unfortunately your book isn't very good. Which was like - damn - but then he said something really nice, you're a good writer, you write very visually, have you thought about writing screenplays?  So I turned my bad book into a bad screenplay --  

DtS: I've done that --

RR: So I applied to the AFI, which was great, because it wasn't so academic, you learned by doing. Making films. 

DtS: The process of learning by doing is a really important thing. I learnt how to write dialogue by seeing my badly written dialogue performed by actors on screen. And I think there is a huge difference between seeing an actor perform it in front of you, and seeing it played back on a screen. You see so much more on the screen.

RR: Absolutely. It was so powerful, you learn as you're watching, you learn as you're cringing, you know?

DtS: I do know...

RR: You know, it just didn't sound that way when I was writing it. And then I've also had these marvellous experiences where I would watch a rather talented actor take a mundane line and turn it into something fantastic and that's the serendipity of being a screenwriter, you can luck into some of the best moments. It's such a collaboration. A great actor can take a line and make it something special.   

DtS: Agreed. And taking your collaboration concept further, a great director can get a great actor to turn a lesser line into something more powerful. Have you ever found that you have respect for an actor because of a couple of their previous productions, then you see them in another production, but with a lesser director behind them suddenly the actor is not as good as you thought they were?

RR: Yeah, I have. Some of the most profound experiences I've had is that I have friends that are actors, be it theatre or screen,  and while they're performing I'll utterly forget that I know them. That's when I know it's really working. 

While I'm writing I really don't want to go to the movies. I watch a lot of sports, because watching films can turn into work. As I'm watching I start tracking the story, and my metaphor is that I bet a surgeon doesn't go to an operating theatre after work. 

DtS: I spent a lot of time writing music, and I find it difficult to listen to music without breaking down the song into its elements. And it's a similar thing when I'm watching movies now, I'm sitting there, very aware of the hero's journey, plot points, and formula. I find it difficult to disengage and step back and just enjoy a movie as a whole without breaking it into its parts. 

RR: Yeah, but then when it works and you find yourself really lost in a story, it becomes, like, wow! Then you know that something special is happening. If it can make you step outside yourself and literally get lost in the story, that's a pretty special moment.

DtS: So you've been writing 25 years, you've been on the production side of things for 25 years, are you less able to lose yourself in film because of that? Is that one of the reasons you love sports so much, because it is real?

RR: Yeah, I think so. I love my job, because it doesn't feel like a job after 25 years of writing, producing, directing, it's been my only job, and I feel really blessed even though that sounds really corny --

DtS: No, I get what you mean, you're appreciative of the position you're in.

RR: Exactly, because I live in Denver, so when I go to LA and walk onto a studio lot, it's special. I don't do it very often.  I'll do it 5,6,7 times a year, and every time I go, it's kinda cool, because it reminds me I'm in the business.  As a screenwriter, you spend most of your time alone in a room. 

DtS: On that note of the writer in the production process, one thing that I'm really coming to understand in the film industry from experience is that the writer is quite lowly, even though they are the one that comes up with the story. What's your take on that? What's been your experience? Have you found that you're not as respected and revered as perhaps you wanted to be? Or has it been a different story for you?

RR: You know, I've actually experienced both sides of that. My first movie, The Proposition, was absolutely the best experience. We went through 12 drafts in the development process. And by the time it was over no one recognised the story anymore. And in the end, the producer said we're either doing the first draft or not at all. So we went back to the first draft, and if the script said, 'Arthur takes the steps two at a time,' they did it. So from that respect, the script was really well treated, and I was a newbie, so while I was teased on set, I was also given a lot of respect professionally speaking. And I've been on sets where you could feel that they wished you would just go away. And that really comes down to a director that doesn't want a writer around, because of their unsolicited input. And I don't do that. I understand my role. If I'm on a set I don't give the director my notes unless they ask for them.  

DtS: I think that's a really important thing to learn, your relationship with the director. I've met writers in my time who have been happy to be hands off, then there are other writers who aren't aware of the writer's position on a set. 

RR: Yeah, and unfortunately, they're the writers that make it hard for everyone else, bad manners, there's a protocol on a movie set and if you don't take the time to learn and understand that protocol it's not going to go well. The psyche of the set really comes down to the mood and the attitude of the director. And if they're collaborative, then great, people are going to be loose and much more creative, and then there's those directors who are: 'it's either my way or the highway,' and those sets tend to be very tense. 

DtS: I've worked on both and know exactly where you're coming from. 

Tell me more about how people will access your screenplay show?

RR:  For now people can access it online through the website. We're currently working out the best distribution for the series. I have spoken with another outlet, another window, and I can't go into too much detail right now, but we may end up being on a cable network. We've captured something special with the show. We finished the first episode and I really wanted to test it - and the feedback I got was kind of shocking, they said that they got so into the story, we forgot that you're actually teaching us about method. 

DtS: That's a powerful compliment.

RR: It is, but at the same time I can't forget the mission, which is, I want to help other writers find their method. Which is covered in the first episode. So what we did was put bullet points up during the narrative so people would go, 'Ah, right, yeah, I'm learning.' 

I'll stop the interview there for this post. Much more to come in the following posts. Next up Rick talks about his writing method, both the physical and the cerebral sides of creating.

For now, I just want to look at some of the nuggets of learning Rick has shared to far. 


1) The first important take-away he's discussed is the learning process. 

Rick talks about learning via the visual medium. I know that's how I learn. I read several books on screenwriting as I was starting out, but it wasn't until I had screenwriting guru Karel Segers show me the hero's journey on a slide at a presentation that it really started to sink in for me.

If the hero's journey is something that you haven't nailed yet, I highly recommend taking some of the graphs that exist and creating your own graph. Something visual that is done in your own shorthand that you can understand. 

I found looking at Christopher Vogler's circular representation of the hero's journey to be no help at all. Confusing, in fact. But when I broke that graph down into a linear line with two seperate journeys running along the same time-line - one for the inner journey (the flaw arc) and one for the external journey (events that the hero goes through) - that I found the hero's journey much easier to understand. 

2) Writing can be broken into two main parts. The creative side, and the business side. 

The creative side is something that all writers experience first. Sitting and writing. But just as important is the selling of your work. The networking. The meeting people. It's important as writers to be aware of this second aspect of writing - the business end. As it doesn't matter how great your writing is, if you can't get anyone worth a damn to read it, it's not going to be made. 

How to apply this to your work? The best experience and relationships I've made have been working with people on projects. If that means collaborating for free, then it's worth it for the people you meet. 

There are good people to meet at writing events and seminars - but I've found personally that stronger relationships are built in the process of collaborating on an actual project than just sharing polite conversation at an event for like-minded people. 

Take yourself our of your writing bubble and get involved physically. Even if that means working for free just to make contacts. It's those contacts you'll be able to call on when your writing is ready to go out to producers. If you've already worked with them on previous projects, and you worked well with them, they'll be much more likely to read your work. 

3) Learning from others. Rick talks about learning from working with other talented people. Again, if you're on a set, even if it's not your film being made, you can see people in action. You can see the physical process of how a film comes together. You can also see what dialogue works, and what doesn't. Look at the script - compare what it looks like on the page versus the final result. 

4) Write a novel.

While writing a novel is a lengthy process, and odds are, your first novel will go nowhere, what writing a novel will do is teach you to use words. I've come across a lot of writers who think they can write, but their only experience with words have been high school or university level writing of essays. That is a world away from writing 100,000 words into a story. 

There is one caveat to writing a novel you must be aware of. That is the difference in style between novels and screenplays. With novels, there's almost no rules. You can write from anyone's POV, you can delve into any character's mind when you want - you can waffle on about any old thing and so long as the writing is engaging, you'll keep your audience. With screenwriting, it is all about brevity. Conveying your scene in the most vivid, yet concise way. 

So while you are writing that novel and leaning to play with words - be aware that when you come to the screenwriting medium, brevity trumps floral-writing every time. 

5) You don't have to live in LA to make it as a writer. Rick lives in Denver. Many screenwriters I know, live outside LA. While it is important to be able to go to LA to turn e-relationsips into real life relationships - with access to today's technology, living outside LA is no longer the hurdle to breaking in that it used to be.

6) Collaboration and understanding the writer's place on the set, and set dynamic and hierarchy. 

It is very important to understand that the first draft of your script that you write WILL NOT be the draft that goes into production. Even the draft of your script that you option or sell in most cases will not be 100% verbatim transcribed to the screen. There will be changes. 

The sooner the writer comes to understand this, the easier it is for them to let go of their babies and start to work collaboratively with producers, actors and directors. 

The more open to ideas you are was a writer, the easier the collaboration process will be. This can ultimately be the difference between people wanting to work with you or not. No one wants to work with someone who has no wiggle room, or someone who takes every note about their script as a personal affront to their genius. 

I'll leave the Take Away here... much more to come in the upcoming posts from screen writer and producer Rick Ramage. 

Wednesday, 22 June 2016


While there's a lot to be leaned from watching and analysing great TV shows and films, there is also an abundance to learned from watching bad TV and bad films.

As writers, it is easy to be aware of what makes for bad writing while simultaneously incorporating those bad traits we see in other people's work into our own writing. 

For what ever reason we overlook, or somehow rationalise away the mistakes in our own works of fiction.

I Just finished watching - no, that's a lie, I just gave up on watching SURVIVOR - the 2015 spy thriller starring Milla Jovovich and Pierce Brosnan.

There's very little to recommend the film. 

One thing I noticed was that Milla is not as good an actor as I thought she was - and Pierce is actually far better than I gave him credit for.

But that's not why we're here. A break down of performance is not going to help what was already dead on the page. 

As I attempted to watch this film - I started to note down the mistakes it made. See if you have been guilty of incorporating any of these screenwriting no-no's into your works...


A lot of spy thrillers start with a hook opening. A scene that goes off with a bang. Something that grips the audience and sets up the tone and the pace of the film. 

Mostly this opening scene is directly linked to the main storyline of the film.

In Survivor - there is such a hook opening - but it's not until about half way through the film - that you learn what relevance the opening scene had to the rest of the film. Even then, when it is explained, it doesn't have a direct impact on the storyline. 

Make sure that your opening hook scene has a direct connection to your main storyline. Don't use it to setup something vague about your hero's or shadow's back story.


Just a quick re-cap on what the inciting incident is. 

It's the event that will call the hero to their adventure. It's the event that changes the hero's world so much that it tests their flaw and sends them off on their journey of self discovery. 

The sooner you get to this the better. As I've said before, and I'll no doubt say again - Jaws has its inciting incident in the opening scene. When the young woman gets eaten by the shark. That's about as soon as you can get. 

In the good old days, film goers would be happy to hang around in the ordinary world of the film for 20 minutes or so before the inciting incident would propel the hero on their journey. 

Now days, you are pushing the cinematic love if you go much past the 15 minute mark, in fact, most would argue that the 12 minute mark is about as late in the piece that you want to be writing your inciting incident.

Survivor - manages to put its inciting incident at the 24 minute mark. 

That is far too late. 

That means you have 24 minutes of watching the ordinary world. The ordinary world is called that for a good reason. It's ordinary. 

While a cleverly written story can have a compelling ordinary world - there's very few movie watchers that will sit past the 20 minute mark without wondering - why am I watching this? What's the story about? When is something interesting going to happen?

Get your inciting incident to happen as soon as feasibly logical for your storyline. If that means it's coming after the 15 minute mark - you need to tighten up those first 15 pages.


These are scenes where there is no conflict. And nothing of story importance occurs. 

There is a scene early on where Milla meets up with her close friend. A lady who is an artist. Milla goes to her gallery, hangs out, sips champagne, nothing happens. They chat. They're good friends.

This is cinematic death. You must USE every scene to move the story forward. This is the perfect example of a non-dramatic scene.

Why was it in the story? Because Milla needs a friend to call on later. 

Milla needs a friend. Great. Can't you think of any other way to introduce her friendship that could maybe have moved the story forward.

How about Milla confides in her friend that she's uncovered something illegal going on at her place of work. Perhaps they get into an argument about that? That way you can use the 'introduce Milla's friend scene' in a productive - move the story forward kind of way. 

I said they should get into an argument because ... 


Simply put. 

Drama is conflict. 

Without conflict, you have dull, dull scenes.

This maxim works across the genres.

The best comedy comes from conflict. The best horror comes from conflict. The best drama, comes from conflict. Sy-Fi, westerns, musicals - you name it, conflict is what drives story.  

Can you imagine American beauty if Kevin Spacey loved his wife, and got along fine with his daughter?

There are several scenes in Survivor where there are no conflict. Just characters chatting away, having a nice time. Getting along.

Granted, conflict does come - and when it comes, there is plenty of it - but that brings us to my next point...


This seems so - logical - but how many times have you seen a film and thought - 'that wouldn't happen in real life, it's not logical'.

In Survivor - right after the inciting incident at the 24 minute mark - Milla goes on the run.


It works for the film.

I remember thinking - why is she on the run? She's done nothing wrong.

About three scenes later - she is seen doing something wrong - so after that scene it becomes logical for her to be on the run.

But until then there is no LOGICAL reason she should go on the run. 

This brings me to the problem of the...


This is an easy one to avoid - but it still happens too often.

In Survivor - Milla is wanted for a crime that wasn't her fault. Her goal is to exonerate herself. 

How does she do that? I have no idea. Neither did the writer. 

Not for the first half of the film anyway. Maybe later he introduced something for her to go after, but for the first half of the film - I had no idea WHAT it was Milla needed to do to exonerate herself.

This is an open ended goal. A closed ended goal would have been if Milla needed to get to X to prove that she is innocent. Then we have a tangible goal to latch on to.

It's okay to have mystery in your story, just don't have the mystery be about what your hero's goal is.


Okay, that's just another word for logic.

In Survivor - there is a scene where a UK official is talking to MIlla, and says, such and such's wife died because she couldn't get a visa to go to America to have life saving surgery.

Think about how dumb that is. 

Some of the world's finest surgeons are in the UK. Some of the world's greatest surgeons are in Europe. There is no plausible reason why someone with ample amounts of money would need to fly to the US for a life saving operation. 

It's just illogical. 

It's not plausible. 

in fact.

It's stupid.

Don't write stupid things into your screenplay.



Yesterday, I wrote an entire post about the importance of the unexpected.

Telegraphing happens when we the audience can see ahead of time what is going to happen.

Now telegraphing is fine. So long as what you telegraph DOESN'T happen.

Survivor forgot that last part. 

They telegraphed that something bad was going to happen. Milla was fortunate enough to not be in the danger zone when that something bad happened. 

Nothing really bad happened to her. 

A beat was telegraphed - and it played out just the way we expected it to.

Predictable screenwriting is bad screenwriting.


I've written about this before...  but I'll say it again...

Coincidences happen all the time in real life. But when they happen in a film - the audience calls it what it is -- bullshit writing.

Example - in Survivor - Milla is about to be shot by an assassin - when - boom - just when he fires - a gas main explodes.

Coincidence? I don't think so. It's just bad writing.

She's then able to turn and run away. 


Do I even need to expand on this?

Don't write these scenes in. They were cliche in the 90's. I don't even know what they are now.

Does a double cliche make it not a cliche? Do two cliches become none?

What is the sound of one cliche clapping?

Sorry. I'll stop. You get the idea.


Seems obvious doesn't it?

And yet - here in Survivor - we have stupid moments.

Milla has just wrenched a gun from a guy. It has fired one bullet. She then tries to use the gun to shoot someone - and - it's out of bullets.

That's right - the old - one bullet cartridge gun. 

What is this the 1800's?

That's just stupid. Don't write stupid things into your script.

My final note is more a production note than a writing note - 

If you ever find yourself directing or producing a spy thriller - please don't have your sound designer add high pitched bleeping noises when text appears on a computer screen.

When text appears on your home computer does a high pitched bleeping noise accompany it?


So why the hell do they put them in films?

Never do this. Please. Ever.

Also - computer graphics that are illogical. 

When you have an actor typing at a computer screen - and there's a cool little graphic of the world, spinning around on screen - do you ever stop and ask yourself - why the hell is there a graphic of the globe spinning around on screen?

No normal computer has that - unless you're running Google Earth. 

The take away...

It's easy to be critical of other people's work - I don't do this to point the finger and make fun. I genuinely want you as writers to become aware of these common mistakes so that when you are writing your scripts you can avoid the pitfalls of others.

Luck with your writing... :)

Tuesday, 21 June 2016


A pretty straight forward one today. But often it's the simple, seemingly obvious elements of screenwriting that we forget. 


I read a lot of screenplays. 

The majority of them are really quite good on one level or another. But the competition being what it is, good isn't good enough. Nor is 'really quite good.'

What a reader, or more importantly, what a producer is looking for is something that takes them by surprise. Something that pushes the bar, something that they weren't expecting.

Most readers/producers start reading a screenplay with a small amount of context. They will have read the logline. They have the title to go from. They will know the genre the script has supposedly been written in. 

When the reader/producer has a logline, genre and a title to go from, they go into a read expecting certain things... 

Now if you fail to meet that expectation (through poor writing), the results are, rejection. But even if you meet those expectations, odds are, you'll get rejection also. Why? Readers/producers want to be surprised. They want to be taken off guard. 

One of the most common faults I see in screenplays is the predictability factor. When you read enough screenplays you can see the formula at work. 

And while formula is a good thing on one hand, when formula is too pronounced in your writing, it detracts from your work, because the reader/producer are always two steps ahead of your story. When a reader/producer is expecting a scene to happen - and then it does, they start to check out. 

My advice?

Write the unexpected. Now obviously I need to hedge that with - don't write the unexpected for the sake of writing the unexpected - and don't go too far with your 'unexpected moment'. 

Within the world you have created, try to write moments that will surprise your character, yourself, and ultimately readers/producers and some day - your audience. 

What do I mean by don't go too far? 

When you think about it, writing something unexpected is pretty damn easy. 

You could write a romantic story for 15 pages, then suddenly introduce aliens that grow out one of the leads eyeballs. That's pretty unexpected. It's also stupid. It's too far. 

Keep your unexpected moments within the boundaries of the world you've created.

The Crying Game is probably the very best example of the unexpected.


In fact...

If you haven't seen the crying game. Do not read the rest of this post. If you're one of the lucky few who have not experienced that film. Do not google anything about it. 

Simply get yourself a copy and watch.

For those that have seen it, you know what I'm talking about.

The moment that it's revealed the male lead has fallen in love with a transvestite - the film has done the unexpected. There's no way anyone saw that coming and the film is sensational  because of it. 

Can you imagine that film if the transvestite had simply been a woman?

You'd have another romantic film, that would have been lost to the ages. There's no way I'd be writing a post about it.

Now that unexpected moment is a great example of a MACRO unexpected beat. Macro unexpected beats are MAJOR unexpected moments that turn the direction of the film/story.

Simply put they're the twists. 

Now a good twist is worth millions.


M. Night earned $2.5m for coming up with the idea for the Sixth Sense. He then built a career writing and directing films with Macro unexpected beats. 

(He also then bombed majorly - but that's another story)

Macro unexpected moments fuel films, but coming up with a good macro unexpected beat that hasn't been done yet - that's getting harder and harder.

Micro unexpected beats, on the other hand, are much easier to write, and while they don't necessarily have the same clout that a macro unexpected beat does, they can be powerful on the scene level.

Give me an example I hear you say... 


I was writing a scene in a new script I'm working on today, where the lead has to go to a public phone booth to phone a man that he's going to engage to kill his wife. 

He has to use a public phone so the call can't be linked back to him. 

Now the way I originally drafted this scene, was that he is driven to this public phone in a really bad neighborhood, in his limo (he'a a billionaire) then he makes the call and sets up the meet with the man who's going to kill his wife.

But when I looked at the scene - the expectation of the scene was met. Which means it's a dull scene.

Going into he scene, we already knew he was going to the public phone booth to phone the man to setup the meet. So if we already know that's going to happen, then we see it happen - it's boring as shit.

So I re-wrote the scene, this time - I inserted a moment halfway through the conversation with the killer, where a junkie grabs the Billionaire, puts a knife to his throat and demands his wallet. 

Suddenly we have the unexpected. 

Now, by adding this unexpected element, what I've also done, is added STAKES to the scene. 

Previous - there were no scene stakes. You could argue that making the phone call and engaging the man to kill his wife carries stakes - being that he might be arrested for conspiracy to murder - but there's no urgency to those stakes, and they might also never come to be.

With a junkie holding a knife to his throat, there is the immediacy of the risk of life. 

By adding this unexpected moment, I've also given the billionaire a moment to SHOW HIS FLAW. 

Reminding the audience of the hero's flaw is a good idea. You just don't want to ram it down our throats too much.

My hero's flaw is that he allows the memory of his late father to control his life. And in this instance, as the junkie takes his wallet from him, the hero tries to barter to keep the wallet as it was given to him by his father. 

I've shown the hero's flaw - he is willing to argue with a junkie over something that reminds him of his father. He's willing to risk his life for the sake of his father's memory.

The third thing it's done is to add urgency. Something had to be done about this situation that the hero is in. 

The fourth thing - is it allowed me to change the charge of the scene.

What's the 'charge of the scene' I hear you ask?

Every scene should end at the opposite of where it started - emotionally speaking. Soooooo - to give an example - if your character starts the scene happy - it's good to finish sad. If they start composed, end the scene with them being flustered, or nervous. 

What ever the emotional charge of the character at the start of the scene, try to flip that emotion by the end of the scene.

So in my given example - the hero started the scene composed and determined - and after the near death experience with the junkie - he is no longer as composed, cool, or calm. He's a nervous wreck. 

This moment that I injected works because it fell within the bounds of the world I setup.

He had specifically driven into a really bad neighborhood to use a public phone. So when he's jumped by a junkie, it's not unrealistic within the context of the story.

If I had him at home, making the call from his cell, then someone broke in and put a knife to his throat, then left, and that break-in had nothing else to do with the story, then it would be unrealistic. It would feel like a 'movie moment.'

Coincidences happen all the time in real life. The moment you inject a coincidence into a film, the audience will groan, roll their eyes and call it what it is - cheap writing. 


So what's the takeaway?

Go through the script you're working on. Look at each scene. Ask yourself - going into this scene what did the audience expect? 

Then look at the scene - and if you deliver exactly what you promised - then rewrite it until something happens in that scene you were not expecting to happen. 

If you can surprise yourself - as the writer - your reader will also be surprised and that is a good thing. 

Thursday, 16 June 2016


I read a horror feature screenplay last night called MARY.

Among many problems with the script the core problem that I kept coming back to was that none of the characters had a flaw. 

Why is this so important I hear you ask?

There's essentially two levels to any feature screenplay. There is the OUTER JOURNEY - the things that happen to the hero & characters and the things that they do. 

Then there is the INNER JOURNEY. This is the battle within that the HERO and hopefully other characters will go through over the course of the story. 

When you write a story where the Hero and the other main players don't have any inner conflict going on, you're basically only allowing yourself to write HALF a story. 

Everything that happens to the characters will be external. Events that may seem really cool and interesting will not resonate on any level other than spectacle. 

Why is it that a TV series like MADMEN can be so engaging and successful yet have so little going on by way of external events? 

The answer is simple - because each and every character in that show has a deeper level to them. They all have internal conflict. They all have widely varying flaws. 

When Madmen was new to the world and had its initial buzz going, I heard a radio presenter refer to it as 'that show where nothing happens, but you can't stop watching.'

That presenter didn't understand that there was a LOT HAPPENING, it was just all inner journey. 

Most people, when asked to summarise a film they saw will repeat the external events...'X went to this country and kidnapped this person, but that person turned out to be the wrong person, and they ended up working together to catch the right person...' etc... etc... you get the idea.

For what ever reason, we don't summarise the inner conflict of the characters in a film, even though it is the inner journey with which we resonate the most. 

The inner journey is what we connect to on a human level. Spectacle will only keep us engaged for a certain period of time. Watching a cold CIA operative go to a country, kidnap someone, then interrogate them will only be engaging for so long. It's the inner journey of the CIA agent that will really keep us glued to the story. 

To create a truly successful screenplay, you must create a connection between the watcher and the characters on screen. There needs to be a VICARIOUS connection. 

There are two KEY ways to create this connection. The first - simplest way - is to endear us toward your character - make us like them. That's simply called empathy. 

Make your hero (and other characters you want the audience to like) DO things that will make us like them. 

This is a HUGE mistake I see in a lot of screenplays. There is this notion, that just because YOU the WRITER created this character your audience will fall in love with them in the same way you have?

Characters you create are like your babies. You love them because they are a part of you. Others that are close to you (friends, family) will love your characters but to a lesser degree, simply because you created them. This is why it's not a good idea to get friends and family to review your screenplays - no matter what they say - they are bias. 

A complete stranger will look at your characters in a completely different light. Like all people we meet in real life, we judge them by the content of their character - meaning - we judge them by the way they act, the things they say and the things they do, and also the things they don't do. 

As for real life, the same is true for the fictional world of screenplays. You must make your characters say, act, and do things that will make your audience like them. 

Now the second main way to create that all-important vicarious connection between audience and film character, is through the flaw.

Everyone in real life has a flaw. 

Many, many people would argue that they don't. But think of the hubris of that statement. To argue you have NO FLAW is to argue that you are a perfect human being.

Would you ever argue that about yourself in all sincerity?

Perhaps a better test would be, to think of all the people you know and ask, are any of those people absolutely perfect human beings. 

There will be people who have larger more obvious flaws, certainly, but I doubt there will be people who are without flaw. 

Having a flaw is what makes us human. This is why we identify with characters who have flaws. To write a character that doesn't have a flaw, makes them un-human.

A very important aspect of the flaw is RELIABILITY.

A character with the flaw of a phobia of flying bricks, is going to be more difficult to relate to than a person who is fearful of change. 

The latter flaw is shared by far more people than the former. 

The flaw doesn't have to be singular. It's fine to give your characters multiple flaws. Many people in real life suffer from many micro flaws. 

Another important thing about the flaw to note, is that it's important to give all of your main characters flaws. I often read screenplays where the hero has a good flaw, but the ancillary characters have none. These kind of scripts read as un-true for obvious reasons. 

There is also the problem of the over-pronounced flaw. Be carful of overstating your characters' flaws. 

The late, famous, Blake Snyder said that within the first 5 pages of your screenplay you should have a character openly state what your hero's flaw is. 

While that advice might have stood up 10-15 years ago, the movie going public, and film making people are all too aware of the importance of the flaw. To over state it as Snyder suggests is too obtuse these days. Subtly is important in the delivery of the flaw.

So now that we've established the importance of the flaw, let's look at how that flaw relates to the structure of your screenplay.


Here we find your hero living their life as per normal. They don't achieve their full potential BECAUSE their flaw holds them back. OR their flaw is causing their problems. 


You will often hear people describe the inciting incident as an event that shakes up the hero's world and sends them on a journey. That's only HALF true.

What an inciting incident does is it TESTS the hero's flaw. If the inciting indent has nothing to do with the hero's flaw, then the story will be disjointed. 

The reason the inciting incident is so important to the hero is that it highlights the inner problem your hero has been ignoring, UNTIL NOW.

Just a quick story structure note - there's a lot of confusion regarding the INCITING INCIDENT and the CALL TO ADVENTURE. There is a common misnomer that they are the same thing. 

They are not the same thing.

The very simplest way to define their differences is... 

The INCITING INCIDENT is the EVENT that happens that WILL change the hero's life and test their flaw.


Let's look at Jaws really quickly. The Inciting Incident is the shark attack in the opening scene. 

The call to adventure is when Brody finds out about the death. 

They are two very different moments. 

The II and the CTA can happen simultaneously say - if Brody had witnessed the girl be eaten in the opening scene. 


Good... moving on...


The hero refuses the call - BECAUSE it tests their flaw. Until now, their way of dealing with their flaw has been to ignore it... try to pretend it doesn't exist. 


This is the second inciting incident, that second major event early on that forces the hero to accept the journey. Again, it tests the hero's flaw, this time to a much stronger degree than the first test. This time, the hero can not ignore the adventure. 

This is the first moment that their inner journey begins. They do something they haven't done before. Until now, their flaw has been controlling them, they now confront their flaw, and go outside their comfort zone. This is the first step on their inner journey of confronting and ultimately resolving their flaw. 

In Star Wars, the catalyst is when Luke comes home to find his uncle and aunt and his home have been destroyed. He now has no choice but to go on his adventure... 


The hero now begins their adventure... 

They move into a new world that is alien to them. This new world can be an entirely new environment, OR it can be a change of circumstances in their existing world. 

This new environment, or this new set of circumstances is difficult for the hero because it tests their flaw. There are decisions they must make that normally their flaw would force them to ignore. 



Two major events occur on the hero's journey. Each event is a test of the hero's flaw. In the first case, the hero reacts in a completely flawed manner and something detrimental happens. 

Then in the second event, there is another test of the hero's flaw, and while they don't react in the same way as the first event, they do still act in a flawed way. Again, the result is detrimental.


Here the hero faces a LARGE TEST of their flaw. This is often a life or death situation. They react in a flawed way, but because of the close call, they are now consciously aware of their flaw. They can see that continuing on this flawed path will end in a really bad way. Very often death for them or a loved one.

There are many other things that happen at the mid point, but I'm only focusing on the hero's journey as it pertains to the FLAW for this article.


The hero makes a major attempt to change their ways, to resolve their flaw, but it's a case of too little too late, and they are pushed toward...


This is the lowest point in the film. Lower than the mid point. The hero will find themselves in a place where there is seemingly no escape. 

It is here they look back on why-and-how they arrived at this awful juncture in their life. They truly realise and accept that it is their flaw that brought them here. If they hadn't been flawed, if they hadn't made all these bad decisions, they would not have ended up here. 

This is known as the CONFESSION. 

The hero as good as states their flaw. NOW, in keeping with the rule of subtly, I'd actually advise against having the hero say out loud verbatim - 'my flaw is X and if I didn't do X I wouldn't be here.' That's far too on the nose. Have this beat occur in a subtle way.


Because the hero has now confessed to their flaw. they are REWARDED in some way that allows them to get out of their predicament. Now that they are no longer flawed, they start to think in a new way, act in a new way, this change of character allows them to break free from the shackles of the past and forge forward.


The hero has now completely resolved their flaw. They are no longer the broken person they once were. They have now in fact shape-shifted into a MENTOR - someone who can help guide others on their journeys. 

Because your hero is no longer flawed - they confront their nemesis - the SHADOW and defeat them. During the conflict, there is a test of their flaw - but now they are no longer flawed - they make the right decision - which allows them to overcome the shadow.


The hero returns to their ordinary world a changed person.

They are again confronted with a test - often the exact same test we saw in the opening scene, but they now react in an unflawed manner. We now see that they have learned from their journey and most importantly they have CHANGED. 

There... you have it... the importance of the flaw.

I hope it helps you with your current/next screenplay.

Happy writing....