Tools of The Trade


Here are some examples of writing techniques and methods I find useful both in my own writing and when I'm consulting.



Make sure your reader root for your protagonist in the very beginning by employing at least two of these methods:

  1. Sympathy; The hero is the victim of some undeserved misfortune.
  2. Jeopardy; We worry the protagonist will lose something very important.
  3. Likeability; Show the protagonist as kind, loving and supportive.

  4. Humor; We identity with people that makes us laugh.
  5. Talent/Skill; The hero is very good at what she does.


Source: Selling your story in 60 seconds by Michael Hauge


The desire is what the hero wants in the story (the particular goal outside the character that he's aware of).
The need is what the hero must fulfill within himself in order to have a better life and involves overcoming weaknesses, growing and changing (a weakness within the character that he's not aware of in the beginning).


    Desire: As in all courtroom dramas, Frank Galvin wants to win the case.
    Need: Frank must regain his self-respect and learn to act with justice toward others.

    Desire: Jake wants to find out who killed Hollis and why.
    Need: He must overcome his cocky arrogance and learn to trust others.

Source: The anatomy of story by John Truby


What weaknesses, psychological and moral, does the protagonist possess in the beginning?
What is the basic action the hero undertakes as she/he struggles to achieve the tangible dramatic goal?
And how has the protagonist changed in the end as a result?

W x A = C


  • Luke Skywalker in STAR WARS 
    W (weaknesses at the beginning) - naive, impetuous, paralyzed, unfocused, lacking confidence
    A (basic action) - uses his skills as a fighter
    C (changed person) - self-esteem, a place among the chosen few, a fighter for good

  • Michael Corleone in THE GODFATHER

    W (weaknesses at the beginning) - unconcerned, afraid, mainstream, legitimate, separated from the family
    A (basic action) - takes revenge
    C (changed person) - tyrannical, absolute ruler of the family

Source: The anatomy of story by John Truby



  1. Sex
  2. Age
  3. Height and weight
  4. Colour of hair, eyes, skin
  5. Posture
  6. Appearance: good-looking, over- or underweight, clean, neat, pleasant, untidy. Shape of head, face, limbs.
  7. Defects: deformities, abnormalities, birthmarks. Diseases.
  8. Heredity.


  1. Class: lower, middle, upper.
  2. Occupation: type of work, hours of work, income, condition of work, union or nonunion, attitude towards organisation, suitability for work.
  3. Education: amount, kind of schools, marks, favourite subjects, poorest subjects, aptitudes.
  4. Home life: parents living, earning power, orphan, parents separated or divorced, parents’ habits, parents’ mental development, parents’ vices, neglect. Character’s marital status.
  5. Religion
  6. Ethnicity, nationality
  7. Place in community: leader among friends, clubs, sports.
  8. Political affiliations
  9. Amusements, hobbies: books, newspapers, magazines he reads.


  1. Sex life, moral standards
  2. Personal premise, ambition
  3. Frustrations, chief disappointments
  4. Temperament: choleric, easygoing, pessimistic, optimistic.
  5. Attitude towards life: resigned, militant, defeatist.
  6. Complexes: obsessions, inhibitions, superstitions, phobias.
  7. Extrovert, introvert, ambivert.
  8. Abilities: languages, talents.
  9. Qualities: imagination, judgement, taste, poise.
  10. I.Q.

Source: The art of dramatic writing by Lajos Egri


  1. Hero
    The main character whose outer motivation drives the plot forward.
  2. Nemesis
    The character standing in the way of the hero achieving his or her outer motivation.
  3. Reflection
    The character who supports the hero's outer motivation.
  4. Romance

    The love interest, the character whose role in a story is that of a lover — or potential lover — to the protagonist.

Source: Writing screenplays that sell by Michael Hauge

Outer motivation

Outer conflict

Inner motivation

Inner conflict


Become an officer; affair with Paula

School; Paula wants marriage

Belong; desires her

Won't trust anyone or give himself to others




  1. Hero:
    someone who is willing to sacrifice his own needs on behalf of others
  2. Mentor:
    all the characters who teach and protect heroes and give them gifts
  3. Threshold Guardian:
    a menacing face to the hero, but if understood, they can be overcome
  4. Herald:
    a force that brings a new challenge to the hero
  5. Shapeshifter:
    characters who change constantly from the hero's point of view
  6. Shadow:
    character who represents the energy of the dark side
  7. Ally:
    someone who travels with the hero through the journey, serving variety of functions
  8. Trickster:
    embodies the energies of mischief and desire for change

Source: The writer's journey by Christopher Vogler



A logline is a single sentence describing the story, used by the writer to create clarity of vision and extracting the essence before launching into the first draft. It's also a powerful marketing tool to interest an agent or a producer.

The logline tells the reader three things; who the lead character is, what her problem is and how she's going to solve it, i.e. the who, what, how of the story. 


    Who (character): A high-powered surgeon
    What (conflict): is wrongly convicted of murdering his wife
    How (desire): and must escape custody to hunt down the real killer.
    What (conflict): When a powerful gangster is gunned down,
    Who (character): his reluctant son
    How (desire): must seek revenge and take over the family business.

Source: How to write great screenplays and get them into production by Linda M James

A good logline satisfies four basic elements in order to be effective:

  1. Irony.
    It must be in some way ironic and emotionally involving — a dramatic situation that is
    like an itch you have to scratch.
  2. A compelling mental picture.
    It must bloom in your mind when you hear it. A whole movie
    must be implied, often including a time frame.
  3. Audience and cost.
    It must demarcate the tone, the target audience, and the sense of cost,
    so buyers will know if it can make a profit
  4. A killer title.
    The one-two punch of a good logline must include a great title, one that "says
    what it is" and does so in a clever way. One of the key ingredients in a good title, however, is
    that it must be the headline of the story.

Source: Save the cat by Blake Snyder


It's important to know what type of story you're writing and a good idea is to "screen" a dozen stories similar to the one you're working on. Why are certain plot elements important? Why do they work or don't? How can you change the cliché into something fresh? You can do this research in the preparation phase or if you get stuck in the writing process. 

These categories are a very helpful tool to identify the mechanics of your story.

  1. MONSTER IN THE HOUSE: Monster, House, Sin

    "A culpable hero is forced to save a trapped group of people from being killed by a monster he inadvertently unleashed."

    Don't-get-eaten stories, such as the myth of the Minotaur: You're stuck in a maze with a half-man, half-bull guy trying to kill you.

    The telltale signs: 

    • A "monster", supernatural in its powers - even if its strength derives from insanity - and "evil" at its core.
    • A "house", meaning an enclosed space that can include a room, a building, a small village, a spaceship, an island or a quarantined city. No place to run.
    • A "sin". Someone is guilty of bringing the monster in the house. 

    - Pure Monster: ALIEN
    - Domestic Monster: FATAL ATTRACTION
    - Serial Monster: SCREAM
    - Supra-Natural Monster: THE RING
    - Nihilist Monster: SAW

  2. GOLDEN FLEECE: Road, Team, Prize

    "A driven hero must lead a group of allies to retrieve a prized possession through a perilous journey that wasn’t what the hero expected."

    The Quest Story. The hero may not reach the goal he set out for, but he does reach a different goal: self-discovery.

    Telltale signs:

    • A "road" spanning oceans, time or across the street - so long as it demarcates growth.
    • A "team" or buddy the hero needs to guide him along the way, and who represents things the hero lacks, such as skill, experience, or attitude.
    • A "prize" to be won—going home, obtaining a treasure, securing a birthright, etc.

    - Sports Fleece: THE BAD NEWS BEARS
    - Epic Fleece: SAVING PRIVATE RYAN
    - Caper Fleece: OCEAN'S ELEVEN
    - Solo Fleece: MARIA FULL OF GRACE

  3. OUT OF THE BOTTLE: Wish, Spell, Lesson

    "A covetous hero must learn to undo a spell he wished for before it turns into a curse he can’t undo."

    The story about wishes and curses; on the wish side, we have a hero who makes a wish that gets unexpectedly granted and on the curse side, we have the "comeuppance tales."

    Telltale signs:

    • A "wish" asked for by the hero or granted by another, and the clearly seen need to be delivered from the ordinary.
    • A "spell" that sets up the situation, and which has "rules" that must be followed.
    • A "lesson" that is to be learned from the experience.

    - Body Switch Bottle: FREAKY FRIDAY
    - Angel Bottle: COCOON
    - Thing Bottle: THE NUTTY PROFESSOR
    - Curse Bottle: WHAT WOMEN WANT

  4. DUDE WITH A PROBLEM: Innocent Hero, Sudden Event, Life or Death

    "An unwitting hero must survive at all costs when he is dragged into a life or death situation he never saw coming and cannot escape."

    Survival stories such as Daniel in the Lion's Den or Jack London and his Arctic adventures.
    An ordinary guy finds himself in extraordinary circumstances (like a wife being kidnapped by terrorists) and as he's thrusted into this situation that he's ill-equipped to deal with, 

    he discovers his inner strength - a reminder we're not that average after all.

    Telltale signs:

    • An "innocent hero" propelled into big trouble by
    • a "sudden event" (without asking for it)
    • A "life or death" battle where the continued existence of an individual, family, group or society is at stake.

    - Law Enforcement Problem: DIE HARD
    - Domestic Problem: SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY
    - Epic Problem: DEEP IMPACT
    - Nature Problem: OPEN WATER

  5. RITES OF PASSAGE: Life Problem, Wrong Way, Acceptance

    "A troubled hero’s only way to overcome a spiraling life crisis is to defeat his worst enemy – himself."

    The "life transition" story where the hero undergoes "pain and torment" from a vague force that turns out to be... life.

    Telltale signs:

    • a "life problem" that must be dealt with (from puberty to midlife to death)

    • a "wrong way" to attack the problem (usually a diversion from confronting the pain)

    • and a solution that involves "acceptance" of a hard truth, and the knowledge that it's the hero who must change, not the world around him.

    - Mid-Life Passage: 10
    - Separation Passage: KRAMER VS. KRAMER
    - Death Passage: ORDINARY PEOPLE
    - Addiction Passage: 28 DAYS
    - Adolescent Passage: NAPOLEON DYNAMITE

  6. BUDDY LOVE: Incomplete Hero, Counterpart, Complication

    "An inadequate hero must rise above an extremely difficult situation to be with a uniquely unlikely partner who is the only one capable of bringing him peace."

    The "my life changed for having known someone else" story with its different variations, such as; Classic Love Story; Buddy Story; A Boy and His Dog.

    Telltale signs:

    • an "incomplete hero" who is missing something physical, ethical or spiritual; he needs another to be whole

    • a "counterpart" who makes the completion come about

    • and a "complication", be it a misunderstanding, personal or ethical viewpoint, disapproval of society, or epic historical event.


    - Pet Love: FREE WILLY
    - Professional Love: LETHAL WEAPON
    - Rom-com Love: WHEN HARRY MET SALLY
    - Epic Love: TITANIC
    - Forbidden Love: BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN

  7. WHYDUNIT: Detective, Secret, Dark Turn

    "A single-minded hero must find the truth to a mystery so intriguing before he is swallowed by the darkness he desperately seeks to expose."

    The classic detective story. Once we've unraveled the mystery, we discover "something unexpected... dark and often unattractive" about human nature.

    Telltale signs:

    • the "detective", (an experienced pro, a cop, a civilian, a journalist etc)

    • the "secret" of the case is so strong it overwhelms the worldly lures of money, sex, power or fame and ultimately forces our hero to take

    • a "dark turn", breaking the rules, even his own, in order to get to the bottom of the mystery.


    - Political Whydunit: ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN
    - Fantasy Whydunit: BLADE RUNNER
    - Cop Whydunit FARGO
    - Personal Whydunit: MYSTIC RIVER
    - Noir Whydunit: CHINATOWN

  8. THE FOOL TRIUMPHANT: Fool, Establishment, Transmutation

    "An innocent hero’s only way to defeat the prejudices of a group is to change himself without losing what made him the group’s target of disdain in the first place – his uniqueness."

    The tale of the underdog, the village idiot, and the establishment that underestimates him. But

    because he's The Fool, he's got the forces of luck and good nature on his side.

    Telltale signs:

    • a "fool", the overlooked man or woman who is often naive about his own powers

    • an "establishment" that the fool either rises to challenge or is sent in to engage

    • a "transmutation" in which the fool becomes someone or something new, often including a "name change" that's taken on either by accident or as a disquise.


    - Political Fool: BEING THERE
    - Undercover Fool: TOOTSIE
    - Society Fool: FORREST GUMP
    - Fool Out of Water: LEGALLY BLONDE
    - Sex Fool: THE 40-YEAR OLD VIRGIN

  9. INSTITUTIONALIZED: Group, Choice, Sacrifice

    "An outsider’s only way to save his individuality is by going against the many who wish to integrate him into their fold."

    This is the tale of a group and the story details the pros and cons of "putting the group ahead of ourselves." What should the individual do when she realizes that what the group is doing is wrong? Who's crazier, them or me?

    Telltale signs:

    • a "group" (family, organization, business, etc)

    • a "choice" between towing the company line or being a rebel

    • finally, a "sacrifice" must be made, leading to one of three endings—join the system, destroy it, or commit some form of "suicide."


    - Military Institution: M*A*S*H
    - Family Institution: THE GODFATHER
    - Business Institution: OFFICE SPACE
    - Mentor Institution: TRAINING DAY
    - Issue Institution: CRASH

  10. SUPERHERO: Special Power, Nemesis, Curse

    "A uniquely special hero must defeat an opponent with stronger capabilities by using the same powers that disconnect him from the people he hopes to save."

    The story about that special someone who has come to save us (Jesus, Moses, Hercules,

    Joan of Arc, Spiderman etc). 

    Telltale signs:

    • The hero must have a "special power" - even if it´s just a mission to be great

    • a "Nemesis" must oppose the hero with equal or greater force

    • a "curse" or Achilles heel - for every power there's a defect


    - Real Life Superhero: RAGING BULL
    - Story Book Superhero: THE LION KING
    - Fantasy Superhero: THE MATRIX
    - People's Superhero: GLADIATOR
    - Comic Book Superhero: SPIDERMAN 2

Source: Save the cat goes to the movies by Blake Snyder (strongly recommended)




Opening Image


Sets the tone, mood, type, and scope of the project. A "before" snapshot.

Theme Stated


Secondary character poses question or statement to main character that is the thematic premise of the story.



Present the main character’s world as it is, what is missing in their life, introduce or hint at every character in A story; plant character tics to be addressed later on.



Life-changing event that knocks down the house of cards in main character's world (inciting incident).



Main character reacts to the catalyst, debates the question; what happens now? Moment of doubt. Can I face this challenge? Do I have what it takes? Should I go at all?

Break Into Act 2


The main character makes a choice, leaves the “Thesis” world and enters the upside-down, opposite world of Antithesis Act Two. The journey begins with the hero's tangible goal as the engine generating tension.



Often the "love" story; gives us a break from the tension of the A story; carries theme of story; often uses new "funhouse" version of characters.

Fun & Games


The main character explores the new world and the audience is entertained by the premise they have been promised by the logline. The heart of the movie. The poster.



Occurs right around the middle of the script. An ordeal leading to the main character either getting everything they think they want ("false victory") or not getting what they think they want at all ("false defeat"). The stakes are raised.

Bad Guys Close In


Both internally (problems inside the hero's team) and externally (as actual bad guys tighten their grip) real pressure is applied.

All Is Lost


The moment that the main character realizes they’ve lost everything they gained, or everything they now have has no meaning. "Whiff of death" as something (like an old way of thinking) or someone (like a mentor) dies. 

Dark Night Of The Soul


The main character hits bottom, and wallows in hopelessness. The Why hast thou forsaken me, Lord? moment.

Break Into Act 3


Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute Thematic advice from the B Story (usually the love interest), the main character chooses to try again.



The main character incorporates the Theme – the nugget of truth that now makes sense to them – into their fight for the goal because they have experience from the A Story and context from the B Story. Act Three is about Synthesis; from what was, and that which has been learned, the hero forges a third way.

Final Image


Opposite of Opening Image, proving, visually, that a change has occurred within the character.


Story Arc Beat Sheet by Blake Snyder, a great tool for organizing a story during drafting or revisions.

It breaks down the three-act structure into bite-size, manageable sections, each with a specific goal for your overall story.

Like the logline description, summarizing each beat with one or two sentences is a good way to see if you have the beat or not.


On the verge ofStasis=Death moment, a flawed protagonist Breaks Into Two; but when the Midpoint happens, he/she must learn the Theme Stated, before All Is Lost.

"On the verge of"; the hero's situation when we begin the story
"Stasis=Death moment"; in the beginning the hero feels that his life is deficient and the emotional need for


    On the verge of returning to Earth after another routine mission, a rules-obsessed warrant officer lets an unknown alien species onto the ship; but when the creature kills one member of the crew and begins to grow in power, she must do what is right rather than what she's been told or else all on board will meet the same deadly fate.

    On the verge of missing Thanksgiving when his flight is diverted, an uptight ad executive is forced to travel by any means possible with a zany salesman with a secret; but when he loses the last rental car to get back home, he must learn that family is more important than his job, and get back in time or bust.

Source: Save the cat strikes back by Blake Snyder


Michael Hauge's plot structure template consists of six basic stages, which are defined by five key turning points in the plot.

Compare; Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet, Syd Field Paradigm, Christopher Vogler's Hero's Journey


Acts & Stages



Act 1



The reader is drawn into the story setting. Reveal the everyday life your hero has been living, and establish identification with your hero by making her sympathetic, threatened, likable, funny and/or powerful.


Turning Point 1: Opportunity

An event occurs that creates a desire in the protagonist. Reader gets a glimpse of their longing or need.


New situation

The hero will react to the new situation that resulted from the opportunity. She tries to figure out what’s going on, or formulates a specific plan for accomplishing her overall goal.


Turning Point 2: Change of plans

Something happens to the hero that transforms the original desire into a specific, visible goal with a clearly defined end point. That’s the visible finish line the audience is rooting for your hero to achieve by the end of the story.


Act 2



The hero’s plan seems to be working as she takes action to achieve her goal. This is not to say that this stage is without conflict. But whatever obstacles your hero faces, she is able to avoid or overcome them as she approaches ...


Turning Point 3: Point of no return

Up to this point, she had the option of turning back, giving up on her plan, and returning to the life she was living at the beginning of the film. But now your hero must fully commit to her goal and burn her bridges behind her. They are taking a much bigger risk than at any previous time, and as a result of passing this point of no return, they must now face...



Complications and Higher Stakes

Achieving the visible goal becomes far more difficult, and your hero has much more to lose if she fails. This conflict continues to build until, just as it seems that success is within your hero’s grasp, she suffers a…


Turning Point 4: Major setback

Something must happen to your hero that makes it seem to the audience that all is lost: These disastrous events leave your hero with only one option: she must make one, last, all-or-nothing, do-or-die effort as she enters …


Act 3



Final push

Your hero must now risk everything she has, and give every ounce of strength and courage she possesses, to achieve her ultimate goal. The conflict is overwhelming, the pace has accelerated, and everything works against your hero, until she reaches ...


Turning Point 5: The climax

The hero faces the biggest obstacle of all; she must determine her own fate; and the outer motivation must be resolved once and for all. 




The new life that your hero is living now that she’s completed her journey is revealed.


Title is a genre about hero, a role who empathy/setup. When hero is opportunity, hero decides to new situation / preliminary goal. But when change of plans, hero now must outer motivation/primary goal by hero’s plan, in spite of the fact that outer conflict.



    Shrek is an animated fairy tale about Shrek, a loveable, courageous ogre who lives alone in his swamp because the townspeople reject him. When Shrek is plagued by fairy tale creatures who have invaded his home, Shrek decides to go tell the powerful Lord Farquaad to send them back home. But when Farquaad sends Shrek on a mission in return for his swamp, Shrek now must rescue a princess and win her love by overcoming a fearsome dragon and stopping her marriage to Farquaad, in spite of the fact that Farquaad will stop at nothing to keep her, and she secretly turns into an ogre herself every night.

Source: Story Mastery - Michael Hauge



Closed ending

Open ending

External conflict

Internal conflict

Single protagonist 

Multiple protagonists 

Active protagonist 

Passive protagonist 

Linear time  

Nonlinear time  



Consistent reality

Inconsistent reality





  • Static conflict: 
    The story remains static because the story does not move forward. It does not exert force of any kind. There is no rising conflict.  

  • Jumping conflict:

    This type of conflict defines a character that travels from one pole to another and does not grow at a steady rate. When a play omits intervening steps when a character changes from one pole to another, the result is jumping conflict. This defies reality and common sense.

  • Rising conflict:

    Grows naturally without obvious effort from the writer. Rising conflict is when two determined, uncompromising forces in combat will create a virile rising conflict.

  • Foreshadowing conflict:

    Without foreshadowing, no conflict can exist. Conflict is always foreshadowed in a story. Foreshadowing promises conflict in the story.

Source: The art of dramatic writing by Lajos Egri


  • Inner: 
    Conflict arising from the protagonist's internal thoughts, feelings and belief system.

  • Personal:

    Conflicts within personal and intimate relationships (family, friends, lovers etc). 

  • Extra-personal:

    All sources of antagonism outside the personal - conflict with social institutions, individuals (corporation/client; cop/criminal; doctor/patient, etc) and the physical environment. 

    The unique strength of the novel is the dramatization of inner conflict.
    The unique command of the theatre is the dramatization of personal conflict.
    The unique power of the cinema is the dramatization of extra-personal conflict.

    To achieve complexity the writer brings his characters into conflict on all three levels, often simultaneously.

Source: Story by Robert McKee


A test to apply to any story:
What does the protagonist stand to lose if he does not get what he wants?
What is the risk?
What's the worst thing that will happen to the protagonist if he does not achieve his desire?

Source: Story by Robert McKee


Vice: Character's emotion
/ dominant trait

+ Conflict (or direction)

+ Negative Result

Blind trust

leads to

destruction (KING LEAR)

Ruthless ambition

leads to

its own destruction (MACBETH)



itself and the object of its love (OTHELLO)

Virtue: Character's emotion

/ dominant trait

+ Conflict (or direction)

+ Positive Result

Sacrificial love


hopelessness (PRIDE OF THE MARINES)

Unconditional love

leads to

happiness (GROUNDHOG DAY)

Conquering intellectual illusions and following our instincts 


love into our lives. (HANNAH AND HER SISTERS)


The premise clearly states what the writer is trying to say, what the script's moral argument is.
It is the underlying thematic idea of your story, the foundation that supports your entire plot, 

the essence that your story aims to prove, the DNA and thumbnail of the story.

How do you find the premise?

Look at what happens to the characters as a result of the core conflict of the story.

Egri's equation for premise contains three things based on the character, the conflict and the resulting conclusion:


The Controlling Idea (the core meaning of the story) has two components:
Value + Cause

Value = the primary value in its positive or negative charge that comes into the world or life of your character as a result of the final action of the story.
Cause = the primary reason that the life or world of the protagonist has turned to its positive or negative value.

How do you find the controlling idea? Look at the ending and ask:
- As a result of this climactic action, what value (positively or negatively charged) is brought into the world of my protagonist?

- Tracing backward from this climax, what is the chief cause, force or means by which this value is brought into his world? 

The sentence you compose from the answers to those two questions becomes your Controlling Idea. 

Idealistic Controlling Ideas (up-ending stories expressing optimism)


    Value: Love fills our lives 
    Cause: when we conquer intellectual illusions and follow our instincts. 
    Value: Happiness fills our lives
    Cause: when we learn to love unconditionally.

Pessimistic Controlling Ideas (down-ending stories expressing cynicism and misfortune)


    Value: Passion turns to violence and destroys our lives
    Cause: when we use people as objects of pleasure. 
    Value: Hatred destroys us
    Cause: when we fear the opposite sex.

Ironic Controlling Ideas (up/down-ending stories expressing the complex, dual nature of existence)

Here optimism/idealism and pessimism/cynicism merge, with a simultaneously charged positive and negative value at the end. 


  • The positive irony:
    The compulsive pursuit of contemporary values - success, fortune, fame, sex, power - will destroy you, but if you see this truth in time and throw away your obsession, you can redeem yourself.
  • The negative irony:
    If you cling to your obsession, your ruthless pursuit will achieve your desire, then destroy you.

Source: Story by Robert McKee


The moral premise is comprised of four parts:
a virtue, a vice, desirable consequences (success), and undesirable consequences (defeat) -
with the vice and virtue being opposites.

The premise is your opinion on what people should value and how they should behave based on that value, because, according to you, embracing such values and acting accordingly leads to a happy and fulfilled life experience.

The most comprehensive way to state this opinion of yours is:

[Vice (or forgoing your value)] leads to [defeat]; but [Virtue (or embracing your value)] leads to [success].



    Selfishness leads to sadness and frowns, but Selflessness leads to happiness and smiles.


    Covetous hatred leads to death and destruction, but Sacrificial love leads to life and celebration.

Source: The moral premise by Stanley D. Williams



Blake Snyder suggests you outline the scenes by using note cards on a cork board to see how the story flows. One card is one scene (or a sequence of scenes spread over several places to depict one continuous chase sequence for instance), and it can be a physical or digital card.

The scene card should have a well-defined place in the story arc beat sheet and 

contain the basic action of the scene, told with simple and concise sentences.

Snyder also calls for two notes at the bottom of each card, one marked "+/-" the other marked "><".

+/- is where you note the emotional change that is occurring in the scene. Something happens that cause the emotional tone to change drastically either from + to - or from - to +. If the scene opens with the character doing well, it should end on something going wrong, and if it opens with things looking bad, then it should end with a good turn.

>< calls out the conflict in the scene. The characters enter the scene with a goal and standing in their way is an obstacle. One conflict per scene.  

Think of the scene is a mini-movie with its own beginning, middle and end. 

Bob confronts Helen about her secret.

+/-     Bob starts out hopeful, ends up disappointed

><     Bob wants to know secret, Helen can't tell him


Robert McKee asserts that every scene must be a story event (and not just a piece of exposition), and contain an action that turns the value-charged condition of a character’s life from one end of the scene to the other. The turning of the value is made possible through the scene's conflict and defines what gives the scene its meaning and makes it an event, as opposed to being a non-event (nothing of importance really happens). "No scene that doesn't turn."

This is a great technique to analyze a scene and can be used as a rewriting tool (to give that dull scene some life):

  • Step One: Define Conflict
    Who drives the scene, motivates it, makes it happen?

    What does he/she/it want? (”to do this…” or ”to get that…”)

    What forces of antagonism blocks this desire and why?

  • Step Two: Note Opening Value

    Identify the value at stake in the scene and note its charge, positive or negative, at the opening of the scene.
    Example 1:
    Value: Freedom.
    Charge: Negative - The protagonist is a prisoner of his own obsessive ambition.
    Example 2:
    Value: Faith.
    Charge: Positive - The protagonist trusts in God to get him out of this situation.

  • Step Three: Break the Scene into Beats

    A beat is an exchange of action/reaction in character behavior.

    Look beneath the surface and see what the character is actually doing;
    name this subtextural action with an active gerund phrase, such as ”Begging” and find

    words that touch the feelings of the character.

    Next, see what reaction that action brought, and describe that reaction with an active gerund phrase. For example, ”Ignoring the plea”.

    This exchange of action and reaction is a beat. As long as it continues, Character A is ”begging” but Character B is ”Ignoring the plea”, it’s one beat.

    A new beat doesn’t occur until behavior clearly changes.

    If Character A’s begging changed to ”threatening to leave her” and in reaction Character B’s ignoring changed to ”laughing at the threat”, then the scene’s second beat is ”Threatening/Laughing” - until A and B’s behavior changes for a third time.

    The analysis then continues through the scene, parsing it into its beats.

  • Step Four: Note Closing Value and Compare with Opening Value

    At the end of the scene, examine the value-charged condition of the character’s situation and describe it in positive/negative terms. Compare this note to the one made in Step Two. If the two notations are the same, the activity between them is a non-event.

    If the value has undergone change, then the scene has turned.

  • Step Five: Survey Beats and Locate Turning Point

    Start from the opening beat and review the gerund phrases describing the actions of the characters.
    As you trace action/reaction to the end of the scene, a shape or pattern should emerge.
    In a well-designed scene, even behaviors that seem helter-skelter will have an arc and a purpose.
    Within the arc locate the moment that turns the scene to its changed end values.
    This precise moment is the scene's Turning Point.

Source: Story by Robert McKee


Sometimes the characters don't say what they really want. What they literally say on the sensory surface level, a.k.a the text, may contrast with or contradict the level of the character's inner world of concious and unconcious desire, a.k.a the subtext.

The character veils the truth with a living mask, the actual thoughts and feelings of the character is to be found behind their saying and doing.

A subtext scene is based on two structural elements; hidden desire and indirect plan. For maximum subtext, try these techniques:

  • Give the characters in the scene a hidden desire. These desires should be in direct conflict with one another. For example, A is secretly in love with B, but B is secretly in love with C.
  • Have all the characters with hidden desires use an indirect plan to get what they want. They say one thing while really want something else. They may be trying to fool the others, or they may use subterfuge they know is obvious but hope the artifice is charming enough to get them what they really want.

Source: Story by Robert McKee and The anatomy of story by John Truby


Some tips for creating memorable dialogue:

  • Don't let the characters "talk the plot" and mention things that are obvious to themselves and the person they're talking to ("You're my sister, you should know!"). They serve themselves, not you.

    Instead use subtext, a visual expression or this mnemonic principle to dramatize exposition: 
    Convert exposition to ammunition. Your characters know their world, their history, each other and themselves. Let them use what they know as ammunition in their struggle to get what they want.

  • Screen dialogue demands short, simply constructed sentences. Compression and economy is key. A maximum of 3 sentences per character per time is a good rule of thumb.

  • Dialogue doesn’t require complete sentences.

  • Dialogue must have direction and purpose: Each line or exchange of dialogue executes a step in the design that builds and arcs the scene around its Turning Point.
  • Never write a line of dialogue when you can create a visual expression. The first attack on every scene should be: How could I write this in a purely visual way and not have to resort to a single line of dialogue?

  • Avoid flat dialogue that rings true to life but rings dull. Good dialogue is always more intelligent, wittier, more metaphorical and better argued than in real life. Engaging characters have a way of sayings things, even the most mundane things, which raise them above the norm.
  • Each character in your script should have his/her own distinctive speaking style and the dialogue may highlight all manner of that character's past, inner demons and outlook on life.
    The Bad Dialogue Test: Take a page of your script and cover up the names of the people speaking. Can you tell who is speaking without seeing the name above the dialogue?

Source: Story by Robert McKee, The anatomy of story by John Truby and Save the cat by Blake Snyder


Your job is to put a film in the reader’s head, so:

  • Always ask; What do I see and hear on the screen? Then describe only what is photographic or possible to sound record.

    "He's been sitting there for a long time" can't be photographed.
    But "He yawns, trying to stay awake", "He nervously glances at his watch" or "He stubs out his tenth cigarette" can be.

  • Write vividly.

    Avoid generic nouns and seek the specific name of the thing. Instead of "house"; mansion? cottage? Instead of "car"; Volvo 740? Porsche? Instead of "typewriter"; an aging, dusty Underwood? Instead of "nail"; a spike?
    Avoid generic verbs, seek the specific name of the action and omit the adverb.

    "He closes the door firmly"; "closes" is bland and vague, "firmly" an adverb. Instead go for;

    "He slams the door".
    "He starts to move slowly across the room"; "slowly" is an adverb, "move" is bland and vague. Instead go for; "He pads across the room" (or ambles, strolls, saunters, drags himself etc). 

  • Use everyday, straightforward language (avoid similes, metaphors, convoluted words and phrases, impressive but tedius vocabulary etc)
  • Eliminate "We hear" and "we see". "We" doesn't exist.
  • Camera directions (“PAN TO,” “DOLLY IN,” and “CRANE UP” etc) should be used sparingly. No director wants the writer to tell him how to move the camera. It’s possible to convey the shot you envision simply by describing the scene in a manner that leads the mind’s eye of the reader.

  • It’s not necessary to describe minor gestures and reactions. Leave it to the actors and the director to interpret the lines and block out the scene.

  • Don’t just write that a character is standing in a room, for example, or sitting at a desk. Give them some business that indicates their personality or attitude. Open each scene with them already engaged in some action that relates to the story.

  • During dialogue-heavy scenes, it's good if the people are doing something while they talk (cooking, trying to fill out tax forms, building a model, exercising, fixing a toaster, knitting a sweater, eating, putting on make-up etc)

Source: Story by Robert McKee and Writing screenplays that sell by Michael Hauge