Craig and John take a look at the difference between plot and story with some help from the Littlest Pet Shop and Game of Thrones.
Plot answers the "what" questions: What happens next? What is in the mysterious vault? What secret was the dowager keeping?
Story, however, is much more concerned with the "whos" and "hows" and "whys." Characters have their own needs and impulses. The trick of good writing is to match up what the characters want to do (motivation) with what the screenwriter wants them to do (plot).
Mild spoiler alert: In the last few minutes, we discuss recent developments on Game of Thrones, but in a general-enough way that it's not likely to impact your enjoyment if you're behind. Still, caveat spectator.
Finally, two bits of housekeeping:
by William Wallace Cook
UPDATE 5-30-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.
John and Craig open the listener mailbag and sprint through twenty questions in just under an hour.
➤ When John sets a timer for himself, what is his work/break interval sweet spot? (1:12)
➤ How do you break up with your manager? (2:16)
➤ Are there any tricks for organizing files when writing out of order? (3:42)
➤ Why join the WGA? (5:35)
➤ What "lingo" do Craig and John use in story meetings? (13:48)
➤ Will a writer be held back by English being her second language? (17:33)
➤ Is it better to release a short through festivals or by putting it online in parts? (19:37)
➤ Do John and Craig have tips for juggling multiple writing jobs? (21:17)
➤ What is a safe LA neighborhood with good schools for a writer/father who is making the move? (25:56)
➤ Do Craig and John's finished movies look like they imagined while they were writing them? (30:23)
➤ Is it a smart idea for a 23-year-old aspiring screenwriter to pick up and move to LA? (34:05)
➤ If a character's race is not specifically mentioned, why is he or she assumed white? (34:57)
➤ Is it okay to refer to specific actors while pitching? What about in the script itself? (39:12)
➤ How did John and Craig meet and decided to collaborate on Scriptnotes? (41:18)
➤ Are screenwriting contests or studio writers' programs the right step for a 30-year-old mother of one living in Ohio? (42:34)
➤ Why would anyone would want to become a screenwriter in today's studio climate? (46:38)
➤ If your spec pilot begs to be a premise pilot, is it better to use a non-pilot episode as your sample? (49:15)
➤ Why does page length change when converting files from Movie Magic to Final Draft? Which page count is correct? (51:29)
➤ If your historical epic has a lot of required backstory, is it okay to meet the protagonist on page 30? (53:41)
➤ Is there shame in running with an idea someone else freely posted online? (55:23)
All this and just slightly more on episode 38 of Scriptnotes.
UPDATE 5-24-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.
Screenwriters can learn story and structure, but the ability to create real, tangible characters is more elusive
and ultimately more important.
The best gauge of good writing is whether a screenplay's characters feel distinct and alive. A lot of that comes from how the characters speak: what they say and how they say it.
John and Craig offer some tests to see if your screenplay's dialogue works:
This week's listener questions include recycling material, writing large-group action scenes, and possible novels. Craig then rants about the evils of Zynga and the wonder of 1Password.
How do you do an imitation of Denzel Washington? Find out on episode 37 of Scriptnotes.
UPDATE 5-18-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.
John and Craig open the 36th Scriptnotes with a brief discussion about contracts, and then face writer's block head on.
"Writer's block" is an overused term. When a writer claims to be suffering from it, he is usually wrestling with some combination of three common problems: procrastination, perfectionism, and fear. "Writer's block" is a romanticized catch-all that distracts from these real issues.
Screenwriters can use a range of techniques to get over the hump, from setting a kitchen timer, to breaking work down into manageable chunks, to writing in an order that makes sense for the way you work.
They then take two quick listener questions before closing out the episode with this week's One Cool Thing (TM).
It's Tuesday! So head over to Panda Express and get yourself a celebratory meal to enjoy with episode 36 of Scriptnotes.
UPDATE 5-9-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.
On the 35th episode of Scriptnotes, John and Craig discuss the small, currently leaderless world of Walt Disney Studios, along with its challenges and opportunities.
With so many of Disney's distribution slots taken up by DreamWorks, Marvel, Pixar and Bruckheimer, whoever gets the job of chief probably won't be making many movies on his or her own. Yet the Disney brand is one of the only ones that still means something to ticket-buyers, so finding a way to make Disney movies feels like a priority.
A discussion of Gregory Poirier's recent article on misguided cost-cutting segues to a letter from a veteran Hollywood screenwriter frustrated by just how bad studio development has gotten. That's followed by more listener questions:
John extols his favorite site for sheet music, while Craig gets nostalgic for his first real computer, the Franklin Ace 1000.
All this and more on Scriptnotes: A podcast about parking, and things that are interesting to parkers.
UPDATE 5-4-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.
Craig and John take a brief look at the misguided Girls backlash and complaints about nepotism in Hollywood, before segueing to a bigger discussion of spec scripts and positioning:
Todo esto y más en el 34° episodio de Scriptnotes.
UPDATE 4-26-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.
Craig and John just have to talk about the double-barrel craziness of the Joe Eszterhas/Mel Gibson spat. How often do you have screenwriters lobbing incendiary accusations at movie stars?
Well, pretty often, actually. But almost never so publicly. And the already-certifiable, formerly-A-list-ness of it all makes it especially gossip-worthy, so forgive us if we go on for a while.
That settled, we follow up on the Amazon Studios deal and what it means for screenwriters not currently in the WGA. One listener calls Craig an idiot, which leads to a discussion about what "professional screenwriting" even means.
John wants aspiring screenwriters to stop using the term "breaking in," because it doesn't accurately reflect the early stages of a writer's career. Meanwhile, Craig takes umbrage at the idea of "trust fund screenwriters."
We end with some questions and answers:
All this and more in the new Scriptnotes.
UPDATE 4-19-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.
Craig and John answer questions about specificity, television and what to do when your great idea sounds too much like a movie that's already been made.
The big news this week is potentially very big news: Amazon Studios has completely revamped their business model, ditching the terrible parts and transforming into something potentially very good for writers. Notably, Amazon is now a WGA signatory, which offers the promise of residuals and credit protection for screenwriters.
Will it work? It's too early to say. But when a new player with deep pockets enters the film industry, it often helps loosen the purse strings. More importantly, the Amazon deal sets a precedent for other tech companies considering taking the plunge.
Along the way, Craig talks about directing and John takes his daughter to work. All this and more in this episode of Scriptnotes.
UPDATE 4-12-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.
Craig and John take a look at Toph Eggers's apology, which segues to a discussion of apologies in general and laugh tracks.
The bulk of the episode is spent on listener questions:
All this and more in this week's Scriptnotes.
UPDATE 4-5-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.
Craig and John offer advice on handling revisions once your screenplay moves into production.
Why do you lock pages? How do you add scenes once the script is locked? Why are some pages different colors? And what comes between page 15 and 15A?
Get it right, and it should be smooth sailing. Get it wrong, and you have a frustrated crew and a lot of cleanup.
Television series generate so many scripts that they generally have their own internal systems, with designated staffers to handle the process. But for small-to-medium-sized features, the screenwriter is the script department.
The good news is that it's usually pretty straightforward, especially if you follow some best practices to make life easier.
Also discussed this week: science fair projects, historic atrocities, and the origin of "wackiness ensues."
Standing on the shoulders of giants in episode 30 of Scriptnotes.
UPDATE 3-28-12: The transcript of this episode can be found here.