You’ve thought about your characters. You’ve defined them. You’ve written biographies and histories. They’re 3-dimensional, living beings in your head. All that’s left to do is introduce them to your reader by making them jump off the page. How do we do that?

First Impressions

Just like real life, when we meet someone in a movie we instantly form a first impression. As the writer, you get to choose what that impression will be.

As the writer, you want your reader to instantly grasp the defining qualities of your main character. How your character walks into the world of your…


M.C. Escher, Bond of Union, 1956, lithograph

Like an M.C. Escher drawing, a good screenplay is an illusion. It uses words on a page to convince readers to see something very different in their minds’ eye.

The way language, grammar, and punctuation are used in a script defines the reader’s experience of that script. When it’s done well, a script is said to have a “voice.” That voice is a distinct style and tone, usually crafted by the writer over years of experience.

So how do you do it?

Find your voice.

When writing narrative and description, it’s important to find your “voice.” …


Writing dialogue is a delicate dance. Too fast and you may jump out of rhythm. Too slow and you may not be keeping up the pace. I had a teacher one time who compared writing dialogue to a mini skirt — long enough to cover the subject but short enough to keep things interesting.

Here are some mistakes to avoid when writing dialogue…

Don’t spoon-feed the audience
Don’t give your audience the answers, make them work for it. Rather than characters stating their reasons and conclusions, let your readers figure out the subtext on their own.

Don’t pad the work
Avoid…


When writing a screenplay, dialogue is the most fun to write. You get to pick whatever you want people to say!

It’s also the most difficult thing to get right. So let’s go through to see some tips and tricks to writing dialogue that will really pop.

If you’re struggling to improve your dialogue skills, here are a few potholes you should be sure to avoid.

Make your audience work

The entire point of a screenplay is to cause your reader to exercise their imagination. You want them to invest in your world, put their own creative skin in the…


Screenwriting is hard work when sunshine and warm weather outside beckon. If you don’t love the writing process, it’s hard to stay focused. Applying your imagination, creativity and patience on a daily basis requires discipline and determination.

It can be a lonely pursuit, especially in these trying times where we’re all stuck at home. But sometimes no more lonely than when you’re in meetings with producers and execs searching for some ineffable quality that will make your project stand above the rest.

There’s no way to guarantee what makes a screenplay great. But there are some rules you can follow…


Like houses are made of bricks, as are screenplays made of scenes. Scenes are the building blocks of any movie. They’re where everything in your movie actually happens.

It may seem simple, but the definition of a scene — what it means, what it must accomplish, and what it contains — can be an intricate nexus of story and characters.

To define a scene: An event in your screenplay which drives the story forward.

Technically speaking, a scene is bound by two scene headings: it’s own and the heading of the scene that follows. From a story point of view…


How to Use Breakdowns.

Now that I’ve given you some examples. Try to do a few for yourself. Watch some films and see if you can pick out the 20+ moments I’ve listed above. While you’re at it, note the elapsed time when these moments occur. General convention is that one page of a script equals approximately one minute of screen time. If you write down when each moment happens, you’ll have an idea of around what pages it occurs.

Create a Template for Your Script

Once you know your basic story and the genre within which you’re working, you…


Kenneth Lonergan’s first writing/directing outing since 2011, Manchester by the Sea is a universal tale grief in which being your brother’s keeper includes all of the big and little baggage we leave behind for our loved ones to care for, to mend, and ultimately to preserve.

LOGLINE: A troubled janitor must return, permanently, to a town that holds painful memories for him in order to raise his nephew when his brother dies unexpectedly.

THE NORMAL WORLD (ACT I):

Who is the MAIN CHARACTER?

Lee Chandler, an unhappy maintenance man dealing with his own demons.

What is the main character’s INITIAL…


After Moonlight, the only movie we could look at next could be La La Land. When Director Damien Chazelle first pitched this idea around town, there wasn’t much excitement. The film initially started as a Sundance Film Festival short and later become the “almost Best Film” at that year’s Oscars. This movie is a lovely, lovely gem. But as a musical, it doesn’t easily fit into the tradition film structure. The exception which proves the rule shows you that with the right story, rules can be broken.

LOGLINE: Conveying the love and loneliness of life through the kind of kaleidoscopic…


We’ve spent a lot of time talking about movies, dissecting movies and analyzing film structure to understand what makes a story work so that we can apply that to our own writing.

There’s no better place to keep going than with the Oscar-winning Best Film of 2017, Moonlight.

Barry Jenkins’ sophomore film Moonlight is a rare mainstream film about a gay black man. However, the film is not exclusively about being gay and black in a poor neighborhood. On a deeper level, the film is about the universal struggle to find human connection and realize our true selves.

LOGLINE: A…

p.w. alex&er

Film critic turned film schooler turned screenwriter turned free advice giver. Presenting thoughts on Screenwriting, Hollywood, and sometimes Social Marketing.

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