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Notes from a Screenreader: The Same but What Now?

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Photo via Go Into the Story.

“The same but different” is the magic formula for a winning script. Does it mean anything or is it double speak for “I know it when I see it?”

  • Patterns not formulas: Create familiar emotional patterns in new situations. The same is a recognizable tone with a recognizable build that provokes the reader’s empathy and creates a desire for a given outcome. The different is the setting, the goal and the conflicts.
  • Innovation not renovation: Cosmetic changes are “the same but the same.” Changing men to women, vampires to aliens, or New York to Buenos Aires is a good start, but the different is breaking new story ground with those changes.
  • Evolution not revolution: Radically changing up everything is “different but different.” Anarchy in all your story elements at once creates confusion. To keep clarity and focus on your intent, the more different you make one major element, the more the same you make the others.

Finding the different in the same is exactly what it feels like when you read a fabulous idea you can’t believe you didn’t think of first.

— ANNIE LABARBA 

Annie is a screenwriter, story consultant, and reader for major screenplay competitions.

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nywift New York Women in Film & Television supports women calling the shots in film, television and digital media.

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