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Notes from a Screenreader: Well, Obviously

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Photo via Go Into the Story.

The post “Writing Advice So Obvious It Gets Overlooked” covers the most fundamental of all story fundamentals (thanks to the marvelous writerlyn at Musings from a Young Hollywood Professional for reblogging this brilliance).

It is advice that deserves a thorough looking over.

  • Whose story is it? Very obvious, but in execution the “who” can go wandering off as secondary characters become more interesting to the writer, the spotlight is divided too evenly between main characters, or the “who” is only a bystander to someone else’s problem—helpers and observers who can be cut from the story without losing the story are not protagonists.
  • Why is this theirs? Is there anyone else in the story whose heart is on the line over the outcome? What makes your protagonist a better voice for the events of this story? It is best to be able to answer this question unequivocally in the planning stages. Why are the events of this story a universally relatable watershed moment in the life of your protagonist more than in the life of the sidekick, or the spouse?
  • Why is it happening now? A concrete answer to this question solves all your stakes problems. It is happening now because, for instance, Raz-al Ghoul is launching a terrorist attack on Gotham City in ten hours. In the brilliant The Savages, it is happening now because Mr. Savage is incapacitated by dementia and can’t live alone anymore. In The Graduate it is happening now because Benjamin falls for a girl with whose mother he’s having an adulterous affair. “Why now?” is the story, it’s the logline, it’s the drama; it is the inescapable net of circumstance that drives the protagonist forward into decisions and actions that must be taken to achieve a goal that will avert a disaster.

Who. Why. Why now. I’m going to write it on the inside of my glasses so I never overlook it again.

— ANNIE LABARBA

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

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