The Art of Plotting
Asked Questions about the Art of Plotting Seminar
Q 1: Do I
have to have written a screenplay before reading this book??
Q 2: What's
the difference between your book and others?
Q 3: What's
your main message?
Q 4: A lot of
screenwriting instructors are talking about "emotion" right now. Are
you all talking about the same thing? What makes your book
Q 5: What do
you mean by 'over-plotting' a script in terms of action and
"under-plotting" one in terms of emotion?
Q 6: What
else do you cover in your book?
Q 7: What
level of screenwriter should I be at for this book to make sense?
Q 1: Do you have to have
written a screenplay before reading this book?
You don't have to have completed a script, but you
should know something about screenwriting for this book to make sense.
The information I present builds on the basic concepts you can get from
most screenwriting seminars or books. (back to
Q 2: What's the difference
between your book and others?
I can't tell you about all the other books out there. Every one has
its strengths. But what I do in The Art of Plotting is emphasize
key issues in plot design and construction - how you put your
information together to make it more powerful and meaningful to your
In the book I give you tools to deepen your
characterizations by showing you first what types of scenes in
successful movies do this and then how you can incorporate these types
of scenes into your own stories. Other tools include how you can
increase the suspense and tension in your scripts; using the audience's
natural inclination to anticipate to increase surprise; how to use
conflict to reveal character; how to recognize and overcome the most
common plotting problems. (back to top)
Q 3: What's your main
I have three main areas I keep circling back on in
- A script has to be emotional.
You have to reach the emotions of your reader. It doesn't matter if you
get there with laughter, fear or tears (in most cases it's all
three). But emotion is exactly what's missing from most screenplays.
Most writers are afraid of the emotion and leave it out entirely; or
they rely on easy emotions such as tears or anger. I believe for a
screenplay to be successful it has to be conceived both in terms of plot
action and emotion, otherwise there won't be room in the script to
develop this portion of the story. Writers need to know what they want
their reader to feel while he's reading their screenplays.
- I believe many writers tend to over-plot their
stories in terms of the action. They conceive their plots as a long list
of separate scenes, 60 or so, and expect the reader to follow along and
get the point of each of them. Your audience won't be able to track a
story that has one original point or more in every single scene. You're
writing drama, not novelistic narrative where you can explain every
nuance. The plots of movies develop in segments, groups of scenes
developing a main idea that then advances the plot. When you over-plot
in terms of action, you will under-plot in terms of emotion.
- I deal with technical issues of assembling the
scenes and sequences to get the most dramatic bang out of your ideas. (back to top)
Q 4: A lot of screenwriting
instructors are talking about "emotion" right now. Are you all talking
about the same thing? What makes your class different?
People are talking about emotion because it's the
part of screenwriting that's been neglected, and it's never been well
explained. It's the hardest part to teach, and that's saying something,
because all of screenwriting is difficult. But if you read Aristotle,
Lajos Egri or John Howard Lawson, you'll see they're all talking about
'emotion' but just not calling it that.
Again, I can't comment on all the classes and books. I've sat
in on few classes dealing with emotion, and I know my approach if
different and more hands on. What I've found is a way to explain how
emotion works in a clear language. Then I show you how to use this
understanding and apply those concepts to your own work.
The reason teachers are coming to emotion now is
because we've spent the last 20 years talking about structure but still
most stories fall flat. Emotion is what's missing, or it's caluclated
and manipulative, and so less effective. People are trying to find that
elusive ingredient that will make their stories come alive and reach
others. And if you can make your reader feel a range of emotional
responses, you're on your way. We've identified that other component and
now we're trying to explain it to others.
But don't think structure isn't important anymore.
You have to have it. And you have to truly understand it in order to
create a story that has maximum emotional effect. So all this time and
work has not been in vain. (back to top)
Q 5: What do you mean by
"over-plotting" a script in terms of action and "under-plotting" one in
terms of emotion?
That there's too much action dominating the script
and not enough reaction to the conflict from the characters for the
reader to 'get' the characters deeply. Many amateurs' scripts are too
complicated for their own good.
What separates professional screenplays that get
turned into successful movies from amateur screenplays is this: the
pros' scripts are based on strong, simple story lines that are well
developed and well plotted. Characters feel full and real, with
emotional lives; the action has weight and meaning.
Amateur screenplays are generally over-plotted in
terms of action and underdeveloped in terms of character and emotion.
Amateurs focus on the "action" - what characters do - and leave off the
page the emotion - what characters feel. Amateur scripts feel flat and
confused, and because so much happens, the significance is lost. (back to top)
Q 6: What else do you cover
in your book?
A look at the list of topics will give you a good
idea. What I'm trying to do is help writers understand the principles of
action and plotting in a way that they'll have another set of tools to use when they
look at their own work. When they use them, they'll be able to deepen
the emotional impact of the conflict on the characters, simplify their
story lines so the action flows better, and tell the story they want to
tell. (back to top)
Q 7: What level of
screenwriter should I be at for this book to make sense?
Students range in ability. We get beginners and we
get professionals, and lots in between. You'll find quotes from people
at all levels on the testimonal page. But if you're an absolute
beginner, this book probably won't make a lot of sense to you yet. You
will need a basic knowledge of screenplay structure to put
what this seminar offers to use. You'll find the class particularly
helpful when you're approaching a rewrite. (back to