ASK THE TOUGH QUESTIONS, WRITE BETTER SCREENPLAYS

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by Aaron Mendelsohn

I don’t love the story-breaking process.  It’s like putting on sunscreen when all I really want to do is get outside and play with my kids.  It’s like doing push-ups before breakfast.  I whine about it, I put it off, I dread it every time.  And every time, I’m really, really glad I did it.

Being a stickler about my story-breaking is one of the key reasons I’ve managed to sustain a 20+ year successful writing career.  My method is simply this: I ask myself a series of eleven story-related questions that prompt ideas about key character and story points.  Once I answer the questions to my satisfaction, I start filling in the story until I have a detailed outline.

Many of my questions are intuitive, like “Do I know what my story amimg_2118is about?” and “What is the Call to Action?”  “Do I know what my story is about?” is particularly important because the answer ends up being the cornerstone of my screenplay (or pilot or series pitch).  If I can’t distill my concept into a simple, clear, one-sentence logline, I may be sitting on a story that’s weak, broken or over-complicated.

Here’s an example of a good logline: “A good-hearted but insecure king who suffers from a debilitating stutter is forced to work with an eccentric speech therapist to deliver the speech that will unify his kingdom.”  In that one sentence I summed up the Central Character (the king), his Fatal Flaw (insecurity), the main antagonistic force (his stutter), the Journey (working with a speech therapist), the Climax (the speech) and the stakes (unifying his kingdom).

Other questions are more challenging and require more thought. “Who is my Central Character(s) and what is their Conscious and Unconscious Desire?” is an important one because it prompts me to write a character bio and spell out the dilemma and conflict that will drive the central character’s journey.  Story-related questions like “What is the Overarching Conflict?” and “What is the Central Character’s Lowest Point?” are good because they help me stake out the bewildering badlands of the Second Act.

Asking yourself the tough questions – whether they’re my 11 or your magic number – is a great way to stimulate ideas and make sure your story-breaking is on track.  You’ll end up with stronger story bones and, ultimately, a better screenplay.


Aaron Mendelsohn is a working screenwriter, a professor of screenwriting at Loyola-Marymount University, a friend of Larry Brody’s and. oh yeah, the Secretary-Treasurer of the Writers Guild of America West.  He is best known for Disney’s AIR BUD, which spawned eleven sequels.  Current projects include a Warner Bros feature, a Spike TV drama series and a Hallmark movie.

Aaron’s story-breaking method is now available as an ebook: THE 11 FUNDAMENTAL QUESTIONS: A GUIDE TO A BETTER SCREENPLAY For a limited time he’s offering a 20% discount to TVWriter™ readers.  Go towww.11questionsbook.com for more information.

Larry Brody’s Poetry: “I Can Mention No Names”

by Larry Brody

kidhollywoodcovercoyotecaptureNOTE FROM LB: 

We’re in the Hopi lands this time. Where I learned a lesson about names. And power. And the subtle, supernatural way even the so-called “War of the Sexes” can be waged:

I Can Mention No Names

I can mention no names.
To name my friends is to give
Others power over them. To name
My friends and discuss their magic
Is to make the magic go away.
So we have my friend the wild Indian,
And the Hopi elder,
And even the Navajo dog, who to this
Day has herself never told me what
She really is called.
I can mention no names, out of respect
And hope, that someday the world my
Words create will be true. But I speak now
Of the wife of the Hopi elder, who has
Missed out on the most simple of
Pleasures, living like the shadow of
A hint of a shade. I learned this
One day at First Mesa, sitting at her
Kitchen table, talking to her man. He is
Sixty-five, she fifty-seven, and she cannot
Recall one moment of her life as having
Been without him. Still, as the elder and I
Spoke of the wonders we’ve seen, of the
Stars, and the animals, the visions, and
Dreams, the wife of the Hopi elder looked
Wistful, and sad. “I have been married to this
Man for forty years,” she said to me. “He has
Danced, and flown, and heard, and seen,
And felt and laughed, and cried, and died.
He walked through stone once, and made
The mark of the eagle on his arm. He heard
The Great Spirit prophecise, and debated
Several fine points. My husband not only
Knows the beginning and end of creation,
He has been to both places, seen them
Whirl into one endless time. He has been
Part of the earth, both mother and her own
Child. Ah,” said the wife of the Hopi elder,
“He has been! He has been!
But I have worked,” she said. “I have harvested
The corn, and husked it, and ground it. I have
Gone out with the sheep, and slaughtered the
Ewes. On my stove, for forty years, has been
Coffee, and the simmering pot of mutton stew.
I have cleaned! I have sewn! I have raised
Two boys, and put on their band-aids, and
His. I have watched them all drunk, and listened
To their lies, and their wishes, and their
Magicked rewards.
But never,” she told me, in a soft, softened
Voice, “never have I seen the stars dance.
Never have I had a vision, or heard an animal
Speak. Never have I remembered a dream.
I love my husband, but never, no never, not
One time, and in no place, have I shared this
Man’s everyday life.”
I can mention no names.
To name my friends is to give
Others power over them. To name
My friends and discuss their magic
Is to make the magic go away.
The wife of the Hopi elder knows this
Far better than I.
She says she has no need to be afraid.
She says to tell you her name is Lurleen.


Larry Brody is the head dood at TVWriter™. Although the book whose cover you see above is for sale on Kindle, he is posting at least one poem a week here at TVWriter™ because, “As the Navajo Dog herself once pointed out to me, ‘Art has to be free. If you create it for money, you compromise your artistic vision by trying to please those who are paying. If you don’t accept money, you can be yourself. Like your art, you too are free.’”

TVWriter™ Don’t-Miss Posts of the Week – Oct. 17, 2016

In case you’ve missed what’s happening at TVWriter™, the most popular blog posts during the week ending yesterday were:

Peggy Bechko’s World: Time to Broaden Your Horizons!

Looking for TV Pilot Scripts?

SUBLIME PRIMETIME 2016 – Writing Advice From Emmy-Nominated Writers

‘Timeless’ Shoulda Been Better

The 2016 PEOPLE’S PILOT Countdown

And our most visited permanent resource pages were:

Writing the Dreaded Outline

THE PEOPLE’S PILOT

THE PEOPLE’S PILOT: About

THE PEOPLE’S PILOT: Rules

THE PEOPLE’S PILOT: Enter

THE PEOPLE’S PILOT: Prizes

Major thanks to everyone for making this such a great week. Don’t forget to click above and read what you missed. re-read what you loved. And while you’re at it do yourself a favor and ENTER THE PEOPLE’S PILOT. Because we really want you to get your careers soaring!

Web Series: “The Fantastic Friends Debuts Tomorrow!

This is Pumpkin, the show's soon-to-be sex symbol. Just think - you've seen her first!
This is Pumpkin, the show’s soon-to-be sex symbol. Just think – you’ve seen her first!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Actually, it’s already up HERE and as of this writing – Oct. 14 2016 – has over 16,000 views!

LB’s been talking for awhile now about Southeast Asia Animation, and tomorrow’s the official (whatever that means on the interwebs) premiere of the SEAA website at (what else?) http://seaa.media as well as the debut of The Fantastic Friends in The Battle For Eternity Series 1 Episode 1.

FFITBFE (don’t worry, we promise never to use that acronym again) already has quite a few views on YouTube, but greedy bugger that our Beloved Leader is, he wants more, more, more!

So give it a click and SURF AROUND THE SITE while you’re there. Lots of bright, fresh, original, interesting, and totally off the wall stuff!

EDITOR’S NOTE: The actual web page devoted to the show is HERE

EDITOR’S WARNING: We feel called upon to remind everybody that our own Munchman (yes, now he wants us to capitalize his name after all these years) is the Executive Producer of this show, so prepare your pure little eyeballs and innocent ears for an assault of demented, immature, and totally bizarre humor, the likes of which hasn’t been seen anywhere since the last time Adam Sandler was funny. (Um, there was a time, right? We kinda remember a time…oh well.)

EDITOR’S 2nd NOTE: Um…in case your haven’t clicked to the video yet – and why not? It’s short, only a tad over 5 minutes long so no danger of too much brain damage, maybe – or if you did watch it once but aren’t quite sure what you saw, here’s the synopsis that got the whole ball rolling:

WEB SERIES: THE FANTASTIC FRIENDS | SOUTHEAST ASIA ANIMATION

When a group of young, hard-partying, lifetime nerds accidentally eat radioactive chili cooked in a broken microwave oven, they find themselves with unusual ultramegapowers, including the ability to travel through time (and at least one that’s possibly too gross to mention).

And there ya have it!

Posts TVWriter™ Wishes We’d Published Instead of Those Other Guys

This week’s collection of recent articles from other websites about TV, TV writing, etc., etc., etc. The plan here is for you to click on their headlines and visit the sites and read the posts in full…and is anybody asks, tell ’em TVWriter™ sentcha, okay?

The Guggenheim Brothers Offer a Look Inside a TV Writing Family Dynasty
by Lesley Goldberg

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The Guggenheim brothers have formed their own TV dynasty.

The trio, eldest brother Marc Guggenheim (The CW’s Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow), middle child Eric Guggenheim (CBS’ Hawaii Five-0)and youngest David Guggenheim (ABC’s Designated Survivor), together oversee four hours of broadcast television every week.

So where did their love of the small screen come from? The brothers stopped by The Hollywood Reporter for a Facebook Live this week to open up about their different paths to primetime as well as their dream collaborations….

Why television writing has become the new home of verbal complexity

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The death of Geoffrey Hill this summer put one of his more astringent declarations back into circulation: “Accessible is a perfectly good word if applied to supermarket aisles, art galleries, polling stations and public lavatories, but it has no place in the discussion of poetry and poetics.” Characteristically for Hill, this sounds imperious, but you can’t deny that it’s funny. And it’s funny because the statement embodies the difficulty it’s arguing for – “difficulty” not necessarily in the literary sense, where it’s conflated with “obscurity”, but in the sense pertaining to human beings, as in “She’s quite difficult”, where the word is synonymous with peculiarity, intransigence and eccentricity….

The Humbling, Humiliating True Story of a Middle-Aged Woman in Hollywood
by Pamela Redmond Satran

Pamela Redmond Satran, author of, "Younger" inside one of her favorite Montclair bookstore, Watchung Booksellers on a recent Friday. Ms. Satran's book has been picked up by TVLand to be turned into an original TV series. Gregg Vigliotti for The New York Times

There’s a superstition among novelists that the things you make happen to your characters might happen to you. This goes far toward explaining why I wrote a novel called Younger about a middle-aged mom escaping the suburbs for a new life in the city in the arms of a 26-year-old tattoo artist. Wishful thinking or prophecy? Maybe both….

You’ll always guess wrong
by Ken Levine

aaronsorkin

There are some writers who are gifted and amazingly prolific. David E. Kelley, Aaron Sorkin, and Matthew Weiner can pretty much write an entire season of television themselves. I don’t know how they do it. If I tried that I’d be dictating the last six episodes from ICU.

There are also very strong showrunners who perform extensive rewrites on every script that comes across his or her desk….

PEOPLE'S PILOT 2019 Pilot Writing Contest Winners have been Announced!Click Here!