Monday, April 25, 2011



A dramatic story presents an identifiable character (or characters) in pursuit of understandable and emotionally logical objectives. In the quest to attain his/her objectives, the dramatic character encounters increasing opposition and risk tht carry with them even greater stakes, thus heightening the audience's identification and emotional involvement with the character.

Collaboration is a largely intuitive and mutually respectful, creative interaction among skilled individuals working towards a common goal based upon a shared understanding of the nature of the work in which they are engaged.

Given the nature of dramatic stories and the collaborative character of dramatic, screen storytelling, WHERE'S THE DRAMA? posits that filmmakers and film crews have a better chance of succeeding when their actions are guided by a "common understanding" of the nature of the work and the play in which they are engaged. This common understanding is constituted by - though not necessarily limited to - the following:

Dramatic stories are structured presentations of emotional energy that involve characters whose incompatible agendas produce disconnections or conflicts that create meaningful and often substantial risk for the characters’ well being, forcing them to act in the hope of re-establishing some degree of order or control.
The rhythmic and proximate interplay of these conflicting agendas is enacted by characters and is the source of a story’s emotional energy.

A dramatic story proceeds by either building or releasing this energy.

These two elemental tendencies – the building and releasing of emotional energy – are what characterise the movement of all dramatic stories.

A story’s power is proportional to its effectiveness in building and releasing energy in ways that are fresh, unexpected and thoroughly credible.

When a story stops building energy, or is unable to effectively release it, the energy dissipates, which is another way of saying the story becomes undramatic.


Regardless of form, effective storytellers will have a passionate interest in the source, manifestation and transformation of this energy, i.e.: the characters and their actions.

In mastering the language that IS dramatic screen storytelling, the collaborative team of storytellers and their characters become partners in finding the emotional meaning of the story that is to be told.

This partnership also includes the audience and the tribe or tribal groups whose story is being found and shown. In a sense, ALL of the participants, including the filmmakers are characters.

The presentation of characters internal to the script is mediated by the capture of images and sounds relevant to those characters, their world and the dramatic questions that the characters’ problems cause us – as both storyteller and audience – to ask.

All effective dramatic screen stories proceed via the building and the strategic release of emotional energy conveyed through these images and sounds.

Essential to the effective rendering of dramatic screen stories is the compelling selection and ordering of these images and sounds, as guided by the emotional energy generated by the actions of the characters.

A screen story that is dramatic and effective produces fresh, unexpected and credible images and juxtapositions of images by which this energy is built and released.

The finding and the capture of fresh, unexpected and credible images and their juxtaposition is made more possible when the filmmaker/storytellers are working from inside the emotional life of the character.

The images should serve the story, not the other way around.

Therefore, all craft questions are implicitly questions about character and story.[1]


Meaningful dramatic action is, by definition, an expression of a character’s problems, goals and plans. The changes that occur within any dramatic story are the actions of that story, and are predominantly manifested by a story’s characters. A story begins and develops when a character first creates and then transforms or transfers emotional energy. This should happen in every scene, and from one scene to the next, and even between scenes (in the cut). The source of this energy is CHARACTER, hence the success or failure of every dramatic story is inextricably bound up with character, into which, through which and from which the emotional energy of any story is constantly rushing.
[1] E.g.: Coverage implies an understanding of a character’s actions, and the meaning of each scene in which a character acts... remembering that characters also live (and ACT!) in the cut.


Lara Sterling said...

Hi Billy, I find your theories of storytelling to be very interesting. I am a writer/screenwriter/teacher, who has also been led astray by too much emphasis on structure. Sure, learning more about story structure has of course helped my writing much. But just placing these "events" in one's story, and trying to build character around them can prove difficult. I had a breakthrough recently when I realized that the heart of story is only character. It is the characters' wants, desires and misdirected needs that push plot, not, oh, okay, we need to put the inciting incident here, and now we're onto the midpoint complication, and, oh, look, here comes the descent into the utmost cave... Each scene is an arc based on character wants. In fact, each line and different parts of each sentence of dialogue help exhibit different character desires. In this way, actors can sometimes understand character as much or more than writers do.

presented by Billy Marshall Stoneking said...

Lara - Thanks for your thoughtful response to the essay and my ideas. I would appreciate it if you would post this comment on yours on the TESTIMONIALS page at as what you have experienced is shared by others who have not yet made the leap away from the structuralist recipes that successfull keep passion, freshness and originality at bay.

best Billy