Tuesday, December 17, 2013



The best way to humanize a villain is simply to get away from thinking of him as “the villain.” Try not to categorize him. Try not to limit who he is because he is standing against your protagonist.
Your villain is just a character. Just a person. And when you approach him as you would any other person, you will realize that:

  • HIS MOTIVES DON’T HAVE TO BE PURE EVIL. This is perhaps the most important point in today’s post. A villain’s motivation doesn’t have be malevolent. He can be trying to right an injustice, or draw attention a societal ill, or help his family or race survive: just going about it in a way that’s not the best.
  • HE CAN BE MORE CONFUSED OR MISINFORMED/ MISGUIDED THAN EVIL. This is always an option, if you want to take it, even to just a point (rather than fully).
    Don’t we all have something we wish we’d done differently? Something we wish we had or hadn’t done at all? Why should your villain break this mold? Unless your villain is a narcissist by nature, why should he think he’s perfect?
  • HE WILL HAVE TO FACE A FEAR. And I don’t mean “he’s afraid of dying but you know he’s gonna be a goner by the end.” We all grow and develop as people by leaving our comfort zones and facing situations that unnerve us.
  • HE CAN SHOW SOME KIND OF MERCY. That mercy doesn’t have to be directed at his enemies. He can be patient with the people in his life he cares about. He can overlook the little flaws of those important to him or give someone a second chance. Your villain should be a human being who is developed as a character: that means some positive attributes as well as negative ones.
  • HE CAN QUESTION HIMSELF AT SOME POINT. Most stereotypical villains never do this, but a truly human villain just might. This doesn’t mean he’ll abandon his aims and his plan. It doesn’t mean he’ll change anything about his strategy (though he could). It just means that, like we all do, he’ll take a moment to reassess himself and what he’s doing. He’ll doubt himself.
Villains can be complex and tricky to write, but they are also TONS of fun. One thing I do, I’ve found, to humanize my villains is to insert a piece of me in each one of them. Some neutral or positive aspect of my own personality becomes part of my villains. I don’t generally do that on purpose; it just happens.


  • #1 QUEST: the plot involves the Protagonist's search for a person, place or thing, tangible or intangible (but must be quantifiable, so think of this as a noun; i.e., immortality).
  • #2 ADVENTURE: this plot involves the Protagonist going in search of their fortune, and since fortune is never found at home, the Protagonist goes to search for it somewhere over the rainbow.
  • #3 PURSUIT: this plot literally involves hide-and-seek, one person chasing another.
  • #4 RESCUE: this plot involves the Protagonist searching for someone or something, usually consisting of three main characters - the Protagonist, the Victim & the Antagonist.
  • #5 ESCAPE: plot involves a Protagonist confined against their will who wants to escape (does not include some one trying to escape their personal demons).
  • #6 REVENGE: retaliation by Protagonist or Antagonist against the other for real or imagined injury.
  • #7 THE RIDDLE: plot involves the Protagonist's search for clues to find the hidden meaning of something in question that is deliberately enigmatic or ambiguous.
  • #8 RIVALRY: plot involves Protagonist competing for same object or goal as another person (their rival).
  • #9 UNDERDOG: plot involves a Protagonist competing for an object or goal that is at a great disadvantage and is faced with overwhelming odds.
  • #10 TEMPTATION: plot involves a Protagonist that for one reason or another is induced or persuaded to do something that is unwise, wrong or immoral.
  • #11 METAMORPHOSIS: this plot involves the physical characteristics of the Protagonist actually changing from one form to another (reflecting their inner psychological identity).
  • #12 TRANSFORMATION: plot involves the process of change in the Protagonist as they journey through a stage of life that moves them from one significant character state to another.
  • #13 MATURATION: plot involves the Protagonist facing a problem that is part of growing up, and from dealing with it, emerging into a state of adulthood (going from innocence to experience).
  • #14 LOVE: plot involves the Protagonist overcoming the obstacles to love that keeps them from consummating (engaging in) true love.
  • #15 FORBIDDEN LOVE: plot involves Protagonist(s) overcoming obstacles created by social mores and taboos to consummate their relationship (and sometimes finding it at too high a price to live with).
  • #16 SACRIFICE: plot involves the Protagonist taking action(s) that is motivated by a higher purpose (concept) such as love, honor, charity or for the sake of humanity.
  • #17 DISCOVERY: plot that is the most character-centered of all, involves the Protagonist having to overcome an upheavel(s) in their life, and thereby discovering something important (and buried) within them a better understanding of life (i.e., better appreciation of their life, a clearer purpose in their life, etc.)
  • #18 WRETCHED EXCESS: plot involves a Protagonist who, either by choice or by accident, pushes the limits of acceptable behavior to the extreme and is forced to deal with the consequences (generally deals with the psychological decline of the character).
  • #19 ASCENSION: rags-to-riches plot deals with the rise (success) of Protagonist due to a dominating character trait that helps them to succeed.
  • #20 DECISION: riches-to-rags plot deals with the fall (destruction) of Protagonist due to dominating character trait that eventually destroys their success.

Sunday, December 1, 2013



Jeff Chandler looked as though he had been dreamed up by one of those artists who specialiZe in male physique studies or, a mite further up the artistic scale, he might have been plucked bodily from some modern mural on a biblical subject. For that he had the requisite Jewishness (of which he was very proud) – and he was not quite real. Above all, he was impossibly handsome. He would never have been lost in a crowd, with that big, square, sculpted 20th-century face and his prematurely grey wavy hair. If the movies had not found him the advertising agencies would have done – and in fact, whenever you saw a still of him you looked at his wrist-watch or pipe before realising that he wasn't promoting something. In the coloured stills and on posters his studio always showed his hair as blue, heightening the unreality. His real name was Ira Grossel and his film-name was exactly right. Shortly after completing his role in Merrill's Marauders  in 1961, Chandler injured his back while playing baseball with U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers who served as extras in the movie. He entered  Culver City hospital and had surgery for a spinal disc herniation on May 13, 1961. There were severe complications; an artery  was damaged and Chandler hemorrhaged. In a seven-and-a-half-hour emergency operation over-and-above the original surgery, he was given 55 pints of blood. Another operation followed, date unknown, where he received an additional 20 pints of blood. He died on June 17, 1961. His death was deemed malpractice.\ and resulted in a large lawsuit and settlement for his children.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013




I urge everyone to see Maya Newell’s latest documentary, GROWING UP GAYBY, which will screen nationally WEDNESDAY 20th NOVEMBER at 9:30PM on ABC2 … This is NOT the feature film that some of you contributed to during the crowd-funding campaign last year. GAYBY BABY (feature length), will be finished next year.

Here’s the Growing Up Gayby synopsis:

Director Maya Newell is a Gayby; she has lesbian mums. After years of answering questions about her upbringing, Maya’s ready to find out what impact having same-sex parents might have on a child. She talks to other Gaybies, faces some of Australia’s toughest critics of gay marriage and looks into her own past to find out what it really means to be Growing up Gayby.

Friday, September 13, 2013


JOIN THE WRITING TEAM working with Billy Marshall Stoneking 
on feature project, AUSTRALIA DAY, to be shot in 2014. 


Thursday, September 5, 2013

LIVE IN NEWCASTLE, NSW - Monday 30th September

HEY HEY! Sydney-siders and Newcastle folk & everyone in between - don't miss this rare virtuoso performance by two of Australia's most dramatic and compelling performance poets. Billy Marshall Stoneking and Christina Conrad have performed together throughout Australia and North America to wild and disconcerting acclaim. They will be together again for this one-off memorable night. Bring your friends, bring your granny, make a group-night of it.  Special tandem reading will be preceded  by an open section featuring some of the best new and local poets.  Come as you are, leave changed.


Stoneking's poetry has been strongly influenced by the history and mythology of the Pintupi and Luritja people of Central Australia, and has been widely published in Australian literary journals such as Overland and Westerly. A major collection, Singing the Snake: Poems from the Western Desert 1979–1988, was published by Angus and Robertson in 1990. With Eric Beach and others, he was instrumental in the founding of the Poets Union of Australia. He was also deeply involved in the performance poetry scene, and featured in the performance poetry anthology Off the Record, edited by Pi O (Penguin, 1985).  He has since built a successful career as a playwright/scriptwriter, script  editor, stage, film and radio producer, and teacher & mentor. He's also written novels, Stringer (1988) and The Speed of Darkness (1989), and an autobiography, Taking America Out of the Boy (1993).


Conrad has been called New Zealand's greatest living artist. She is certainly its greatest eccentric. An obsessive "outsider" painter/sculptor, filmmaker, poet/writer, Conrad lived as a recluse for twenty years without electricity or running water, where she "kept her paintings in cupboards instead of food." Her work is written work and films are disarmingly original and not easily pigeon-holed, and the term "outsider" does not sit easily with her, suggesting someone who is untrained. Her recent feature documentary, Indecent Xposure, was the recipient of an Accolade Award in Los Angeles for Best Documentary. Her books have appeared in several notable collections of Australian and New Zealand poetry, including the Penguin Anthology of Contemporary New Zealand Verse.

"One must leave the ego at the door of the tomb, and create like a blind beggar who hears nothing and knows nothing," she explains. "In this way the painting has a chance to be born whole, without the insidious tampering that adulterates false creative acts."  - Conrad


"One of the problems with so many would-be successful screenwriters is that they haven’t a clue about how to write a dramatic scene. They illustrate, they explain, they describe the art direction, but they hardly ever dramatize. If you can write one good scene, and then another good scene and then another, and another, you eventually wind up with a good screenplay, so long as you have got everything in the ‘right’ order and have also effectively used the "cuts" between the scenes to reveal character and story. As for the actual screenplay, most readers won’t initially be interested in the story it reveals, at least not to begin with. It takes a bit of reading to begin to care about the what-nows and what-ifs. What they can be interested in, however, is the ‘voice’, in the mind and heart of the storyteller (a character), and in the style of the telling - in short, the script’s attitude. Is it confident and assured, focused and inventive, or merely resuming character attributes and undramatic events?"


Tuesday, September 3, 2013


It would seem that I've been asking the question, "where's the drama?", long enough for it have to have finally crystallized into a rather counterproductive mantra that causes me some concern, especially when I hear that highly imaginative and daring scripts, with tons of emotion energy and subtext are being rubbished because they / quote / "lack drama". What I find most disturbing is the uncritical use and dogmatic application of terminologies associated with the notion of conflict/drama, and how easily a conceptual knowledge of the form supplants or displaces risk, intuition and insight. When ideas are reduced or clumsily debased into a language 'game' whose truth is codified in a specialized system of jargon, can formula and formulistic thinking be far behind? In the end, formula replaces form, and discovery and chance give way to stale predictability.

I wonder if I haven't (unwittingly) contributed to creating a headless and heartless monster formed from a curious crystallization of the jargon associated with dramatic storytelling. It is a misplaced concreteness. You CAN find and present compelling characters, involved in engrossing situations, that do not conform neatly to the paint-by-number recipes of screenwriting and film-making teachers that - despite their learning - have never been challenged by either the mystery or the suspense that can occur - despite the lack of drama - so long as the character is possessed of origins that intimately intersect with the storyteller's origins.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


The basic rule is this: establish the series dilemma in your pilot opening. In the opening, establish the following: the world; the central character; the wound of the central character; the trigger incident; and the dilemma. READ MORE

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Sophia Turkiewicz's searing chronicle of the life of her extraordinary mother and the story of her and her mother's dramatic relationship. Unforgettable film-making. Watch for it at the Adelaide Film Festival in October, 2013.  READ MORE ABOUT IT HERE

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


"Everything is a story we tell ourselves about who and what we are, and who and what everyone else is, and what we must do, and what we ought to do and why we ought to do it. Each of us has a story, or many stories, and each of us in one way or another is the leading character in the life and death narrative we play out with our lives in our languages. If there are problems, it isn't usually because we have erected ourselves as the main character in our story, so much as because we are unwilling to embrace the possibility that at its source it is all a inspired collaboration."


Иваново детство / IVAN'S CHILDHOOD

Sunday, July 21, 2013


Words come to life in human voice, the same way that stories come to life in their telling. They require the voice - our voice - that most ancient instrument of the human, being human. When I first started performing my poetry, many years ago, people would come up to me after a reading, and say: "you made those poems sound better than they really are." I could never understand that sort of comment. To me, I simply gave them the sound they had, using a voice that loved their words, their rhythms, their music. Words are lures for feeling, and so are stories. When they are alive in the mouth that speaks them, that plays them, they draw us all into the old circle that humans have always made for themselves every time they have allowed a story or a poem or a song, its voice. They wait on us, patiently, with our seemingly interminable silences, hoping for a chance to be heard, to make some palpable shape in a world that - without out - might otherwise fade and die. The world is changed by them, and and so is the sayer, the teller, out of whose mouths they come to life. All the best writing is for the ears, not the eyes.  - Billy Marshall Stoneking


Tuesday, June 25, 2013


The old arguments go on and on: the tob and the ra, the one and the many, the real, the imagined, the positive and the negative. There’s no end to it. Indeed, it would seem that the World requires such conflict, such drama, such passionately competing interests; and the only requirement for Drama to thrive is that it be nurtured by limited points-of-view.

The other day, we argued about reincarnation. You opposed the notion partly because you are a doctor and have seen that part of death up close. Or perhaps it was because you are a stickler for evidence and require something you can lay your hands on. I was inclined to lend my voice to the notion of past and future lives, knowing that, at least in your book, I was on awfully shaky ground. I lacked the necessary passion to turn it into a real argument, so yours and Irena’s proclamations seemed oddly adamant.

Later, I couldn’t help thinking what it was that lay behind our differing positions, what personal axes or prejudices were we grinding or furnishing with our language game? I wondered if maybe the Universe, or whatever you want to call the rest of everything that lies beyond the dramas we pretend to understand, was large enough to make both of us right. That would be neat. But if that was the case, it would also have to be large enough for both of us to be wrong. And, even more disconcerting, would have to be big enough - though ‘big’ is much too small a word - for both of us to be both right and wrong at the same time. And then today I got to thinking, what if all our idiosyncrasies of thought and feeling and action would never, ever account for everything that was, is or will be, and that even our best, collective efforts to tidy up the joint - er, I mean the World - having a long tradition of being established on glibly limited perspectives, could therefore only guarantee the production of enough emotional energy to keep the whole contraption ticking over, whether anyone really understood what it was about or not. And I thought, well, if that was the case, then prayer would be a p a u s e, or rather a PAUSE that was a prayer, or a silence, or some kind of wholly, immanent moment in which everything was, is and would be OKAY. Then all that would be left for us to do would be to contemplate a STORY that was big enough to account for everything.

Where does such a story come from, you ask? not too cynically, I hope. They can only come from YOU, or rather ME… or rather US, in the act of “becoming present not-yet”.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Nowadays, anyone who wishes to combat lies and ignorance and to write the truth must overcome at least five difficulties. He must have the courage to write the truth when truth is everywhere opposed; the keenness to recognize it, although it is everywhere concealed; the skill to manipulate it as a weapon; the judgment to select those in whose hands it will be effective; and the cunning to spread the truth among such persons. These are formidable problems for writers living under Fascism, but they exist also for those writers who have fled or been exiled; they exist even for writers working in countries where civil liberty prevails.


1.  The Courage to Write the Truth

It seems obvious that whoever writes should write the truth in the sense that he ought not to suppress or conceal truth or write something deliberately untrue. He ought not to cringe before the powerful, nor betray the weak. It is, of course, very hard not to cringe before the powerful, and it is highly advantageous to betray the weak. To displease the possessors means to become one of the dispossessed. To renounce payment for work may be the equivalent of giving up the work, and to decline fame when it is offered by the mighty may mean to decline it forever. This takes courage.

Times of extreme oppression are usually times when there is much talk about high and lofty matters. At such times it takes courage to write of low and ignoble matters such as food and shelter for workers; it takes courage when everyone else is ranting about the vital importance of sacrifice. When all sorts of honors are showered upon the peasants it takes courage to speak of machines and good stock feeds which would lighten their honorable labor. When every radio station is blaring that a man without knowledge or education is better than one who has studied, it takes courage to ask: better for whom? When all the talk is of perfect and imperfect races, it takes courage to ask whether it not hunger and ignorance and war that produce deformities.

And it also takes courage to tell the truth about oneself, about one’s own defeat. Many of the persecuted lose their capacity for seeing their own mistakes. It seems to them that the persecution itself is the greatest injustice. The persecutors are wicked simply because they persecute; the persecuted suffer because of their goodness. But this goodness has been beaten, defeated, suppressed; it was therefore a weak goodness, a bad, indefensible, unreliable goodness. For it will not do to grant that goodness must be weak as rain must be wet. It takes courage to say that the good were defeated not because they were good, but because they were weak.

Naturally, in the struggle with falsehood we must write the truth, and this truth must not be a lofty and ambiguous generality. When it is said of someone, “He spoke the truth,” this implies that some people or many people or least one person said something unlike the truth—a lie or a generality—but he spoke the truth, he said something practical, factual, undeniable, something to the point.

It takes little courage to mutter a general complaint, in a part of the world where complaining is still permitted, about the wickedness of the world and the triumph of barbarism, or to cry boldly that the victory of the human spirit is assured. There are many who pretend that cannons are aimed at them when in reality they are the target merely of opera glasses. They shout their generalized demands to a world of friends and harmless persons. They insist upon a generalized justice for which they have never done anything; they ask for generalized freedom and demand a share of the booty which they have long since enjoyed. They think that truth is only what sounds nice. If truth should prove to be something statistical, dry, or factual, something difficult to find and requiring study, they do not recognize it as truth; it does not intoxicate them. They possess only the external demeanor of truth-tellers. The trouble with them is: they do not know the truth.

2.  The Keenness to Recognize the Truth

Since it is hard to write the truth because truth is everywhere suppressed, it seems to most people to be a question of character whether the truth is written or not written. They believe that courage alone will suffice. They forget the second obstacle: the difficulty of finding the truth. It is impossible to assert that the truth is easily ascertained.

First of all we strike trouble in determining what truth is worth the telling. For example, before the eyes of the whole world one great civilized nation after the other falls into barbarism. Moreover, everyone knows that the domestic war which is being waged by the most ghastly methods can at any moment be converted into a foreign war which may well leave our continent a heap of ruins. This, undoubtedly, is one truth, but there are others. Thus, for example, it is not untrue that chairs have seats and that rain falls downward. Many poets write truths of this sort. They are like a painter adorning the walls of a sinking ship with a still life. Our first difficulty does not trouble them and their consciences are clear. Those in power cannot corrupt them, but neither are they disturbed by the cries of the oppressed; they go on painting. The senselessness of their behavior engenders in them a “profound” pessimism which they sell at good prices; yet such pessimism would be more fitting in one who observes these masters and their sales. At the same time it is not easy to realize that their truths are truths about chairs or rain; they usually sound like truths about important things. But on closer examination it is possible to see that they say merely: a chair is a chair; and: no one can prevent the rain from falling down.

They do not discover the truths that are worth writing about. On the other hand, there are some who deal only with the most urgent tasks, who embrace poverty and do not fear rulers, and who nevertheless cannot find the truth. These lack knowledge. They are full of ancient superstitions, with notorious prejudices that in bygone days were often put into beautiful words. The world is too complicated for them; they do not know the facts; they do not perceive relationships. In addition to temperament, knowledge, which can be acquired, and methods, which can be learned, are needed. What is necessary for all writers in this age of perplexity and lightening change is a knowledge of the materialistic dialectic of economy and history. This knowledge can be acquired from books and from practical instruction, if the necessary diligence is applied. Many truths can be discovered in simpler fashion, or at least portions of truths, or facts that lead to the discovery of truths. Method is good in all inquiry, but it is possible to make discoveries without using any method—indeed, even without inquiry. But by such a casual procedure one does not come to the kind of presentation of truth which will enable men to act on the basis of that presentations. People who merely record little facts are not able to arrange the things of the world so that they can be easily controlled. Yet truth has this function alone and no other. Such people cannot cope with the requirement that they write the truth.

If a person is ready to write the truth and able to recognize it, there remain three more difficulties.

3.  The Skill to Manipulate the Truth as a Weapon

The truth must be spoken with a view to the results it will produce in the sphere of action. As a specimen of a truth from which no results, or the wrong ones, follow, we can cite the widespread view that bad conditions prevail in a number of countries as a result of barbarism. In this view, Fascism is a wave of barbarism which has descended upon some countries with the elemental force of a natural phenomenon.

According to this view, Fascism is a new, third power beside (and above) capitalism and socialism; not only the socialist movement but capitalism as well might have survived without the intervention of Fascism. And so on. This is, of course, a Fascist claim; to accede to it is a capitulation to Fascism. Fascism is a historic phase of capitalism; in this sense it is something new and at the same time old. In Fascist countries capitalism continues to exist, but only in the form of Fascism; and Fascism can be combated as capitalism alone, as the nakedest, most shameless, most oppressive, and most treacherous form of capitalism.

But how can anyone tell the truth about Fascism, unless he is willing to speak out against capitalism, which brings it forth? What will be the practical results of such truth?

Those who are against Fascism without being against capitalism, who lament over the barbarism that comes out of barbarism, are like people who wish to eat their veal without slaughtering the calf. They are willing to eat the calf, but they dislike the sight of blood. They are easily satisfied if the butcher washes his hands before weighing the meat. They are not against the property relations which engender barbarism; they are only against barbarism itself. They raise their voices against barbarism, and they do so in countries where precisely the same property relations prevail, but where the butchers wash their hands before weighing the meat.

Outcries against barbarous measures may be effective as long as the listeners believe that such measures are out of the question in their own countries. Certain countries are still able to maintain their property relations by methods that appear less violent than those used in other countries. Democracy still serves in these countries to achieve the results for which violence is needed in others, namely, to guarantee private ownership of the means of production. The private monopoly of factories, mines, and land creates barbarous conditions everywhere, but in some places these conditions do not so forcibly strike the eye. Barbarism strikes the eye only when it happens that monopoly can be protected only by open violence.

Some countries, which do not yet find it necessary to defend their barbarous monopolies by dispensing with the formal guarantees of a constitutional state, as well as with such amenities as art, philosophy, and literature, are particularly eager to listen to visitors who abuse their native lands because those amenities are denied there. They gladly listen because they hope to derive from what they hear advantages in future wars. Shall we say that they have recognized the truth who, for example, loudly demand an unrelenting struggle against Germany “because that country is now the true home of Evil in our day, the partner of hell, the abode of the Antichrist”? We should rather say that these are foolish and dangerous people. For the conclusion to be drawn from this nonsense is that since poison gas and bombs do not pick out the guilty, Germany must be exterminated—the whole country and all its people.

The man who does not know the truth expresses himself in lofty, general, and imprecise terms. He shouts about “the” German, he complains about Evil in general, and whoever hears him cannot make out what to do. Shall he decide not to be a German? Will hell vanish if he himself is good? The silly talk about the barbarism that comes out of barbarism is also of this kind. The source of barbarism is barbarism, and it is combated by culture, which comes from education. All this is put in general terms; it is not meant to be a guide to action and is in reality addressed to no one.

Such vague descriptions point to only a few links in the chain of causes. Their obscurantism conceals the real forces making for disaster. If light be thrown on the matter it promptly appears that disasters are caused by certain men. For we live in a time when the fate of man is determined by men.

Fascism is not a natural disaster which can be understood simply in terms of “human nature.” But even when we are dealing with natural catastrophes, there are ways to portray them which are worthy of human beings because they appeal to man’s fighting spirit.

After a great earthquake that destroyed Yokohama, many American magazines published photographs showing a heap of ruins. The captions read: STEEL STOOD. And, to be sure, though one might see only ruins at first glance, the eye swiftly discerned, after noting the caption, that a few tall buildings had remained standing. Among the multitudinous descriptions that can be given of an earthquake, those drawn up by construction engineers concerning the shifts in the ground, the force of stresses, the best developed, etc., are of the greatest importance, for they lead to future construction which will withstand earthquakes. If anyone wishes to describe Fascism and war, great disasters which are not natural catastrophes, he must do so in terms of a practical truth. He must show that these disasters are launched by the possessing classes to control the vast numbers of workers who do not own the means of production.

If one wishes successfully to write the truth about evil conditions, one must write it so that the causes of evil might be identified and averted. If the preventable causes can be identified, the evil conditions can be fought.

4.  The Judgment to Select Those in Whose Hands the Truth Will Be Effective

The century-old custom of trade in critical and descriptive writing and the fact that the writer has been relived of concern for the destination of what he has written have caused him to labor under a false impression. He believes that his customer or employer, the middleman, passes on what he has written to everyone. The writer thinks: I have spoken and those who wish to hear will hear me. In reality he has spoken and those who are able to pay hear him. A great deal, though still too little, has been said about his; I merely want to emphasize that “writing for someone” has been transformed into merely “writing.” But the truth cannot merely be written; it must be written for someone, someone who can do something with it. The process of recognizing truth is the same for writers and readers. In order to say good things, one’s hearing must be good and one must hear good things. The truth must be spoke deliberately and listened to deliberately. And for us writers it is important to whom we tell the truth and who tells it to us.

We must tell the truth about evil conditions to those for whom the conditions are worst, and we must also learn the truth from them. We must address not only people who hold certain views, but people who, because of their situation, should hold these views. And the audience is continually changing. Even the hangmen can be addressed when the payment for hanging stops, or when the work becomes too dangerous. The Bavarian peasants were against every kind of revolution, but when the war went on too long and the sons who came home found no room on their farms, it was possible to win them over to revolution.

It is important for the writer to strike the true note of truth. Ordinarily, what we hear is a very gentle, melancholy tone, the tone of people who would not hurt a fly. Hearing this one, the wretched become more wretched. Those who use it may not be foes, but they are certainly not allies. The truth is belligerent; it strikes out not only against falsehood, but against particular people who spread falsehood.

5.  The Cunning to Spread the Truth Among the Many

Many people, proud that they posses the courage necessary for the truth, happy that they have succeeded in finding it, perhaps fatigued by the labor necessary to put it into workable form and impatient that it should be grasped by those whose interests they are espousing, consider it superfluous to apply any special cunning in spreading the truth. For this reason they often sacrifice the whole effectiveness of their work. At all times cunning has been employed to spread the truth, whenever truth was suppressed or concealed. Confucius falsified an old, patriotic historical calendar. He changed certain words. Where the calendar read “The ruler of Hun had the philosopher Wan killed because he said so and so,” Confucius replaced killed by murdered. If the calendar said that tyrant so and so died by assassination, he substituted was executed. In this manner Confucius opened the way for a fresh interpretation of history.

In our times anyone who says population in place of people or race, and privately owned land in place of soil, is by that simple act withdrawing his support from a great many lies. He is taking away from these words their rotten, mystical implications. The word people (Volk) implies a certain unity and certain common interests; it should therefor be used only when we are speaking of a number of peoples, for then alone is anything like community of interest conceivable. The population of a given territory may have a good many different and even opposed interests—and this is a truth that is being suppressed. In like manner, whoever speaks of soil and describes vividly the effect of plowed fields upon nose and eyes, stressing the smell and the color of earth, is supporting the rulers’ lies. For the fertility of the soil is not the question, nor men’s love for the soil, nor their industry in working it; what is of prime importance is the price of grain and the price of labor. Those who extract profits from the soil are not the same people who extract grain from it, and the earthy smell of a turned furrow is unknown on the produce exchanges. The latter have another smell entirely. Privately owned land is the right expressing; it affords less opportunity for deception.

Where oppression exists, the word obedience should be employed instead of discipline, for discipline can be self-imposed and therefore has something noble in its character that obedience lacks. And a better word than honor is human dignity; the latter tends to keep the individual in mind. We all know very well what sort of scoundrels thrust themselves forward, clamoring to defend the honor of a people. And how generously they distribute honors to the starvelings who feed them. Confucius’ sort of cunning is still valid today. Thomas Moore in his Utopia described a country in which just conditions prevailed. It was a country very different from the England in which he lived, but it resembled that England very closely, except for the conditions of life.

Lenin wished to describe exploitation and oppression on Sakhalin Island, but it was necessary for him to beware of the Czarist police. In place of Russia he put Japan, and in place of Sakhalin, Korea. The methods of the Japanese bourgeoisie reminded all his readers of the Russian bourgeoisie and Sakhalin, but the pamphlet was not blamed because Russia was hostile to Japan. Many things that cannot be said in Germany about Germany can be said about Austria.

There are many cunning devices by which a suspicious State can be hoodwinked.

Voltaire combated the Church doctrine of miracles by writing a gallant poem about the Maid of Orleans. He described the miracles that undoubtedly must have taken place in order that Joan of Arc should remain a virgin in the midst of an army of men, a court of aristocrats, and a host of monks. By the elegance of his style, and by describing erotic adventures such as characterized the luxurious life of the ruling class, he threw discredit upon a religion which provided them with the means to pursue a loose life. He even made it possible for his works, in illegal ways, to reach those for whom they were intended. Those among his readers who held power promoted or tolerated the spread of his writings. By so doing, they were withdrawing support from the police who defended their own pleasures. Another example: the great Lucretius expressly says that one of the chief encouragements to the spread of Epicurian atheism was the beauty of his verses.

It is indeed the case that the high literary level of a given statement can afford it protection. Often, however, it also arouses suspicion. In such case it may be necessary to lower it deliberately. This happens, for example, when descriptions of evil conditions are inconspicuously smuggled into the despised form of a detective story. Such descriptions would justify a detective story. The great Shakespeare deliberately lowered the level of his work for reasons of far less importance. In the scene in which Coriolanus’ mother confronts her son, who is departing for his native city, Shakespeare deliberately makes her speech to the son very weak. It was inopportune for Shakespeare to have Coriolanus restrained by good reasons from carrying out his plan; it was necessary to have him yield to old habit with a certain sluggishness.

Shakespeare also provides a model of cunning utilized in the spread of truth: this is Antony’s speech over Caesar’s body. Antony continually emphasizes that Brutus is an honorable man, but he also describes the deed, and this description of the deed is more impressive than the description of the doer. The orator thus permits himself to be overwhelmed by the facts; he lets them speak for themselves.

An Egyptian poet who lived four thousand years ago employed a similar method. That was a time of great class struggles. The class that had hitherto ruled was defending itself with difficulty against its great opponent, that part of the population which had hitherto served it. In the poem a wise man appears at the ruler’s court and calls for struggle against the internal enemy. He presents a long and impressive description of the disorders that have arisen from the uprising of the lower classes. This description reads as follows:

   So it is: the nobles lament and the servants rejoice. Every city says: Let us drive the strong from out of our midst. The offices are broken open and the documents removed. The slaves are becoming masters.

    So it is: the son of a well-born man can no longer be recognized. The mistress’s child becomes her slave girl’s son.

    So it is: The burghers have been bound to the millstones. Those who never saw the day have gone out into the light.

    So it is: The ebony poor boxes are being broken up; the noble sesban wood is cut up into beds.

    Behold, the capital city has collapsed in an hour.

    Behold, the poor of the land have become rich.

    Behold, he who had not bread now possesses a barn; his granary is filled with the possessions of another.

    Behold, it is good for a man when he may eat his food.

    Behold, he who had no corn now possesses barns; those who accepted the largesse of corn now distribute it.

    Behold, he who had not a yoke of oxen now possesses herds; he who could not obtain beasts of burden now possesses herds of neat cattle.

    Behold, he who could build no hut for himself now possesses four strong walls.

    Behold, the ministers seek shelter in the granary, and he who was scarcely permitted to sleep atop the walk now possesses a bed.

    Behold, he who could not build himself a rowboat now possesses ships; when their owner looks upon the ships, he finds they are no longer his.

    Behold, those who had clothes are now dressed in rags and he who wove nothing for himself now posses the finest linen.

    The rich man goes thirsty to bed, and he who once begged him for lees now has strong beer.

    Behold, he who understood nothing of music now owns a harp; he to whom no one sang now praises the music.

    Behold, he who slept alone for lack of a wife, now has women; those who looked at their faces in the water now possess mirrors.

    Behold, the highest in the land run about without finding employment. Nothing is reported to the great any longer. He who once was a messenger now sends forth others to carry his messages…

    Behold five men whom their master sent out. They say: go forth yourself; we have arrived.

It is significant that this is the description of a kind of disorder that must seem very desirable to the oppressed. And yet the poet’s intention is not transparent. He expressly condemns these conditions, though he condemns them poorly…

Jonathan Swift, in his famous pamphlet, suggested that the land could be restored to prosperity by slaughtering the children of the poor and selling them for meat. He presented exact calculations showing what economies could be effected if the governing classes stopped at nothing.

Swift feigned innocence. He defended a way of thinking which he hated intensely with a great deal of ardor and thoroughness, taking as his theme a question that plainly exposed to everyone the cruelty of that way of thinking. Anyone could be cleverer than Swift, or at any rate more humane—especially those who had hitherto not troubled to consider what were the logical conclusions of the views they held.

Propaganda that stimulates thinking, in no matter what field, is useful to the cause of the oppressed. Such propaganda is very much needed. Under governments which serve to promote exploitation, thought is considered base.

Anything that serves those who are oppressed is considered base. It is base to be constantly concerned about getting enough to eat; it is base to reject honors offered to the defenders of a country in which those defenders go hungry; base to doubt the Leader when his leadership leads to misfortunes; base to be reluctant to do work that does not feed the worker; base to revolt against the compulsion to commit senseless acts; base to be indifferent to a family which can no longer be helped by any amount of concern. The starving are reviled as voracious wolves who have nothing to defend; those who doubt their oppressors are accused of doubting their own strength; those who demand pay for their labor are denounced as idlers. Under such governments thinking in general is considered base and falls into disrepute. Thinking is no longer taught anywhere, and wherever it does emerge, it is persecuted.

Nevertheless, certain fields always exist in which it is possible to call attention to triumphs of thought without fear of punishment. These are the fields in which the dictatorships have need of thinking. For example, it is possible to refer to the triumphs of thought in fields of military science and technology. Even such matters as stretching wool supplies by proper organization, or inventing ersatz materials, require thinking. Adulteration of foods, training the youth for war—all such things require thinking; and in reference to such matters the process of thought can be described. Praise of war, the automatic goal of such thinking, can be cunningly avoided, and in this way the thought that arises from the question of how a war can best be waged can be made to lead to another question—whether the war has any sense. Thought can then be applied to the further question: how can a senseless war be averted?

Naturally, this question can scarcely be asked openly. Such being the case, cannot the thinking we have stimulated be made use of? That is, can it be framed so that it leads to action? It can.

In order that the oppression of one (the larger) part of the population by another (the smaller) part should continue in such a time as ours, a certain attitude of the population is necessary, and this attitude must pervade all fields. A discovery in the field of zoology, like that of the Englishman Darwin, might suddenly endanger exploitation. And yet, for a time the Church alone was alarmed; the people noticed nothing amiss. The researches of physicists in recent years have led to consequences in the field of logic which might well endanger a number of the dogmas that keep oppression going. Hegel, the philosopher of the Prussian State, who dealt with complex investigations in the field of logic, suggested to Marx and Lenin, the classic exponents of the proletarian revolution, methods of inestimable value.

The development of the sciences is interrelated, but uneven, and the State is never able to keep its eye on everything. The advance guard of truth can select battle positions which are relatively unwatched.

What counts is that the right sort of thinking be taught, a kind of thinking that investigates the transitory and changeable aspect of all things and processes. Rulers have an intense dislike for significant changes. They would like to see everything remain the same—for a thousand years, if possible. They would love it if sun and moon stood still. Then no one would grow hungry any more, no one would want his supper. When the rulers have fired a shot, they do not want the enemy to be able to shoot; theirs must be the last shot. A way of thinking that stresses change is a good way to encourage the oppressed.

Another idea with which the victors can be confronted is that in everything and in every condition, a contradiction appears and grows. Such a view (that of dialectics, of the doctrine that all things flow and change) can be inculcated in realms that for a time escape the notice of the rulers. It can be employed in biology or chemistry, for example. But it can also be indicated by describing the fate of a family, and here too it need not arouse too much attention. The dependence of everything upon many factors which are constantly changing is an idea dangerous to dictators, and this idea can appear in many guises without giving the police anything to put their finger on. A complete description of all the processes and circumstances encountered by a man who opens a tobacco shop can strike a blow against dictatorship. Anyone who reflects upon this will soon see why. Governments which lead the masses into misery must guard against the masses’ thinking about government while they are miserable. Such governments talk a great deal about Fate. It is Fate, not they, which is to blame for all distress. Anyone who investigates the cause of the distress is arrested before he hits on the fact that the government is to blame. But it is possible to offer a general opposition to all this nonsense about Fate; it can be shown that Man’s Fate is made by men.

This is another thing that can be done in various ways. For example, one might tell the story of a peasant farm—a farm in Iceland, let us say. The whole village is talking about the curse that hovers over this farm. One peasant woman threw herself down a well; the peasant owner hanged himself. One day a marriage takes place between the peasant’s son and a girl whose dowry is several acres of good land. The curse seems to lift from the farm. The village is divided in its judgment of the cause of this fortunate turn of events. Some ascribe it to the sunny disposition of the peasant’s young son, others to the new fields which the young wife added to the farm, and which have now made it large enough to provide a livelihood.

But even in a poem which simply describes a landscape something can be achieved, if the things created by men are incorporated into the landscape.

Cunning is necessary to spread the truth.


The great truth of our time is that our continent is giving way to barbarism because private ownership of the means of production is being maintained by violence. Merely to recognize this truth is not sufficient, but should it not be recognized, no other truth of importance can be discovered. Of what use is it to write something courageous which shows that the condition into which we are falling is barbarous (which is true) if it is not clear why we are falling into this condition? We must say that torture is used in order to preserve property relations. To be sure, when we say this we lose a great many friends who are against torture only because they think property relations can be upheld without torture, which is untrue.

We must tell the truth about the barbarous conditions in our country in order that the thing should be done which will put an end to them—the thing, namely, which will change property relations.

Furthermore, we must tell this truth to those who suffer most from existing property relations and who have the greatest interest in their being changed—the workers and those whom we can induce to be their allies because they too have really no control of the means of production even if they do share in the profits.

And we must proceed cunningly.

All these five difficulties must be overcome at one and the same time, for we cannot discover the truth about barbarous conditions without thinking of those who suffer from them; cannot proceed unless we shake off every trace of cowardice; and when we seek to discern the true state of affairs in regard to those who are ready to use the knowledge we give them, we must also consider the necessity of offering them the truth in such a manner that it will be a weapon in their hands, and at the same time we must do it so cunningly that the enemy will not discover and hinder our offer of the truth.

That is what is required of a writer when he is asked to write the truth.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


“Don’t be afraid. That simple; don’t let them scare you. There’s nothing they can do to you…a writer always writes. That’s what he’s for. And if they won’t let you write one kind of thing, if they chop you off at the pockets in the market place, then go to another market place. And if they close off all the bazaars then by God go and work with your hands till you can write, because the talent is always there. But the first time you say, “Oh, Christ, they’ll kill me!” then you’re done. Because the chief commodity a writer has to sell is his courage. And if he has none, he is more than a coward. He is a sellout and a fink and a heretic, because writing is a holy chore.”
 — Harlan Ellison

Sunday, June 2, 2013


 Everybody's walking round, full of their own stuff. They worry over it, plan around it, talk about it, live it, cry it, want it. I have my stuff, and you have your stuff. My stuff is me; your stuff is you. Sometimes we have stuff in common. Stuff is what gets us out of bed in the morning, it's also what sends us tired as hell to sleep. It's all about stuff. Some of us want others to tune into our stuff. To feel something for it. To love it, if possible; or even to pay us for it. And I'm not talking about old furniture and discarded books. Writing is stuff, acting is stuff, playing a musical instrumental produces stuff, a naked body is stuff, poems are stuff, and so are screenplays. It's all stuff. Basically, everybody's stuff is unique, or at least that's part of the stuff some us believe. If you're a writer, what you're doing (really) is asking people to take time off from their stuff so they can focus on your stuff. Hey, look at my stuff! In a way, what you're telling them is: my stuff is better/more beautiful/more interesting/more precious/etc than your stuff. Well, all I can say is, if you manage to get their attention you better make damn sure it is, otherwise they'll be telling you to "get stuffed". If you want an audience for your stuff, no matter what it is, you have to accept the fact that fundamentally the world doesn't really give a damn about you or your stuff. Your job as an creative artist (or whatever), is to make them give a damn. And that's the real stuff. 

- Billy Marshall Stoneking

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


People choose the wrong things to be afraid of, or are afraid of them in the wrong way. Writers especially. The wisest ones deal with the fears they can work with, not the ones that lie beyond the scope of their powers. You can’t do anything about public opinion, funding bodies, critics or agents, for example. Give ‘em enough rope and you just might hang yourself. Choose your fears carefully, learn how they work, and how you can work with them. They are transformable into the life blood of anything you have a mind to put your heart to. Is there a risk? Absolutely. Without risk there would be no point. How can there be any possibility of self-alteration, unless something enormous is at stake? I’m talking life-and-death here. Drama is all about life & death and finding your fear, then coming up with a character who’s prepared to do something about it, who’s prepared to fight and find some kind of salvation for that fear. That’s the story. If your audience recognizes their own fears and their own self-designed salvation in what you’re doing, a relationship will be forged. 


Monday, May 13, 2013


Any time you hear a screenwriter talking about HOW to write a scene, or HOW to construct a screenplay, or HOW to write effective dialogue, or HOW to develop dramatic characters, Beware! “HOW” is never the right word to start any question regarding drama, story, character or screenwriting, generally. The more useful questions, in terms of getting inside your characters, are WHAT and WHY, and some times WHO and WHERE and WHEN. “How” implies a recipe, a secret esoteric knowledge, as if there is some mystical alchemical process, the knowledge of which is only possessed by a priests class charged with guarding the formula, that sure-fire method for writing screen stories, for which the supplicants come begging. Formulas exist, to be sure, but HOW is no “open sesame” and can never address the more fundamental issues of surprise, freshness and originality - in other words, that rare quality we some times refer to as “the magic”. “How” is usura. When it is employed by the writer it already implies a repertoire of writer-centered choices.

One must FREE DRAMA from the chauvinism and tyranny of a writer-driven story. The writer is only one of the ‘characters’ necessary for finding the story. If the process is reduced to a puppet-puppeteer relationship it produces imbalances of power in the writer / character relationships - the usurpation of the potential potency of the contributions the other characters might make.

“HOW” is strategy. “WHAT”, “WHY”, “WHERE”, “WHO”, and “WHEN” are tactics. “HOW” involves goals and choices that in, film-making, are usually reserved for the director - when the writer involves him or herself in formulating a story’s goals, what needs to happen and what the happenings might possibly mean thematically, he/she is likely to ask “how” questions. But the meat and potatoes of any narrative strategy are the tactics, which are character-driven (writer, audience and tribe). Tactics refer specifically to action. Not how do they act? but why, for what purpose, and what is it that has triggered the action? Knowing how a character acts is not the same thing as understanding why they act.

For the writer that wants to work as a MEDIUM for character, it is not useful to ask of a character: “how did she make such a bad decision?” That is the sort of a question an observer might ask. Better to ask: “Why did she make this decision?” which is more like the question the character would ask of herself. To work as a medium for character, the writer must become more and more invisible. And while I could agree that the “HOW” question might get the writer THINKING - that is not usually an effective way of entering into intimate relationships with the characters. Quite simply, the the process demands that the writer disappears, as much as possible anyway, and that the characters in the story are allowed to say and do whatever they must in order to address the “WHAT” and “WHY” of what is happening to them and what they need to do in order to obtain their objective or reach their goal. “HOW?” is a spectator’s perspective.

For what it’s worth, I do an immense amount of work with writers (as a script editor) - and have done so for nearly 20 years - and I never ask the writers with whom I am working “HOW?” Not as a matter of form, but simply because it sidetracks the writer into a mind-set that separates writer from character. The writers I work with might from time to time ask me “How should I write this?” or similar, and I always respond: “‘How’ is the wrong question - what does the character want and why does the character want it and who or what is stopping the character from getting it, and why?” If you answer those questions, the “how” takes care of itself.


Thursday, May 9, 2013


STALK STONEKING at WHERE'S THE DRAMA? - the Web's most unusual, and authoritative source for the character-driven dramatic screenplay and the writer-working as a medium for character & story

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


The Zone is all that is pure subjectivity.  The Zone is composed entirely of subjectivity.  Subjectivity extends into space right up to the edge of perception and thought, but it does not extend beyond perception into the Non-Zone.  Subjectivity has its own type of relationship with space and time.  Subjectivity is the part of the human experience that exists as happening right now to one's self.  The Zone is the "inside" part of this realm of pure subjectivity.  For practical purposes, the Zone is pure subjectivity itself, and pure subjectivity is the Zone itself.
Another way to get at this is to use the two words,  "I am."  On one level these words are quite simple, and they can be easily used without really appreciating the implication they clearly contain.  If one repeats these words silently and meditates on both of them for even the shortest time, his mind will be turned so that it is pointed directly at what we are talking about--subjectivity.  Since subjectivity is not an object that can be viewed or imagined directly, it will never be visualized directly.  This peculiar phenomenon--the nature of one's own subjectivity and the intimate knowledge that one has that it exists--is the very beginning of the mystical experience, which is the foundation of the major religions. Having a clear understanding of that to which the word "subjectivity" refers is essential and the first step toward understanding the Zone.

Some people encounter a block when it comes to meditation and the phrase, "I am."  This is quite common among regimented people, highly educated people, and people who are pathetically lost in the Non-Zone.  These people struggle to capture a meaningful life. Usually they have no belief in any of the types of truths that emanate from the Zone.  On the other hand, many of these people serve out their lives usefully to society as a kind of personal and meaningless sacrifice from the beginning to the end.  The bottom line is that those two little words, "I am," carry more meaning and more truth in them than all the other words in the language.    

The Zone is the subjectivity inside you - the SCREENWRITER.  Though it cannot be made into an object and studied in that way, the nature of the Zone and its mysterious substance, subjectivity, can be known to some extent and that knowledge, when it is personal to oneself is more powerful, more meaningful, and more truthful than any knowledge that will ever come from the Non-Zone "thinking" encouraged by many of the so-called screenwriting gurus.  Those who cannot understand or see the underlying truth to these statements are living their lives in a kind of continual worship of sticks and stones.

 The Zone then is "within," and it is within you.  In the final analysis, it is more "you" than everything else put together. 

Finally, any knowledge of the Zone can only be assumed from direct, intimate experience of the Zone itself; no real knowledge of the Zone can be had from information about the Zone that comes from the Non-Zone. This predicament puts the present situation into a quandary because writing and reading require the continual intersection with the Non-Zone by both the writers and his/her audience/reader.  Direct and intimate experience by the person himself is only way of entering and BEING IN the Zone.  Thus, the writer must become the audience (the one that is addressed) and the one that also addresses the writer (the writer's tribe or tribes).  
The Non-Zone and the Zone are adjacent to each other.  On one side is the world and our physical bodies (what Martin Buber refers to as the "it"); on the other, pure subjectivity (what Buber implies by the "Thou").  A curtain of perceptions is the boundary between the two.  On one side of the boundary is objectivity, on the other subjectivity.  The experience of human existence includes the experience of the Non-Zone of objectivity, and it includes the experience of the Zone of subjectivity.  

A relationship exists between the Zone and the Non-Zone.  The relationship is important, and it has many features, not the least of which is conflict.