Sunday, December 28, 2014

The writing of a compelling dramatic story is always a transformative experience in that it ultimately transports the storyteller into a view of the world that is multi-perspectional, where the storyteller confronts & empathises with the needs, desires and fears of a number of diverse and often conflicting characters and perspectives. The finding of a story involves a certain type of resiliency by virtue of which there is the possibility of liberating yourself from an artificially precise and confining ego. When you experience, develop and live inside a story-world that is founded on accepting and understanding the differences rather than anxiously  asserting the identities of the characters, you edge closer to the truth that stands behind and within every story worth telling, for which there is no better word than "love".

Friday, December 26, 2014



The situation of irony into which we have fallen - sometimes referred to as "the world" - is driven by a perverse fascination with play that has so trapped and entranced us - and at such an early age - that we have forgotten we were only pretending. The outrages perpetrated upon us, and which we perpetrate upon others, are symptomatic of this forgetfulness, and provoke and encourage ever more desperate measures as well as the formulation and promulgation of countless recipes, techniques and methodologies, aimed at helping us re-member ourselves (read: empower ourselves). The irony is that, for most of us, we equate fragmentation with freedom - with the result that the only way we can assure ourselves that our freedom is complete is by choosing not to be free.

-- Billy Marshall Stoneking

Sunday, December 21, 2014


Ambiguity is not the same as confusion. And vagueness is a counterfeit form of subtext. To write in a confusing manner merely frustrates the audience's desire to make an interpretation about what they are seeing or hearing, whereas ambiguity permits of several possible interpretations, none of which might be compatible with one another but all of which are credible in terms of the emotional logic of the story. The incompatibilities that reside in ambiguity are the source of subtext.

- Billy Marshall Stoneking


Monday, December 15, 2014



Sunday, December 14, 2014


“After I’ve written a few lines I let the words slip back into the creature of their language. And there, they are instantly recognised and greeted by a host of other words, with whom they have an affinity of meaning, or of opposition, or of metaphor or alliteration or rhythm. I listen to their confabulation. Together they are contesting the use to which I put the words I chose. They are questioning the roles I allotted them. So I modify the lines, change a word or two, and submit them again. Another confabulation begins. And it goes on like this until there is a low murmur of provisional consent. Then I proceed to the next paragraph. Another confabulation begins…”
— John Berger

Friday, December 12, 2014

Characters become, they become present. Having invaded the senses of the tribe from which they have sprung, they invade the being of the storyteller, and eventually, the lives of the audience. It never happens easily. It takes a long time. It take a story with sharp edges and breakages and stuff your habitual self would rather shut away from the eyes and ears. By the time the characters are fully present, fully alive, there are scars and messes everywhere, but something more than ugliness shows through. Something oddly familiar and seldom seen - the living by which characters come to life, the "being there".

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


The writing of a compelling dramatic story is always a transformative experience in that It ultimately transports the storyteller into a view of the world that is multi-perspectional (my term), where the storyteller confronts and empathises with the needs, desires and fears of a number of diverse and often conflicting characters and perspectives. The finding of a story involves a certain type of resiliency by virtue of which there is the possibility of liberating yourself from an artificially precise and confined ego. When you experience, develop and live inside a story-world that is founded on accepting and understanding the differences rather than anxiously asserting the identities of the characters, you edge closer to the truth that stands within and behind every story worth telling, for which there is no better word than 'love'."

-- Billy Marshall Stoneking

Monday, December 8, 2014

David Mamet said somewhere that “almost no one knows how to write a movie script”, which seems to me to be only partially true because a screen story is never entirely written by the screenwriter. It is also “written” by the director, in the casting and in rehearsals and by the actors in performance, and by the editors and sound mix people, and finally by the audience. Mamet went on to say that “all movie scripts contain material that cannot be filmed”, and about this he was absolutely correct. Just as the script must contain emotions that can’t be expressed in the text itself, so too does the film depend on the magic of what isn’t actually on the screen but breathing and alive in the invisible interplay of what can be shown and can be heard.


The writing of a compelling dramatic story is always a transformative experience in that It ultimately transports the storyteller into a view of the world that is multi-perspectional (my term), where the storyteller confronts and empathises with the needs, desires and fears of a number of diverse and often conflicting characters and perspectives. The finding of a story involves a certain type of resiliency by virtue of which there is the possibility of liberating yourself from an artificially precise and confined ego. When you experience, develop and live inside a story-world that is founded on accepting and understanding the differences rather than anxiously asserting the identities of the characters, you edge closer to the truth that stands within and behind every story worth telling - love.

Thursday, December 4, 2014


Expressions of interest now being accepted for 2015. The Writers' Studio commences in early February 2015 at Randwick TAFE.  Studio conducted by Billy Marshall Stoneking & Bernie Zelvis

Monday, December 1, 2014


For the writer that cares, finding a dramatic resolution to a story can take you into nervous-breakdown territory. If the end of your screenplay is too pat, it can trivialise the complexity you’ve set in motion - if, indeed, there is any complexity at all. And yet the art of plot necessarily requires a apt resolution, even when the underlying human questions and frustrations are unresolvable. Often, what you are dumbly searching for is an illuminating tension between the "right" ending and the impossibility of tying anything up in a neat bow. Freud reminds us that, in analysing a dream, "if an uncertainty can be resolved into an either/or, we must replace it for the purposes of interpretation with an and.” This is what I have some times referred to as "the recontextualisation of the problem". What’s interesting about switching the conjunctions is that it often produces some other, third way, and frees up the secret desire latent in the actions of the characters.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Character-based screen stories are always subject to – and not uncommonly subverted by – the needs and fears of those whose job it is to tell them, namely, screenwriters, directors, producers, and others, and whose extra-narrative agendas often unconsciously work to confound or distort the story and story-finding process in ways that trivialise the emotional energies that might otherwise encourage, motivate and empower the characters. There are no handy methods or sure-fire techniques for dealing with of neutralising these destructive fears and anxieties. Indeed, the application of method can become an insidious strategy for disguising and maintaining the fear, and if allowed to operate unchecked and uncriticised will constantly stand between the storyteller and the story that is seeking to get itself told.


To operate as a medium for character and story is not so much a matter of what the storyteller does as what the storyteller doesn't do. It is akin to the Chinese idea of wu-wei (non-action), a concept that denotes effortlessness, spontaneity, or what Chuang Tzu refers to as “flowing”. Every well-told story flows. Every event, every action, moves the story forward, naturally, in a kind of karmic dance. The art of flowing, as applied to drama, requires that the writer get out of the way. One becomes “empty”, unobtrusive, so that the characters can become whatever the characters are, so that that which is yet-to-be can come into being, allowed to birth itself through the agency of the storyteller-made-medium. Indeed, one might say that unless a story is birthed in this manner it can have no lasting raison d’ĂȘtre, and as such, cannot endure.


Film school - where you spend your days questioning your intelligence and your nights rethinking your mental health.


The time in which we are now living is wanting the stories and storytellers that can penetrate the cynicism, the despair, that can explode them, and present alternatives to how we might live, how we might build the courage necessary to heal our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies. The stories we tell now will determine whether we live or die - dramatic stories always tread that boundary-line one way or another. We need stories that help us imagine the practicality of hope and the necessity of acting out of love for one another. We need writers that remember freedom – poets, visionaries, realists of a larger reality.
Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of Art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximise corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible story-telling and story-finding. Build courage, or die.

Thursday, November 6, 2014


Beliefs are abbreviations of meaning - matrices of boiled down facts, desires, anxieties & scraps of evidence upon which we are prepared to ACT. In the case of dramatic stories and screenplays, the situations of the characters also reflect their beliefs and the actions they’ve taken as a result of these beliefs, even when the actions are purely ironic or deceitful. As such, whatever meaning we - as audience - derive from a story-experience depends largely upon whether or not we are able to make the connection between what a character DOES and what a character BELIEVES and vice versa. What are the beliefs that inform the actions of your characters? What do they believe about themselves? What do they believe about their world? And what does the world think of them? Your story may be bold and unexpected or trite and formulistic, but unless the characters ACT - and unless we can grasp the connection between what they do and what they believe - the story may struggle to create any meaning at all. Having said this, and assuming that you have indeed made those connections, you have to ask is the meaning significant or trivial? The answer to this question isn’t so much about whether you’ve made those connections between thought and action, but more about whether the characters are engaged in actions that thoroughly challenge and provoke your own habits of thought (beliefs).

Friday, October 31, 2014


It seems to me that it is hardly ever one character (i.e.: person) that conceives and writes a compelling dramatic story. There is almost always someone or some thing else hovering around or within that is affecting the emotional, intellectual and spiritual adventure of such an undertaking - something that moves the storyteller, that dances and sings, that finds its own ways of letting itself be known and felt. Poets used to speak of this experience as a relationship one had with one’s Muse, this inspirational, divine-like energy with which the poet was suddenly infused.

"To work in the presence of such a ‘be-ing’ is always a liberating experience because it is usually accompanied with a sense of effortlessness, as if the words and dialogue have somehow started writing themselves. In such moments the storyteller is transformed from a teller of tales into a receiver of them. But don’t think that this means the storyteller becomes less “responsible”. On the contrary, this is the height of response-ability, the mystical experience of BEING THERE.

- Billy Marshall Stoneking


Drama costs. No doubt about it. But how does one - such as you or me - go about assessing that cost? And what exactly is it that is being spent, and what is it actually being spent on, and where and how does the expenditure travel, and what if anything multiplies its clout?
When Tim Burton tells us that film-making is basically a very expensive form of therapy, everybody automatically thinks money, right? Films cost. But story costs more. And the old school isn’t even up to that yet. They think - they believe - that the real cost of drama is MONEY, so they go on blindly putting bucks before bangs and wondering why all they get is whimpers.
Question is - the question almost no one asks - “How do we maximize the therapy while minimizing the cost?” And the short answer is you can’t. But you CAN change the way you THINK about “the cost”, which means changing the story of what and why and how you conceive of and ultimately realise the film you have in your heart to make. If all you’re thinking about is money, you lose, or at least your investors do, and with galling regularity. Hell, maybe they have money to burn! But maybe the smoke’s making them sick.
Yeah, sure, drama costs, but you can’t buy it with money. To understand what that really means is to start changing the story of what we are doing as film-makers. The small, but revolutionary breed of ‘new’ film-makers - those with the courage and the vision to navigate the subtext and as-yet unexplored interfaces between the new technology and the ancient emotion presenting ‘language’ that is drama, who have cultivated a love and fearlessness for strong, character-driven stories, have learned the hard way that the real cost of making potent screen stories is inexpressible in the lingo of all the accountants and rubber stamps in the world. The payment one makes is much more demanding, more exacting, than coming up with a mere 10 million or 200 million dollars. This of course is still heresy to all those flat-earthers, who are yet to realize that climate change is not only real but applicable to a whole lot more than global warming. The old templates are on the way out. As is the idea of waiting for a revolution, which any storyteller worth a damn will tell you isn’t worth waiting for

Saturday, October 18, 2014




"So glad that music like that is happening in a digital world, Mr. Stoneking. It is great stuff & the vinyl copy will raise the roof! I will sure have some trouble with my dear neighbours!"

"I've gone all boogaloo at the knees! Love it. Thanks again CDubbya!"

"Listening to it now and it is spot on the money great work."

"C.W., you're the best. This is mind blowin'."


It is possible, even in the most clumsy and opaque of stories, to find a spark of truth or beauty or pain that has been seeded by the writer, probably unconsciously, at some point in the writing process. It sits there on the page, a stifled cry, tentatively waiting for someone to answer it. The answering - and the need to have an answer - occurs at different times for different writers, but the living experience of 'getting it all in the right order' [Beauty] is possible only if the writer has an astute (read: visionary, inspired) 'audience', which is fundamentally what any good script editor is - the writer's first, true audience.



The art of story-showing begins with story-finding. You can only show/tell what you you have found, and it is always most exhilarating when the two occur very close together, when the finding is intimately connected to the telling and a kind of spontaneous improvisation, akin to playing jazz, occurs, only with character actions and dialogue, not notes.

Story-finding is an adventure. It invites the dramatist to engage and work with those subconscious and seemingly irrational drives of the characters, whilst looking past the types of patterned responses that comprise game theory, such as the 'tit-for-tat' pattern,where a perceived injury triggers an equally injurious response. While this sort of action/reaction carries a logic everyone can understand, it may not be the most surprising response or the most successful in provoking the audience's emotional involvement with the characters. So long as we work within the tight, circumscribed and often predictable patterns of game theory we run the constant risk of producing stale, cliched and predictable action and events.

If it's 'magic' you're after, there can be no formulas, no recipes or appropriations of other people's answers. What you have to do is go on the journey - the same emotional journey that those who have the greatest stake in the outcome are on, namely the characters. As your relationship with the characters evolves and strengthens, you begin to understand how their stakes coincide with your own, and that if the characters and you are to succeed in your plans, you are going to have to be very mindful of exactly what they and you want and exactly why they and you want it (empathy), and persistently and consistently choose and implement actions that are aligned to the outcomes they and you desire. This is the essence of 'story-finding', in which the writer enters the drama not through the imposition of formula or a self-imposed need to hit plot targets, but by an on-going series of acts that free the characters to create fresh, surprising and credible variations of the usual patterns of 'call and response'. And you must do this for both protagonist/s and antagonist/s.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014



The strongest argument against writing passive characters is that they make the writer passive, and that in turn makes the audience passive, and when the emotional interaction between the characters and the audience is reduced it becomes more and more difficult to care about what’s going on in the story. Every story that pulls us in is usually rich in possibilities. The possibilities in a story as in life always increase when the characters in the story and the those outside of it (the audience) decide to ACT rather than react. Active participation and engagement always trumps reactive spectatorship.
- Billy Marshall Stoneking

Saturday, October 4, 2014


Kerouac ain't been through here
in more than 50 years, and
won't be again for all eternity.


Meaning is the defining space between shots and scenes, it is the difference between where we are and where we were, the tension between all the stuff we think is true and what is truth, and the implications that provoke us past that truth. Meaning is the mysterious essence that glues it all together: future and the past. It is the unremembered past come back to haunt us, not-yet. It is anticipation, imagination, the irony that the source of our greatest weakness is also the source of our greatest strength.



Thursday, October 2, 2014


Dramatic stories are emotional maps that reveal and allow us to track every character's incompleteness as well as their journey to gain wholeness. To be capable of dramatic action, a character must be in need of something. The more important the need, the more risky the journey to satisfy it, the more compelling the story. With needs you also have reasons to grieve and to be angry and to feel fear, and also to hope. It is needs that make both characters and humans ACT.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Despite the ever-popular (tho oft-unspoken) notion that the world owes you a living, it ought to be clear by now that when it comes to putting your stuff down on paper, the world owes you nothing at all. What are you offering that it doesn’t already have? Most people are so caught up in their own stuff, so mesmerised by the horror, that it’s pretty unlikely they’re going to interrupt what they’re doing to pay attention to what you’ve already done, specially if they’ve had no part it in.
You have to earn your audience, or create one. But know this - no one owes you (or me) a damn thing, and to believe that they do is only going to exhaust your energies and waste your time.

Okay, so you’ve struggled, so you’ve made noble efforts, so you’ve gone for weeks, months, years, scrapping together enough hope just to survive. So what? Drama is about transformation. Good writing is never conditional. It always arises from, and is sustained and completed (where possible) by, an inner necessity.

Billy Marshall Stoneking

"One reason it’s difficult for writers to take chances with their stories and screenplays is because they don’t do it in their own lives. If you wanna create something that is fresh and alive and surprising, you can’t have it already worked out and known before you make the journey. I used to tell my students about the value of reading their scripts to strangers on buses. Not so they could elicit an opinion from someone that they didn’t know, but because it was a very palpable way of altering their psychical distance to the story and its characters. You’ve got to be prepared to do the unexpected, don’t be afraid to take wrong turns, open unmarked doors., cultivate a passion for doing without the guarantee of how it’ll turn out. Too many adventures are lost in the slackness of waiting to think up of a plan. Make interesting choices and evermore interesting mistakes. You are the future, and it is always acting NOW."


Monday, September 22, 2014

I hate to be the one to break the news, not that it should be news, but predictability breeds predictability. You can’t plan for surprise, or freshness, or originality. You can’t consciously choose those things either. The choice is not to be or not to be; the choice is to dance or not to dance. The best choices are those that arrive effortlessly through the natural movement of characters motivated by needs and fears, they are made by the story, by its music, atonal though it may be. What the story shows us, and what it goads us towards, is openness, effortlessness, spontaneity. It is never the story that resists these impulses, only ourselves, clutched by an unmanaged fear that were we free enough to let the story become whatever it might be, it would expose something better left hidden, thus opening us to attack or derision. It is a prospect many find too painful to even contemplate, and so they make story into a fortress instead of an escape plan.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

In order to enter intimately into the emotional life of the story’s characters, it is necessary that you cultivate and play out a relationship with your audience. The answer to the question “who is it for?” is not “everyone”. It’s not even “the 18- to 25-year-old age group” or whatever other group you have in mind. A percentage or description of some faceless mob is creatively useless from a storytelling perspective.  To have any hope at all of entering the drama, you have to imagine and then address your audience, and, at times, become that audience.  But who, exactly, is one’s audience? Quite simply, it is that person who is fundamentally opposed to the thematic premise of what you are writing about. Audience is adversary, the writer's opposition - the person to whom the story is addressed, a person with whom you are on intimate terms, like your mother or father, your son or your daughter, or lover or the ex-, or some colleague who maybe saved your life once, but is antagonised by the underlying values or philosophy dramatised by the story  – some person whom you imagine is capable of being changed or moved or healed by the experience of the story you are telling; in short, someone who needs it. Effective, character-based storytelling is impossible without this intimate sense of audience – not as a demographic but as an imaginative act.
Billy Marshall Stoneking


When it comes to scenes be obsessive. The scene is the equivalent of a sentence - it presents a complete dramatic ‘idea’ (action) that moves the story forward. Every scene offers the writer another opportunity to take a risk. The accumulation of risks taken makes the story that is being told compelling. Read through each scene, revising and beefing up the emotional energy. Don’t simply look at and work with the broad swept of the narrative. Every scene has a beginning, middle and end that asks you to take a chance - every scene is a manageable miniature of the big story that beckons to you to create an explosion, either large or small. String enough of these together in an unexpected and credible way, and you’ve got a story.

- Billy Marshall Stoneking

Sunday, September 7, 2014

To work as a medium, channeling characters and stories, is to immerse yourself in a “show” that is being performed by some thing other than yourself, to acknowledge that there’s no way of entering a story other than surrendering to it, and allowing it to enter you. When when this happens, the usual demarcations that separate the dreamer from the dream are erased. In jettisoning the ego-centric “self that creates”, we surrender our need to manipulate and judge, and allow ourselves to be told by the story that is continually becoming present, not-yet.
Billy Marshall Stoneking