Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Worms invade the iris, the anvil’s
turned to rust - what else? lest those
departed are somehow found in us.
What use is death to die with the dead,
& serve no need we know?
Art's not art whose art diminishes
the joy that love might grow. To dance
the dance needs more than me
to feel the way it goes.
We know not whence we've sprung,
my love - my fast is not your slow,
your dream or my conniving?
And therein hides the woe, the sting -
each brings a different darkness,
a song bestowed by what is broken,
a genealogy of night.
The holiest communion's not with God,
despite its sacred partition, but always
between the dead & dying,
and their memorized traditions.
'Tis love one spends to keep the life,
and make some life of living.
We are the Ancestors desire has fed
- a gallery of apparitions.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


We often feel singularly vulnerable whenever we put our script, or our poetry, or a song that we have written, out there - for the world - hanging our sense of worth and realness on the opinions of others, opinions that are often mired in the insecurities and vulnerabilities of others that wittingly or unwittingly make themselves feel big by making others feel small. Most of us are already our worst critic, so any outside negativity only fans the flames of self-doubt. Better to cultivate clarity and self-discipline in your assessment of what you do creatively. It is of the highest importance, this facility for seeing your work wholly, and understanding from whence it has sprung and why its origins are emotionally meaningful to you. Develop your own standards (tastes) and work to them. The public will resurrect you one day, and then hang you the next - treat their criticisms as well as their compliments with equal amounts of inspired distrust.

- Billy Marshall Stoneking

Sunday, June 15, 2014


Ask yourself the question, what is the worst that would happen if my central character does not achieve his/her goal? If your answer shows you that you have not set up strong stakes, you need to fix this. Stakes are what make us care about your story and root for your characters. If there is a lot at stake, we really feel the payoff when your character achieves the goal.

Friday, June 13, 2014


Stan Lee said somewhere that he'd only ever written stories that he, himself, was interested in reading, and that he didn't think a writer could do their best work if they were writing for somebody else, i.e.: an audience, because you can never know what any one else really thinks or wants.

It's obvious that Stan's approach to writing has more than proven itself in the marketplace, but I'm not convinced his idea of audience is the same as mine. Like myself, Stan abhors the thought of deferring to an audience especially if one conceives of it as a demographic. Strictly speaking, however, audience, need not be exclusively conceived in this manner. Indeed, it is much more useful to work with the idea of audience as a character, someone to whom the story is addressed, that the storyteller wants to change in some way through the experience of the story and its characters.

Like many others, Stan bi-furcates the nature of the storytelling experience into us and them - those 'characters' that exist 'inside' the story, and those 'real people' that exist outside of it, whereas my view is that its characters all the way up and all the way down.

If, as Stan claims, "you can never know what any one else really thinks or wants" how is he able to effectively dramatize the emotional states, needs and fears of the characters that populate his story worlds? He would probably respond by saying that he had created the characters, but that the audience was already there, waiting and watching. And he is right if you stick to the idea - or prejudice - that an audience is nothing more than a measurable demographic, a faceless mass of economic, educational, societal, legal and spiritual circumstances.

What writers, especially new writers, need to understand is that character-based storytelling is not merely a way of describing the way a character's motives and actions inform a narrative, but a visionary attitude that allows the writer to grasp the fact that not all of the characters necessary for 'finding' (writing) the story exist inside the screenplay. Audience, itself, like the dramatis personae of the script, is an act of the imagination, and it provides a valuable, contrasting perspective to the one that the writer qua writer usually employs when looking at his/her work. The notion of audience-as-character allows the writer to shift his/her psychical distance to the story by momentarily becoming the audience/character, and thus altering the perceptual possibilities. The writer begins to look not only at the relationships that exist among the characters in the script, but also at those relationships that exist between and among the writer, the writer's audience and the tribe or tribes to which the writer belongs and whose influence informs and impacts upon the decisions that both the writer and the characters in the script are making in concert with an audience character and the tribal circumstances that provide the underlying values, proclivities and contexts, in which all the characters are acting.


Saturday, June 7, 2014


These basic plots are from the Tennessee Screenwriting Association, but I thought it would be useful to share them with you all. Many writers believe that there are only so many “basic plots” that make up a story, 20 of them to be exact, and that it all depends on how you develop these plots. This is the same idea that there are only so many story arcs, and that all of our stories fit into a certain category. This is not to say you can’t create something that is uniquely yours, because you can mess with these elements, but when cut something down to the bare bones—nothing is really original. These recognizable story forms work and that’s why they’re used over and over again. Here are the 20 basic plots—

1. QUEST – the protagonist is searching for something (person, place, thing, or idea) and is on a journey to find it.

2. ADVENTURE – the protagonist searches for their fortune, but has to leave home to do it.

3. PURSUIT - hide-and-seek plot, one group or person chasing another.

4. RESCUE - the protagonist is searching for someone or something that needs to be saved—this usually involves protagonist, victim, and antagonist.

5. ESCAPE – the protagonist wants to escape some sort of situation, on a quest to get away.

6. REVENGE - retaliation against someone else for wrong-doings.

7. THE RIDDLE - the protagonist’s search to find the hidden meaning of something.

8. RIVALRY - the protagonist is competing for same object or goal as another person.

9. UNDERDOG – the protagonist has a great disadvantage and faces overwhelming odds while trying to reach his or her goals.

10. TEMPTATION – the protagonist is tempted into doing something that is unwise, wrong or immoral.

11. METAMORPHOSIS - the physical characteristics of the protagonist actually changes from one form to another.

12. TRANSFORMATION - the protagonist journeys through a stage of life that moves them from one significant character state to another.

13. MATURATION - the protagonist faces a problem that causes them to learn from it and mature into adulthood.

14. LOVE - the protagonist overcomes the obstacles that prevent him or her from engaging in true love.

15. FORBIDDEN LOVE – the protagonist overcomes obstacles that prevent him or her from true love, but sometimes find the outcome too high a price to live with.

16. SACRIFICE - the protagonist is motivated by a higher purpose such as love, honor, and charity or for the sake of humanity.

17. DISCOVERY - the protagonist, having to overcome a life-changing event, discovers a deeper meaning of life that changes their outlook.

18. WRETCHED EXCESS - the protagonist pushes the limits of acceptable behavior to the extreme and is forced to deal with the consequences.

19. ASCENSION – this rags-to-riches plot deals with the rise of the protagonist due to a dominating character trait that helps them to succeed.

20. DESCENSION – In the opposite to ascension, a person of initially high standing descends to the gutter and moral turpitude, perhaps sympathetically as they are unable to handle stress and perhaps just giving in to baser vices.

Friday, June 6, 2014



Reading a screenplay is arguably as much a creative and imaginative process as writing one, and it often seems to me that Australian screenplay writing is frustrated and adversely affected by the impoverishment of its readers. Reading action and light, pace and tone is always a challenge and even more so in a script. When the reader creates emotion in their head, or gets the subtle ambiguity of the subtext, or catches the unspoken, unseen implication of this action with that action as they cross from one scene to the next, they should reserve at least as much praise for themselves as they do for the writer - perhaps more. And the best writers always write in such a way that they allow a good part of the story to be imagined by the audience. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014


Myths speak to us of our essence and of our origins. Each of us shelters round a campfire of myths, adrift in the infinity of a wilderness that is as frightening as it is full of possibilities. In such a wilderness a myth is not so much a spiritual path as an eternal reminder of what lies within and behind the phenomenal realm of our senses, a place divinely invisible and internal, and yet everywhere present – a force bodied forth in trees and rivers, boulders and clay pans, in the crops and animals that feed us, and in seasons and multitudinous energies of the natural world, which we discover by means of that most ancient of human occupations: wandering.

Humanity’s active participation in the creation and re-vivification of a mythic consciousness is also an act of wandering – psychic wandering – that provides modes of becoming, which dramatise and evoke recognisable and recurring forms of being and transformation. Such transformations are not necessarily positive or constructive. Indeed, history is littered with the records of those that exploited myth for the purposes of base propaganda or worse. Like anything of genuine power and value, myth can be turned to the selfish needs and goals of anyone clever enough to tell a good story, or at least the :”right” story at the “right” time.  Even so, the myth that works merely to serve the narrow power and purpose of political dominance and manipulation also harbours within itself the seeds of its own irrelevance, and is likely to be supplanted by a seemingly more relevant and fashionable myth, just as it supplanted the myth thatcame before it.


Writing a screenplay starts out as a seeking. We seek the characters and their problems, their inner and outer needs, their relationships and fears and the threats and risks that their actions give rise to. And then, after a while, it starts becoming clear that the problems and needs and fears that we’ve been seeking are in us, and that what we are involved in is no longer simply a seeking but a deeply emotional and logical inner exploration, an uncovering of what was there all along but which we had for whatever reason chosen to ignore. The light at the end of the tunnel is ourselves and there is no tunnel. We are the story that is getting ourself told, and it is the story that is writing us just as much as we are writing it, which is always perfect at every stage of the process, so long as you are IN the process, and not gawking at it like some miserable spectator.” 
—  Billy Marshall Stoneking