Thursday, August 28, 2014



We owe and are owned by the tribe. Even the few that struggle so desperately to liberate themselves from it, their very struggle becomes a kind of testimony to their attachment, and yet the calling to be oneself is always there, a background drama full of tension and longing. When the tension is strong enough in us we can use it to create - poems, music, dance, characters. Every story truly told is the expression of our tribal identity, and the possibility of our liberation from the tyrannies it imposes. This is the great situation of irony out of which each of us creates.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


At the heart of every dramatic story-worth-telling is a seemingly unresolvable problem that, until it is solved, will stop the story from being completed. Life is filled with these unresolvable, never-ending stories, and men and women - one way or another - have paid with their lives in order to live them and tell them, or to hide from them. At the heart of every dramatic story-worth-telling is a seemingly unresolvable problem that must be solved if the story is to have a satisfying ending. And the ending is important. It is important because without an ending the story has no meaning. It is always the ending that tells us what the story means. Unfortunately, thinking is of no use, other than to eliminate everything that is irrelevant to solving the problem. If you can THINK of a solution, the solution is wrong. You can’t think your way out of it, mainly because the problem isn’t where you THINK it is. This most fundamental of all dramatic insights, and it applies to everything that has story.

- Billy Marshall Stoneking


Thursday, August 21, 2014


Story rises from character, not the other way around.

What does this mean?

Far too many screenwriters enter into the process assuming that the plot is the primary story agent, and that the characters are secondary. It is a prejudice that most of us learned from the way in which we were taught history. People are taught that events make history, they are taught to memorize the events and the dates upon which these events transpired. This offers only a partial view of the actual story - or history - and all but neglects the driving agent(s) and emotions that actively encouraged and brought about these events.

Story rises from character, and it is character and the characters' needs, fears, ambitions and frustrations, that drive the story forward.

BUT do not make the simple-minded mistake of thinking that all of the characters that drive a story are located in the screenplay or script. Sure, that is where the dramatis personae "live" and act, but they are not the ONLY characters involved in finding - or enacting - the story.  One must enlarge one's vision and understanding of the actual process, and when one does, one realizes that there are other characters at work here, characters that are mostly invisible to a writer whose understanding of character is limited to the cast of characters in the script.

A CHARACTER - a dramatic character - may be defined as a human or human-like person that wants something, and is driven by this need or frustrated desire to attain what he or she wants to such an extent that they are not prepared or able to wait for it to just happen, but actively go out, and in the face of threats, risk and personal safety, seek to claim, win, restore of grasp it. Given this definition we can see how the writer, too, is a character. The writer wants to write a story, and is driven by a writer's need to tell it in a way that evokes real emotion. They want to move and transform their audience. The audience, too, is a character, insofar as the writer conceives of them as something with a point of view and a susceptibility to be moved. In a sense, the audience is always an act of the imagination - that person or persons to whom the story is addressed. They have an attitude that the writer imagines and seeks to confront with the story. They are resistant to that story and that resistance goads the writer towards more vivid and confronting storytelling. Likewise, the writer is the product of a number of tribal circumstances or contexts that have affected and influenced his or her view of the world. The writer is a product of his or her environment, those cultural, societal, economic, legal, political and spiritual circumstances in which he/she came of age. The writer's tribe wants something too, and it's claims on the writer and the writer's sensibilities cannot be under-estimated.

When one writes a story or screenplay one must sit down and ask the characters - ALL the characters - what they want, and then allow them their voice in the evolving series of actions and events.  Don’t get in their way - the writer that works as a 'medium' for these characters and their proclivities understands that the art of dramatic storytelling resides in the facility to get out of the way - to free the characters to become what they can (and want) to be. You must fight against the dumb inclination to promote yourself as the Grand Puppeteer - the leading mastermind whose weighty responsibility is to plot out a plan, regardless of what and who the characters actually are, emotionally and spiritually. Your job is not to tell the characters' story, but to free them enough so that they can tell you, and you can follow them. Sounds passive, doesn't it? But it's not. To do that you must fight the battle of your life, confronting all your demons and fears, your assumptions and expectations, concerning who and what you are. It is a battle to the death - the death of ego that is.  So, follow them. See where their story goes.

Remember: everyone wants to live an ‘easy’ life, but nothing worth having comes easily.

Every choice comes with a price, every action comes with an opposite reaction. Your character can desire to live an ‘easy’ life as much as any other character… but fate always intrudes... if you have the courage to face it.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

It would seen that most film schools have a knack for employing “teachers” whose understanding of character and story seldom stirs anything more potent than an academic pot of abstractions. Armed with a lexicon of jargon, these hapless “educators” strive to encourage their students to ‘develop the subtext’, attend to ‘the character beats’, and ‘work to strengthen the ending’, while sagely believing they are offering a real service. Wittingly or unwittingly, they seem to see their job as converting their likeable but naive charges into dutiful, passive apprentices, serving a set of formulaic recipes that encompass almost everything except heart, illumination and inspiration. Confident in their own habits of thought, these wise mentors - each, in his or her own way - will cajole the young filmmaker with their best advice, busy with the business of instilling “character arcs”, “inciting incidences” and “mid-points” - proof positive of the storyteller’s need to take control and shape the action like any cheap puppeteer in the everlasting theater of the deaf and blind. They are vandals, abortionists, usually without even suspecting it, and always with the best of intentions. What results are scripts and films that wind up being an approximation of other people’s tastes, proclivities, notions and vagaries, assembled out of the students’ need to please and impress rather than the students’ original vision and unique mistakes, which have never been employed because they were too busy making everyone else’s mistakes. You could say that film schools have a lot to answer for, but luckily they are all but irrelevant, particularly for those few, dedicated an focused individuals that are passionately interested in making stories for the screen. Their collisions with the ignorance of these well-meaning mentors provides only a temporary distraction, and is soon left behind.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


The need to continually revise one’s own location in order to place oneself in the path of what one finds desirous or beautiful or dangerous, is the basic impulse underlying the actions of characters in every dramatic story. A character ACTS in order to increase his/her chances of landing the great white whale or simply getting back to Atlanta in time to watch the football game on Sunday afternoon. Everything that frustrates or interferes with these objectives constitutes the drama.
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Tuesday, August 5, 2014



"For storytellers, the writing of dramatic stories, plays and/or screenplays, seems to involve an imaginative re-construction of a personal past, and the re-situating of that past in the present. The actions of characters, in the context of compelling and identifiable narratives, allow change to become visible. Fairy tales, including Aboriginal Dreamtime legends are not fanciful contrivances. They provide, and have always provided, significant warnings based on tribal experiences of what can go wrong. By passing on this wisdom of what to avoid, the tribe offers advice to the tribe concerning the nature of being present. As such, these stories work to build both courage an freedom. Recipes, methodologies and techniques for 'making it' as a storyteller/filmmaker/playwright in the modern world usually stifle the creative adventure of becoming present by insisting upon and prescribing 'desirable' behaviors that frustrate the openness required liberating the present from the past."

- Billy Marshall Stoneking