Tuesday, April 21, 2015

You have to pay for everything you write, everything you feel, otherwise you can take nothing away. Audiences WANT evidence, storytellers have to find the evidence and present it. This is the case with both fictional and factional stories. What is the evidence that supports the kind of emotional awareness the story is seeking to stimulate? Where is it? It is not something that you simply appropriate - you have to earn it. This is especially the case for writers. Bad writing is writing that hasn't been earned - it's been stolen, appropriated, copied or otherwise conned from some experience or other in which the writers hasn't really been invested. There are three forms - SENTIMENTALITY (unearned emotion), PORNOGRAPHY (unearned intimacy) and PROPAGANDA (unearned knowledge).

- Billy Marshall Stoneking

Sunday, April 19, 2015


Stoneking's forthcoming collection poems


Characters that we care about are characters whose actions we can relate to - they compel our interest and affection not because they are like us but because we identify qualities in them that we find admirable. So what are the essential qualities of a dramatic character in serious drama that make us connect emotionally with them?
1. A sense of humour
2. Loyalty
3. Confidence
4. Resiliency
5. Honesty
6. Passionate
7. Curiosity
8. Level headed, grounded
9. Realistically optimistic
10. Physically fit
You'll notice how all these qualities promote an active engagement with other characters and tend towards stimulating or encouraging active involvement with the issues related to the dramatic problems that seek solution. Character qualities are revealed through what characters do and say. We have to be able to SEE and HEAR these qualities in ACTION.
Other important characteristics of actionable characters include
11. Candidness
12. Showing affection
13. Intelligence
14. Creative
15. Experimental
16. Ambitious
17. Courageous
18. Thoughtful
19. Empathetic
20. Talented
Check through the latest draft of your screenplay and see just how many of these qualities are evidenced by the actions of the characters - Everything that every major character does - in every scene - should provide evidence one or more of these, otherwise your audience probably isn't going to give a damn. Of course, they may not give a damn even if your characters are possessed of all these attributes, but that is another problem.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The dialogical nature of genuine, character-based dramatic storytelling resonates very strongly with and is illuminated by Heidegger's concept of Dasein, which posits that humans exist within a world, and that it is this very relationship between the world and the person that is significant...

When applied to stories and dramatic action, it is clear that characters also exist in a world - a story world - and to the degree that a writer, an audience and the tribe or tribes whose circumstances are being dramatised, have a stake in this world, then the relationships that exist between and among the characters, writers, audiences and tribes are significant.

A character can make no account of him/herself in isolation from the other characters (both IN and OUTSIDE the script). A character's meaning, their emotional vividness, is contingent upon the connections and disconnections enacted with the other characters. All embody in their own, individual and circumstantial ways sets of drives, needs, fears, and choices whose meaning is revealed by and through these relationships.

It is not merely the existence of the storyteller and the storyteller's ideas that inform the evolving actions and interactions within the story-world, but the matrix of interactions that are played out among the storyteller, the characters, the audience and the relevant tribe or tribes.


Friday, April 10, 2015

"The unspoken terror that grips anyone that consciously embarks on writing or making a dramatic story is that they must become, in the truest sense of the word, a pioneer. They must dare to go to those places no one has previously been, apart from the savage heart in them, which they are duty bound not to massacre."  - Stoneking

When I speak of the need writers have to acknowledge their audience, I am not referring to some faceless demographic served by the writer in a quest for some degree of acceptance and popularity. Audience is not "out there" - it is not the audience in theatre, but the audience-as-character - a perspective that contrasts with the writer's point of view. Audience, in this sense, is not a given, but another part of the creative-finding process that is the essence of story-making. Audience is "other", the personification of the writer's alter-ego - the dissident, the agitator, the adversary, whose position in regards the story is to undermine, subvert and possibly destroy what the writer is intent on doing. And because audience is not a given, it is up to the writer to imagine and inhabit a character that stands in opposition to writer's assumptions, expectations and prejudices regarding the tale that is trying to get itself told. I have seen many a film that came undone or never got off the ground because of a writer's and/or filmmaker's inability or unwillingness to grapple with the question: Who is this for and why?



Monday, April 6, 2015


There are far too many screenwriters who have made themselves honorary "secret" members of the Audience Protection Society (APS). Of course, they're easy to spot, which makes their membership in this group anything but secret. They write as if they are duty bound to protect their readers from the nastiness of ruthless drama. The way they see it, if they're going to go to the trouble of creating loveable and attractive characters why throw them to blood-thirsty apes, or have them face a fate worse than death? They tell themselves that such actions would offend their audience's sensibilities, but really it's their own fears and prejudices they can't cope with, not to mention those nagging insecurities concerning their ability to write credible characters in the grip of extreme emotion. They'd rather be dead than write cheese.