Tuesday, April 26, 2016


  A story is a language for presenting emotion, a way of seeing and hearing, a way of being, of worlding yourself. A story seeks to reconstruct the catastrophe that’s already happened so that next time it happens we will be better prepared for it, but it never happens, not in the way we imagine. A story is a liberation and a confinement disguised as an escape, if only we knew on which side of the bars we sat. A story is no remedy for forgetfulness, merely proof that it exists. It is dialectical - it heals with wounding. A story is not a journey so much as its anticipation, a path that opens hope to the possibility that love is worth striving for, but alas, who really knows if it leads anywhere at all, and it may not even be a path.

--- Billy Marshall Stoneking

Thursday, April 21, 2016


A screenplay may be said to possess an organic form if its structure has originated from within the lives and relationships of the characters, where “the characters” refers not only to the dramatis personae, but also to the audience, the writer and the writer’s tribe or tribes. Such a screenplay stands in contrast to its more formulaic cousin, which is usually produced in accordance with imposed rules and techniques - HOW rather than WHAT & WHY. An organic screenplay is shaped from within the story. It cannot be created by a mere spectator. Organic creation is creation liberated from prejudice, from habit, from fear - it is actively courageous insofar as it allows the characters to enact their story, and thus gradually reveal what heretofore were its hidden significances.  In contrast, the more mechanical processes and rules which many screenwriting gurus recommend, takes refuge in plot outlining. Surprise is not about characters taking you by the metaphorical neck and rubbing your nose in your preconceptions, but about discovering clever ways of subverting plot conventions.

Organic form cannot be forced or predetermined. It arises out of play, in which all the characters necessary for finding the story are engaged with one another at the emotionally relevant levels of engagement to evoke empathy and identification. The organic screenplay cannot arise from the screenwriter in emotional isolation - indeed, the screenwriter may ultimately be simply the MEDIUM through which the story is written down.  


There are probably many reasons why so many would-be screenwriters aren’t doing the very difficult work demanded by any dramatic story, but it seems that one of their reasons is that they don’t want the messiness that dramatic problems bring into their lives. Problems, complications, contradictions & unexpected frustrations - these are the troubles they strive to avoid in their every-day lives, but essential elements in the lives of dramatic characters. It’s difficult embracing these even though they are central to the construction of a powerful and credible plot. More often than not, would-be screenwriters take refuge in reportage and writing art direction,  describing and explaining rather than showing and interacting with the characters within the emotional space in which the characters are acting. For some, the making of a beautiful sentence is much more accessible and desirable than the horrors one must face in constructing a memorable plot. However, if an audience is going to give a good goddamn about the story, you’re going to have to struggle, you’re going to have to bleed, and get off your ass and get your characters off their asses, and send them out into the story-world to fight for something. Something important, something the loss of which would shake their souls. And don’t leave out those characters and forces that are fighting against them, either. No one can be sheltered from this. Nothing is protected. 

- Billy Marshall Stoneking

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


When it comes to screenwriting - or the writing of a story in the form of a screenplay - it is important to understand that one of the fundamental raw materials you are working with is TIME. Time, not so much in terms of how long the story is, but rather in terms of the way you manage its rhythms and pacing, its rests and climaxes. Time is of the essence - it is essential to the story's movement and, therefore, its meaning, just as is the case in our daily lives. Time is dramatized change, conveyed through shots and scenes. When reading a script or watching a film, we must have a sense of time passing and in that passing the sense of the emotional weight, the emotional urgency, by which the characters are moved in their individual and/or collective quests. Whether it's a tragedy or a comedy it's all about timing in which time is compressed, intensified, re-vivified in ways that keep us at the centre of the story's emotional energy.

Billy Marshall Stoneking