This Is How 99% Of Screenwriters Write A Story by Jill Chamberlain

Film Courage: You touch on something regarding the 99% and you say many writers can format a script? But most writers can’t do…and that is?

Jill Chamberlain, Script Consultant/Author/Writer: Yes, so in my experience as a script consultant 99% of writers fail to tell a story. What the 99% do instead is I would describe as present a situation.

So they pay me good money as a script consultant to come in and read their script. It may be perfectly formatted in industry standard. It may have some interesting characters here and there. Maybe some great dialogue. It may have some interesting plot points. But invariably I was discovering that 99% of the time they were failing to tell a story a story. Instead they were presenting a situation.

One way I can describe a situation is it’s like life where in life this happens, this happens and then this happens. And that’s not a story right? That’s episodic. A story there’s a connection where between the parts this happens which leads to that happening which makes it ironic when this other thing happens. There’s a connection between the parts. This happens which leads to that happening which makes it ironic when this other thing happens. There’s a connection between the parts.

Another way I can put it is if I can take your protagonist out of your script and put a completely different one in and maybe with a couple of tweaks it works just as well, you have a situation my friend not a story.

Film Courage: Interesting.

Jill: I shouldn’t be able to do that. If you’re telling a story, if I take a protagonist out it would no longer work. A story is unique to your protagonist. There’s a unique journey, a reason why you (the master of the universe here) has put this character on this path. There is something in that character that you’ve chosen to do this particular plot in order to bring out something in them. And so if I can just put another character in it works just as well. That’s not a situation, that’s not testing anything specific to the character. It’s just an arbitrary situation that you put a character, that you put someone into.

And that’s what most people do, I mean that’s how a lot of us start. It’s not…it doesn’t mean that it’s not a fixable situation and that’s why my method, why I have these on form so we can see visually right there and then “Oh yeah, this piece is working, but you can see this piece doesn’t work.” We can isolate these elements and we can fix them looking at this one-page for and it’s way easier to do it on this one page form then if you’ve already written a screenplay then that’s going to be a little bit more of a mess. We can still use the form but it’s going to mean going back a little bit to the drawing board in order to fix those parts. In order to make it into a powerful story.

Film Courage: I’m wondering if we can reverse engineer a current film that is out and make it into a situation? So I know sometimes I use movies that are dated, so let me use try with A STAR IS BORN. How can we reverse engineer it so that if we broke it down and changed it to a situation? So we could see…dissect it?

Jill: Let me give you a different example. It’s my favorite to give. The movie TOOTSIE.

Film Courage: Love it.

Jill: So every screenwriter, every filmmaker should know TOOTSIE, right? If you haven’t seen it, you have to go see it. It’s a great movie to look at structurally. This is exactly what is happening.

99% of writers are writing what I call “Fat Tootsie.” This is fat tootsie…I’m going to take the same movie (TOOTSIE) we have a protagonist Michael Dorsey an out-of-work actor. Can’t get an acting job and he’s desperate for an acting job and so he’s going to audition for the soap opera and I’m going to make two very small changes to the plot. He’s going to audition for the soap opera in disguise. But the part isn’t a female character. The part is going to be a male character but the character…(Watch the video interview on Youtube here).

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Jill Chamberlain is the author of one of the highest rated screenwriting books on Amazon entitled The Nutshell Technique: Crack the Secret of Successful Screenwriting.

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Jill Chamberlain’s book from University of Texas Press, The Nutshell Technique: Crack the Secret of Successful Screenwriting, is now available on Amazon and in fine bookstores everywhere. Of the over 3,000 books on screenwriting on Amazon, The Nutshell Technique ranks #1 in user ratings. Since its publication in 2016, the book became an instant classic and the go-to manual many professionals swear by. The book is on the syllabus for courses at University of Houston, University of Notre Dame, and the world renowned screenwriting program at Columbia University. The technique comes from Jill’s years of consulting and coaching, and she continues to use this methodology to hone screenplays into truly compelling stories.


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