A Friendly Challenge To Any Screenwriter by CSUN Professor Eric Edson
Film Courage: Why are there so many screenwriters opposed to structure? Are they hurting or helping themselves with this viewpoint?
Eric Edson: There are a lot of people (always will be) some of them Tom Stoppard himself (no less a writer than Tom) is really opposed to education, this education that is now offered in graduate schools, screenwriting and all that. But he can afford to be. You know, if you’re born a genius…okay, go for it! You can say anything you want, you can do anything, and you write brilliantly and for them, it’s natural.
But for most of us poor unfortunates below the peak of Olympus. Yeah, we have to work a little harder at it. I think…I think it is a misconception of what there is to be learned. Many, many people have always done it a certain way and they sit and suffer and think there is a muse that comes down. Some people may be very intuitive about this story stuff and for them…yeah…fine it can work. But what I find is for the vast majority of people who want to be writers (screenplays or novels), that’s not the case. There are tools, tools, tools. Tools one needs to master. Before you are going to play inspirational and fantastical orchestral music for instance. You’re going to compose. Don’t you need to know how to play the piano? Well, yeah…that helps.
Don’t you need to know about music and the theories of music and composition. It would help. You’d save yourself a lot of time and trouble if you’d do that. And I believe very much that it’s the same with screenwriting. There is so much to learn. There really is.
And the folks that tend to think that way and defend it. Okay, that’s the way they’ve always worked. I get that. That’s the way you want to work. Great. Do it. But I believe they are bringing their own lives far more emotional suffering than there needs to be. It’s not the muse, folks. There is not muse. It’s up to you to come up with a decent idea so you can then pull out the correct tools to start shaping into something that will work and will bring emotional sustenance and release for an audience.
Film Courage: I think you had a blog post where I just skimmed the beginning of it where you wrote you know…We wake up, the birds are chirping and we’re inspired. And we are going to write. And then we get into page 47 and we’ve hit a roadblock. So is this what we’re talking about here, sort of how to find a way out of that road block. Because if we’re at page 47, which is this point of the story. Are we at the mid-point by the way?
Eric Edson: Ahhhh…48ish. 47ish. That’s about the mid-point. Yes. I have always said no plan. No detailed plan, no Oscar. It’s just not going to happen. If you’re going to build a house (and especially an intricate one, as one as intricate as a screenplay for a really good movie, you have to have architectural renderings that take it down to the tiniest dimensions and details and piece of equipment that is going to be used. You have to be organized about it. Disorganized people (as a rule) don’t do all that well as writers, screenwriters. Again, this is not everybody! There are in fact geniuses (don’t you just hate them?) out there who can do this stuff just instinctively without even thinking about it. But there is a handful of them living on planet earth at any given time. And of course maybe they can’t see it from our perspective that ‘Gee maybe you’d have to work at it?’
5 Common Mistakes New Screenwriters Make by CSUN Professor Eric Edson
But, yes. There is a lot of work and a lot to be known. And isn’t it better if you lay the pieces out…you have a puzzle board before you and you have all the dark pieces here and the light pieces here and you begin to search and see and fit together something that is going to be a full picture by the time you’re through. That is a systematic way of doing something that is very difficult to do.
I would argue tools, tools, quantifying change, understanding the 14 character categories. Knowing that there are 10 modes of plot coming out of how many heroes and what the heroes relationship is other characters. There’s only 10 of those. Once you have an idea, pick your 10. That’s going to save you a lot of time and a lot of agony.
And I would also throw this out. I would challenge…listen I am open as anybody to learn here. I am a life-long learner myself. If someone thinks I am wrong here or has an instance and if they can prove that I am wrong, I’d be very interested to hear it. I really would If you think you’ve found a 15th category (for instance)…if you’ve taken a look at the 14 and understand what is contained in the 14. If you can come up with a brand new character category, I would love to be one of the first to hear about it (really). I offer that to the students all of the time. Usually when I hear back, when they bring things up, rather enthusiastically (bless their hearts), it’s usually from a misunderstanding of the 14 or it’s a misunderstanding of what I’m saying relative to hero goal sequences and things like that.
But it’s okay. I’m happy about hearing of ways in which I might be incorrect with this stuff. There is room for growth.
Question for the Viewers: Do you think you have the 15th character category? Contact Eric Edson at Thestorysolution.com.
BUY THE BOOK – THE STORY SOLUTION: 23 Actions All Great Heroes Must Take
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About Professor Eric Edson:
Eric Edson has written seventeen feature screenplays on assignment. His produced script credits include PASSION’S WEB for Showtime, and he co-wrote and co-executive produced the NBC Movie of the Week LETHAL VOWS starring John Ritter and Marg Helgenberger. Other films include THE ROSE AND THE JACKAL starring Christopher Reeve, THE SOGGY BOTTOM GANG starring Don Johnson, and DIVING IN starring Kristy Swanson. Eric has also written for episodic television.
Professor Edson’s new book “THE STORY SOLUTION: 23 Actions All Great Heroes Must Take,” published by Michael Wiese Productions, uncovers for the first time the 23 Hero Goal Sequences® used in every successful motion picture to create dynamic, three dimensional heroes and link together all plot development from first page to last (Read more here).