A Chronic Problem For Screenwriters Is Failing To Tell A Story by Jill Chamberlain

Film Courage:  Can you think back to one of your first scripts? And when you look at now where you are and having critiqued people’s work and rewritten it and all of the things that you’ve done in your career, what was wrong with your first script?

Jill Chamberlain, Script Consultant/Author/Writer: I had the chronic problem that is the whole reason I created my method, the whole thing that is behind The Nutshell Technique

So everybody thinks they have a great idea for a movie, right? They don’t. What you might have is the great idea for one, you don’t have a story. You have what I would call a situation. 

And I would identify that in my work as a script consultant 99% of the time that’s what writers are writing. They are failing to write a story. Instead they are creating a situation. Life is a situation, right? Life is…this happens, then this happens, then this happens, then this happens. That’s not a story. Story is this happens which leads to that happening which makes it ironic when this other thing happens. There’s this connection between the parts.

That’s the problem I’m seeing in 99% of writers that they are creating a situation not a story and that was exactly my problem.

I thought I had a great idea (this would make a great movie) and I couldn’t understand why I was feeling so blocked and why I was having a hard time writing it. I thought it was me. I thought I must not be a good enough writer or I must not be talented enough. No, the problem was…well that might be true too…but the other problem was I didn’t have technique basically and technique to understand the difference between what a situation is and what a story is. 

If you just have a situation you are going to be laboring to get from moment to moment to moment and there’s not going to be a natural connection and a natural progression and so it’s going to feel stilted, it’s going to feel unnatural. It’s going to feel like bad writing. But with technique, that’s the secret to making something feel like an organic story that has resonance and has power. It’s not just reading somebody’s diary of unconnected events, these different events that happen to somebody. There’s that glue that is existing behind them that makes them coherent. So I absolutely suffered from the same problem that I’ve been addressing, that’s the whole reason I created my method.

Film Courage: Do you remember where you were or what was going on when you had that ‘aha’ moment about this? Were you watching something?

Jill: I was getting kind of a similar note to the one I described that people were saying things like (they were using different words) but they were saying essentially this isn’t really a story, it’s a situation. The only thing was no one could explain to me the difference.

I had a sense of what the difference was. I had good training. I had studied at Columbia University. I’d also studied with some private screenwriting programs in New York City and learned a lot of good things in these different programs but no one was bringing it all together and I could sense in this note, I knew there was truth in what I was hearing even though no one could explain to me how to transform it. I got what they were saying and I had a sense that there are (if I’m going to make a huge generalization) two approaches out there. One is a linear approach, a strictly three-act structure, beat method kind of approach to screenwriting. And the other is a more character based, character arc approach…(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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