Why Writing A Story Is Messy – Christopher Riley

Christopher Riley, Screenwriter, Author, and Instructor: You find all of these but they’re like their cards in your poker hand and you’re not sure where you’re going to play them or even if you’re going to play them. 

Film Courage: When we’re developing a character, how much are we charting out all the wonderful and terrible things that have happened to them? Are we doing this beforehand, before we get into the actual story, we’re kind of coming up with a checklist of defining moments?

Christopher: This is one of the confounding qualities of storytelling. We don’t have a linear process where we do this first and this second, we sort of try. We have to approach the story somehow but I think that what we do is I typically have a notion for What is the story? Maybe in a sentence, What is the story I want to tell? That tells me something about a character and also something about the plot, that it’s somebody like this trying to climb out of a well. Then I go back to the character and I said Well, I have more questions for you character, where did you come from? How did you get in that well? What were you doing in the field in the first place? Sometimes the answers are really surprising to me. Sometimes they come as sort of epiphanies as I’m out for a run or taking a shower or lying in bed. Often though they come as a result of just the ditch digging of sitting and asking these questions. I know that this person (to be interesting) needs to have both strength and weakness. When did they discover they had that strength? When did they first experience the crippling quality of that weakness? Then I bring the character back to the story and now they’re doing more interesting things that I didn’t expect them to do because there’s more to that character. So I discover more twists and turns that are potential within say the events or the plot of the story and then I go back to the character. It’s a very messy recursive process…(Watch the video interview on Youtube here).



Christopher Riley is a professional screenwriter who co-wrote with his wife Kathy Riley the award-winning German language courtroom thriller After the Truth. The Rileys have written scripts for Disney’s Touchstone Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Mandalay Television Pictures, the late Sean Connery’s Fountainbridge Films and Robert Cort Productions. Christopher produced the independent action-thriller Red Line and executive produced the web series Bump+. He is the author of the classic screenplay format guide The Hollywood Standard, now in its third edition, and teaches screenwriting at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The Riley’s latest book is The Defining Moment: How Writers and Actors Build Characters (through Michael Wiese Productions). 

See it on Amazon here

BUY THE BOOK – THE DEFINING MOMENT: How Writers and Actors Build Characters (by Christopher and Kathy Riley) 


See it on Amazon here

BUY THE BOOK – THE HOLLYWOOD STANDARD: The Complete and Authoritative Guide to Script Format and Style









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