The Formula For Writing A Great Story – John Gray

John Gray, Writer, Director, Producer: Please just tell me how to write, just please tell me what I did? Here’s a formula, you do this, you do that… 

Film Courage: How does a character drive plot? 

John: It’s about what they want and what they need and their conflicts and their flaws. It’s one of the first things most actors will look at and then when they’re judging a script they want to play this role is What’s the character’s flaw? What’s the problem with this character that they have to overcome or that drives them? I think it is all about What does the character want and what are they willing to do to get it? What can they do to get it? What are the stakes going to be? Then it just builds hopefully from there. There’s always that great debate about what comes first, plot or character? I’ve always found in my work there’s no rule. Sometimes I’ll get an idea for a plot that will kind of like something I’ll read in the newspaper or something I’ll see I’m like Oh wow! Wouldn’t that be interesting and then I have go to figure out how to populate it with people and and how can I invest this person with a need and a flaw and an opportunity and now put them in that plot and then there’s other times where I just I come up with a character where it just knows man that is a funny person, I’d love to see that person and so then it’s about how to build it around around them. Either one can come first but ultimately it’s what the characters want I think.

Film Courage: Why do you think so many writers bicker about plot versus character?

John: I think it might be because we’re all looking for formula, we’d all love a template, Please just tell me how to write, just please tell me what I did. Here’s a formula, you do this, you do that, that’s why I think so many of these screenwriting books are so successful because they sort of promise Okay, you’ve got the idea, that’s great but now I’m going to show you how to apply that idea and make it work and not that there aren’t great. I’ve read them all and not that there aren’t great things to learn from those books but ultimately you just have to be careful to not rely on something outside yourself to come up with a plot. A friend of mine once wanted to be a writer so badly and he wasn’t very good and I was recommending books for him to read and he read a bunch of them and I said So did it help? Was it helpful? He said..(Watch the video interview on Youtube here).



Brooklyn born John Gray is an award winning writer-director-producer of films and television, and the creator of the long running TV series, Ghost Whisperer. He has written and directed many feature films and movies for television, including White Irish Drinkers, starring Stephen Lang and Karen Allen; Martin And Lewis, starring Sean Hayes and Jeremy Northam; the Emmy® nominated A Place For Annie, with Sissy Spacek; the Emmy® nominated mini-series Haven with Natasha Richardson and Anne Bancroft; Helter Skelter, and many others.  Gray has directed numerous episodes of broadcast and cable series, including multiple episodes of the NBC series GRIMM and was also the producing director of the CBS series RECKLESS. Gray’s acclaimed short films have played and are currently playing in film festivals all over the world including FRENCH KISS, which has also notched 6.3 million views to date on YouTube.  He is married to writer-filmmaker Melissa Jo Peltier, and they make their home in New York and Cape Cod, MA. John’s new novel The Desecrated follows Jennifer, a college dropout hoping to regroup, who joins the night shift at the NYC Morgue.

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