Chasing MacGuffins Blog

The Key to Making Characters Seem Alive

The Key to Making Characters Seem Alive

The difference between a generic, lifeless character and one that seems alive is the level of specificity in how the writer portrays the character.  A character who says or does cliche, generic things will feel written and fake, whereas a character who says and does...

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How to Avoid an Unearned Character Arc

How to Avoid an Unearned Character Arc

If there is one note on a finished script that I fear more than any other, it’s this: “the ending is unearned.” This was the note I got on my first spec feature, and it was a sin I managed to commit again with my second spec feature. So, of late, I’ve been thinking a...

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Feature Screenwriting Insights from Meg LeFauve

Feature Screenwriting Insights from Meg LeFauve

I recently took a Screenwriting Master Class taught by Meg Lefauve and available on the new Sundance Co//ab website. Costing just $10 (the cost of the monthly website subscription, which you can cancel at any time), the class is a roughly three-hour video talk that...

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The Three Main Building Blocks of Plot

The Three Main Building Blocks of Plot

In other blog posts, I’ve argued that the plot formulas and story beat systems out there don’t work. So what is a helpful approach to plot? The best approach I’ve found comes from these screenwriting classes, which teach that there are three main building blocks of...

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A Reformulation of Three-Act Story Structure

A Reformulation of Three-Act Story Structure

There are various explanations of three-act story structure out there, and I find most of them unhelpful, including this basic one. I’m particularly amazed that some people even describe Act I as the beginning, Act II as the middle, and Act III as the ending, as...

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Collateral Beauty and Building a Story Through Theme

Collateral Beauty and Building a Story Through Theme

In a recent podcast, Invisible Ink author and screenwriter Brian McDonald said that “stories don’t have a theme; stories are a theme.” In other words, a story’s theme shouldn’t be a tacked-on afterthought. Instead, the whole purpose of the story is to convey a theme...

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Why On-the-Nose Dialogue is Actually Good

Why On-the-Nose Dialogue is Actually Good

In a series of screenwriting classes I took over the last few years, one of the ideas my instructors continually impressed was that most effective dialogue is in fact on the nose (which is to say clear and direct). So, why are there so many articles advising writers...

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5 Story Design Lessons in Saving Mr. Banks

5 Story Design Lessons in Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks is a great film and a good script to study because it contains important lessons on story design and screenwriting. Here are five lessons from the script. 1. Saving Mr. Banks Relies on Both Conflict and Mystery as its Story Engines A story engine is...

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What You Can Learn About Character Design from Hamilton

What You Can Learn About Character Design from Hamilton

There’s a simple lesson in effective characterization you can see at work in the musical Hamilton, which I was lucky enough to see this summer. Although the musical packs a ton of exposition about Hamilton into the first song, I’m not referring to a character bio or...

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The Case for Writing the Climax First

The Case for Writing the Climax First

According to the well-known Chinese proverb, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Writing a screenplay or novel can certainly feel like such a journey. But that doesn’t mean your first step has to be the first scene or sentence of your story. In...

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Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Crafting Entertaining Moments

Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Crafting Entertaining Moments

Filming on Star Wars Episode IX has begun, and Star Wars fans are already trying to guess the plot of the film based on leaked photos and information. While I have no idea what the plot of the film will be (nor do I want to know until I see the film), I think we all...

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Why Character Relationships Matter

Why Character Relationships Matter

According to Hollywood producer Lindsay Doran, what an audience connects most strongly with in a story are the relationships. Although an exciting, novel premise may induce people to buy a book or movie ticket, such as robots that box in Real Steel, what moves the...

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Thoughts on Story Endings from the Writer of Toy Story 3

Thoughts on Story Endings from the Writer of Toy Story 3

This is just a quick post to pass along a great new video from Michael Arndt, the writer of Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3. And what is especially great about it is that he makes clear that he is not pushing a formula or saying that his approach is the only...

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