Hello and welcome.
I’m guessing you want to be a screenwriter or novelist. And now you’re wondering who I am and whether this site is worth your time.
And even if it is worth your time, what’s the catch? Am I just another blogger fishing for customers? Am I going to reel you in with free information in my blog posts only to make some kind of sales pitch a day later?
Let me put your mind at ease on this last point: there’s nothing for sale here. There’s no sale or upsale coming.
As for the rest of your questions, I’ll get to them in the moment, but first there’s two sobering statements about screenwriting I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge:
1. “There are more professional football players than there are professional screenwriters.” This quote comes from A-list screenwriter John August in episode 381 of Scriptnotes. His writing credits include Aladdin and Big Fish.
2. From the same episode of Scriptnotes, another screenwriter observed, “even the most successful people that I know have . . . constant rejection.”
Why am I sharing with you these potentially dispiriting observations?
It’s simple: I want you to know that I favor honesty over cloying, put-on positivity. I’m not here to sell you a product or a lie that this stuff is easy.
Nevertheless, I do think I can help you. I’m like you–but probably further along in my training and study of fiction craft. I’ve read many of the books on screenwriting and creative writing, taken many online classes, listened to nearly all of the Scriptnotes podcasts, and read much of the content on Go Into the Story and Scriptshadow. Plus, I read a screenplay every week for over three years.
I’ve sorted through many of the theories and craft suggestions out there, sifting the wheat from the chaff.
What I’ve realized is that many of the models out there either don’t work or are incomplete. So, I’m putting together my own process for going from no idea to first draft. It’s not complete yet, but I can promise you it takes a different approach than anything else out there, incorporating the best ideas I’ve found plus my own innovations to fill in the gaps.
And I’m testing this approach through my own work as an aspiring screenwriter, refining a process that both speeds up and improves my work. I plan to share the process with you for free right on this page, so check this page frequently for updates.
If you’re an aspiring novelist rather than an aspiring screenwriter, the good news is that it’s easier to get published than it is to get a script produced. Because of this, even if you want to be a screenwriter, some now advise writers to write their story as a novel first because then the story becomes established, validated intellectual property with a built-in audience. For movie studios, adapting such existing properties is often more attractive than developing original screenplay ideas.
As you dive into my blog, you’ll discover that I am a writer who is interested in stories that both move the audience and have meaning. I believe that these are the two things that people go to the movies for: emotions and meaning.
It’s my belief that if you focus on these two things, you increase your chances of success exponentially. So, you’ll see that a lot of my blog posts are focused on techniques for producing emotionally powerful stories that have something to say about life.
If you’re looking for a blog post to start with, check out How to Avoid an Unearned Character Arc, which presents an approach to story structure that produces stories with both emotion and meaning. And this approach works for all kinds of stories and genres.
You can use the story design system in that post to determine the broad strokes of your story. After that, you’ll want to create an outline of what I call the story’s emotional high points. And after that, you create a setpiece outline. What I mean by these concepts, I’ll write about in another post soon.
Check back on this page periodically for more information as I build out the details of this process, helping you on your journey from no idea to first draft.
Please subscribe at the bottom of this page, and I’ll provide you with an additional explanation of story structure; the basic model is the same as in the blog post above, but repetition is key to helping get these concepts deep in your bones.
The approach to story structure I’m presenting is used by an A-list screenwriter, and it’s a better approach than what you may have come across in various books. Here is what one of my readers said about it:
“I have completed an English degree, and I have read nearly every story structure book under the sun in order to develop a process that will enable me to be a prolific writer of meaningful stories. Yet I have struggled as I just seem to read different books that pretty much say the same thing yet their structure doesn’t work for me. The ideas on here have put a gigantic spring in my step. This is what I have been looking for. Thank you.”
You may be wondering one more thing:
Why is this site called Chasing MacGuffins?
If you’re interested in screenwriting, I probably don’t need to explain why I called this site Chasing MacGuffins. But for those of you new to this term, a MacGuffin is the object that characters are chasing in a movie. Think the infinity stones in Avengers: Infinity War. Or the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark. In other words, it’s the football that the audience tracks to make sense of the movie’s action.
If interpreted more broadly, a MacGuffin is sometimes not a physical thing but a goal: such as Peter Parker wanting to become an Avenger in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
A MacGuffin is the thing that a character desperately wants, the thing that the character thinks will solve all problems or change his or her life for the better, but that often won’t. What the character doesn’t realize at the outset of the story is that the MacGuffin doesn’t matter; it’s the chase itself that is all important. That’s what changes the character.
In most movies, in fact, the character rejects the MacGuffin by the end of the movie: Peter Parker rejects being an Avenger in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Similarly, in Silver Linings Playbook, by the end, Pat is no longer interested in getting back together with his ex-wife.
In other words, by story’s end, the character no longer wants the thing they wanted the whole movie because, through the process of chasing that thing, they’ve instead gotten what they needed: growth or insight of some kind.
For aspiring screenwriters, the MacGuffin we’re chasing is a screenwriting career. And like all good MacGuffins, the MacGuffin of a Hollywood career isn’t the thing that matters. Getting it is irrelevant because it’s the chase, the daily struggle of writing and improving, that helps writers grow and learn things about themselves.
So, welcome, and come here to continue your own personal character arc as a writer. You can think of me as the ally character: here to assist you on your hero’s journey as I chart my own.
(If you really care, you can read more about my professional background here.)