Updated: Dec 23, 2019
By Dan Hoffmann
Most screenplays have problems; Problems with the plot, dialogue, structure, characters subtext, genre, with suspense, surprise and much more. These are mostly, easy to fix but one specific plot problem that most spec scripts have is so problematic that it feels like staring down into a bottomless pit. This article is about that problem and how to fix it.
THE BOTTOMLESS PIT
Imagine a story, a sequence of events that leaves you indifferent. Imagine being forced to read and memorize the entire Yellow pages from cover to cover. The words make sense because they are written in English, but none of what you read makes you feel anything at any time.
But this is not the yellow pages. This is one of the many, many spec scripts that I was asked to read, while I was reading for studios. Strangely enough, there was nothing wrong, per se, with the story.
Some of these stories would be jam-packed with what should have been exciting chase scenes, life-threatening situations, ticking bombs counting the few minutes left, before the whole world would blow, kidnapped daughters, best friends that would betray the hero just as we thought he was in the clear, surprising last moment reveals of psychopathic serial killers, faceless stalkers who somehow would know every lurid detail about the heroine, massive explosions leaving innocent people trapped in elevators, unfathomable monsters dripping with green slime, people having visions of God, heroes, being betrayed by their unloving parents, kids ending up in Nazi concentration camps, government conspiracies poisoning the water supply and much more.
And yet none of those events, in any of those screenplays - None of those screenplays, ever saw the light of day because, at the end of the day, the stories left us, the readers, the producers and the executives, utterly indifferent.
Why is that? - you may ask
Well, the thing is that events in a story, any event, is in itself meaningless. It is the context that gives it meaning and in storytelling that context is character emotion.
Let me explain: