What the Best Female Protagonists Teach us About Life

While co-teaching “The Heroine’s Journey: Writing and Selling the Female-driven Screenplay” with Pamela Gray — who wrote the scripts for “A Walk on the Moon” with Diane Lane, “Music of the Heart” with Meryl Streep and “Conviction” with Hilary Swank — we realized that...

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How Storytellers Tell the Most Heartwarming Stories

En route to Sundance, I was thinking about last year’s favorite, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and how storytellers tell the most heartwarming stories like Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, Billy Elliot, Six Feet Under, and Sense and Sensibility.  What do all of these...

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24 Things to Know About Thrillers

Here are 24 things to know about crafting thrillers: 1) Thriller is a combination of crime and horror stories where a detective or an average person acting like detective is victimized and in great danger. (Note: see John Truby on thriller). 2) The stakes for the main...

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What You Need to Know About Human Comedies (or dramedies)

These are the essential elements of human comedies, or “dramedies”: These family dramas with comic overtones tend to be “feel good” movies that also have depth and meaning. The comedy tends to be less overt as the humor comes from a deep empathy for characters in...

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Documentary Storytelling Essentials

These are the essential elements of documentary storytelling: Engage the audience with a present time story before revealing the back-story. The present time story engages the audience through the beginning, middle and end of the film. Define the Palette of Tones: How...

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How to be Great Storytellers

Learning how to be great storytellers begins with a paradigm shift, changing your relationship to the stories you’re telling. You tell the best stories when you understand that you, the characters in your story, and your audience are all part of an “echo-system” that...

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How and Why Solution-Oriented Storytelling Works

At an Esalen Institute conference in Big Sur, mythologists like Joseph Campbell and Robert Johnson were trying to come up with a clear, simple definition of “myth”. After several days, they still hadn’t come up with an answer, so they asked Robert Johnson’s young son...

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The Future of Storytelling: Time Travel

The Future of Storytelling rests on your ability to time travel. When you develop your stories, you are on a parallel emotional journey with the characters in your stories, the same journey the audience will experience. But how do you register this? Being aware of...

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Storytelling for Social Impact

The storytelling center for social impact is inside of you. Change and transformation begins with an inner shift of self-perception and by asking: What if you’re not who you think you are? The emotional resonance between you, your characters and your audience is an...

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How to Tell the Best Stories: the Telling is Telling

Raymond Chandler wrote great mystery novels like The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely. He also wrote screenplays like “Double Indemnity” and “Strangers on a Train”. Chandler once said, “If you’re telling your story to someone and noticing that you’re losing their...

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How “Midnight Cowboy” Changed My Life

My life changed in the summer of 1969 after seeing “Midnight Cowboy” at a downtown Chicago theater, compelling storytelling at it’s best. When I stepped outside the theater, I was in a lucid, bodily-felt altered state – an altered state that was triggered every time I...

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1. Why the Best Comedies Make us Laugh

“Comedy is tragedy that happens to other people.” W. C. Fields We laugh when we witness comic characters being humiliated in a public or social situation. In this clip from “A Fish Called Wanda” we’ll see how this happens to Archie (John Cleese) while he’s doing a...

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2. How Comedy is Different than Drama

Great comedies like “To Be or Not to Be” are based on a serious, sound dramatic structure. One difference between comedy and drama is that the audience, prepared to watch a comedy, never really believes that the characters will suffer irreparable physical damage. Do...

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3. Why Do We Laugh in the Best Comedies?

We laugh when comic characters are knocked off their high horse, i.e., when their high status bubble of self-importance and entitlement is suddenly burst. Your comic character’s high status is based on an inflated sense of how they would like to be seen by their...

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4. How to Create the Premise in the Best Comedies

The comic premise is an expression of your main character’s dilemma. Dilemma is the choice between two things that have positive values and is dramatically expressed through the conflict between what your main character desires (outer plot goal) and what they need to...

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1. Why the Thriller Antagonist functions like a Protagonist

What is the Driving Engine of your thriller? The Driving Engine — what propels your story forward — in most dramas is based on the back-story wounds and desires of your main character. It’s very different in thrillers. The driving engine in thrillers is generated by...

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Documentary Storytelling Tips

1.Engage the audience with what feels like the present tense plotline before revealing the back-story. 2.Define the Palette of Tones: How deep; how dark; how real; how close (POV). 3.Define the dilemma for the audience (Dilemma is the choice between two things with...

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