The Thirteenth Day of Writemas

so i know the song traditionally doesn’t have a thirteenth day, but thirteen is so much cooler a number than twelve so that’s why Writemas has thirteen! Writemas is so much cooler than Christmas after all.

so today, a final diddy, and another submission from the lovely Hilary Friesen

- a write up from her attendance at a recent Writers’ Collective workshop with the lovely director Danishka Esterhazy…


Beginners Course in Scriptwriting – Danishka Esterhazy

“The story structure of film is very formulaic – the key is how you use it.” That’s how Danishka Esterhazy introduced her Beginners Course in Scriptwriting for the Writers’ Collective on Saturday, December 4.

In a perfectly-timed three hour workshop, Danishka led us through the basic algebra of film: concept + character + structure.


A good film starts with a “shining idea” that you want to commit the next five to 10 years of your life to – that’s the average production cycle for a film, from concept to distribution.

The key, Danishka says, is NOT to write the first idea that comes to mind. Spend some time coming up with a whole bunch of ideas – anywhere from five to 100 – and pick the best from among those.

One way to crystallize your idea is to develop a log line – a one sentence, no more than 30 word, synopsis of your film. And of course, there’s a formula for a good logline:

[Title] is a story about [main character] who [experiences a life changing event] and then must [struggle toward a goal].

Here’s an example: A workaholic New York cop gives terrorists a dose of their own medicine as they hold hostages – including his estranged wife – in an LA office building.

Can you guess what movie it’s for?


The main character in a feature film usually has three goals, that will all be clearly laid out in their own scenes. They are:

Story goal – the “A” plot

Personal goal – the “B” plot

Inner/private goal – the “C” plot

The story goal is external to the character; it drives the movie and has high stakes. The personal goal is an interpersonal need between the main character and someone close to him or her – a spouse, parent, sibling, lover or child. It is tied to the main plot. The inner goal is a psychological need; it is a secret to the other characters, sometimes to the main character for much of the movie, but never to the audience. It is usually a character flaw or opportunity for growth.

Here’s an example: in Casablanca, Rick’s “A” plot is to help Victor Laszlo escape the Nazis; his “B” plot is to reconcile with Ilsa; and his “C” plot is to overcome his cynicism and bitterness.

At the end of the movie, each plot will be resolved with a win, loss or draw. All three plots will be interconnected, especially in their resolution. There are usually two formulas for how the goals shape the overall character arc:

1. By achieving the “C” plot, the protagonist achieves the “B” and “A” plots.

2. By struggling to achieve the “A” plot, the protagonist achieves the “B” and “C” plots.

If you have a flawed hero, the failure in the “A” plot often results or is caused by success in the “C” plot. Alternatively, failure in the “C” plot can result in success in the “A” plot. For instance, in Casablanca, Rick overcomes his cynicism and bitterness, helps Victor Laszlo escape the Nazis, and has a brief reconciliation with Ilsa only to be separated again forever.

Some genres have specific variations on the character plot:

Art house cinema often has no “A” plot, but lots of “B” and “C” plot

Action films often have no “C” plot

In romantic comedy, the “B” plot is more important than the “A” plot


Structure, or plot, is the final element in a screenplay. Danishka kicked off the final section of the workshop by introducing us to some of the big names in the theory of film structure. It’s important to know these people and their work, because funders, producers, script readers and most of the other people you’ll meet in the film industry have read them, have a favourite, and will use it to critique your work. Each author has invented their own terminology, so you need to know the lingo to understand how other people are looking at your script. You also need to be able to explain why you deviated from McKee’s page 27 rule, or didn’t save the cat.

Here are the folks to know:

Syd Field, Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting

Robert McKee, Story

Blake Snyder, Save the Cat

John Truby, The Anatomy of Story

Michael Hauge, Writing Screenplays that Sell

Linda Seger, Making a Good Script Great and Creating Unforgettable Characters

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic  Structure for Writers

All these writers use their own vocab, and have different takes on screenwriting, but they all adhere to the same three act structure (or four acts, if you ask Danishka).

Act 1

Introduce the imperfect hero

Event that creates trouble or opportunity – the character is usually not ready to begin the adventure

Protagonist accepts the challenge

Act 2

Hero struggles to solve the problem or grasp opportunity

Hero must solidify or change the plan, and the goal becomes more tangible – this is the midpoint of Act 2

Hero encounters more ferquent and difficult obstacles

Hero has only one option – direct, dangerous confrontation with the antagonist (tip: if this turning point is negative, the third act will usually be positive, or vice versa)

Act 3

Hero faces the villain

Final battle

Victory or defeat


And that’s it! Now you know everything you need to write a screenplay. (Don’t forget to send me – and Danishka – VIP passes to your premier.)


ok that’s it. i’m going to troll youtube for awful xmas music now  - and will be sure to post my findings.

merry merry people – and for those of you who hate and / or don’t celebrate the tree holiday, well i say, happy happy extra long weekend and don’t worry – scrougeyness / grinchiness is ok by me, and at least it’s over now!

blessings, kate

Katherena Vermette