Playing it Safe

We’ve all done it, in one draft or another. Played it safe with our story. Made the world or choices too easy.

Building a story may be construction, but it is construction on a site in which hazards should be embraced, not prevented. In theatre, we call it the happy accident – that moment of zen in which a production is, through circumstance, turned completely upside down – and betters from it.

Perhaps then, it is time to think of your story as one of Nigel Tufnel’s amplifiers. Perhaps it should go to eleven.

Film is not reality

I repeat – film is not reality. Film is heightened reality; even MY DINNER WITH ANDRE compresses space/time. Think about it. Let’s look at IRON MAN 3:



A panoramic sweep of the house.

An alarm clock rings.


A hand fumbles atop a nightstand; it turns the clock off.

TONY STARK gets out of bed.

He walks into the bathroom and closes the door behind him.


It reads “7:45”.

The clock ticks… and the display changes to


From the bathroom – a toilet FLUSHES.

The door opens. Tony walks out.


I don’t know about you, but I must confess that while I am curious about the 90 or so minutes that my husband spends in the bathroom each morning, I’m not so certain that I would pay $12.00 to watch whatever is going on in there unfold.

Flip the world

Set your characters in a tailspin. Bring in the car out of nowhere (ADAPTATION, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN). Be merciless. Don’t just get them out of the comfort zone – yank them out of it. Stories are not ordinary men/women under ordinary circumstances. The word is EXTRAordinary.

Avoid cliche

Is your character at a funeral? Let them laugh. When your character gets mad does s/he yell? Give them the gift of icy calm. You have an entire palette to shade your characters with – why do you stick with black and white?

See the world through their eyes

In order to effectively raise the stakes in your story’s world, you must be able to effectively experience this world – as your characters. What moves them, what annoys them, where do they find pleasure? The answers to these questions are the most direct path to deconstructing their safety net. Think on the character of Mal in Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION. The safe writer would have had her be the long suffering angelic like spouse, instead of the complex, layered wraith who resides in that film. Her flaws make her that much more real.

Grow a pair

It takes cajones to write characters living in the extreme. Big, brass ones. Grow a pair, and let them clang.

Now, go write.

HRH, Princess Scribe

What I am reading: Peter Brook’s The Open Door. Proof again that writing and acting are practically identical crafts.

What I am watching: Catching up with the past year of films. SALT is on the Netflix queue. Don’t know how to feel about that.

A Royal Shout Out: To Cat! and MACHETE co-writer Alvaro Rodriguez. Al is conducting his first Beat Sheet weekend in Austin. Having sat in some sessions with Al, I can guarantee all that they will have a royal good time. The man’s a brilliant storysmith. I’m sure there will be many more Cat! weekends to come.

About princessscribe

Screenwriter. Creator of things. I love tacos. "Midlife on Fire" Volumes 1 & 2 now available at
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