Saturday, May 29, 2010

THEME = The Heart of Your Script

ONE KEY MISTAKE that screenwriters often make is to forget to include a Theme for the main character. Yes, well-drawn characters are vital. However, there needs to be a reason for your audience to keep reading.

What is the most important single moment in your story? The Climax. What is revealed to the Main Character in the Climax? The Theme. Theme is the key to the entire structure of your story. Without it, you are merely rendering events. With it, events take on meaning.

Theme is also tied to the emotional journey of your Main Character. This emotion is the “universal” that the audience hooks into. When audiences relate to characters who are from history, the future or another planet; even though they may fight in a war, track down a killer or win the girl who is impossible to get, it is because of the emotions felt by your characters.

I will never be William Munny, from the movie “Unforgiven,” striding into the Big Whiskey Saloon to face Little Bill Daggett who just killed my best friend Ned. But I understand the emotion of this character who has tried to change his life, undergone hardship, been pulled back into his past and now intends to exact revenge for a wrong done to a loved one.

Without this emotion - it’s nothing more than a gunfight.

Characters = What. Theme = Why?

Why does your audience care? If your work isn’t getting optioned or sold, look at your theme again. Do you know what it is? If you don’t - then, the reader doesn’t.

Brainstorming Tip:

Here is an exercise you can do when you’re just starting your idea. First, choose a theme. Maybe it is something like: “absolute power corrupts even the truest heart.”

Next, ask yourself what kind of character might learn this. Perhaps it is someone who has nothing but kindness in his heart. Then decide what situation might take such a good person and thrust him into a position of absolute power. And finally, imagine what situation might occur that would force him into deciding between grasping that ultimate power and doing the right thing.

You now have the bones to build a structure and have created a dramatic climax.

This example is from “The Lord of the Rings,” where a simple hobbit was chosen to destroy the ring. But in the moment of truth - he couldn’t …and almost lost his soul.

But this exercise will work with any theme. Do this next time and see your writing become more compelling. And you will also find the structure of your work grow to the next level.

Have a great writing day!


  1. Nice summary, thanks for sharing.

  2. Ha. You make it sound easy!

    As an Architect I like the "big idea" providing overall structure. The details are added - or omitted - to reinforce the big idea.

    Thanks for sharing this.

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