Have White Board, Will Travel
If you’re a writer or executive responsible for a script, a series or a feature film, ask yourself these questions:
- Does every single scene have a palpable sense of conflict?
- Do your characters act in ways that are real, inevitable but also fresh and unexpected?
- Does the script set up something missing in your characters’ lives that the reader desperately wants to see filled?
- Does the story build to a satisfying but surprising resolution?
In short: Does your script or series work as well as you want it to?
I’ve written or produced 200+ episodes of television, and there has to be a reason one of them, “THE INNER LIGHT” episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, has built itself a solid fan base and kudos generally reserved for beloved movies. Here’s what I think makes it stand out: it’s intensely emotional and personal, it touches on issues we all relate to, yet it tells an unexpected story in a fresh and imaginative way.
Great – but isn’t all drama supposed to be that way?
Maybe, but as any TV-watcher knows, some episodes work better than others. Having had 20 years to hack “I.L.’s” inner workings, I have a pretty good idea why that is. I’ve boiled down scripted drama analysis to Six Litmus Tests. Some of these need to be applied before you type your first INT. or EXT.; a couple are good to keep in mind while writing; one or two will steer you to enhancements that can be hammered in somewhere around the second or third draft. This doesn't mean I can sit down and crank out great episodes of TV or feature screenplays at will; it simply means I've gotten way better at judging if a script is as good as it can be.
If you're a writer, you might already be producing fabulous dramatic works – but I can show you how to be sure they’re fabulous, or more to the point, how to know if they’re not fabulous and how to make them so.
If you’re a TV or film executive, you may know when a concept or script is working or when it’s not – but I can show you why it is or isn’t and how to fix it.
So here's a little bit of ST: TNG “THE INNER LIGHT”: Capt. Jean-Luc Picard gets zapped by a probe, wakes up on a strange planet with a woman who claims to be his wife, and the nifty thing is, after 20, 30, 40 years of this, she and the other people on this planet start to convince him that it's the Enterprise that was a dream, and this is his reality. He grows older, has kids and grandkids, friends and colleagues, a rich full life. At the end, when he's an old man, he finally realizes his adoptive planet's sun is going nova, the rising temperature will dry up the water and ruin crops and the entire civilization will die. They don't have an advanced space program, but they have enough technology to send out a probe to find one man good and true into whose brain they can beam interactive and permanent memories so he can walk a mile in their shoes and remember who they were. And that person is Picard.
I won the HUGO AWARD in science fiction writing for this episode, which at the time was a literary award and hadn't been given out to a filmed piece of entertainment for 25 years. The previous such winner was the esteemed novelist Harlan Ellison, who won for “CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER,” the famed Joan Collins episode of the original Star Trek. A recent ranking of all 700+ episodes of all the Star Trek franchises by Playboy.com placed “Inner Light” at #2, with “City on the Edge of Forever” as #1. Various other polls have placed it in the Top 5, and it remains a solid fan-favorite.
While I’m still a fairly prolific writer (See Bio), I spend much of my time these days passing along the knowledge I gained from “The Inner Light” and those 200-odd TV episodes I wrote or produced over the last quarter century. I lead Writers Rooms and apply my Six Litmus Tests to the crafting of other people’s TV series concepts, individual episodes or feature scripts. Sometimes this is in an academic setting, sometimes it’s as a professional coach to screenwriters or TV/Film executives, and often it’s as a consultant to the writing staff of productions in places as far-flung as Berlin and Moscow.
I have conducted simulated writers room courses for anywhere from 6 weeks to 10 days; I have consulted for a month or more to foreign writing staffs; and I have coached or lectured in increments of a day.
Stop wondering if your screen stories have reached their full potential and let me and the Six Litmus Tests help you assess for yourself what they need and how to get it.
If you are interested in having me consult, coach or teach, contact me at: