6 Children’s Authors Infiltrate the Grown-up World of Screenwriting

Posted by on Apr 13, 2011 | 16 comments

L to R: Karen, Jennifer, Cheryl, Me, Urve and Erin

Last weekend, Erin Thomas, Cheryl Rainfield, Urve Tamberg, Karen Krossing, Jennifer Gordon and I attended the two-day Screenwriters’ Summit in Toronto.  I had one goal in mind: to find out what the **** a plot is.  Yes, you’d think I’d know, with a novel coming out and all, and I do, don’t get me wrong, but I’d like to become more articulate about what I, and many writers, do intuitively.

Many novel-writing books are thin on plot information, and many novelists are almost too superstitious talk about structure—they fear it will make their writing formulaic. Screenwriters aren’t so squeamish.

Here is just a smattering of what I learned from two of the four great screenwriting gurus who spoke:

Linda Seger

One of the many things that stood out about Linda’s talk was the idea that certain themes resonate more with different age groups.  She suggests that we all familiarize ourselves with psychologist Erik Erikson’s theory of Developmental Stages to see which themes are more likely to appeal to our particular audience.  I found this particularly interesting as a YA writer.  Erikson defines adolescence as the first stage of development that is dependent on what we do rather than what is done to us, and identifies the primary struggle of a 12-18 year old as one of Identity vs. Role confusion, or, in Linda’s words, Conformity vs. Individuality.

In the latest issue of CANSCAIP NEWS, Sean Cassidy raves about Seger’s book Making a Good Script Look Great, but she’s written quite a few.  Check out her website for her complete bibliography.

John Truby

Plot is not “what happened.”  Plot is a choreography between the hero and all the characters she is fighting.

Truby’s talk was where we really got into a deep discussion about plot, and boy was he fabulous.  His main thesis is that too many writers create a main character without giving enough thought to the “character web” that defines her.

He suggests that when figuring out your plot, concentrate on your main opponent.  Every main character should have a great weakness and an antagonist that is able to attack that weakness at the deepest level.

Beware a story where a main character’s main opponent is “herself.”  All mc’s need to make an internal change, but for a plot to work they must also have an external opponent or opponents.  This doesn’t necessarily mean a bad guy with a sword.  In a love story, the opponent is sometimes the love interest.

I own a well-thumbed copy of The Anatomy of Story and can’t recommend it highly enough.  Get it.  Read it.  Read it again.

I have some guest posts coming up, so I won’t be posting my thoughts about Syd Field and Michael Hauge next Wednesday, but keep a look out for posts about the other two Screenwriters’ Summit speakers in upcoming weeks.

And check out what fellow bloggers Cheryl RainfieldKaren Krossing and Erin Thomas wrote about the conference!


  1. Lovely post to dip my toe into, Lena. And just enough there for me to mull over in one mouthful. A certain MS shoved in the back of a drawer may see the light of day, if this keeps up…

    • I approve of taking out manuscripts and blowing off the dust every once in a while. Go for it!

  2. This is great stuff! Thanks for sharing it.

    • Thank you Ishta!

  3. Thanks for sharing this Lena. Wish I could have been there.

    • It was definitely well worth going. Sorry you missed it, J.

  4. Lena,
    Great summary! I’m still digesting my notes. I’ve hit the local library and pulled out every book they have by Seger, Field and Truby and am staying up late reading with a flashlight under the covers.

    • Tell us what you find out, Urve. Great to see you there!

  5. Thanks for passing on the nuggets of wisdom, Lena. I’ve read Truby; now to check out Linda Seeger.

  6. Truby was really the best of the four for me, but Michael Hauge was also great talking about how the traditional three-act structure works. I’ll definitely try to post about him too.

  7. Thanks for the update, Lena. I’ve been wanting to get another ‘how to’ book on plot so I’ll definitely be looking for the Truby book. Sounds like a great Summit. I may just have to check it out if it’s done in future here in T.O.

    • Hi Nelsa,

      Screenwriters in general are great at talking about plot structure. Story by Robert McKee is also fabulous.

  8. This is a great roundup of what you learned, Lena. I’ll be checking out some of those books!

  9. Thanks for this, Lena. I recently bought Truby’s book because of your recommendation…so great to have another tool help dissect story. I loved your comment: “I’d like to become more articulate about what I, and many writers, do intuitively.” That is it exactly. Another piece of the puzzle or another filter to view one’s work through. Great post.

  10. Great Rebecca! Tell me what you think of the Truby book when you’re done!

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