We had another amazing workshop this past weekend. This was The Master Class where writers who have gone through the torture of one of my previous boot camps bring in the 15 beats of their movie and attempt to turn it into the 40 scenes necessary to start writing the script itself. We worked our brads off over two long days. It was fun, mind-bending, exhausting, and wonderful.

And what an education!

As usual, the writers who tend to discover and use STC! are a cut above. These are the smart and focused scribes who have a plan to move their career forward and marching orders they’ve assigned themselves to accomplish their goals. They are not afraid of the high standard it takes to be a working screenwriter, and are anxious to meet the standard. I love these writers! They inspire me.

But when we put the 40 cards of our screenplay outline up on The Board and pitch it to the rest of the workshop, that’s where the vulcanized plant material meets the macadam. Suddenly the chinks in our mental image of a perfect and perfectly comprehensible movie reveal themselves. Where is the story? Who are these people you want us to follow? And why should we care? What’s missing becomes obvious… fast.

So often it gets down to a clear set-up. The first row of cards laid out by writers showing that chunk of screenplay between the Opening Image and the Break Into Act Two is usually the thing that needs the most clarity. Setting up the story with a hero we like, and demonstrating what he wants, the Six Things That Need Fixing he must overcome, and figuring out the difference between the Catalyst (something happening TO the hero on page 12) and the Act Break (something the hero actively DOES to take us into a new world) is crucial to see.

And almost always it starts out muddy.

We need a clearcut scene to meet the hero. Who is he? And what is his world? We need a clear Theme Stated scene where you declare what your movie is about. And we need to root for him. Thus Save the Cat! What is that scene or character quality that makes me in the audience say, I like this guy… or at least understand him!

Everyone in the class got better. Some got up to The Board four or five times during the weekend, and what a learning curve! I particularly loved seeing a writer go from taking a paragraph to describe what happens in each scene to a couple of sentences… because they’d finally figured out what HAD to happen. By Sunday night, it was boom-boom-boom as writers clearly and concisely pitched their scripts. Suddenly they knew what it was… where maybe they hadn’t before.

I would love to get into a workshop with everyone in the STC! universe. It’s such a great feat of mental acuity. But barring that, there are things you can do to have this experience.

Here’s my suggestion: If you have a writing group that meets regularly, take turns pitching your movies by demonstrating all 40 of your scenes on The Board. It’s not only a great test of where your story is, but gets you out of your head and forces you to stand by (literally) the pictures of your imagination you thought were perfect!

This is the exact same tool used forever in the studio offices of writers, directors, editors, and executives. And it’s a puzzle solving skill we can get better at with practice. You break 10 stories and you will start to get what this is about. Break 100 and you’ll see how far you have to go. Break 1000 and suddenly the light starts to go on. This is do-able! And this is fun! You get better every time out. But you have to do it. The Board is the best tool you can use to tell if you are ready to launch into FADE IN… or not quite there yet!