You Should Change Your Audience

drama, pilots, screenwriting, storytelling, T.V. writing

When my Iraq pilot ends, I want the audience to be different.

They’ll be different because they shifted. Because the characters shift. The audience identifies with the characters, forms a bond with them that pulls them up and down through the piece, changes them as the character changes.

Stories help us feel what it would be like to be in someone else’s shoes. They give us the gift of empathy, the gift of identifying from a different direction. A woman walks away identifying as a man.

You help your characters shift by making the powers that oppose them overwhelming. The more acute the opposition, the more we’ll feel the urgency of the situation, and the more vital and primal the bond we’ll form. That person struggles. I struggle. I understand how that person feels. A man walks away identifying as a woman.

In my pilot, male soldiers discover they have to work with women during active combat, and they feel dragged down, challenged, threatened, unsafe. The female soldiers feel unprepared, untrained, unwelcome, unsupported.

Most of them experience a shift. If the piece works, the audience identifies with them at the start and shifts along with them.

By the end, the characters circle near the feeling –

We are all women. And we are all men.

If the story works, my audience will feel that too.

Characters Should Be Seen, Not Heard

advice, screenwriting, storytelling, T.V. writing

The perfect screenplay is a silent movie.

Seeing the story transpire firsthand makes us witnesses. We participate. Instead of hearing the characters relate how they think and feel about what happened, we witness what happened and we relate how they think and feel for them. We tell their story for them, in our minds and to each other. When a character talks, she takes the witness stand, and we nod out in the spectator seats. When we watch her act, we take the witness stand, sitting upright and paying attention to detail and thinking carefully about what we know of her thoughts and feelings so we can get the story right.

When the entire story happens in the minds of the audience — with the audience as witness — audience becomes storyteller. We care more, we’re invested more, we believe more what we see with our own eyes. Because we’re in the witness stand now. We’re the real stars of the show now — we’re telling the story.

Whenever you can, let your audience tell the story. Give us all the information we need, and let us piece it together. Then it’ll be ours. You have no greater goal.