When something happens… something ELSE happens

The dynamic dual nature of a screenplay universe.

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One would think this is obvious, but I continue to be surprised by scripts I read which stories suffer because they live on the surface exploring solely what’s going on in the plot.

That does not reflect the depth of a screenplay universe which exists on two levels:

There is the External World, the domain of Action and Dialogue, the realm of a story’s Physical Journey.

There is the Internal World, the domain of Intention and Subtext, the realm of a story’s Psychological Journey.


Of course, these designations are artificial because a story should come across to a script reader or moviegoer as an organic entity. However, as lenses through which a writer may look at a story during its development and writing, this binary approach reminds us of a key dynamic that is at work every moment of every scene:

When something happens… something else happens.

In every scene, the Actions and Dialogue of character, what we see and hear in the External World, almost always carry with them Intentions and Subtext, what we intuit and interpret arising from the Internal World.

Every character has a whole other Self in the Internal World, sometimes made clear, other times mysterious through the use of masks in the External World — Protagonist, Nemesis, Attractor, Mentor, Trickster.

With every Plotline point, events that occur in the External World and shift the narrative in a different direction, there are ramifications in the Internal World as characters process experiences… which change their attitudes… which impacts behavior… which leads to other Plotline points… a continuous interweaving between the story universe’s twin dimensions.

In other words, there is a dynamism that exists between these two realms.

Moreover by being sensitive to the ebb and flow of what transpires in both the External World and Internal World, we become privy to multiple layers of meaning, emotions, wants, needs, all of which can enrich our writing and make our stories more compelling because there is more — sometimes much more — than meets the eye.

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On the other hand, by focusing too much attention on screenplay structure (and by structure, many equate that with plot) is to diminish the importance of the psychological life of a story. We may end up with a nicely crafted plot, but if there is no emotional resonance, no underlying meaning derived from within the Internal World, no complexity and depth to what’s going on, chances are slim the story will connect with a reader.

So there is a fundamental truth about a screenplay that its universe is comprised of an External World and an Internal World. As a result, there should be no such thing as a static moment in a script, there is always movement and energy at work, each realm influencing the other, a dynamic tension of intention and subtext shading actions and dialogue.

When something happens… something else happens.

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