Getting Extreme (Part II)

Story Maps by Daniel Calvisi book coverContinuing this Excerpt from Story Maps: How to Write a GREAT Screenplay (Part One here):


I love it when I see a movie or read a script and the writer is willing to “go there,” to take the story to the extremes of the dramatic conflict. Not afraid to shock, offend or make their audience uncomfortable, but to be true to the story and the dramatic elements that they have built.

In The Hangover, the guys tell Phil (Bradley Cooper) not to leave the baby in the car alone and he argues, “I cracked the window!” Awful…but hilarious.

In Million Dollar Baby, Maggie (Hilary Swank) is not just hurt but she is paralyzed from the neck down. Her condition worsens in horrible ways and she asks Frankie (Clint Eastwood) to euthanize her. There is no last-minute save; he must end her life to allow his arc to come to fruition.

In Sideways, Jack (Thomas Hayden Church) has already had one affair and got his nose broken in 3 places, but he still insists on sleeping with the waitress, leading him to get caught by her husband. It gets worse when Jack makes Miles (Paul Giamatti) go back to the house to retrieve his wallet, and Miles gets chased by the naked husband. This represents the ultimate test of Miles’ loyalty to his friend.

Or in Total Recall, when this happens to Arnie…

Total Recall copyright Sony Pictures

Now that’s good writing.

But seriously, folks, I see scripts all the time where the writer is unwilling to go all the way – one of the big reasons for this is that they consider the protagonist to be themselves. They can’t have their hero lie, cheat or steal because it’s something that they wouldn’t do in real life (or at least they like to think they wouldn’t). They also refrain from having something terrible happen to their protagonist (rape, paralysis, castration, the list goes on, people) because it scares them to think of this happening to them. But this is a story and your protagonist is a dramatic construction, not you.

Besides, your life is boring. Trust me, it would not make a good movie. At the least, you’d need to make up a lot of stuff.

So be prepared to be true to your story…to “go there”…to take the story to the organic breaking point of the conflict. Go for it.

Why? Because not only does Drama = Conflict, but Hollywood is filled with thousands of bored workers reading the same old plot turns and story mechanics — pull the seat out from under them and they’ll love you for it.

Good Luck and Happy Writing,


1 reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *