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Daily Thought #5 – Screenwriting: The Art of Disaster


Have you ever been in that situation where you absolutely have no idea what to do or how you got yourself into a sticky situation?


You have an exam the next day or a big work project to finish by 8 AM tomorrow and your roommate hustles you out of the house to a party, a late night movie showing, an aimless drive around town.  Suddenly it is 3:45 AM and you realize you are in trouble.  Your older brother or sister pulls a prank on you and sets your clock forward an hour and you wake up expecting to make it to your class or morning appointment on time and you find yourself to have missed it entirely.  You ride the bus home and it breaks down in a less appealing part of town and your phone died 2 hours ago.  Why didn’t you charge it overnight?!

Your characters should be put into more disastrous and up scaled and detailed situations like these.  They are sitting in a coffee shop working on a research paper and suddenly a desperate man bolts through the door and fires two warning shots to get the crowd’s attention.  When their car breaks down in the boonies, a homeless man bums a ride after helping get the car running and turns out he is a wanted man.

Now, making a dramatic scene is all well and dandy, but how do you use it correctly?

Think long and hard first about your main character’s primary goal.  What is it?  What do they want in their life?  Why do they want it and what is their plan to achieve that goal?

Are they a billionaire punk who gets shipwrecked on a terrible island for 5 years and turns superhero vigilante when he returns home?  A simple Chemistry teacher family man who learns he has terminal cancer and in order to find money turns to the drug market and deception as a master villain?  Or a boy who finds out he has superpowers and has to adapt to them while growing up to be a good-hearted person?  A woman who loses her job and has to make ends meet by taking any odd job she can find to provide for her infant son and withering overly judgmental Mother?  There are a million different options and paths that a character can take.

Once you identify the path that your specific character will try to take to complete their ultimate dream or goal, your job as the writer is to violently derail their train at every turn.  Throw them into situations that cause you to doubt if they will ever get themselves out of that situation and present them with choices and believe in your character enough to see them find a way through it.



NOTE: An important thing to remember is that whether you are writing a fantastical story or a strict realistic life map; always keep the actions and world around them believable.

This means that you can’t just have a plane crash above your main character and he saves a passenger’s life and becomes a hero.  Plot it out.  A Father loses his daughter to unknown causes and is broken over it and the separation of his wife.  He is a flight director at the local airport and loses his head during his first day back to work after coming in early from his recovery—the day after the funeral.  His wife came.  He was distracted for a moment and gave the wrong coordinates.  The two planes crash and one falls into the main character’s open pasture of 10 acres.  Our hero runs to survey the wreckage and finds a survivor who reveals that there was a dastardly secret kept on board one of the planes.

And thus our story is off!  Episode 1 is set and you have the audience’s attention.

TIP: Ask as many questions to yourself and your main characters as you can! 


Think through how the wreckage will affect the main character’s farm.  Maybe there was a damaged crop as a result.  Our character’s Father is devastated.  How does this affect his relationship with his son?  His wife?  Was the crop near to being sellable?  Who were they selling to?  What is their story?  What happens when the Father cannot deliver?  Are the people he does business with not the best crowd?  What does our main character find out from the survivor?  Does the survivor die after revealing his secret?  Does forensic analysis reveal any contributing evidence of the secret?  How do the FEDs find out that our main character knows anything about this event?  Who are the investigators?  Does the chief investigator have an alcohol problem and a scorching temper?  Is just back from suspension?

The questions you can ask are endless!  Just rip your story apart and you will develop a feel for the people whose lives you are directing.  They become real as opposed to names on paper ambulating in a plain simple world.

FINAL THOUGHT: Always ask yourself how you can get your character in and out of toughest situations and scenarios they could get themselves into and Remember to ask “how did they get there?”, “who put them there?”, “what is their motivation through it?”, and “why are they there?”!

Hopefully this helped!  I love to throw twists and turns into my stories and I know that once you get the hang of it, the art of disaster will come easy to you!

Thanks for reading and see you next time,

Gearbendr Signing Out

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