Is a Story Really Necessary?

While I’m away, here’s another golden oldie from the early days of the blog…


Not too long ago,
I spoke about screenwriting and breaking into television at a writer’s
conference in San Francisco. Afterwards, I mingled with the attendees and had some
bizarre conversations. Here’s a sampling…

"I’ve written a novel and everyone tells me it’s a script," one woman said. "How do I turn it into a script?"

"Well, you write a script." I said.

She stared at me. "How do I do that?"

"You get a book or take a course, learn the principles of screenwriting, and then you write a script."

"That’s too much work," she said. "Isn’t there software that can do all of that for me?"

"Yeah," I said. "The same way Microsoft Word wrote your book for you."

* * * * * *

Another person came up to me and asked me if I wrote for television. I said yes.  She then asked, "How do you do that?"

"You mean, how do I write for television?"

"Yes," she said.

"I write screenplays," I said.

"Which is what, exactly?"

"The story, the action, the words that the characters say," I replied.

She stared at me. "Somebody writes that?"

I said, resisting the urge to strangle her. "It’s like a writing a
play, only for the camera instead of a theatre audience."

She shook her head.  "No, it’s not."

* * * * * *
"I’ve written  a book but everyone tells me it s a TV series," the man said.  "How do I make it into a TV series."

can’t, " I said, and gave my standard speech about how ideas are cheap
and execution is everything, how networks go to people with TV
experience, or who have written hit movies, or who have written
bestselling novels, blah blah blah. And when I got done, he stared at
me. I got stared at a lot that day.

He said:  "How can I get around that?"

"You can’t," I said.

"Why not?"

you haven’t established yourself as a writer in any field," I said.
"Why would a network, studio or producer buy a TV series idea from you?"

"Because I’m smarter and more talented than they are," he said.

"It’s not going to happen," I said.

"Is it because I’m black?" he said. "That’s it, isn’t it. It’s because I’m black."

* * * * * *

"Did you have to sleep with a lot of people to get into TV?" a woman asked me.

"Just my wife," I said.

"You were lucky it wasn’t someone else," she said and walked away.

* * * * * *
have a great idea for a movie," a woman said to me. "What’s the market
like for true stories about black lesbians in the 1880s?"

don’t think studios are looking for scripts to fill that particular
niche," I said, "but there’s always a market for good stories that are
told well."

"Oh," she said. "That’s going to make it a lot harder to sell."
* * * * * *
are hard work," a man said to me. "Could I write an episode of a
mystery show but leave out the mystery for someone else to do?"

"No," I said.

"But my talent is character and I’m brilliant with dialogue," he said. "I really don’t know how to plot a mystery."

"Then don’t write a mystery," I said.

"But that’s what’s selling," he said.

"Don’t try to write what’s selling," I said. "Write what you enjoy. Write the story you want to tell."

"The thing is, I don’t know how to tell stories," he said. "But I write killer dialogue. Is a story really necessary?"

"Yes," I said.

people in Hollywood don’t make it easy, do you? That’s the problem with
the Industry. They are constantly creating obstacles so people can’t
get in."


9 thoughts on “Is a Story Really Necessary?”

  1. >>>
    “Did you have to sleep with a lot of people to get into TV?” a woman asked me.
    “Just my wife,” I said.
    “You were lucky it wasn’t someone else,” she said and walked away.
    <<< Better departing lines they could have used: "Really? Huh. I don't suppose you'd give me her number, would you?" OR "That wouldn't work for me. My wife doesn't even like television." OR "You had to get MARRIED to break into the business? Fuck it."

  2. It can’t be true. It just can’t be. But it’s much too weird for you to make it up.
    Just tell them, “The answer to that question is in my book, Successful Television Writing. Buy it, I’ll autograph it for you.”
    (Good book, btw. Learned a lot.)
    Or just give the man Shonda Rhimes’ home phone number.

  3. “…and then he voted.”
    (Dilbert’s Scott Adams’ favorite way of making horrific conversation even more so. Try silently adding it onto stuff you hear throughout your day, and see if it doesn’t just crack you up and make you want to weep at the same time.)

  4. Thank you.
    I just took a few minutes break from a screenplay I’m writing. And I read this.
    I don’t know if my script will be any good. I don’t know if I’ll write anything that ever sells.
    What I do know is that, unlike those people, I have three things going for me:
    1) I know how hard it is to get in to the business.
    2) I’m willing to put in the work.
    3) I’m not a moron.
    Thank you for that reminder.

  5. Painfully funny. Can’t believe people just don’t want to jump into the incredibly brutal world of professional tv/film writing. Hey, I could use the software that writes the story for me too – but much better to know I don’t even need the story. Then I save money on the software!


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