Screenwriting 101: Mastering the Art of Story

Rated 5 out of 5 by from You'll never watch movies in the same way! Prof. Fletcher, hands aloft as he speaks directly to the viewer, may be the most engaging Great Courses teacher ever. Absorb his message and you will "reverse engineer" every movie you watch, . . . and know why it moved you.
Date published: 2020-05-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Riveting! This may be my favorite course currently in the Great Courses inventory. Although I am more interested in forms of writing other than screenwriting, I think this course could help anyone interested in how story works in most genres. I came away with considerable in-depth understanding of the films presented. This, in turn, has led to a greater appreciation of other films and even novels. My only complaint was that the movies surveyed tend towards a hyper masculine perspective. I had a hard time finding one that met the Bechdel Test (two women talking to each other in a movie about something other than a man).
Date published: 2020-05-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Perhaps provide better examples I liked the premise of the course (reverse engineering the writing of a script), but found some of the discussion a bit far-fetched. My biggest objection however is that many of the films, for me, were a terrible bore. One or even 2 fantasy and sci fi, maybe, but I have never like these genre, even when I was a kid. Fell asleep during "Star Wars" the first time around and refuse to sit through it again. It is not reasonable to expect that someone who is familiar with Shakespeare's tragedies will find the moral issues in "Star Wars" fascinating, unless you want to see what happens to a culture that has lost a 3,000-year heritage of Bible stories. Toy Story took forever to get through. What I am saying here is that surely there are classic films of more depth to discuss for the creative person and not just pop culture films suitable to the tastes of children and producers looking for a guaranteed money maker. Perhaps there could a "Screenwriting 102" that could include international films, classics, epics... the list is endless. One last point... the techniques of idiosyncratic directors is a worthy topic, but I am not really interested in the pandering vulgarity of Tarantino. Perhaps instead of 30-minute lectures each devoted to one film that exemplifies a topic, cover a range of film examples.for the topic--or films that can stand repeated watching.
Date published: 2020-03-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too Convoluted Instructor doesn’t explain his concepts well. He makes major points but fails to convey enough to help the student understand what the hell he is talking about. I found myself lost and his references to pieces of literature are so obscure they do very little to illustrate his points. Honestly, I had great expectations for this course but am pretty disappointed..
Date published: 2020-02-19
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Do not recommend There are some good pieces of advice in this lecture but the overall approach is superficial and not helpful. Worth listening if bought at substantial discount. But do not rely on this as sole guide to story structure.
Date published: 2020-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Angus Should Teach Every Narrative Course Angus Fletcher puts all of the other writing professors here to shame with this brand new, eye-opening way of writing any story. Even if you are not interested in writing a screenplay, I would recommend this course ANY DAY over Writing Great Fiction, or especially How To Write Best-Selling Fiction (maybe even some of's courses). Firstly, this course doesn't waste your time. You can pretty much learn everything you need to know in the first six lectures, as Angus will go into the details about the Story World, Plot, Characters, and Tone. Once you've seen these, you will know in six lectures what the others take twenty-four lectures to explain. The rest of the course is NOT fluff. He uses hit movies to drive home his lessons, using the same four ingredients introduced in the beginning of the course to reverse-engineer their unique cognitive effects and why each of them made it into the film history books. He will teach all of this from a left-brained standpoint, so even if you think that you cannot conjure up an original idea or story, he will show you how to anyway. You will learn how to take inspiration properly from your favorite works by learning how to reverse-engineer any story you like, and use its blueprint to re-create its cognitive effect into your own stories, whether it is film or television. In the end, there was nothing that was left out. This course changed the way I view and write stories. Even though it seems like Angus said everything he needed to say, I still have this feeling that there is still more that he can teach. I look forward to seeing him again someday.
Date published: 2019-10-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Faster than I can think Professor Fletcher's rapid-fire delivery leaves no time for reflection on his insights. Since my area of potential screenwriting interest fell outside the genres he covered, I did not get the full benefit of his approach to the task at hand.
Date published: 2019-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly recommended! Wow, I was really suprised by this. Maybe I'm just judgmental and shallow, but when I first saw the teacher I thought he looked like a gym teacher, rather than a writer. I've taken god knows how many general writing and screenwriting classes, and gone through hundreds of books on the subject, so I suspected the same old, same old. But what a fool I was! This course was great. It took a very novel approach to narrative that if I were to theoretically categorise it I'd say is very formalist – and it works.
Date published: 2019-09-22
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Screenwriting 101: Mastering the Art of Story
Course Trailer
Thinking like a Screenwriter
1: Thinking like a Screenwriter

Before "Lights! Camera! Action!" there is one thing a film must have: a good story. This first lecture introduces you to the importance of story and Professor Fletcher's unique approach to it. Look to the literary past to see how the earliest stories shape the ones we create today and use that knowledge to look at scripts and storytelling. You may be surprised to discover how cognitive science can...

34 min
Reverse Engineering Successful Scripts
2: Reverse Engineering Successful Scripts

The first question any writer must ask is: where do I want to take my audience? Professor Fletcher shows you how to reverse engineer stories to pinpoint their cognitive effects and put those tools to use in your own writing (and viewing) experiences. Travel back to the dawn of scriptwriting and reverse engineer three major storytelling innovations of ancient Greece, connecting each to a successful...

32 min
Building Your Story World
3: Building Your Story World

Every script has a setting, both a time and a place where the story occurs. Your "story world" is, however, more than the physical or temporal-what makes the world are the rules you create for it. Understand the value of the rules that underlie your story and see how genres allow you to use pre-existing structures while enabling you to embrace a multitude of possibilities. Then, look at the "big t...

33 min
Developing Your Characters
4: Developing Your Characters

Character is the key ingredient in most successful stories; make great characters and audiences will want to follow them anywhere. Professor Fletcher presents a simple recipe for creating memorable characters with three simple ingredients. Discover why fear is the most powerful driver of human behavior and why this is a key to creating and sustaining great characters....

33 min
Tone: The Screenwriter's Lens
5: Tone: The Screenwriter's Lens

One thing budding screenwriters often forget is this: you are not the director. Your job as the writer is to create a great story; the rest of the work is up to others. So how do you make sure your story creates the cognitive effect you want? The answer is tone. Look at the two most important ways writers shape tone and then dive into four influential tones used in screenwriting, using both litera...

31 min
Plotting Your Story Beats
6: Plotting Your Story Beats

One of the most common pitfalls of scriptwriting is poor plotting. The human mind is actually designed to plot-the key is learning how to constrain this natural tendency so your story doesn't simply wander. See how plotting backwards can help you stay on track and why you should forget about creating a three-act structure....

32 min
Sentimental Return: Casablanca
7: Sentimental Return: Casablanca

Begin your exploration of great film scripts with Casablanca. Learn how to identify its cognitive effect and reverse engineer the four main story components to unlock the tools you will use to understand every script. Casablanca will also introduce you to the first of the "big three" storytelling genres: the heroic....

32 min
The Tragic Sublime: The Godfather
8: The Tragic Sublime: The Godfather

How does a script go through 19 rewrites and multiple directors to emerge as one of the most influential films of the 20th century? Reverse engineer this story that traces its roots back to ancient Rome and see how a sublime tragedy can be even more powerful when brought down to a human scale....

32 min
Romantic Satisfaction: When Harry Met Sally
9: Romantic Satisfaction: When Harry Met Sally

The basic plot of all romantic comedies is essentially the same, so the surprise success of When Harry Met Sally can teach writers volumes about all the other ways you can make a story great. Professor Fletcher demonstrates the subtle ways screenwriters can add naturalistic details to make a predictable story still feel realistic and rewarding....

31 min
Suspense and Relief: Jaws
10: Suspense and Relief: Jaws

Take a look at the film whose immense success gave us the term "blockbuster," examining why the feeling of relief is one of the most primordial of human emotions and how it can best be put to use in good storytelling. Also gain an appreciation for the value of improvisation and collaboration with actors in the filmmaking process....

31 min
Romantic Longing: Annie Hall
11: Romantic Longing: Annie Hall

A comedy with an ending more like a tragedy and with a tone that effortlessly fuses irony and sentiment, Annie Hall was an instant success that almost didn't happen. Use what you have learned about reverse engineering stories to better understand how to reach your ultimate (psychological) destination in a script....

30 min
Big Wonder: Star Wars
12: Big Wonder: Star Wars

The influence of Joseph Campbell and the idea of an archetypal journey have long been credited as part of the success of George Lucas's epic space opera. However, neuroscience has since debunked the idea of this "monomyth" and Professor Fletcher shows you how the power of the script comes down to something much simpler: childlike wonder....

33 min
Charm: The Princess Bride
13: Charm: The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride is the first film thus far that was not a hit on its initial release. Instead, its popularity grew slowly over time, engaging small audiences who were connected by a sense of being "in on the secret"-the essence of charm. Solve the riddle of how two different worlds can actually be the same and discover why community can be an important element of storytelling....

31 min
Alienation Effect: Do The Right Thing
14: Alienation Effect: Do The Right Thing

Most Hollywood films use simple but strong emotional effects to lull audiences into an easy enjoyment in a world with moral certainty. But some movies want to make you think critically and offer no easy answers. Ambivalence can be a crucial tool for writers who want to challenge audiences and this lecture will show you how it can be used to powerful effect....

32 min
Redemption: Unforgiven
15: Redemption: Unforgiven

The gritty soul of the Western genre was revived by the release of Unforgiven-a film that is not just a lesson in great genre writing, but in how to bring old stories back to life. Look at the ways the various story elements help create an anti-hero audiences will root for as you explore how a seemingly forgotten genre can be revived with the right script at the right time....

30 min
Surreal Connection: Pulp Fiction
16: Surreal Connection: Pulp Fiction

Film scripts often use literary techniques to build the story world, form characters, and set the right tone. By adopting a collage method taken from the surrealist movement, Pulp Fiction shows that visual arts can influence story in much the same way. Explore the various ways connections can be made between seemingly unrelated characters and events....

32 min
Big Sympathy: Toy Story
17: Big Sympathy: Toy Story

How did a film that began as a computer demo become an unexpected smash hit? Solve this mystery as you discover why having an engineering mindset can be a great advantage in screenwriting, and reveal how Pixar changed the direction of Disney films for years to come-by looking at a surprisingly dark side of storytelling....

32 min
Existential Meaning: Fargo
18: Existential Meaning: Fargo

Some films defy easy explanation. Fargo is an eccentric story that uses its oddities to its advantage-like delaying the appearance of the main character for almost a third of the film. Explore existentialism and see what can happen when writers stop thinking about fixed structure and focus on the desired result....

33 min
Film Versus Television: MASH and M*A*S*H*
19: Film Versus Television: MASH and M*A*S*H*

Begin your transition from the big screen to the small by looking at the different ways television and film scripts approach storytelling. See why the conflicts and plotting of TV must operate differently from film to sustain story over time and how you can determine which format is best for the kind of story you want to tell....

32 min
Writing A Television Plot: Game of Thrones
20: Writing A Television Plot: Game of Thrones

Follow Professor Fletcher as he shows you how a television pilot works. Or, in the case of the original Game of Thrones pilot, how it doesn't. Compare the initial failed script with the later successful one and see how a story can be reshaped to better achieve its desired effect and discover why writing a TV pilot is like building an engine....

32 min
The Sitcom: The Simpsons
21: The Sitcom: The Simpsons

In the first of three lectures focused on successful TV genres, look at the longest running sitcom in television history, The Simpsons. This lecture shows you why jokes are not the key to humor; it's all in the characters and their ongoing conflict with the world around them. Look at the episode "Duffless" and see how it works as a great example of sitcom writing....

31 min
The Procedural: CSI
22: The Procedural: CSI

The success of the procedural story harkens back to the Victorian heyday of Sherlock Holmes, whose adventures always followed a similar pattern but with important variations. This same technique drives the success of shows like CSI, as this lecture demonstrates by looking at the pilot episode, which encapsulates the show's combination of problem solving and problem making....

33 min
The Prime-Time Soap: Grey's Anatomy
23: The Prime-Time Soap: Grey's Anatomy

See why soap operas are an enduring and brilliant form of storytelling, despite their reputation. By focusing on the subjective and the most primal of human emotions, soap operas allow viewers to experience deep feelings that may be difficult or absent in real life. Grey's Anatomy shows how the conflict between wanting to belong and feeling like an outsider can fuel this kind of storytelling....

31 min
Becoming a Screenwriter
24: Becoming a Screenwriter

Professor Fletcher concludes the course with a look at the ultimate goals of Screenwriting 101: to help you appreciate more film and TV; tell better stories; and write your own scripts. As he takes you through each of these points and sums up the scope of the course, he also gives invaluable practical advice on how to become a screenwriter from a professional perspective. And that's a wrap....

34 min
Angus Fletcher

If you want to learn more about stories and the incredible things they can do, there's no better place to start than screenplays.


Yale University


The Ohio State University

About Angus Fletcher

Angus Fletcher is a Professor of English and Film at The Ohio State University and a core faculty member at Project Narrative. He has previously taught at Stanford University, the University of Southern California, and Yale University. He holds a Ph.D. in English from Yale.

Professor Fletcher's academic research into story science has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He has received teaching awards from Yale and the University of Southern California, and he was listed as one of Hollywood's top educators by Variety magazine.

Professor Fletcher is the author of more than a dozen feature screenplays and television pilots, including a J. R. R. Tolkien biopic for the producers of The Lord of the Rings series, an adaptation of The Longest Journey for the estate of E. M. Forster, and an adaptation of The Variable Man for the estate of Philip K. Dick. He has also published several academic books and more than two dozen articles. His most recent book is Comic Democracies: From Ancient Athens to the American Republic.

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