Screenwriting 101: Mastering the Art of Story

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.

ALMA MATER

Yale University

INSTITUTION

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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