Archive | July 2014

Creative Screenwriting: What I Learned From 6 Great Movie Villains

Movie Villains

When I teach about writing a movie script, I advise students that it takes real work to become a great screenplay writer who makes characters come alive. In my book, The Story Solution23 Actions All Great Heroes Must Take, I discuss writing screenplays that use Hero Goal Sequences® to create dynamic heroes, but a screenplay can also become successful when memorable villains are created as well. Screenplay writers love to add a villain who serves as a counter-balance for their hero.

The best books on screenwriting reveal that movies work because of conflict – the better the conflict, the better the movie. When it comes to scriptwriting, a great villain can make a good movie terrific. Here is what I learned from six great movie villains:

  • Willem Dafoe in “Spider-Man”: The Green Goblin and Spider-Man are similar because they are both transformed. While Peter Parker turns to fighting evil, Norman Osborn taps into his psyche’s dark side. This echoed inner conflict reflects the struggle we all have when choosing between good and evil.
  • Tom Cruise in “Collateral”: Cruise plays Vincent, a hired killer who takes Jamie Foxx’s unsuspecting cab driver, Max, along as he eliminates people on a hit list. Vincent constantly thinks about what life means, even as he takes it. In an argument the driver calls Vincent a sociopath, while Vincent derides him for being so passive. After the car crashes and the hit man runs off, Max realizes the next person on the hit list was his recent passenger Annie – a woman he “hit on” himself. Max turns hero as he rushes off to save Annie. This villain was necessary for our hero to be confronted about his faults, and learn what he was capable of achieving.
  • Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada”: Streep plays the villain who sparks a transformation in Anne Hathaway’s mousy character. Although she spends most of the film being unbearably demanding, the curtain is pulled back and we see her anguish over her personal life. The best screenwriting books provide advice on how to make an audience empathize with a villain, but here it is done to perfection.  Give your villain their own inner suffering.
  • Angela Lansbury in “The Manchurian Candidate”: Before becoming the dowager detective in TV’s Murder, She Wrote, Lansbury played the perfect villainess as Mrs. Iselin. Hailed by Time as one of the top 25 best villains, she twists the ideals of motherhood into evil while directing her son on a killing spree that will lead to her husband becoming president. This is the perfect example of screenplay writing that turns the notions of hero and villain upside-down when mothers are villains and assassins are heroes.
  • Stephen Lang in “Avatar”: Lang played the villainous Colonel Miles Quaritch in James Cameron’s original Avatar so well that he will be back for all three sequels. According to Hero Complex, Lang’s secret is that he was just playing a man doing his job. “He makes choices. Quaritch cauterized some aspects of his soul. Dirty wars numbed his psyche and spirit, but I did not go at him as a villain.”
  • Michael Douglas in “Wall Street”: Even after more than 25 years we remember Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” advice. Douglas provides a great example of how a villain corrupts a young associate who is the hero of the story, Charlie Sheen, as Bud Fox. Bud is conflicted between following Gekko’s ideals or his own father’s. Our young hero eventually realizes there is more to life than money and turns against his former mentor.


I hope these thoughts on screenwriting help aspiring screenwriters learn how to define their onscreen heroes and villains. To learn more about writing a great story, attend Story Expo 2014, coming September 5-7 to Los Angeles. I’ll speak, along with many other great lecturers, on the art and craft of storytelling.

Good Luck and Good Writing!

Eric Edson

screenwriting book author eric edson Eric Edson

About The Story Solution:  The Story Solution was written by accomplished screenwriter Eric Edson. It reveals the 23 actions used to create dynamic, three dimensional heroes and link all parts of a captivating screenplay. He also covers screenwriting tipsscreenwriting resources, andscreenwriting booksVisit the website and Facebook page or call 818-677-3192 for more information.



In all seriousness, people think that it’s the ideas that are important. Well, everyone has ideas, all the time. I tend to write mine down and remember them, but at some point you have to apply the bum to the seat and knock out about sixty five thousand words – that’s how long a novel is.
~ Terry Pratchett

What Is Fitzgerald Trying to Say About the American Dream in ‘The Great Gatsby’?

The American dream is such a major theme in The Great Gatsby that whether you are studying it was just reading it for fun you must be wondering what Fitzgerald is trying to say about. Some people argue the book of the criticism of the American dream, some people think Fitzgerald is trying to say the American dream is dead, others think the criticism is solely of Gatsby who paid the price of living too long with a single dream. Let’s have a look at some quotes from the Great Gatsby.

Gaby’s dream is the most prominent of the book. It is all encompassing, it has taken over his life completely. He thought he loved Daisy, but when he finally met her after all these years he found that he still wanted more. He wanted her to say that she never loved another man. He couldn’t be happy with what he had, he has to be perfect. He is an example of people who abuse the American dream.

Character’s like Myrtle and Wilson look up and Daisy and Tom. They want what they have, they think that they have achieved the American Dream. The reader knows different thought, we can see exactly how happy Daisy and Tom are. Behind the façade of perfection they present, their perfect marriage, in their lovely house with their beautiful daughter, they are both bored and unhappy. With no job and no purpose in life they have grown ‘restless.’ Both of them have affairs and neither seems to care about there child. Fitzgerald is trying to say that life isn’t what you imagine at the top.

It is obvious that, at least in the world of the Great Gatsby, money doesn’t buy you happiness. Unfortunately it is just as clear that the lower classes are obsessed with money and view it as their ticket to living the dream. When you only look at their bank balances Gatsby and Tom are both wildly successful and that is all the lower classes see.

The photograph that Gatsby’s father carries around with him becomes the symbol of this obsession of the lower classes. Instead of carrying a picture of his son he carries a a picture of his house, a symbol of his wealth, and what proves he is a success. Just as Gatsby was lured by Dan Cody’s expensive yacht, so the next generation will look at this photo and think that if they work hard enough they can come from nothing like Gatsby and be as happy as him. The sad fact is we know Gatsby was never happy and when he died no one came to his funeral.

What can we draw from this then, does Fitzgerald think the American dream is dead. On the contrary I believe that he thinks it will continue perpetually, the people always look at the rich and wish they could be like them. And so the book is not telling you the American dream is dead is telling you that it will always live on and be wary of its promises.

Looking for Great Gatsby Quotes []. My site has all the quotes from The Great Gatsby [] you need arranged by character, theme and chapter.

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Eric Edson: Screenwriting Lessons from Our 4th of July Heroes

Patriotic Screenwriting

Dear Friends,

When teaching screenwriting classes, I tell my students to look everywhere for inspiration. Sometimes this is easier said than done, but the 4th of July is awash in heroic characters. Although the events leading to the Declaration of Independence occurred over 200 years ago, the heroic qualities of our nation’s founders can still be translated to screenwriting success today.

Patriotic Screenwriting
This year, look beyond the fireworks and parades and try to think about what really made these characters into national heroes. Then try to think about how you can apply those characteristics to the people in your screenplay. The main character attributes that help audiences connect with movie heroes include courage, unfair injury, skill, funny, nice, in danger, loved, hard-working and obsessed. How many of these qualities did our starring forefathers have?

  • Thomas Jefferson: After he wrote the Declaration of Independence, Britain’s army was soon on its way to New York Harbor. Certainly Jefferson and his colleagues were showing a great deal of courage in the face of impending conflict. But he was both hard-working and obsessed with getting the wording of this crucial document just right, using heavy editing to great effect.
  • Samuel Adams: He was known as the “Firebrand of the Revolution” for his role as an agitator between the colonists and the British. He believed that the colonists suffered an unfair injury under British rule and was willing to face danger to right the injustice.
  • John Hancock: Known for his large signature on the Declaration, Hancock became one of the most wanted men in the colonies by King George III. If that isn’t a courageous hero, I don’t know who is.
  • Benjamin Franklin: Often remembered for being funny and his many wise sayings, Franklin was also known as the “Sage of the Convention.” Ben embodied many of the elements of a courageous hero.  He was funny, nice, in danger, loved, hardworking and skillful.
  • John Adams: Along with Jefferson, Franklin, Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman, Adams helped draft the Declaration. After its adoption he wrote his wife Abigail that the day “ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.” He had an uncanny ability to predict the future, and also he had guts!

My book, The Story Solution: 23 Actions All Great Heroes Must Take, provides further insights on how to analyze characters and turn them into heroes. Download a sample chapter or visit to see some of the chapters and pages.

PrintSave The Date: Learn more about writing a screenplay by attending Story Expo 2014, September 5-7 in Los Angeles. I’ll be speaking, along with a host of other great lecturers, on the art and craft of storytelling.
From all of us at The Story Solution, have a great 4th and be safe!   With special thanks to Taylor Reaume for his great help with our web and content publishing strategy (what a whiz!).

Patriotic Screenwriting
Good Luck and Good Writing!

Eric Edson and Staff

About The Story Solution:  The Story Solution was written by accomplished screenwriter Eric Edson. It reveals the 23 actions used to create dynamic, three dimensional heroes and link all parts of a captivating screenplay. He also covers screenwriting tipsscreenwriting resources, and screenwriting booksVisit the website and Facebook page for more screenwriting tips and resources.