Storytelling Essentials: The Maze Runner


I want to talk about The Maze Runner today, a novel written by James Dashner and adapted into a screenplay. I saw the movie with a beautiful girl this week and I really enjoyed it. I wanted to point out some of the reasons it was such an effective story.

The movie begins with Thomas rising in an elevator shaft. He reaches the top, and the hatch doors flip open to reveal twenty or so teenage boys staring down at him. He has no memory of his past, and does not even recall his own name. He tries to run, only to discover the young men are surrounded by giant walls that close and open by their own power. When he stops at an open section of wall, thinking about running into the spooky woods, one of the boys violently shoves him to the ground, then assures Thomas that he was lucky for the knockdown.

This is an outstanding opening. Let’s discuss why:

1. Who is this young man? I’ll tell you who. He’s any and every person. Thomas does not recall his past, let alone his own name. Creating a protagonist with general characteristics is a great way to give the readers someone they can relate to (think Harry Potter).  Still, crafting a protagonist who can stand out in any crowd will create someone more memorable, as long as your readers can identify with them on some level (think Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Lenny and George from Of Mice and Men)

2. Instant conflict – The elevator Thomas rises on travels at an incredible rate of speed. It looks as though he is headed for a collision at the rooftop. Instead, the doors open to find a group of boys staring down at him. But these boys don’t readily accept him as a friend – they look like a group of punks who want to start trouble with the new kid. Thomas tries to flee, only to find he is trapped by the giant walls surrounding the area, and will be forced to live with them.

3. Suspense – So many great questions are raised in this opening. Who is this protagonist, and why was he sent here? And where is ‘here’ – what is this new world? And the moving walls – we already know he is in a maze (the title kind of gives it away), but what is behind those walls? After Thomas is violently shoved just short of entering the maze, he is told he should be grateful. The viewer is left to wonder what could possibly be behind those walls that’s worse than a violent, forceful knock to the ground. It isn’t until later we learn about the mechanical creatures lurking behind them, and by the time we do we are already expecting them to terrify us.

We want to know the answers to these questions, and more specifically, the answer to this one – Will Thomas find a way out of the maze? (that’s the plot)

Anyway, I strongly suggest you go check out this movie. And bring along a beautiful date if you can, it will only make it more enjoyable.

– Thomas M. Watt

– Author of A New Kingdom

For the love of good Brandy – Part 2

(part 1)


“Tom, wait!”

Tom lowered his meat cleaver at Brandy’s approach. He had been fighting with Mike, who had come to his home in an effort to win back the gorgeous blonde woman.

“Don’t hurt him!”

Tom looked at Mike, who was still holding his switch blade and breathing intensely. He wanted to kill the man for coming to his property and trying to take back the woman whose heart he had crushed; the woman who Tom had given his heart and soul to piece back together. Tom turned around and called out to Brandy.

“He’s not going leave without you, doll. He’s come for a fight, so that’s what he’s gonna-“

Tom stopped his sentence short when he felt a sharp pain in his gut. His mouth came open and he struggled for air. He slowly looked to see Mike’s smiling, twisted lips tugging up his long rolling beard.

“That’s my doll, not yours,” said Mike.

Brandy screamed. “You monster!”

Mike ripped the knife out of Tom’s stomach, leaving the handsome man to crumble to his knees. Brandy turned around and stormed back inside, locking the door behind.

Mike looked down at Tom as blood puddled on the ground around him.

“Suck it cunt,” said Mike.

He spat on Tom then stepped on his side as he walked over him. He licked the blood off the switchblade with his tongue, then smeared the sweat from his beard with his sleeve. He proceeded towards the front door. Brandy was his, and he was going to make it known.

* * *

Brandy sat on a stool inside. She needed to hide, and she knew it. Mike was coming, and he was going to be violent.

But she couldn’t think clearly. Tom, the love of her life, had just been stabbed in the gut. He was dying, and there was nothing she could do about it. The best she could do was call the police.

Brandy got up and raced over to the phone. She dialed 9-1-1 and waited for the operator.


“Operator! Oh my God, thank God!”

“Mamn, what’s wrong?”

“My husband!” Brandy got too choked up to go on.

“Mamn? Is there a problem with your husband? Did he do something to hurt you?”

“No, no, I just,” she lost her words again. Tom was outside bleeding to death. She needed to be there for him. She needed to tend to his wound.

“MAMN! Is this a prank call?”


“What did your husband do to you, mamn? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, no!” Brandy paused, took a deep breath, then gathered her words. She opened her mouth then tried to explain what happened as calmly as she could. “He just got-“

Before she could get in another word, the line cut out.

“Hello? Operator!”

Nothing but the humming tone of a dead line was left to comfort her. Brandy covered her mouth and her eyes went wide.


The window from the back door exploded to fragment. Mike punched out the pieces that remained. He stepped into the living room then flipped out his switchblade.

“Excited to see me?”

Brandy’s bottom lip shook as she spoke. “What do you want?”

“To get another taste.”

“I’d rather die.”

Mike laughed, then started walking slowly towards her. “That’s fine with me.”


– Thomas M. Watt

– Author of A New Kingdom

A New Kingdom by Thomas M. Watt

1st full review of my book! Thanks a ton to Dave Higgins, who is always fair and honest.


A New Kingdom by Thomas M. WattUnlike many authors narrating stories with a strong element of religion, Watt neither ignores other religions nor consigns them to falsehoods and evil magics. Instead he posits a world in which the benefits of any honest faith are the benefits of the true faith. Similarly, he does not condemn science itself. Combined, these acceptances add immensely to the sense this novel is about a world-spanning invasion by aliens rather than a crude allegory.

When aliens invade Earth and kill his father, James O’Keefe takes refuge in a nearby military facility. At odds with the leader of the bunker and thirsting for revenge, he returns to the surface and is quickly captured by the aliens. Faced with a choice between submission to the God that let his father die and the benefits of collaboration, he soon abandons his revenge for a place beside Mendax, the alien’s leader.

The story is an…

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For the love of good Brandy – part 1

Tom watched through the kitchen window as the truck came to a screeching halt. He turned to Brandy, then kissed her on the cheek.

“Everything is going to alright. I love you.”

She nodded then looked away.

Tom searched the kitchen drawers until he found what he was looking for – the meat cleaver. He took it with him, opened the front door, then walked out to his front porch. He clenched one fist and kept his expression stern as he waited for Mike to step out.

Mike slammed the door closed, took three hard steps in Tom’s direction, then stopped.

The only sounds between the two men were the rushing wind and rolling tumbleweeds. For a while it seemed like neither of them would speak, until Tom finally opened his mouth.

“Give it up. She’s mine now.”

“She only went to you because I left her heartbroken.”

“You’re wrong.” Tom swallowed. “She ran away from you.”

“And why do you think that is,” said Mike. He pulled out a switchblade from his pocket, then moved closer.

Tom took a step back then reached behind his back, where he’d tucked the meat cleaver into his jeans. He pulled it out and held it with as steady a wrist as he could manage.

Mike started laughing. “A meat cleaver? Wow, wouldn’t have expected that out of you.”

“Stay back. Get in your truck and leave, then no one gets hurt.”

Mike stopped, then shook his head. He hacked spat with fury at the ground. He ran a hand through his hair then pointed as he commanded his words. “I leave without Brandy, then i am the one who gets hurt.”

“C’mon,” said Tom. He flipped his blond lock back with the rest of his smoothly combed hair. “You don’t care about her.”

“Bullshit I don’t.”

“You cheated on her.”

Mike stopped. The two were six feet away from each other. Outside of striking distance, but steps away from the circle of death. The sudden gust of wind swept Tom’s curls and brushed Mike’s rolling beard.

“You just don’t get it.”

“What’s to get? You broke her heart, Mike. You left her in shambles, and I’m the guy who picked up the pieces. Now you expect to come back here and steal the puzzle?”

“The box said age ‘don’t be a cunt and up’.”

Tom scoffed. “Very funny Mike. You always were a jerk, you know that?”

Mike raised his voice and gestured to his chest with both hands as he spoke. “You ever ask yourself why, you idiot? Haven’t you ever wondered why Brandy is crazy about me, and not about you? Why she is doing everything she can to keep from loving me, and everything she has left into trying to love you??”

“What are you saying?”

“Do I really gotta say it?”

Tom buttoned his lips. He breathed heavily through his nostrils, then raised the meat cleaver over his left shoulder and grunted loudly. He took a hard swing at Mike, who jumped back and narrowly avoided it. Mike flipped out his switchblade and backed away as Tom continued to chop after him.

“Hey, what the fuck!”

“I love that girl Mike! And she loves me! Stay out of our lives! Get away from here!”

Mike tripped and fell back. The blade fell out from his hand and went spinning along the ground. He crawled after it as Tom hurried behind. Tom took chop-after-chop at his ankles, but his attempts to de-foot him were all near-misses. Mike reached his switchblade, picked it up, then twisted around. The tip of his blade was pointed at Tom’s neck. Tom loaded his meat-cleaver down by his hipside, preparing for a woodchop-like swing.

Both men stopped at the sound of a door swinging open and the shriek of a frantic woman.

“Tom, no!”

It was Brandy.


– Thomas M. Watt

– Author of A New Kingdom

Storytelling Essentials: Rising Tension


The key ingredient to a powerful climax is the rising tension that precedes it. This is one of the more complex elements of storytelling, but the ability to implement it into scenes separates an amateur author from a professional. Let’s take a look at an example of a scene with rising tension.

* * *

Larry had ten minutes to get to Benji’s house. If he didn’t make it in time, Benji would slaughter his dog.

The entire thing was out of control. It all started with a small bet among friends. Larry never could have guessed their sick game would have spun this far out of control…

Larry ran faster as he approached the street corner. He wasn’t too far away, if he could just-

A street parade. Of all the days, the Fat Pride parade had to be today. Why, God, did they have to fill the sidewalks and proclaim their mutual fondness of morbid obesity on this day, of all days. Larry stopped. He didn’t have any options – how was he supposed to wiggle through these giant marshmallows?

The images flashed through his mind again – the blazing car, the confused car wash guy, and then his wife Leona. Leona at the swingers club. Leona with… them.

“Dammit!” screamed Larry, as he punched his thigh.

He didn’t have time to think about that now. His dog was next, unless he could get there in time. He checked his watch – seven minutes. He had to trek about a quarter mile in seven minutes.

Larry looked at the main roadway then gulped. The big boys and girls were marching through the street as they waved hoagies like they were batons. He looked down at his own gut and gave it a jiggle. Larry was qualified.

He tore open his button down flannel then ran into the roadway with the rest of the parade. More than a few onlookers seemed to notice he wasn’t in costume. But it wasn’t them he was worried about – it was the group of policemen pointing at him a little ways up. They were on their radios. They were still looking for him, and Larry knew it. Every step he took towards his house brought him closer to his own arrest. Still, he proceeded.

It should have ended that night – right at the bar, where it all began. The ‘quarter toss’, they had called it.

The game was simple. Larry was fifteen drinks in when he’d invented it. He took a quarter, then made a deal – if it landed on heads, Larry would buy the drinks. If it landed on tails, Benji would. Larry won that first toss, but incited a competitive nature in all of them that led up to this.  Everything from the purses of their wives to the trophies of their children had been wagered. Then the quarter game seemed boring – they needed a bigger fix.

And it all too quickly escalated into this game of exhausting challenges with huge payoffs and ridiculously high stakes. If Benji got to his house in time, he’d get the kind of prize that every man with blood in his veins and juice in his dick dreams about – but if he didn’t, he’d have to explain to his wife why their dog’s head would hereby be placed on the mantel piece above Benji’s fireplace.

“That’s him!” yelled one of the cops. The group scattered out, clubs drawn, and chased after him.

Benji took one last glance at his watch – two minutes left. He looked up. His house was six down. He had to book it, but he was no triathlon athlete.

The cops were having trouble squeezing through all the fatties behind him. Larry was having trouble breathing.

That’s when he noticed it – the segways! A bunch of the big boys were driving them at a furious pace. They weren’t like the segways mall cops used – these were the ferraris of the stand-up, two wheel vehicles.

“Get off or I’ll eat you!” Larry barked at one of them.

The man looked scared out of his mind, and with one more grunt Larry startled the man enough to jump away.

Larry took the ride, turned the handle, and zoomed along the street. He turned around and watched as the cops gradually came to slow, realizing the futility of their pursuit. He weaved with ease between parade floats and men in sumo-wrestler attire. He checked his watch – 30 seconds. Larry looked up and laughed. He was going to make it. He was going to win the bet. He was going to have Benji’s wife-

Larry turned onto his driveway. He felt his heart skip a beat when he saw it – the front gate. It was locked, and he didn’t have any key. It was about ten feet high, with sharp spikes at the top.

He checked his watch again – fifteen seconds.

That was it. Finished. No chance.

He’d never jumped anything over 4 feet in his life. Well he did in high school, but that was only because he was on the-

Wait. He had a chance. It was a long shot, but it existed.

Eight seconds.

Larry turned and looked. A round man held a towering wooden fork. Larry took it from him without hesitation then started charging at the gate.

“Hey!” came the yell from behind.

Three seconds.

Larry planted the pronged end of the fork into the cement, pushed off his feet, then rode the handle as the fork used his own momentum to propel him into the air. Larry flew like the Michelin man were he a superhero.

One second.

Larry passed right over the doormat. He smashed into the front door with both feet and blew it open. He landed inside Benji’s house, on top of his front door, as a cloud of wood chips and dust puffed up around him.

“Well well well,” said Benji, holding an axe in one hand. The dog’s head was already locked in the guillotine. “Looks like you made it after all.” He sighed, then set the weapon on a table.

“You know the deal,” said Larry. “Go tell your wife.”

A short while later, Larry sat on Benji’s couch watching the football game.

“Here you go, Larry.”

“Thanks Benji’s wife,” he said, as he took the sandwich from her then had a bite.

“So, I have to ask… Is this really your wildest fantasy?”

“Not till you put a beer in my hand it isn’t.”

* * *

Okay, that was a long one (And sorry if you hate Larry, but sometimes assholes are more fun to watch).

Let’s take a look at the various elements employed, and figure out why exactly you felt the urge to read on as you approached the scene’s climax.

1. Suspense. Right off the bat, we learned that Larry needed to get home in ten minutes in order to save his dog from being slaughtered. This raises questions in the readers mind. Why is Larry’s dog’s life at risk? Why does he have only ten minutes to save him? These types of questions will compel your readers to read on right from the get-go. People read stories to get answers – but in order for your answers to matter, you need to raise the right questions, first.

2. Conflict – there are three major elements that keep Larry from getting to Benji’s house free-and-easy. The first was the ‘fat pride’ parade, the second were the cluster of cops, and the third was the locked gate with spikes at the top.

So, what exactly caused the tension to rise?

It was the combination of these elements. The main thing that pressed you to read on was the ‘ticking clock’ mechanism. This is any deadline you give to your protagonist. Even as we are reading back story about the origin of the strange game Larry is playing, the ticking clock is in the back of your mind. You are always aware that Larry has ‘x’ amount of time to attain his objective, and the fact that this ‘x’ is dwindling every moment creates a sense of urgency in the otherwise leisurely hobby of reading.

Stakes played a large roll as well. Nobody wants Larry’s dog to be slaughtered, it’s innocent! The ticking clock wouldn’t have mattered if the dog’s life wasn’t at risk, however. Try to imagine how this scene would have read if there were no stakes –

Larry had ten minutes to get home or else Benji would be really mad at him.

I bet you’re thinking something along the lines of ‘Oh, poor Larry… Have a nice life softie, if you need me I’ll be dealing with real problems while you risk getting your feelings hurt.’

Now the other element was the pay-off. If Larry gets home in time, something really good happens to him. I wasn’t too clear as to what that would be, so there’s a touch of suspense there as well.

These three ingredients – stakes, objective, and conflict, will make a good story whenever mixed together. Learning how to weave them effectively enough to create ‘rising tension’ is a skill that can be honed, but it takes both awareness and practice, just like anything else.

Hope this helps!

– Thomas M. Watt

– Author of A New Kingdom

Scene fun – Joe vs. zombies

Let’s craft two versions of the same scene, one better than the other. I’ll explain the difference afterward.

* * *

Joe came home to find the television eradically buzzing in the living room. He didn’t think much of it, so he simply turned it off before preparing himself lunch. He searched through the cubbard until he had two slices of white wonderbread and peanut butter, the crunchy kind.

He poured himself a glass of milk, then sat down. As he ate, he reflected on the days events. The zombie infestation was unprecedented, full-blown, and all-too-real. Joe always hoped for the best, but prepared for the worst. The sound of rapid footsteps prompted Joe to turn and look – a zombie was headed right for him! Before Joe got another bite of his sandwich, the zombie got a bite of him – and Joe was infected.

* * *

Ok, that’s scene 1. Let’s try that again, and see how some simple changes can make the scene more effective.

* * *

Joe slammed the front door the second he set foot inside, blunt axe in hand. Right when he did there was a grumble. Like a dog. Like a rabid dog…

“Hello?” said Joe.

He heard a slow creaking, followed by a sharp snap. Like someone tiptoeing over broken glass.

Joe clenched his fists. He crept through his kitchen. Could one of those things be here? He couldn’t even bear the thought of it. The entire day he’d been running. And he’d witnessed what those monsters did when they got their hands on uninfected humans.

As he walked through the hallway he heard another grunt. It sounded like it came from Julia’s room – his daughter.

“No, Julia!”

Joe quit tip-toeing and broke into a sprint. He kicked her door open just as he heard a window shatter. He entered in to find a parent’s worst nightmare – Julia’s bones were left in a heap of blood in tissue, like left-over ribs. Her head was partly detached, from the gaping hole in her throat, and lying on an ear.

Joe turned her head and stared into her baby blue eyes. He pet back her angelic hair with a shaking hand. “My girl,” he whispered. “My girl.”

There was a creak in her closet. Joe picked up the axe, gulped, then stood up.

* * *

Okay, let’s go over the major differences.

1 – Tone. There is no sense of ‘impending doom’ in the first scene, whereas in the second there is. Style is more important than sounding smart.

2 – Peanut butter and jelly? Who gives a shit. What kind of bread and the crunchy/smooth adds absolutely nothing to the scene. It doesn’t even give the reader a better idea of Joe’s character, so it needs to be trimmed. “Joe made a peanut butter jelly sandwich and ate while he reflected…” Is how it should have read. Take notice – every scene has a focus. In this scene, the focus SHOULD have been the question of whether a zombie was inside his place. PB & J does not strengthen this question in any way. Notice the blunt axe in the second scene does add value (it increases the stakes, as it gives us yet another reason to fear for Joe’s safety.

3 – By far the biggest problem is the late introduction of the zombie. Do you notice how little it mattered when Joe got attacked? Why is that? It was a total surprise. Was it the weak description?

Nah dawg. I could have written the best, most intricate zombie-attack-moves and it wouldn’t have mattered (think about how much better the second version was – and you didn’t even SEE the zombie).

This scene suffered because there was no suspense. You have to prepare your reader for what is to come – you have to tell them (indirectly) what is to come. The moment your protagonists suspects something is up, so will your reader. And guess what? Even if there was no zombie, just a stray cat running through, you would have paid more attention from sentence to sentence. Just like potential girlfriends/boyfriends, readers need something to worry about to keep them interested – and if you go so much as a page without giving it to them, you will lose them for good.

– Thomas M. Watt is a script analyst and author of A New Kingdom

Scene Fun: Keith fights for his wife – Part 1

Let’s craft a scene together. Before we begin, however, let’s establish some scene necessities, so we know not to go astray.

Protagonist: Let’s call him Keith.

Objective: Keith needs to get to his cell phone to call his wife before she boards a plane and flies to a different continent, to live with her mother. (Notice the stakes – if Keiths fails to get a hold of her, he will lose her forever. This could appropriately be considered a ‘psychological death’. The threat of dying, in one form or another, is necessary to keep the viewer involved in the protagonist’s journey. Increasing the stakes will always add weight to your story. Stakes should be regarded as the torment your protagonist will endure should they fail in attaining their objective.)

Antagonist: Floyd, the two-faced scumbag who is friends with Bethany, Keith’s beautiful wife. He told her that Keith had been cheating on her, when in fact Keith hadn’t been. *The reason Floyd told Bethany this has yet to be determined, but will eventually come out.

Sound ridiculous? It is. In fact, I have no idea how to string all these items together. Oh well, let’s see what develops: 

*Motivation for the antagonist is incredibly important. The antagonist CANNOT be a character who exist solely to make fun of the protagonist then laugh loudly with their henchmen.

* * *

Keith couldn’t believe it. Twenty-two years. Twenty-two years of blissful marriage, until this brought it to a screeching halt – Bethany had somehow been convinced beyond any shadow of a doubt that he’d been cheating on her. she’d already booked her flight out of the country. He had only minutes before she’d be boarding and turning off her phone. After that, there’d be no way to get a hold of her – Once she got to the village of Checkistan, she’d have no access to technology or international mail. That’d be it – the end of a blissful marriage, all because Bethany’s schmuck friend named Floyd had convinced her that she’d been played.  And Floyd, who Bethany had said was a ‘kind, sweet-hearted man’, was unfolding to be the biggest nut-job Keith had ever met in his life. 

“Why are you doing this?” Keith asked him.

“Why did you cheat on Bethany? She deserves better than you,” said Floyd. He pressed the button to the drill and gave the bit a quick spin.

Keith stared in disbelief. Here he was, roped to a chair, and bound by his hands and feet. Facing death. Why? That’s what he couldn’t figure out. What compelled this sicko to destroy his life? Keith had run into him on a couple of occasions, but was never made aware that he’d done anything to upset this wack-job. 

“I never cheated on her. You made that up.”

No response.


“Because you DON’T DESERVE HER, Keith. You’re a despicable, vial human being. She told me all about those women she caught you flirting with. Don’t tell me you don’t masturbate to them whenever you’re taking a crap!”

Keith winced his eyes closed. This was the man who was destroying his life – this absolute moron. “What do you want? What can I do to prove how much I love my wife to you?”

“It’s too late for that now. You failed her. She must leave you and visit her mother.”

“What about you?”

“What about me?”

“What’s in it for you?”

“I get to teach Bethany’s tormentor a lesson.”

“Tormentor? Notice the ring? She’s my wife. That means she’s married to me, not you.”

“None of that matters anymore. After today, you will be dead, and I-” 

“She’s got no love for you. You’re nothing but a shoulder to cry on.”

“Ha!” Floyd said. “After today, I’ll be Bethany’s penis to cry on.”

Keith shook his head. “Your understanding of sex bewilders me.”

“Quiet!” Floyd spun the drill again. He approached with a twisted smile, and held the grinding construction tool with a flamboyant wag near his shoulder. 

“You’re a strange man.”

“You’re one to talk,” said Floyd. “A few moments from now you won’t be a man at all.”


Floyd stuck the tip of his tongue through his teeth, then dropped down to his knees. He placed his hand on Keith’s knee, then crawled his fingers up his thigh like they were the legs of a spider.

“I’m going to make it so you never cheat again.”

“What are you talking about,” said Keith. He was scared now. Keith gulped, then tried to rip his knee into Floyd’s face. Unfortunately, the most movement he could manage was little more than a wobble. 

“I’m about to unscrew the screw that made you screw.”

Keith stared at him. Floyed smiled back and continued to rev the drill bit.

This wasn’t a joke anymore. This was serious. 

* * *

I don’t like my daily posts to run a full chapter length, and unfortunately this one looks like it’s got a long ways to go. I’ll resume this another day, sorry to cut it short.

– Thomas M. Watt

– Script analyst for

– Author of A New Kingdom

Storytelling Essentials: Story Structure

Storytelling Essentials: Story Structure – Act 1

Like it or not, all good stories have an underlying structure that has been purposely put in place to keep you involved throughout the course of the tale. In screenplays, structure is so straightforward and strictly adhered to that certain beats are expected to take place on specific pages. In novels, especially those of the literary variety, structure is much more negotiable, and one can get away with adhering to it loosely (not if you want to be a best-selling author, however). So, what is this big-bad-structure-thing that you fear will suck all of your creative juices dry?

Relax, it’s nearly the foundation to the incredible skyscraper you’re about to erect. Let me point out the basic elements of the first act. From here on out, you would be wise to look for these parts in every movie you watch or book you read. Trust me – you will start to notice them, and become a better writer for doing so.

Act 1 –

This is where we get to know the protagonist. What does she want? What are her goals? Give the reader a reason to empathize with her. The sooner the reader can connect to your protagonist on an emotional level, the better.

Inciting Incident – Theoretically, this should occur as early as page 0. Many argue it should come later. In a 120 page screenplay, anywhere between pg. 8 – 15 is appropriate. The inciting incident changes everything for your protagonist – it gives them a reason to take up a new quest. Whether it be the death of a parent (like in my novel, A New Kingdom), the attack of a terrorist, or the sudden outbreak of Malaria, the inciting incident makes the protagonist’s former way of living impossible. Their leisurely life has been taken from them – and the only way they can ever to return to it is to take up a new quest.

1st plot point – This marks the end of the 1st act and the beginning of the second. In screenplays, it typically falls between pg. 25 – 30. It is the decision of your protagonist to take up their quest. They know what they want, and they’ve decided to go after it, even if they haven’t figured out how to succeed yet. The antagonist, or ‘the force that stands against the desires of your protagonist’, is known at this point.

I will introduce you to the remaining acts in other posts, and hopefully get more in depth with any concepts that may seem alien to you. Act one should take up the first quarter of your story, in case you were wondering.

 If you want to learn more about story structure, I highly recommend Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks. I know it had a huge impact on my approach to writing, and I could have never gotten my current position as a script analyst without first understanding the concepts laid out in that book. Kevin Brown, my good writing friend whose blog can be found at creative, also agrees that it was a tremendous influence and help to him.

Hope this helps!

– Thomas M. Watt

– Author of A New Kingdom

Conflict: Damien Vs. Ronnie McDee – Round 2


Greetings everyone. Let’s pick back up where we left off yesterday. If you weren’t here, we talked about the importance the role of conflict has in maintaining the interest of your readers. If you’d didn’t read the previous lesson, you’d be wise to go back and take a look, that way you’ll be sure not to miss anything.

Yesterday we wrote three versions of the same scene. In the first, Damien casually left his office building and greeted his wife outside. In the second, we added a ticking clock, which in this instance was (literally enough) a time-bomb. In the third scene we added Ronnie McDee, a sinister clown who was meant to be Damien’s ultimate antagonist, but wound up making everyone feel dumber for ever considering any of my advice by behaving like a cartoon goofball (and I don’t know that there is any higher insult to a full grown man then to consider his comedic fodder goofy).

So we’ll add conflict to what we already have, and observe how the scene improves.

level 1 – an objective (get to his wife)

level 2 – a ticking clock (time bomb)

level 3 – a nemesis (Ronnie McDee)

Level 4 – Let’s get a real nemesis. Someone we’re actually afraid of. So where do we find an antagonist worth fearing? It’s not about we. It’s about Damien. What’s his greatest fear? What are his short comings in life? Ah, you see what I’m getting at?

Adding an internal conflict to this scene. From here on out, Damien is no longer the blank faced cubicle worker, he’s about to become a someone. Let’s cut the shit and get to the scene already.

* * *

Damien watched the circular lights flash as he descended floor after floor in the elevator shaft. He knew the bomb was going to go off in a matter of minutes. He knew his wife would die if he didn’t get to her in time. And he knew the only person he ever prayed to be struck dead was waiting for him at the bottom floor. There was a battle ahead, no doubt. But Damien was having trouble focusing on what lay ahead of him. He was to busy trying to suppress what was supposed to be behind.

The memory felt like it had been branded to his brain.

This wouldn’t be the first time Damien found himself face-to-face with Onaldo. And both encounters involved a woman of his dreams. Only the last time, Damien lost her.

He remembered her light hair, her dark eyes, and the way she kissed his cheek. Every day since her death, Damien felt the burden of his failure. His wife always told him he’d never moved on – and in fact, Damien never did. She was not the type of girl you forgot about.

The elevator reached the bottom floor and the shiny silver doors rolled open. Standing twenty feet away from him was Ronaldo, wearing his typical yellow jumpsuit and red suspenders.

“Good afternoon, sir. Can I interest you in a McBlurry today?” Ronaldo raised a frag grenade in his right hand. “Or perhaps a big and tasty?” He unzipped his orange pants, whipped out his white-and-red member, then began helicoptering it around in a circle by the swing of his hips.

“You’re a sick fuck,” said Damien.

He stepped out of the elevator and clenched both fist so tight his knuckles cracked. He did his best to hide his nervousness, but couldn’t hide his subtle gulp from Ronaldo. The clown caught everything.

“Ah! Now I remember. What was it I served you a few years back?”


“I think I know.”


“She got a happy meal, didn’t she?”

Damien shook his head as his breath fumed through his nostrils. He heard something beep – no doubt the timebomb, somewhere nearby but hidden.

He winced his eyes closed. The memory was resurfacing. The most painful moments of his life. Her name was Lela.

“What was her name again?”

“You say it I’ll cut out your fucking tongue.”

Ronaldo began tapping his chin with his finger. His eyes rolled up toward the cieling. His painted lips raised in the corners, smiling that sick smirk he always got before he killed someone.

“Ah yes, I remember. It was for your daughter, LELA!”


Sorry, but I’m going to have to leave you there, due to time constraints. I’ll try to pick back up here tomorrow, and go into detail about whatever I feel may be of benefit to you. For now, notice all the questions raised throughout the scene. They mostly have to deal with Damien’s fear of returning to his past. (Why is he afraid? What happened between him and Onaldo? Who was this girl? Also, where is the timebomb, and will it blow before Damien gets past the clown?)

Hope this helps!

– Thomas M. Watt

– Script Analyst for

– Author of A New Kingdom


Conflict: Lesson 1 – Damien vs. Ronnie


Conflict is the most important element of storytelling. Failure to incorporate it guarantees that your works will flop. It is a subject worth going over again and again. There are more than a few types of conflict, but the common link of all forms is that they create adversity. Conflict worsens the predicament your protagonist is in, and she must grow stronger if she is to overcome it. Let’s start with an easy scene with no conflict, and watch how the scene improves as we amp up the adversity.

* * *

Level 1

Damien left the office building at five o’clock, because that’s when he got off work. Once outside, he kissed his wife on the cheek, just as he had a thousand times before.

Level 2 – Let’s add a ticking clock.

Somebody had left a time-bomb on the bottom floor. Nobody knew where it was, but word spread like wildfire – 5 O’clock it was gonna blow. Damien hurried out of the building, where his wife was already waiting for him.

“Damien, what’s-”

“I love you babe,” said Damien. He gave her a fat kiss on the cheek, and was thankful to be alive.

Level 3  – add a human antagonist (the antagonist can be a force of any kind, it doesn’t always have to be a bad guy with a mustache)

The elevator doors split open, and Damien found himself face-to-face with his greatest fear – Ronny McDee.

“Good to see you again, Damien. I noticed your wife was waiting for you outside. It’s too bad, she seemed so sweet.”

He didn’t have time for this – the bomb was set to go off at five. That gave him about three minutes to get past this lunatic clown.

“Shouldn’t you be flipping patties somewhere,” Damien said back to him. It wasn’t until then that the words sunk in – Ronny McDee had seen his wife outside. Had he done something to her?

“Hahaha!” Began Ronnie. “I moved on from that long ago.”

“To killing innocent civilians?”

“No, fries mostly.”

“Cut the shit,” said Damien. “What happened to my wife? If you did something to her I swear I’ll-”

“Relax!” said Ronnie. “I would never harm your wife. Gentleman’s agreement.”

“Oh. Well… I appreciate that.”

“It’s nothing. Now we should really get going and work out our differences elsewhere. I’d hate to still be here when my bomb goes off.”

“Good point,” said Damien. He jogged out the office building alongside Ronny, then found his wife waiting for him there.

“Hey, how are you?”

“I’m good. The chicken’s in the oven already so we should really get going.”

“Oh, alright,” said Damien, before turning to Ronny. “How bout I come by your place tomorrow and we settle this?”

“Sure, that’d be fine. Just look for the palace with the golden arches.”


* * *

I know that the last scene got a bit wacky, but that was partly because I wanted to illustrate a point. Do you notice how the moment Ronny and Damien began speaking on friendly terms it took dedication to keep on reading? When you diffuse conflict in the middle of a scene, you require your readers to continue on out of kindness, rather than desire. We all want to see conflict resolved – but once it is, the story, or an individual scene within the story, is over. That is what happens after the climax – the conflict is resolved. But up until then, you must maintain conflict at all times, and the best writers are able to effectively increase conflict heading into the climax, something known as ‘rising tension’.

Notice also how corny this scene is? You feel like you’ve seen/read it a hundred times, don’t you?

But you still felt compelled to keep reading it.

Don’t be so hard on authors who are commercially successful. If you want to be a best selling author, you’re going to have to accept the fact that constant arguments, time-bombs, evil villains, and dames in distress are all useful ingredients worth including in any story, no matter how much of a literary ‘genius’ you’ve already discovered yourself to be. Don’t ever become formulaic, that’s not what I’m saying – just pay more attention to best selling works, and figure out why they’re best sellers. Don’t fall in line with those who praise works of literature that will never appeal to a mass-market audience, unless you’ve decided that artistic expression is more important to you than big-time sales. Neither approach is wrong, but you should seriously think about the path you’d like to take, and write accordingly. Don’t complain about the failure of the masses to recognize true brilliance. It has more to do with them not caring, anyway – the masses flock to stories that entertain them, and that’s never going to change.

Let’s return to this scene later. If you have any suggestions to increase the conflict, feel free to include them in the comment section below. It’s always good practice to find new and exciting ways to amp up the tension in any given scene. If you want to steal this scene and make it your own, feel free to do so. I don’t care.

Hope this helps!

– Thomas M. Watt

– Script Analyst for

– Author of A New Kingdom