Story Sense by Paul Lucey

Pros: This thing is a monster bible of storytelling.

Cons: Covers too much? Is there such a thing as too comprehensive?

Thoughts: Much like Story by Robert McKee, this book is filled to the brim with a lot of information. It’s almost too much to properly digest in a single read-through. There is a lot of great material on characters and dramatic structure. It also clarifies story development for writers still trying to figure out the best process.

Summary: A veritable encyclopedia of storytelling. You should own it.
Table of Contents:


1: Selecting an Idea for a Motion Picture Story 3

Characteristics of Good Story Ideas 4
Adaptation 12
Additional Sources for Stories 19
Using the Six Story Archetypes to Develop the Idea 24
Populating the Story Idea with “Temp” Characters 29
Enriching a Story Idea: An Example 30
Summary 33
Exercises 34
2: Building the Story Structure 35

The Frame of the Story 35
Defining Story and Event 39
Developing a Story Structure Based on the Dramatic Problem 43
The Story Concept 46
Using the Problem to Create a Dramatic Crisis 48
Using the Crisis to Interrupt the Status Quo of the Story 49
The Internal Problem and the External Problem of the Story 51
The Nature of Dramatic Conflict 52
How the Villain Creates Conflict 55
The Thematic Dimension of Drama 57
Background, Foreground, and Theme 58
Using the Story Template to Rough Out the Three-Act Structure 62
The Time It Takes to Write a Story 65
Summary 65
Exercises 67
3: Writing the Plot 68

Working Out the Plot Outline 69
Three-Act Story Structure 70
The Outline of Traditional Plot Incidents 71
Traditional Moments Found in Act I 73
The Act I Setup 77
Traditional Moments Found in Act II 79
Traditional Moments Found in Act III 82
Theme and the Happy Ending 85
Lifelines and How They Can Solve the Problem of the Story 87
The Epilogue 88
Continuity of the Plot 88
Story Logic 90
Subplots 92
Blocking the Story 94
Grouping Story Beats into Sequences 100
Blocking the Story for a Short Film and Expanding It to Feature Length 101
Writing a Feature Story from a Scene 102
Multiple Storylines 103
Summary 107
Exercises 108
4: Scene Structure and the Basic Dramatic Units 109

The Sequence As a Dramatic Unit 110
The Scene As a Dramatic Unit 112
Dynamics of the Scene: Content, Structure, and Conflict 113
Analysis of a Scene from The Verdict 119
Critique of the Galvin-Sweeney-Concannon Scene 125
Blocking: Another Definition 130
The Montage 133
Summary 135
Exercises 136

5: Creating Emotionally Dimensional Characters 141

Imagination 142
Imagining the Settings 143
Imagining the Characters 144
Creating Characters with Psychological Dimension 146
Psychological Imperatives 148
Backstory and the Psychology of a Character 151
Backstory and “Life on the Page” 153
Writerly Perspectives on Character 157
The “Empty Chair” Exercise 161
Writing Interesting Minor Characters 161
Summary 162
Exercises 163
6: Dialogue and Character 164

Writing Dialogue 164
Reel Dialogue versus Real Speech 166
How Dialogue Is Constructed 168
Exposition and Dialogue 170
Freighting Dialogue with Exposition 171
On-the-Nose Dialogue 173
Dialogue and Subtext 173
Subtext and “Actable” Dialogue 175
Deeper Levels of Dialogue 178
Dialogue and Narrative Drive 182
Telephone Dialogue 185
Summary 186
Exercises 187

7: Dramatization 189

Credibility 190
The Dramatic Engine 192
Inventiveness 196
Additional Dramatic Strategies 197
Sentimentality and Empathy 209
Dramatizing with Momentum 211
Tension 216
“Hinging” the Plot with Twists 217
Summary 220
Exercises 221
8: Writing for the Camera: Visual Storytelling 222

Cinematoghraphy for Screenwriters 223
The Four Elements of Visual Content 226
The Three Prime Camera Angles 233
The Visual Design of the Film 235
Visualizing Action Scenes and Character Scenes 237
How Sound and Images Work Together to Tell the Story 241
Strategies for Enhancing Visual Content 243
Summary 252
Exercises 253
9: Writing Stage Directions 254

Writing Stage Directions 257
Stage Directions for Action 260
Writing Character Descriptions 263
Breaking the Rules 268
Describing Secondary Characters 269
Using Capitalization and Punctuation in Stage Directions 270
Summary 271
Exercises 272
10: Script Format for Feature Films and Television 273

The First Pages of Your Script 273
Sample Script: Try Again Tomorrow 274
Explanation of Notes in Sample Script 280
Sitcom Format 284
Summary 286
Exercises 287
11: Rewriting 288

Rewriting Problems with the Story 292
Rewriting Problems with the Characters 299
Rewriting Problems with the Scenes 302
Rewriting the Dialogue 306
Rewriting to Improve Dramatization 309
Rewriting for the Camera 311
Rewriting Exposition and Fixing Format Problems 312
What About the Title? 314
Summary 314
Exercises 315
12: Career Counseling for New Screenwriters 317

Advice for New Writers 317
To Be or Not to Be in L.A.? 320
The Literary Agent 322
How Scripts Are Evaluated 324
The Pitch Meeting 326
The Story Conference 330
Case Study: The Santa Clause 333
Making Movies Out of the Mainstream 334
Summary 338
Exercises 339

A: Media That Illustrate Points Made in the Chapters 341
B: The Screenwriter’s Reference Shelf 345
C: Cast List, Sequence Breakdown, and Shot Numbers of The Verdict 347
D: Professional Version of the “Marry Me–or Else” Scene 359
E: Rewrite of Immigrant Scene Exercise in Chapter 11 361
F: Writers Guild of America TV Market List 366
G: Script Evaluation Forms 368
H: Writers Guild of America Minimum Basic Agreement 1991-1995 373
I: Writer’s Deal Memorandum 375



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Comments (7)

  1. M.A.B.Horning said on 27-12-2007

    This is one fabulous book. Its’ organization lends itself to easy searches, the material is very complete and germaine to the subject and Professor Lucy has an elegant sense of humor.

    Every story writer should have a copy of “Quantum

  2. Richard W. Moxley said on 26-08-2009

    I haven’t read the book yet, but was privileged to be one of Paul Lucey’s screenwriting students at USC’s School of Film and Television several years ago. As you describe his book, I would describe his course — inspiring, informative, and almost overwhelming in its comprehensiveness. I recall feeling that, for all the material he covered, it seemed he was just skimming the surface of what he wanted to share with us. Based on your book description, I’m persuaded to buy the book in hopes of going deeper than his time bound class would allow.

  3. […] Over the past 15 years, I’ve developed a fairly substantial collection of news clippings, which I started on the advice of one of my USC screenwriting college professors, Paul Lucey, author of Story Sense. […]

  4. E.v.R. said on 02-09-2009

    Good to hear from you Richard, and thanks for the linkage.

  5. gerry byron said on 06-12-2009

    Best Screen Writing Book I’v ever read.

    And the ONLY Screen-Writing book I’ve ever re-read. Five times.

  6. Maya said on 15-05-2010

    Thank you for sharing with us!

  7. shamtest said on 14-05-2011

    I can’t seem to access this post from my smartphone!

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