The Blind Spot

There’s an exceptional writer in one of my screenwriting groups. We’ll probably all be enjoying her movies in a few years, but in the meantime, she has what I call a “blind spot.”

A blind spot is a fundamental problem with a script that, for whatever reason, the writer can’t see.

Her blind spot is that her protagonist does something in the first few pages that makes him utterly unlikable. I’m not talking about grumpy in the morning kind of unlikable, I’m talking about brutal rape kind of unlikable.1

Afterward, when opposing forces threaten to reveal his crime, there’s no tension because we (the audience) want him to get caught.

Other Blind Spots

There are many other blind spots of course:

  • Micro Description (“I think describing in detail what the people in the family photos are wearing adds flair to the script.”)
  • Dialogue Similarity (“Well I can tell my characters’ voices apart.”)
  • Structure Shmucture (“Structure is too confining. My story opens with a 35 minute car chase to set the tone… then we meet the protagonist.”)
  • Putting the cart before the horse (“I’ve written one script. Now I need to spend all my time networking and finding an agent.”)
  • Character Multiplication (“All 26 of my main characters serve an important function, thank you very much.”)
  • Bio Doom (“I think it’s interesting. This stuff actually happened to me.”)
  • Refusing To Let Go (“I don’t care if the scene is irrelevant to the rest of the movie. I just love it.”)
  • Plot Overload (“… and then the cobra bites the zombie, causing him to drop the ring of mystery on the dog’s tail, which ignites the Trelenus Sphere, which sends the warlords of Gartha out to sea, where the shark-riding ninjas…”)

… and many more.

How Do You Find Your Blind Spot?

Sometimes we truly can’t see the forest for the trees. We need to get some distance from our script, then come back to it with fresh eyes.

Most times though, we really need to send it to a few readers that we trust. Then when you see a consistent pattern emerging from the comments you receive, you may be forced to acknowledge your blind spot.

If you dismiss all the feedback that points in one direction, you may have a particularly stubborn blind spot. In an early workshop that I took with the late screenwriting guru Blake Snyder, I remember someone was refusing to accept a fundamental truth of screenwriting.

Blake, in his buoyant but studious tone, said, “Yeah, you can do it that way. Everyone needs to write that script where they learn the lesson.”

Sometimes that’s what it takes!

My blind spot used to be the Passive Protagonist. What blind spots have you overcome?

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  1. There are ways, of course, to create characters that do heinous things, and yet are still embraced (see my previous article about Jerks That Work). But absent those methods, no one wants to follow a protagonist they don’t enjoy watching.