Character over concept: Writing dialogue in search of story

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Screenwriting manuals such as McKee’s Story or Synder’s Save the Cat, uniformly instruct the writer to begin their work by defining a concept; from this, they will develop the characters and build the rest of the story. These manuals and their methods dominate in Higher Education and in the film industry. However, their methods’ overreliance on structuring the writing process may be at the detriment of considering more creative approaches to building a story. One such approach, criticised by McKee in Story, is writing dialogue in search of a story. Using interviews from Noah Baumbach, his collaborators, and other mainstream screenwriters, alongside my observations teaching screenwriting, this article argues for the importance of allowing a screenplay to develop through writing dialogue in search of scenes, characters and story. It proposes that this method can enhance the quality of the individual character voice and form a stronger basis to structure a plot based on the development of characters.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-54
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Screenwriting
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017


  • Noah Baumbach
  • character
  • concept
  • dialogue
  • screenwriting manuals
  • writing method


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