Deadly Sins of Screenwriting

Deadly Sins of Screenwriting

Art has month purposes, but its sacred one is to reveal truth. Greek mythology and the Bible all speak in stories. Aristotle uses the same word as St Paul to describe a crucial thing which underpins everything that makes us human and drives art: Hamartia. In The Poetics, Hamartia is the "tragic mistake or flaw" which is the root cause of the tragedy. In Christian lore, it is the word for Sin, and is translated "to miss the mark" or "to error".

Drama is the understanding of sin, and how it is the defining characteristic which makes us human. The darkness and foolishness of human nature is what we need to bring to catharsis, for the purposes of the moral education making us more "excellent people".

Writers are just people. And the often miss the mark because they are as tragically flawed as their characters.

The Artist's Search For Truth

The fundamental principle of truth is it corresponds to reality. Truth can be universal (understood by all), collective (understood by a group), objective (informed without subjectivity or bias), and subjective (personal opinion or experience). There is the truth, and someone's opinion. Perception tends to get in the way of objective truth, which can often mean people believe the latter doesn't exist.

Truth is stated in the form of claims, and must also be tested for its correspondence. It must be logically coherent (make sense), empirically adequate (be supported by evidence), and experientially relevant (experienced personally).

Theories about UFO aliens, for example, fail because despite the concept being coherent (it is probable life could have evolved on different planets) and experientially relevant (the number of reported sightings), there is inadequate evidence which has been found to support the claim. Taken together in their current form, they merge as the Fermi Paradox:

Truth needs to correspond (, cohere (, or be pragmatic (

This is why abstract art is shit; it's why propaganda is merely deceit; and it's why nauseating horror like the "Human Centipede" has no intrinsic merit.

The Sin of Derivation

This one is quite simple: writing a "side story", an "origin story", a reboot, or any using of someone else's story world is a form of cheap plagiarism. The characters, landscapes, ideas, and events are already shaped for you. It is a counterfeit form of screenwriting which helps a writer evade critique of what they produce creatively, commonly advocated by studio execs for the purposes of creating a lowered-risk "franchise".

You couldn't create your own idea?


  • Every superhero movie or comic book adaptation ever written

The Sin of Propagandising & Indoctrination

Art seeks to ask the audience a question. When you are providing an answer you intend them to accept, you are propagandizing. When you are repetitively "selling" the answer as a compulsory belief system in one way or another, you are attempting to indoctrinate the viewer. Propaganda was developed from Freud's theories around the advent of mass media, and is closely related to religious evangelism.

More can be said of this in Hollywood than any other topic. The politicisiation of art is the death of art. Social sciences, in particular, attempt to politicise everything.

propaganda, n
information, ideas, opinions, or images, often only giving one part of an argument, that are broadcast, published, or in some other way spread with the intention of influencing people's opinions:

indoctrination, n
the process of repeating an idea or belief to someone until they accept it without criticism or question:


The standard get-out clause for this behaviour is that it is special interest group "advocacy" ("public support for an idea, plan, or way of doing something"). What is deceptive about this practice is the manipulation of words and their meanings: "advocacy" as defined is the net end-result desired from the propaganda, which is deceitfully used to describe the propaganda as "virtuous" .

An example would be a US military film propagandizing American exceptionalism for encouraging support for a war or demonisation of a military enemy. The film is the propaganda; the repetition/seqencing of productions is indoctrination, and the end result is advocacy and support for the cause it is promoting. The film itself is not a form of "advocacy".

In their defence, most writers don't know they are propagandizing. They just write about stuff they think is true. Life is a very, very messy thing. If an artist is demonising something as the problem, or selling you an answer, it's a political statement with religious undertones - even if they don't see it themselves.

The Sin of Sociology

Sociology is mostly based on one or more ever-spiraling variants on the Frankfurt School's "Critical Theory", a rather miserable and infectious political counterfeit of reasoned critique. In short, Critical Theory talks about an academic subject, rather than doing it.

No-one has done more to explain the cancerous nature of Critical Theory than the "Grievance Studies Hoax" scholars:

"Marxist-inspired movement in social and political philosophy originally associated with the work of the Frankfurt School. Drawing particularly on the thought of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, critical theorists maintain that a primary goal of philosophy is to understand and to help overcome the social structures through which people are dominated and oppressed."

Critical Theory tries to "critique" (criticise to death) academic subjects by inferring they are inherently biased (ideological) beyond redemption because of the "power dynamics" of "social structures" the authors inhabited, and then suggesting activism to "correct" where it is "problematic" so people can be "emancipated" through the process.

Critical "Theory" is meant to be an alternative to Scientific Theory in the same way Marxism was supposed to be an alternative to Capitalism. It must have 3 elements, according to Horkheimer:

  1. It must explain the problem (explanatory);
  2. It must offer an activism solution (practical);
  3. It must abide by the norms of social criticism (normative).

What this means is a litany of pseudo-humanities have emerged as money-spinners for US universities. In addition to Mathematics, for example, we now the "examination of Mathematicians" in the form of "Mathematics Studies". In fact, any subject with "studies" after its name can be written off as nonsense.

Any time you hear "social criticism" talk of "power", "systemic oppression", or some character's motivation being the political emancipation from a 1% group, your script is contaminated with sociology, rather than an actual story.

Any time a movie is focused around the sociology of the characters, it's lacking an actual story about them. The audience know when you don't have one.

The Sin of Reification

Exceptions: clearly-labelled genres entirely predicated on the suspension of correspondence with reality, such as science fiction, fantasy, cartoons, or satire/parody.

Reification Fallacy ( is the mistake of referring to something abstract or imaginary as a "concrete" thing which is actually real. Almost everything in the social sciences suffers from this extrapolation of theory to assumed reality; in traditional science, a hypothesis which must be explicitly falsifiable is tested for its correspondence to reality. A common example in everyday use is to describe "life" or "the universe" somehow "having a plan".

Also called the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness, or hypostatization, the reification fallacy occurs when an argument relies on an abstract concept as if it were a concrete fact; when a hypothetical scenario or situation is referred to, and treated as if it were a real thing.


Reification occurs when any concept or idea is expressed as if it were truth, and can't be observed, tested, measured, or proved. Examples might be:

  • Freudian ideas about the "unconscious mind".
  • Any theory whatsoever from the social sciences, e.g. "woke" terminology.
  • New-age or religious jargon referencing "spiritual" things like "the universe".

In scientific theory, an idea or notion must be falsifiable. There must be a false option in the whole "true or false" part. Reified concepts cannot be proved false, but because they don't exist in the first place; you cannot prove the idea of "spiritual energy" to be wrong or erroneous as it is untestable to begin with.

There's nothing wrong with expressing the imagination in art - in fact, you might say that is its lifeblood. Reification is the next stage which comes after imagination. Cartoons and sci-fi aren't real, and we know they aren't. They are clearly labelled as imaginary. Reification is the deceitful or fallacious practice of presenting them as actual truth.

The Sin of Postmodernism

Art is about the discovery and recognition of truth. Postmodernism is to writing what vomit is to food. There are no worse offenders to the dignity of the English language than Postmodern philosophers. Postmodernism - or anti-Modernism as is it more accurately known - is an umbrella term for the underlying beliefs a group of European post-war philosophers held after the atrocities of WWII that truth can never be really known. Because, fascism.

"A late 20th-century movement characterized by broad skepticism, subjectivism, or relativism; a general suspicion of reason; and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power."

As is in keeping with this sewerage, nobody seems to know how to define it. Which is deliberate really, as it's main claim is everything is language which can be mangled.

In the brilliant "Cynical Theories" (, Pluckrose and Lindsay attempt to get a handle on it:

Citing Trent Anderson (1996), who defines 4 "pillars" of their ideas:

  1. Identity is constructed by cultural forces, not tradition.
  2. Morality is constructed relativistically by dialogue and choice, and not found in tradition or religion.
  3. "Deconstruction" of art and culture.
  4. Borders are social constructions which can be crossed and reconstructed.

They then claim Postmodernism is governed by 2 principles and 4 themes:

a. The Postmodern knowledge principle: truth isn't obtainable and everything we know is culturally constructed.

b. The Postmodern political principle: society is formed of systems of power and hierarchies, which decide what can be known and how.

i. The blurring of boundaries.
ii. The power of language.
iii. Cultural relativism.
iv. The loss of the individual and universal.

Leading postmodern "thinkers" include Derrida ("binaries"), Foucault ("power"), Lyotard ("narratives"), Lacan ("the real"), and their bastard children like Butler ("performativity").

Many of the ideas we see represented in films produced in California encompass ideas and writing by Herbert Marcuse, who was the "Father" of the 60s' "revolutionary" hippies. His ideas of refusing to "tolerate the intolerant", "free love", "consumer culture", and other garbage resonate all over California, where Reagan evrntually had him removed from teaching.

All one needs to know about these pretentious charlatans and their nonsense can be found in Alan Sokal's "Intellectual Imposters":

The classic "cinemisation" of Postmodernism is "The Matrix". Although a brilliant film on its own merits, the entire confusing highlights how intrinsically worthless Postmodernism is to literature; Derrida himself was so useless at understanding literature, he formulated a theory that it could never be understood.

The Sin of Improbable Possibilities

In The Poetics, Aristotle addresses the issue of plausibility with a full word salad, aiming to explain to Plato how a well-designed tragedy will aim to present the story as a believable tract even if set in a fantasy world.

"Probable impossibilities are to be preferred to improbable possibilities."


"Probable Impossibilities" refers to situations which are impossible in the real world, but are probable in the universe of imaginary events that is assumed to exist. In other words, it's not real, but if it was, it would be likely to happen.

"Improbable possibilities" are things which are unlikely to happen in the real world, or the imaginary one. They could, perhaps, but the chances are so small it entirely breaks the audience's suspension of disbelief.

Matt Lazarus gives two great examples:

  1. Archaeologists unearth a magic wand that turns sand to gold. The nations of the world go to war to claim it.
  2. A man gets mugged. He punches out his assailant. The assailant is so impressed, he gets a gender reassignment and becomes the man’s wife.

The first is a probable impossibility (it's impossible, but if it wasn't, it would probably happen). The second is an improbable possibility (it's possible, but it's unlikely or just not believable).

You might want it to happen, you might like it to happen, and maybe it could in some distant planetary dimension. For example, women aren't physically stronger than men in real life and they can't magically change sex; they might be in exceptional circumstances, and might be born hermaphroditic, but it's so unlikely, your story is just dumb. In an impossible superhero world however, it's entirely probable they might be both.

The Sin of Discorrespondence with Reality

Exceptions: clearly-labelled genres entirely predicated on the suspension of correspondence with reality, such as science fiction, fantasy, cartoons, or satire/parody.

This one comes in many, many forms, and is highly related to the mission of art to reveal truth. Truth is determined through its correspondence to reality, meaning that which does not correspond with observed and known reality is immediately disqualifying.

reality, n
the state of things as they are, rather than as they are imagined to be:

Prime facie, art would seem to be paradoxical with reality. Narnia, for instance, clearly isn't reality; but it is art. Dreams are also strangely "remixed" forms of reality. Many charlatans would attempt to spread their low-resolution thinking that reality is only perception, as truth is. But the fact we perceive things does not make them subjective in the slightest.

In "The Road Less Traveled", Scott Peck relates his belief derived from 25 years a psychiatrist that the basis of all mental illness is avoiding reality:

"The tendency to avoid problems and the emotional suffering inherent in them is the primary basis of all human mental illness. Since all of us have this tendency to a greater or lesser degree, all of us are mentally ill to a greater or lesser degree.”

In some cases, disconnection from reality can allow us to see deeper truths. Gene Roddenberry's "Star Trek" was purposefully set in space to highlight and discuss complex social issues which were difficult to parse in our current circumstances. In this sense, reality disconnection was a narrative tool.

"Comparison is difficult because Star Trek is not simply a far-out science fiction program- it is a science fiction program that reflects the America of the 1960's. Indeed, Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, during one interview is quoted as saying, "I have no belief that STAR TREK depicts the actual future, it depicts us, now, things we need to understand about that" (Interview 6). And David Gerrold, a writer for the series, says in his book that "[t]he stories are about twentieth century man's attitudes in a future universe. The stories are about us" (155). Of course not every single episode makes a social commentary, but throughout the series, characters, themes, motifs, and of course, individual episodes make strong comments on sexism and feminism, racism and improving race relations, as well as militarism and peace, all major social issues during the late 1960's, and to a different degree, social issues of today."

Then why do even younger fans so viciously hate "Star Trek: Discovery" and "Picard"?

We all know why.

As Peck says, "truth is reality". When we know things to not be reality, we know them not to be true. When you depict your ideological wish-fulfiment, nobody is inclined to accept it other than your fellow ideologues. Something that is not true is false. When it's false deliberately, it's a lie.

The Sin of False Equivalence

If you sit through a contemporary English literature class, you will inevitably collide into Derrida and his "deconstruction" idiocy about language being composed of "binary" opposites. One thing you should point out to your radicalised professor is "binary" does not mean "opposite": in literary terms it means two of something, and in science it means a state of true or false. Neither does it mean "opposite", as many options can be opposite one another, for example, in a wheel or circle.

The term your idiot professor is searching for is dichotomous. Perhaps even dimorphic. The prefix "bi" (Latin: binarius) denotes "consisting of two", and the prefix "di" (Greek: dikhotomia) denotes dividing something into halves. Bi indicates the number, di indicates divided from something else.

dichotomous, n
involving two completely opposing ideas or things:

Homo sapiens is dimorphic - divided into two different forms. If we were isomorphic, the prefix would indicate the same or equal to, from the Greek isos. For instance, the poisonous neologism of "cis" is misappropriated from a transgender scientist who sought to describe the sexes as "isomers".

What Derrida and his ilk were attempting to say, clumsily, is language only has itself as a reference and does not correspond to reality in of itself, as we create language. Sounds "clever" at first, but language does not exclusively occur in "binaries", and it is descriptive, rather than prescriptive.

A false equivalence is a form of deceit aiming to trap someone cynically by equating two things which aren't objectively equal:

"A logical fallacy that occurs when someone incorrectly asserts that two or more things are equivalent, simply because they share some characteristics, despite the fact that there are also notable differences between them. [they] generally exaggerate similarities and ignore important differences, can be used to equate a wide range of things, including individuals, groups, actions, or arguments, either implicitly or explicitly."

Most of these sins occur, once again, in propagandizing and activism, often surrounding "representation". Writers and producers who want things to be equal falsely represent their wishful or so-called "correct" view of what they are promoting rather than how they are. And they always cite the "moral" case of how it "should" be, even if its not.

One of the most obvious examples of this surrounds the depiction of homosexual couples in middle-class settings. According the US census in 2019, there were 543.000 same-sex married households and 469,000 unmarried same-sex married couples - and 191,000 children live with them. That compares to 69.4 MILLION opposite-sex households, or 1.4% of all households.

One out of 100 households in the US is a same-sex household; 10% of those (0.1%) include children. Disregarding any moral or biological argument, it is clearly egregiously fallacious to present same-sex and opposite-sex couples as equivalent numerically, socially, or politically. You might want it to be that way, or might believe it "should" be that as a moral prerequisite, but that it is not the job of art to right wrongs; only highlight them.

There is a word we have for distorting the truth deliberately, even when it's motivated by good intentions: it is corrupting it.

The Sin of Debasement

Some guy gets his head blown off. The character walks in and shoots 20 enemies in one go, who all drop down dead. It's exciting. It's heroic. We often talk about sensationalising something, when in reality, what we are doing is the inverse.

Unfortunately, it's not accurate, or even close to reality. Taking the life of another human is an evil and horrifying affair which chills us to the bottom of our primeval brain stem.

debase, n
the action of reducing the quality or value of something:

When we refer to "bad guy #1", "henchman", "girl on the bus" and so on, we treat humans as mannequins or placeholders there to serve "filler" content in a scene. Killing is no easy task, and no human lives without family of some kind. The bottom of this dark hole is filled with Takeski Miike VHS movies, Lars von Trier awards, "A Serbian Film", and the "Human Centipede". Depravity for depravity's sake enriches no-one.

Moreover, the most punishing scenes for a viewer to watch are a more realistic depiction of events with their true horror fully exposed.

In "Irreversible", the camera doesn't move for 9 whole minutes as we stare into the face of a woman being sadistically raped. The true physically-brutal horror of rape is revealed in all its evil, in order to show the truth of how evil it is.

"What makes this scene worse than the rest? For starters, it’s ten minutes long, as the filmmakers deciding to fully capture the horrifying act from start to finish without ever cutting away. The scene is also shot in a single take, and as the minutes drag on interminably you even start to feel bad for the actress, Monica Bellucci, who had to be pretend to act this suffering out."

How do we discriminate between what exploitatively debases/desensitizes and what reveals truth? The answer is personhood.  

Twenty henchmen being gunned down by a hero are anonymous figures without personhood. We empathise with animal and/or cartoon characters because they are given personhood. We are horrified by the disgusting rape in "Irreversible" because we are forced to look at her face.

The Sin of Ideological Demonisation

It's one thing to favour your friends; another to paint your enemies in such an unflattering light that it not only elevates your side, but makes it unconscionable for anyone else to support the opposition.

Life is a messy, messy process, full of complications and nuance. Few people are truly evil by nature, and those that are tend to be serving life sentences in Western prisons or leading murderous sects in the Third World. Children think in black and white; of goodies and baddies.

ideology, n
a set of beliefs or principles, especially one on which a political system, party, or organization is based:
demonize, v
to try to make someone or a group of people seem as if they are evil:

We have two episodes to thank for the division between reformers (left-wing) and traditionalists (right-wing): the French Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution. The first gave us political teams, and the second, economic ones.

In most parts of the world, the sides have become clear since the 60s: the traditional religious conservatives (e.g. in the Baptist south of the US or the Mullahs of Tehran) are demonised as authoritarian moralists, and the collectivist secular liberals (e,g. EU democratic socialists, California identity politicians) are demonised as foolish, depraved cultists.

The worst elements of each of the different sides always resort to creating a proxy caricature of their perceived opponents to burn at the stake, almost in a religious-style frenzy.

Stereotypes and caricatures are cheap, boring writing. Humans are unpredictable, weird, and multi-dimensional. When characters are the demon version dreamt up by an ideological opponent, the only group who lose out are the audience.

The Sin of Superficial Motivations

Human behaviour is complex, but of all the traits we possess, we can always count on our selfishness and unwillingness to put our own necks on the line. Our survival and self-interest will always trump our altruism.

There are, of course, some pathologies which provoke extreme emotional states: revenge (because of injury), greed or egomania (self-explanatory), bereavement (because of loss), and so on. Endless writing guides, and every actor everywhere, demand to know a character's motivation made obvious.

The truth is most people aren't particularly motivated. They are more likely to be self-interested or cowardly.

bystander effect, n
the inhibiting influence of the presence of others on a person’s willingness to help someone in need. Research has shown that, even in an emergency, a bystander is less likely to extend help when he or she is in the real or imagined presence of others than when he or she is alone.

In fact, in many circumstances, we will betray our own side or join forces with our abusers. We rarely do the right thing, or even the expected thing.

stockholm syndrome, n
The name "Stockholm syndrome" was derived from a 1973 bank robbery (Kreditbanken) in Stockholm, Sweden, where four hostages were held for six days. Throughout their imprisonment and while in harm's way, each hostage seemed to defend the actions of the robbers.
The hostages even appeared to rebuke efforts by the government to rescue them. They pled for the captors not to be harmed during the rescue and orchestrated ways for that to happen. Immediately following the incident, the victims couldn't explain to psychologists their sympathetic feelings and lack of anger and hatred toward their captors.
Months after their ordeal had ended, the hostages continued to exhibit loyalty to the robbers to the point of refusing to testify against them as well as helping the criminals raise funds for legal representation. They even visited them in prison.

The worst of all time, which never, ever seems to go away, is, of course:

"I have to save my family"
"I have to keep my family safe"

Nobody does this or says anything like it. Most people can barely stand their own families, let alone embark on a ridiculous suicide mission to ensure their imaginary safety.

This idea we have to "relate to" or "connect with" a "likable" character is a product of the turn of the millennium. Nobody "relates" to Darth Vader, "connects" with Voldemort, or "likes" Hannibal Lector. We don't want to "empathise" with people on screen; we're trying to escape from real life and be transported elsewhere.

We are compelled to watch them because we don't understand them. They are curious to us.

Filmmakers use these drop-ins in attempt to make their characters' implausible actions seem believable. It's a Freud/Bernays-era psychological tactic to prey on primary fears which works well for newspaper headlines.

Your character is far more interesting when their "motivation" is dark , unknown, or unusual. What motivates people most in 2020 is resentment.

The Sin of History Editing

Exceptions: clearly-labelled genres entirely predicated on the suspension of correspondence with reality, such as science fiction, fantasy, or satire/parody.

We all enjoy a good Tarantino. So when he rewrites WWII into a Jewish revenge story culminating in the murder of Hitler, we all know too well it's not what happened. It's cathartic, for sure. But we are well aware that's not what actually took place, even if we'd have liked it to.

revisionism, n
asking questions about and trying to change existing beliefs about how events happened or what their importance or meaning is:

This specific behaviour occurs in writers who are highly ideologically possessed with no conscience over propagandizing; their mission is convince as many people as is physically possible what they know about history is wrong, and inculcate a new one. This is all too common in racially-themed work where the goal is to "educate" viewers as a form of "advocacy".

Ideologues tend to edit history to favour and emphasise the "positives", whilst omitting or downplaying the "negatives", such atrocities.


  • Casting black actors as wealthy lawyers in the days of segregation;
  • Portraying famous figures as homosexual;
  • Conspiracy documentaries and the "untold" story of Hitler;
  • Highlighting the "positive" aspects of Communism

What's wrong with revisionism? Other than it's lying and propagandizing, it's badly-named. It should be known as erasure. History is rarely added to, only removed. The past tells us who we are, good or bad. As Orwell so infamously noted, wiping history wipes identity.

The Taliban enjoyed "editing history". As did Mao:

"Armed students — the Red Guard — fought each other and killed others they deemed to be enemies of Mao and communism. They destroyed historic artifacts that symbolized the "old" China. Libraries were closed. Books were burned.
"Mao was above the law. In that sense, he was like a dictator," Lu says. "He was also seeking control of methods of controlling people's minds, brainwashing them through fear, through intimidation, through force. He [saw] himself as a savior of the nation and its people."

Beware anyone who wishes to manipulate the presentation of history for their own or others' political reasons.

The Sin of Appeasing Echo Chambers & Pressure Groups

Aah, Twitter. Every publicists' worst nightmare. A technological echo chamber built from the ashes of a podcast platform, and a "town hall" where the mob can collect it's joint voice to form the modern Red Guard.

Echo Chambers are comfy places. We all want validation and confirmation emotionally, before we want challenge, intellectually or artistically. It's a safe space, as snowflakes and their professors might say. Sadly, art is not there to be safe; it exists for the entirely opposite purpose: to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.

echo chamber, n
a situation in which people only hear opinions of one type, or opinions that are similar to their own:
confirmation bias, n
the fact that people are more likely to accept or notice information if it appears to support what they already believe or expect:
groupthink, n
the process in which bad decisions are made by a group because its members do not want to express opinions, suggest new ideas, etc. that others may disagree with:

In personality analysis, left-wing reformers tend to be more open-minded and dissoluble of boundaries. Traditionalists on the right tend to be more orderly and sensitive to disgust. Like attracts like; good writers spend time with people they disagree with, and children tantrum at those they don't like.

Worldly authors have the material to write characters they wouldn't spend any time with in person; younger ones narcissistically write their wish-fulfillment autobiography with all their preferred friends.

The worst offender in Hollywood of course is the LGBT paramilitaries, GLAAD. If any more proof was needed about the nefarious influence of pressure groups on artists, their managers, and film producers, it's right there in their mission statement:

"GLAAD rewrites the script for LGBTQ acceptance. As a dynamic media force, GLAAD tackles tough issues to shape the narrative and provoke dialogue that leads to cultural change."

And guess what happens if you don't agree or refuse? That's right. Nobody has the right to "rewrite" an artist's work  in their own image.

Writing the story someone else wants isn't good for anyone, ever.  The answer is no.

The Sin of Quotas

Everyone knows you don't add direction to the screenplay, because that's the Director's job. And you don't cast, because that's the Casting Director's job. There are certain exceptions of course, and that tends to be when the explicit casting of a character is highly integral to the story itself.

Atticus Finch and Tom Robinson's characters in "To Kill A Mockingbird" can't be switched; as the book is a discussion of race relations, they must be described in racial terms to drive the plot.

quota, n
a number, amount, or share that is officially allowed or necessary:

If we contrast that with assigning characters' a sexuality, for no other purpose than filling an imaginary list of checkboxes, the result is inevitable, even in an article so nakedly deceitful as the following:

"Reporters, movie critics critics, and "Star Wars" fans alike expressed frustration over the report after the news broke Thursday afternoon. For many it seems like Disney and Lucasfilm try to "earn points" for LGBTQ+ inclusion without truly having representation in its films."

This is NOT what audiences are saying, as can be demonstrated with a quick trip to YouTube or any fan site. They are sick of filmmakers corrupting the story by propagandizing a political agenda. They are there to enjoy a film and be immersed in it, not cope with dogma.

Quotas are a bastard child of Affirmative Action ("doctrinaire liberalism"); a cheap and ineffective attempt to placate magazine critics. They are also a symptom of California's intrinsic belief it is the Chosen Land anointed with all the solutions to humanity's problems, which only they have discovered.

Writing with a cast in mind is fine if you intend to produce the movie yourself, but ultimately the script is interpreted by a crew of 300+ people who all want their own input; what we create is only the starting point.

Citing specific minimum or maximum numbers of characters, locations, or cultural contexts is a the literary equivalent of a straightjacket, and implies the entire screenplay is a political tome promoting an ideology or the author's "virtue".

The Sin of Sermonizing

Nobody likes a sermon. The pulpit is one of the most detested elevations in architecture. The problem is listening to them is often helpful, as is the dicipline to attend in the first place.

Art makes a point to ask a question; it challenges and stimulates its audience to take a their moral position in response.

sermonize, v
to give a long talk to people, telling them how they should behave in order to be better people:

People choose to put themselves through a motal reckoning when they attend a religious service. They do not want it in a story, and stories aren't scriptures.

They especially don't want it from an industry which is infamous for its hypocrisy and depravity. The principle is brilliantly enunciated in the West Wing:

This isn't some sentimental, home-state thing. This is about winning. I don't have a 50-state strategy anymore. I have a one-state strategy: the one state that has everything - big cities, small towns, mountains, deserts, farms, factories, fishermen, surfers, all races, all religions, gay, straight - everything this country has. There's more real America in California than anywhere else. If I can win California, I can win the Country.
That's a nice speech, just don't say it into any microphones because everyone else in the 49 other states thinks California is a giant psycho ward.

Sermons in movies are more about elevating the sermonizer than educating the congregation. Art is often about what is wrong, not what should be right - it is the audience's work to uncover what might be the right answer.

The Sin of Self-Censorship

Freedom of speech is a wonderful idea until people start using it and saying things you don't want them to. Those things might be uncomfortable, rude, critical, adversarial, embarrassing, or undermine your plans. In totalitarian regimes (typically socialist/communist), their answer is quite simple: fiat and force.

Censorship is the deliberate act of removing or suppressing material so others cannot see it. There are plenty of reasons why you'd want to do that, of course.

The worst of all censorship is self-censorship: our cowardice in the face of potentially receiving detraction for what we say.

chilling effect, n/p
A situation where a speech or conduct is suppressed by fear of penalization at the interests of an individual or group. It can affect one’s free speech. Since many attacks rely on libel law, the term libel chill is also often used. The term chilling effect has been in use in the U.S since 1950.

As Carlin pointed out repetitively, there are no shortages of interest groups who want to tell you what you can or cannot say, as they distribute speech codes. The enemies of free speech never sleep, and their ever-relentless "argument" is that speech is not "free" of "consequences".

Sadly, that's exactly what freedom of speech means: the freedom to speech without fear of retaliation or punishment by those in authority with the power to do so.

The arguments for free speech were of course best articuled by John Stuart Mill in "On Liberty":

..the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth produced by its collision with error.

Speech in our only alternative to violence. Mill's argument - which has stood the test of time - is speech allows truth to emerge from "exchanging error for truth" and that "collision".

Freedom of speech is a Right of the Soil (jus soli) which:

  1. Protects us from the influence of special interests;
  2. Eliminates compelled actions;
  3. Promotes the free exchange of ideas;
  4. Exposes immorality or unlawfulness;
  5. Prevents the requirement to behave in mandated ways;
  6. Advances knowledge in a culture and society;
  7. Allows for peaceful conflict exchanges;
  8. Creates resilient people.

There will always be difficult negotiation about its limit and where the line is drawn with defamation, libel, incitement, abuse, and so on. But we should always beware of anyone attempting to set speech codes, as in 99.9% of cases, they are attempting to limit their exposure to what they personally do not like.

Censorship is always subjective and in someone's favour; there is no logical way it cannot be. Self-censorship is not always cowardice, but cowards always self-censor.

The best art is usually the most beautiful, but in many cases, it's when it's the most dangerous.

Avoiding The Deadly Sins: A Checklist

Someday there will be a scoresheet for the philosophical quality of a work, but for now, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is this your own idea, or are you deriving it from someone else's ideas?
  2. Are you "advocating" an answer or prescription for a problem which you want to sell to the audience?
  3. Are you narrating the sociology of your oppressed characters and their power-dynamic setting, rather than telling a story?
  4. Are you presenting abstract concepts as if they exist as a proven truth in reality?
  5. Are you reflecting or promoting an anti-modernist worldview about language, bias, power, and subjectivity?
  6. Are your scenarios likely and plausible, or your wishful thinking?
  7. Do your claims and settings correspond with reality as most people understand it, or is your story-world how you would like things to be?
  8. Are you presenting individuals or groups as equivalent, when in reality they are not?
  9. Are you removing personhood from the humans you are depicting so they appear as mannequins?
  10. Are you demonising the people who you don't like or disagree with?
  11. Would humans in real life really be motivated to behave as your characters do?
  12. Are you presenting history in a view which fits an ideological frame or adding/omitting details which promote your ideas?
  13. Are you hoping to gain the attention or support of Twitter users or a special interest group?
  14. Are you prescribing your characters as part of  identity groups in a numerical way?
  15. Are you preaching to your audience in the hope they will realise take your moral lesson to heart?
  16. Are you removing material you think would upset or offend people?

The 3 Rs: Renunciation, Rehabilitation, Repentance

Identifying these is all well and good, but how do you fix them? Well, the good news is if you do, it's going to be a lot more fun imagining and writing and discussing the movies you want to create. It's a positive and enjoyable process.

What it really comes down to is finding someone who thinks the complete opposite to you, whom you may not even like or agree with. Ask them to look over your story and give their opinion. You will definitely not like what you hear. But it could be the most valuable advice you ever get.

  1. Build your own story world. Start with a simple question: "What if...".
  2. Tell the ugly truth and create a dilemma you want the audience to answer themselves without your intervention.
  3. Take out oppression, activism, commentary, and "power dynamics" you are trying to highlight, and write about the people.
  4. Research every concept you are assuming or implying; remove any wishy-washy nonsense which can't be proved.
  5. Write as if your characters can know the actual truth.
  6. Use the most likely option, not the most sensational. Make it go badly wrong.
  7. Tell the ugly truth about how things are, not how you personally want them to be if the world was perfect.
  8. Remove any scenarios where you construct a scene according to how it "should" be.
  9. Give everyone personhood, even as an extra. When someone dies, show us the picture of their loved one first.
  10. Make sure your antagonist in your script isn't also your antagonist in real life who you think is "evil".
  11. Let your characters be curious creatures we have to invest time in to understand.
  12. Don't remove the uncomfortable aspects of the history, or flatter your chosen good guy.
  13. Get off Twitter and delete GLAAD emails. Go where the people who don't use Twitter live and talk to them.
  14. Create unique individual characters, not members of an identity group who have to have "representation".
  15. Show moral failure, not idealism.
  16. Grow a pair. Tell the truth. Give it to them right in the face, and screw the bullies and their consequences.