This article, like the rest of my research, is born out of my own practical challenges in writing screenplays. Having tried many times to form a screenplay with a concept, then develop it into an outline, created lacklustre first drafts and characters I cared less about.


Through exploring the work of Noah Baumbach, I discovered his writing process of starting with small details and with characters conversing. I used this process with my last feature film script and this resulted in a stronger first draft.


My research is primarily for screenwriters to learn from this, widen the knowledge of approaches to screenwriters and be accessible to writers, students and academics.

Character over concept: Writing dialogue in search of story

Journal article

Journal of Screenwriting


Volume 8, Issue 1


Published: March 2017






Screenwriting manuals such as McKee’s Story (1999) or Snyder’s Save the Cat! (2005) uniformly instruct the writer to begin their work by defining a concept; from this, they will develop a structure 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, criticized 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 from my own writing and from 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, form a stronger basis to structure a plot based on the development of characters, and enhance the reflective and creative skills required to complete a screenplay.

Owls and Parrots Short experimental film Feature Film Screenplays Garvey and Sayers Short film
Character over concept: Writing dialogue in search of story Journal article Overcast Short play Aroma Short play
Night, Night Short film The Cinematologists: Before Sunrise Podcast Drew Short film
Age Concern Short film

Copyright 2016 Robert Greens