Follow the Story: A Tip from the Coen Brothers

Scott Myers presents this tip from his screenwriting Masterclass, exploring the themes in the Coen Brothers’ work.

Big Lebowski

This may seem an odd point to make: Follow the story. Of course, follow the story. That’s what writers do, right?

Well, there are writers who follow the story. Then there are the Coens who really FOLLOW the story.

What I mean by that is this: They aren’t afraid to break any rules. This reflects their non-traditional approach to screenwriting. Here are some examples:

In Raising Arizona, there is a 19 page introduction complete with Hi’s voiceover narration to set the stage for the kidnapping. Absolutely unheard of in the conventional scheme of things, but the Coens followed their story and let it dictate what to do.

In Fargo, they don’t introduce Marge until P. 31. If that script were in development at a movie studio today, I can guarantee you that would be a note: Get Marge in sooner. But the Coens followed their story and let it dictate what to do.

In The Big Lebowski, the story — which is set in contemporary Southern California — is narrated by The Stranger, a cowboy from somewhere out of the Old West. In other words, he has no good reason to be sitting in the bowling alley telling the story. When the Dude finally meets the Stranger at the very end, it is clear the former doesn’t know the latter… but for some mysterious reason, the Stranger knows all about the Dude. It just makes no logical sense. And the Coens confessed to Sam Elliott, they had no idea why the character was in the story. But they followed the story and let it dictate what to do.

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