The Seed&Spark Blog

The Writer's Objective

September 8, 2014

• Hal Ackerman

Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from Write Screenplays That Sell - The Ackerman Way by Hal Ackerman. Hal has graciously shared it with us and we are honored to republish it!


Every scene you ever write is an arena for the characters doing everything in their power to get what they most want in that moment. 

If you build the arena effectively and if the combatants within the ropes are well matched, then everything that you want to happen in the scene (Writer’s Objective) will evolve organically out of what the CHARACTERS want (Character Objective). That is what you aspire to. 

If we were to peer through an electron microscope at the cellular structure of a scene, this is the paradigm we would see:

Hal First pic.png

There are three terms that I give to the cellular components of a scene. By examining how each contributes to the life of the scene, we will hone our abilities to create the scene’s life force, learn how to recognize the symptoms of its absence, how to diagnosis the cause of its absence, and how to address those causes. The three terms are: Writer’s Objective, Character Objective and Scene Circumstances


As the term implies, this is why the scene exists; the narrative and emotional tasks that the writer has written (or conceived) the scene to accomplish. I like to represent this objective as two braided strands of DNA.

Hal's post, DNA.png

E1 for EVENT. Something occurs.

E2 for EMOTION.  We feel a certain way in response to it.

Let’s follow a simple chain of events as an example of this double helix. 

1. EVENT: An ardent lover pours his heart out to his beloved and is cruelly rejected. 1A: EMOTION: We feel pathos for him.

2. EVENT: He goes up to the next girl he sees on the street and says the exact same thing to her as he said to the first girl. 2A EMOTION: The writer has now made us see him as an insincere putz and we’re glad Girl #1 rejected him.

3. EVENT: Girl #1 has a change of heart and apologizes for misjudging him. 3A: EMOTION: Hmm…How do we feel about that? Maybe we’re happy for him. Maybe we’re wary on her behalf. It depends on many variables.

4. EVENT: She sends him on a dangerous mission. 4A: EMOTION: Now how do we feel? Has he become an underdog again? Are we rooting for him? Has the danger outweighed the “crime”?


Excerpted from Write Screenplays That Sell - The Ackerman WayCopyright © 2003 by Hal Ackerman, published by Tallfellow Press, Used by Permission, All Rights Reserved.


Hal Ackerman

Hal Ackerman is co-area head of the UCLA screenwriting program. His book, Write Screenplays That Sell…The Ackerman Way, is the text of choice in a growing number of screenwriting programs around the country. His fiction has appeared in North Dakota



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