After this post, Shane Black was interviewed in Creative Screenwriting magazine. This appeared in the 12/11/09 issue of the online newsletter, CS Weekly:
How do you generally write? Do you use outlines or notecards or just start cranking it out from page one?
I don't really use notecards. What I do is I try to figure out what the piece is about and link that to the story arc or the character arc. I always think there's two things going on in any script -- there's the story and then there's the plot. The plot is the events. If it's a heist film, it's how they get in and out. But the story is why we're there, why we're watching the events. It's what's going on with the characters. And theme above that. Once I get those things, once I know what the theme is and what it's about, I can start trying on story beats and plot beats to see if they feel like they're moving, but they have to relate to the overall theme.
If you look at The Dark Knight, you'll find before those guys wrote a word of script, they knew exactly what their movie was about. All the themes were in place. Sometimes they had to bend the scenes in The Dark Knight to fit the theme they were trying to get across. It's clear they didn't write the scenes and then look for what they were about, they clearly knew where they were headed.
Did you actually study screenwriting?
Nah. I took theater classes at UCLA. I was studying stagecraft and acting. It was a Mickey Mouse major. My finals often were painting sets, y'know? It was kind of a cakewalk though college. I liked theater, I liked movies, but I'd never seen a screenplay, and I thought they were impossibly difficult. Coming from back East, I just assumed movies were something that floated through the ether and appeared on your TV screen and some magician wrote them, but there was certainly no way I could. Then I read a script and it was so easy. I read another one and said, "I can do this. This is really rather simple." So I never took classes, I just read scripts I loved.
My style, such as it is, that sometime people comment on, is really cribbed from two sources. One is William Goldman, who has a kind of chummy, folksy storytelling style. It's almost as though a guy in a bar is talking to you from his bar stool. And then Walter Hill, who is just completely terse and sparing and has this real Spartan prose that has this wonderful effect of just gut-punching you. I took those two and I slammed them together, and that's what I use. People say it's interesting. Mostly it's a rip-off. It's Goldman meets Walter Hill.
I’ve gone to great lengths in these postings on structure to identify and develop a definition of story structure that works for all stories. One that is of practical value to its users: writers and audiences.
Addendum: Writers will find this hybrid concept illustrated at Alexandra Sokoloff's blog in her excellent article: The Index Card Method and the Three Act, Eight Sequence Structure.