Gerald Hanks Filmography

Friday, September 28, 2018

Screenwriting with the VOTE Method: The Hate U Give (2018)

The new film The Hate U Give is based on the 2017 young adult novel by Angie Thomas. The screenplay by veteran writer Audrey Wells (Shall We Dance?, Under the Tuscan Sun) effectively shows how the lead character, Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), attempts to keep the two worlds in which she lives separate, but also how circumstances beyond her control bring those worlds into conflict.

In this post, we'll look at how the writer creates strong characters by examining the story through the lens of the VOTE Method. The point of this analysis is not to criticize the film or its messages, but to show aspiring writers how they can create memorable characters in their own stories by using the VOTE Method, as well as how it can be applied to contemporary films.


Starr Carter (protagonist)
Victory: Starr's Victory is to keep as much separation from her African-American, lower-middle-class home life separate from the white, upper-class world of her private school.

Obstacles: Her primary Obstacles come from people on both sides of her life. At home, she must deal with her ex-drug dealer father Maverick (Russell Hornsby), her overprotective mother Lisa (Regina Hall), and her friend Kenya (Dominique Fishback). At school, she tries to deal with her friend and teammate Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter) and her boyfriend Chris (K.J. Apa).

The biggest Obstacle occurs when her childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith) is shot by a white police officer as he was giving her a ride home from a party. Starr's neighborhood erupts in protests, led by an activist attorney (Issa Rae) who urges Starr to come forward as a witness to the shooting.

Tactics: Her primary set of Tactics come from the creation of a second persona, which she calls “Starr Version 2”. In a voice-over at school, she describes how “Starr 2.0” never uses slang and avoids confrontation to keep from being seen as “ghetto”.

After the news reports on the shooting and the subsequent protests, Starr tells her school friends that she doesn't know Khalil.

Energy: Starr gets her Energy from her desire to satisfy her mother's dream of her going to college and getting out of the “hood”.

These all hold until near the film's midpoint, when Starr sees the reactions on both sides to her friend's death. Her African-American friends and neighbors use the tragedy as a call to action, while the white kids at her school treat it as an excuse to cut class.

Victory: Starr's Victories are to see Khalil's killer brought to justice and to speak for her lost friend.

Obstacles: Starr's Obstacles come from both sides of the law. On one side, a justice system that is hesitant to indict a white police officer for shooting an unarmed young African-American man. On the other side, she has to face down King (Anthony Mackie), the leader of the neighborhood gang, who was using Khalil to sell his drug shipments.

At school, she must also deal with rising resentment among her white classmates, including Hailey, who maintain that the white officer was justified in the shooting, in spite of what Starr saw that night.

Tactics: Starr's Tactics include speaking out anonymously in the media, testifying before a grand jury, and joining in the protests against police brutality.

At school, she shows Hailey how a hairbrush can be mistaken for a weapon and forces her into the same position of fear and terror she felt that night.

Energy: Starr gets her Energy from her need to honor Khalil's memory and to see justice done for her friend, her family, and her neighborhood.

The Hate U Give shows how a protagonist can have an intense desire to achieve a Victory in the film's first half, then have it flipped in the second half. When your protagonist learns that they have been chasing the wrong desire halfway through your story, you can use that moment of revelation as a turning point for the character, as well as a dramatic hook for your audience.


If you need help with building strong characters for your script, contact Story Into Screenplay. We offer script coverage reports, rewrite services, and one-on-one consultations. For a list of services and prices, please email storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com, or send a message to our Facebook page.


Gerald Hanks from Story Into Screenplay will be appearing at the Louisiana Comic Con in Lafayette, Louisiana, on Saturday, October 6, and Sunday, October 7.

Gerald will be presenting two panels:

Concept vs. Character: Where to Start With Your Comic Book, Novel, or Screenplay
Saturday, October 6th at 12:30PM

The Power of the VOTE: How to Create Strong Characters for Your Comic Book, Novel, or Screenplay
Sunday, October 7th at 1:30PM

Both panels will be in the Second Panel Room at the Cajundome Convention Center.

Get your advance tickets online or at the Cajundome box office today!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Raising the Stakes: Six Things No-Limit Texas Hold'em Poker Tournaments Can Teach You About Story Structure

Twenty years ago, the film Rounders brought the poker variation known as “no-limit Texas hold'em” to the wider public consciousness. The movie inspired thousands of home-game players to pursue the game, including a young Tennessee accountant named Chris Moneymaker, who achieved his own “Hollywood ending” by winning the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event and launching the decade's “poker boom”.

If you've ever watched the TV coverage of no-limit hold'em poker tournaments, you've seen how dramatic some of the confrontations between players can be. If you watch closely, you can see how the action of these high-stakes tournaments can add intrigue and tension to your story.

Character Is As Character Does, Not As Character Says

One of the most dramatic aspects of TV poker tournaments is the tension that the players show as they must make a crucial decision. In most cases, the player will remain silent for minutes at a time while they deliberate whether to fold their hand, call the bet, or raise the stakes.

While such a long silent period in a screenplay may not always work, screenwriters should understand how to create tension from the situation, rather than from extensive dialogue. Since poker players are not allowed to tell the truth when asked about their cards during a hand, screenwriters should apply that rule and put their characters in positions that require them to lie and increase the tension in their scenes.

Keep The Audience In The Know

Another appealing aspect of TV poker tournaments is the “hole card cam”, which allows the TV viewers to see the cards each player holds. (NOTE: The "hole card cam" was invented by Henry Orenstein, a Polish immigrant and Holocaust survivor who also helped launch the "Transformers" toy line in the U.S.) While the audience is privy to this information, the other players aren't. This information allows the audience to recognize when a player is bluffing, or when they have the best hand, which keeps the viewer invested in watching the results.

While many rookie writers value the “twist” ending, this technique can come across as more of a way for the writer to show off, rather than a way to keep the audience engaged. The classic horror trope of showing the killer on one side of the door and the soon-to-be victim on the other has kept audiences engaged for decades. Not only is it not a sin to reveal information to the audience before the characters know, it can keep the audience riveted to see the character's reaction when they find out.

Around The Turn And Down The River

After each player receives their two hole cards and decides whether they want to stay in the hand, the dealer puts out three cards on the table, face-up, for each remaining player to use. These three cards are collectively known as “the flop”. After another round of betting, the dealer puts out a fourth card, called “the turn”. Another round of betting ensues, and the dealer puts out the fifth community card, called “the river”. The remaining players show their hands in a “showdown” at the end of the hand.

This structure bears a resemblance to the “three-act structure” often taught in most screenwriting classes. The character starts off with the hand they're dealt, and must make a decision to proceed with their journey. The character “flops” into a new situation at the start of Act II and encounters new allies (a strong hand) or new enemies (a weak hand). The story takes a “turn” at the midpoint of Act II, then the character takes a trip down a menacing “river” at the start of Act III, leading up to a “showdown” with the antagonist.

Standing Still Is Not An Option

In no-limit hold'em, two players are required to make minimum “blind” bets before the hand starts to ensure that at least some chips are already in the pot. In tournament play, the minimum bets increase at specific time increments. As the blinds go up, the player's holdings get relatively smaller, even if they maintain the same amount of chips. The increasing minimum bets force players with "short stacks" into desperate moves to stay alive.

In all types of fiction, but especially in screenwriting, stasis equals death, at least the death of the audience's interest. When the character chooses to stand still, the world will still move on around them—and, quite possibly, run over them. The writer must keep the character moving, either physically or emotionally or both, to keep the story going and to maintain the audience's interest.

Heads-Up To The Finish

When the final two players of the tournament remain, they face off in “heads-up” play. These final hands are often as much about will and skill as they are about cards and chips. The final two players may have clashed previously over the course of hours or days, but now it's for all the marbles.

Whether it's poker, boxing, MMA, or tennis, audiences love to see a great one-on-one matchup. The same appeal holds in screenplays. Whenever the writer can set up a climactic confrontation between the protagonist and the antagonist, whether that confrontation uses fists, guns, legal tactics, or emotional manipulation, the audience will want to see who wins.

All In

The most thrilling part of any no-limit poker hand is when one player bets all their chips on a single hand. If they win, they double up and stay in the tournament. If they lose, it's “Wait Til Next Year.” This moment comes when the player says two simple words: “All In”.

As a writer, you have to risk a lot to put your story on paper. You have to risk putting in long hours for little or no reward. You have to risk missing out on fun times with friends and family to work on your story. You have to risk feeling like your story isn't good enough for anyone to want to read or see.

Just like in poker, the only way to win at the screenwriting game is to go “All In”.

If you want your story to be a winner, Story Into Screenplay offers a wide range of script services, including coverage reports, rewrite services, and both live and online hourly consultations.

You can email Story Into Screenplay at storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com, or send a message through the Facebook page.