The Mirror Maze World of the Private Eye Part 2


by Diana Black

EDITOR’S NOTE: Haven’t read Part 1 yet? You really should GO HERE

#3. First deception uncovered, usually perpetrated by the Client.

  • Q. What is this Dick embarking on?
    What dangers are looming?
    What’s different about this Dick’s journey compared with other Dicks’? How is it typical?
    Why the deception in the first place? What is the client hiding from the Dick (or from themselves)?PI-Dick-flipped
    Why the ‘red herring/s’ –
    why is the client trying to throw the Dick off the scent?

#4. Detective hassled by the cops.

  • Q. Why is he/she being hassled?
    What is the cop’s agenda/objective? How does it differ from the Dick’s and the Client’s?
  • Q. If the cops hassle the Dick, who/what is hassling the Cops?
    Is the Dick that awesome (serious competition for the’ badge on the chest’ or the heart of the daughter) or, are they being pressured into getting rid of the Dick because….? Use ‘What If’s’ here.
  • Q. What is the ‘relationship history’ between the Dick and the cop or cops?
  • Q. Is there corruption going down (are the cops being paid off by the Master Criminal)? How are
    you (via action and dialogue) going to demonstrate this without making it too obvious?

#5. Detective beat up by the crooks.

  • Q. This is great – that means the Dick must be getting close.
    Or, what if the Dick is really a ‘dick’ – clueless (hired for that very reason) and gets lucky (potential comedic value)?
  • Q. How does the client react to the beating?
    How does the Dick react after the beating (alludes to character)?
  • Q. What if it’s not a beating per se but a set-up (he/she’s framed)?
    Who stands to win and what’s the prize? How is the setup/framing orchestrated?

#6 Detective connects with femme fatale at a night club, casino, or her penthouse.

  • Q. Is there sexual tension going between the Dick and this woman?
    It had better be slowly sizzling – with failed opportunities, almost but, against his/her better judgment but it’s getting harder and harder to resist – build up the tension.
    Is it planned? It has to be her doing. The Dick is a ‘squeaky-clean/professional but… he’s human after all so he’s struggling to ‘keep it professional’. Make him suffer! Maybe he never succumbs to her wily charms and turns the table on her – now the hunter is prey.

#7. Detective meets the Master Crook (MC)… not the underlings – the MC tries to buy the Dick off.

  • Q. Does ‘buy’ necessarily mean $$$? What else could it be?
    Is it power, absolution (from a dreadful crime from the Dick’s dark past) or, a special gift that perhaps only the MC can give?
    ‘Buy’ could also be in the form of a threat – if the Dick doesn’t back off, their life/situation is going to be exposed/severely compromised.

Think about peeling an onion – layer upon layer… the Dick is on a mission to reveal those layers and everyone – deliberately or inadvertently, is blocking him/her – every step of the way. Alternatively, think of a mirror maze – a ‘journey’ of achievements and failures, blind alleys, revelations that are about him/her rather than the crime, which is just the vehicle for this self-discovery. Some of those ‘mirrors’ may be convex/concave and distorting the truth.

#8. Detective confronts client/femme fatale about deception (#3) and learns another slice of
truth or, told a better lie.

  • Q. Does the Dick make real progress?
    Does the Dick’s lie-o-meter red-line – if fed a delicious, evil lie?
    Or, is the Dick fed the lie and dutifully goes off down another rabbit-hole/blind alley?
  • Q. Does the confrontation bear some fruit with a piece of the puzzle being revealed – up-front or inadvertently by the client?
    Is it because the Dick is deceptively awesome or damn lucky?

#9. Gunfight – one or two.

  • Q. If more than one, is it an escalating battle/series of battles?
  • Q. Is it a fast-paced, cat-n-mouse?
    Remember your Protagonist’s skill set – it might come in useful here.
  • Q. Is the fight a ruse – to throw off the Dick – or is it a ‘no-holds-barred’ fight to the death?
    How dirty/ghastly/evil is this battle?
    Think about your intended audience – the rating/classification and likely media platform. That may well determine just how violent and nasty you (your characters) go.

If going down the avenue of torture, think about the fact that while graphic violence may hold the viewer briefly or make a disturbing edition to their nightmares, how can you allude to it such that the implied violence is much more disturbing. The reader/audience will be compelled to stay watching and they probably have a dark imagination with which to surpass yours. ‘Obvious’ is boring. Pull the rug out from underneath them at every turn AND with cliffhangers – it will get the serious attention of ‘the suits’ and if ‘green-lit’, generate buzz in the coffee room the day after the episode was aired.

  • Q. Did the Dick get seriously injured (not fatally)?
    Did the Dick fake his/her death to go under cover?
  • Q. Is this narrative all about a lack of trust (refer back to your premise/log line and theme)?
  • Q. What is driving the Dick to ‘stay the course’? If they’re a great Protagonist, the money no
    longer matters but the truth means everything.
    Whose truth is the one that counts? Who determines that? It’s all about character.
  • Q. What does the Dick have to draw upon (within themselves) in order to prevail?

#10. Detective connects seemingly irrelevant information – arrives at the truth.

  • Q. Is their success as a result of their amazing skill, which they developed on this journey?
    Was it by accident (potential comedic value)?
  • Q. Is the revelation – ground breaking or bleeding obvious had they been paying better attention earlier on?
  • Q. Does the ‘affect’ of this crime go way beyond the client (think of a stone dropped into a pond)
    – is it Earth-shattering and pervasive. Think of The Big Short (Adam McKay, 2015).
  • Q. Does the epiphany force them to go back to ‘Step One’ with the realization they’ve been fed a steady diet of ‘red herrings’ (virtually the whole season, if a TV series)?
  • What if almost the whole narrative was a series of corridors and one-way doors – what the hell do they do now?
    They can’t go back – they’ll have to devise a new plan.

#11. Final confrontation with Master Crook or femme -or homme – fatale – the detective makes hard choices.

  • Q. How can you give the Dick a dilemma – between two diabolical choices?
  • Q. Does the Dick prevail and is Universe set to rights – because of their transformation or, they never changed – Columbo (Link & Levison, 1971 – 2003) over the life of the series?
  • Q. Does the Dick, who was a ‘dick’ bumbling through, no longer a ‘dick’ but older/wiser?
  • Q. Does the Dick ‘get the girl’? Does she finally realize she’s better off without the object of theinvestigation?
  • Q. What ‘price’ did the Dick have to pay? Personal or public?

I know that this is a lot to digest, but if your work won’t stand up to your own analysis, then how will it fare with other producers, agents, actors, directors, and audiences? Think of all the detective shows you’ve watched that have used this paradigm, either knowingly or unknowingly? Now think of how much less aggravating it’s going to be with you understanding the pattern and not having to reinvent the wheel?


ANOTHER EDITOR’S NOTE: Parts 1 and 2 of this article have been inspired by a little booklet called “Storytelling Patterns in Genre Films,” written by our Beloved Leader, Larry Brody. In that slender but informative PDF file you’ll find lists of the essential – one might in fact say “obligatory” scenes – for almost every type of film, TV, or literary genre story as well as LB’s famous discussion of how to use them when outlining (also known as his popular online article “Writing the Dreaded Outline.” The booklet isn’t available on the web or in stores. You can’t pay for it anywhere. But you can get it as a Free Bonus Gift when you enter TVWriter™’s PEOPLE’S PILOT COMPETITION…which is worth entering for many more reasons as well.

Info about the PEOPLE’S PILOT is HERE

And you can read “Writing the Dreaded Outline,” the most-viewed article on TVWriter™ HERE

Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer in Larry Brody’s Master Class.

How to Get Writers Guild Coverage for Your Work on the Web

Speaking of indie video and film, as we have been this week HERE and also HERE, this is something we all should know:

The WGAW rides to the rescue again!

Cartoon: “Writers Style Guide”

Grant Snider is here to satisfy your every writerly need:



More Grant Snider Awesomeness at Incidental Comics

AQUARIUS 1969 – America on the Brink of a Nervous Breakdown


by Lew Ritter

“We didn’t start the fire – The World ‘s been burning since the world’s been turning.”- Billy Joel

Are you tired of the endless mind numbing headlines about corrupt “say anything to get elected politicians.”, allegations of police brutality , overseas events that seemed to be spinning out of control and a world that seems to be collapsing around us? Need a break?

Well, let’s revisit a more tranquil place around fifty years or so in the past America, in the 1960’s. It was called the “Era of Peace and Love. “ However, in reality, the 1960’s was a chaotic time when America felt like it was falling apart due to strained race relations, student unrest and foreign wars without end.

In short, America was on the verge of having a nervous breakdown. Surprised?

The Age of Aquarius was a song made famous by the Broadway play Hair and The Fifth Dimension, a singing group of the era. “Harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abound,” goes one of the lyrics of the song.

Aquarius the TV series is a realistic 1960’s cop drama about LAPD detective Sam Hodiak and the other men and occasional women of the L.A. P.D. The show opens with a caveat that it is a mixture of real and fictional events. Its story lines are inspired by actual persons and events and incorporated into a weekly dramatic series. If it completes its five year run, the series arc will take the show into the early seventies.

The show centers around David Duchovny as Sam Hodiak, a no-nonsense LAPD detective. His partner is an undercover narcotics officer named Brian Shafe. Rounding out the main characters was a young female detective named Charmaine who is trying to prove that woman can be effective police officers, and not just clean coffee pots in the back room.

Season One opened with the abduction of Emma Karn, an impressionable young teenage girl. Her father is an influential politician, who eventually joined the Nixon administration. Hodiak discovers that the missing girl has been abducted by a charismatic sociopath named Charles Manson. Manson is an ex-con and small time crook who recruited a group of impressionable young followers into becoming part of his ‘Family.” They were mainly a group of ragtag hippies who follow Manson in their deluded quest for drugs, sex, and rock-and-roll.

Season One dealt largely with the development of Manson from small time crook into the charismatic sociopath that would eventually lead his “Family” into committing the heinous Tate -LoBianca murders that shook America in the summer of 1969. He convinced his followers to brutally kill several people including the beautiful actress Sharon Tate. Other prominent subplots featured Hodiak ‘s son deserting the army and stealing documents about America’s involvement with the Vietnam war. They could be a version of the infamous Pentagon Papers. They were the Wiki-Leaks of the day.

Season Two continues the Manson story. Every episode of season two opens with a flash forward scene leading up to the infamous Tate- Lobianca murders. To me, Season Two is more interesting because it portrays events of the Sixties such as the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, and the Black Panthers, a radical Black anti-police group with Revolutionary rhetoric.

The Good:

The time period. The show is faithful to the attitudes and technology of the 1960’s. Cops using rotary telephones, cars have no GPS, and not a copy of Pokemon or a computer in site.

David Duchovny devours the role of Hodiak. He is a no – nonsense cop whose unorthodox methods would not fit into today’s world. Despite the close cropped hair and the air, he still has the same dry manner and sense of humor about the world, as his more famous creation- Fox Mulder.

Emma Dumont as the runaway girl. She brings a sense of innocence to her role of Emma. A lost soul, she seems to be morphing into the leader of the Manson girls.

Gaius Charles as Bunchy Carter. He had a short lived role on Grey’s Anatomy. However it must not have impressed many people because he lasted about a year. However, on Aquarius, he makes a powerful impression as ‘Bunchy’ Carter, the real life Black Panther leader in L.A. His raw language is shocking, powerful and uncensored. He is the antagonist and occasional ally of Hodiak as he investigates several murders in L.A.

Language- It is very brave show that uses language that is rather blunt and typical of the times. The creators of the show do not soft pedal some of the racial bigotry of the times. Terms are tossed into the dialogue that would be unacceptable in today’s Politically Correct atmosphere.

The Bad:

The show rarely utilizes the music of the era. Powerful musical voices such as Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane on the soundtrack would have added another level to the show’s authenticity.

A recent episode lurched into conspiracy theory. Ken Karns, Emma’s father, is eager to be recruited by the Nixon campaign. They seem desperate to stop Robert Kennedy from running against Nixon in the Fall of 10968. In the final scene of a recent episode, Kennedy is lead into the kitchen of the hotel in which he holds his victory rally. In the kitchen, he encounters Sirhan Sirhan the crazed Palestinian native who assassinates him. Karns is seen among in the kitchen hidden by the victory celebrants. It seemed to hint that a Nixon operative was behind the Kennedy Assassination.

Shafe, Hodiak’s partner. He is bland and is supposed to be the hippie undercover cop, but he wears his hair short and would not infiltrate any hippie groups that I was aware of growing up in the 1960’s. He does have a mixed marriage to an African-American wife who works for the Black Panthers. This allows Hodiak and Shafe to interact with Bunchy Carter and the Panthers in some episodes.

Manson as played by Gethin Anthony. He plays Manson as a smooth hustler with some undertones of below the surface evil. Perhaps the creators of the show felt that a more realistic portrayal of Manson would scare away viewers


By the end of Season One, I felt I had seen enough of the Manson story. It seemed to have worn out its welcome. In Season two, each episode begins with a flash-forward to the horrendous murder of Sharon Tate and her friends. Manson is enamored with Terry Melcher, a leading record producer of the era. Manson wanted to become a famous rock star. Melcher realized that Manson had little talent as a Rock Star. Apparently, the Tate- LoBianca murders was Manson’s attempt to get revenge on Melcher’s rejection of his talent.

However, as Season Two races toward its season conclusion, the show has grown more compelling by adding subjects like Shafe’s interracial marriage, conflicts with the Panthers, and Charmaine’s attempt to infiltrate the S.D.S , a campus radical group. Overall, though, Aquarius is uneven, trying to reel in viewers by publicizing  the Manson angle but then having to bring in other storylines to keep us coming.

Lew Ritter is a frequent contributor to TVWriter™. An aspiring TV and film writer, he was a recent Second Rounder in the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition

The Mirror Maze World of the Private Eye Part 1


by Diana Black

Think back to every detective story you’ve seen on screen – big or small. Even the briefest recollection makes it abundantly clear that detective stories follow a pattern. All stories do, hence the term ‘genre’ – a specific form or style associated with a narrative.

All of those detective stories you’ve recollected vary in some way, but the ‘structural arcs’ (of the good ones) contain specific scenes we’ve come to expect in this genre. Without them the reader will dump your master-piece in the trash can and if the project is miraculously green-lit, the viewer will channel-surf. So those scenes had better be there.

PI-DickYou’ll find lists of the essential – one might in fact say “obligatory” – scenes for almost every type of story (and much more) in TVWriter™ honcho Larry Brody’s Booklet, “Storytelling Patterns in Genre Films”. No, it isn’t available on the web or in stores. You can’t pay for it anywhere. But you can get it as a Free Bonus Gift when you enter the PEOPLE’S PILOT COMPETITION…which is worth entering for many more reasons as well. But here’s a sample scene listing from the booklet, which by no coincidence whatsoever is exactly what this article is about:

by LB

1. Introduce the Detective—scene and character set style & tone for
the rest of the movie.
2. Meet the Client; if not the Femme Fatale, then Wife and/or
Daughter who is.
3. First deception uncovered, usually perpetrated by Client.
4. Detective hassled by cops.
5. Detective beat up by crooks.
6. Detective connects with Femme Fatale at night club, casino, her
7. Detective meets with Master Crook, MC tries to buy him off.
8. Detective confronts client/Femme Fatale about deception, learns
another slice of truth or told a better lie.
9. Gunfight—one or two.
10. Detective connects seemingly irrelevant information, arrives at
11. Final confrontation with Master Crook and/or Femme Fatale,
Detective makes hard choices.

From Storytelling Patterns in Genre Films by Larry Brody

Diana Black, uh, back now, with my suggestion for the best way to use LB’s above info:

If you’re just starting out as a new writer with a new concept, theme and dramatic question rarin’ to go, read those 11 short sentences, let them simmer away in the back of your brain, and then try the following exercise – a series of questions focused on the overall structure LB’s booklet suggests.

The answers to these questions need not figure within the scene but it can inform the scene and as Quentin Tarantino has been known to say, “You, the writer must know everything there is to know about each character and the world they inhabit, even if the viewing audience doesn’t.” And more importantly, you are the creator. You can do what you damn well like – these are simply suggestions…

A couple of things… Firstly, ask yourself whose POV (point-of-view) the narrative follows. While, it’s a given there’s a crime puzzle/mystery to be solved, detective stories can also be seen as a character study – often of the Detective, and I’m going to assume so here. Secondly, ensure that you have set-ups and later pay-offs to each of those set-ups within the narrative arc.

An example: “I sure as hell am never going there/doing that – again!” And sure enough the character does – inadvertently or by being forced into it. Think of it in terms of dramatic irony. There’s a way to ensure that you pay off the set-up and chart the energy dynamics in your narrative arc – by using a Timeline…but that’s another article.

Let’s go!

#1. Introduce the Detective – the opening scene and how we introduce this character will set the style and tone for the rest of narrative.

  • Q. Why is he/she the only detective on the planet worth hiring?
    What makes him or her brilliant?
    Q. Alternatively, is your detective on the way down – a penniless Private Investigator or Private Eye or Dick (I’m going with “Dick” because I’m a Dick Tracy fan, and that’s where Tracy’s name comes from) with the ‘bottom of the barrel’ looming in front of them?
    Why? And why did the Client, who we assume has done their ‘homework’, hire them in the first place?
  • Q. How long has he/she been at this ‘game’?
    Is he/she a hard-bitten, tired old cynic who just happens to be brilliant or a ‘new-blood’ rookie wanting to play with the big boys?
  • Q. What is it about this particular Dick that makes them useful (to the Client)?
    Do they have a specialty?
    I would suggest gifting them with an amazing talent/skill-set – deeply-hidden/almost forgotten or, one that’s embarrassing – one that doesn’t always work; especially for the down-and-almost-out Dick or Rookie Dick.
  • Q. What unique character traits does this Dick have?
    Are they greedy or bad – if so, average or diabolical?
    Are they saintly? Be careful – they must also have a dark side or they’ll be boring.
    Are they sweet, endearing or idealistic? Again be wary of sugar- coating for the same reason.
    When ‘shit hits the fan’ are they courageous and determined or cowardly? If so, how do they overcome that cowardice? They must or the audience will dislike them.
    What secrets and vulnerabilities are they hiding? They must surface at some point and compromise their ability to do their job.
    For example, they may be claustrophobic, into ladies underwear (pardon the pun), a drug addict (been done but always watchable), a sucker for hard-luck/lost causes…etc. Sherlock Holmes was a drug addict – hence his long-time association with Dr. Holmes but whatever he was into, it gave him heightened observational and analytical skills – an ‘edge’ compared to other sleuths; especially the dumb police constables (PCs).
    What wounds will they carry to their grave?
    Did they fail on the job?
    Did they lose a loved one (via a crime) or are they hopelessly in love. Whatever… how does it compromise their ability?

#2. Meet the Client: if not a femme fatale, the wife and/or daughter (who may be).

  • Q. Is the Client directly/indirectly a victim of the crime? Are they playing ‘victim’ because they’re hiding their own guilt or are they pro-active and determined?
  • Q. Is he/she setting-up the Dick as a scapegoat?
    Are they feeding the Dick ‘red herrings’ in order to cover up their own guilt? If so, have you determined (for you – at least for now), what  underlying agenda the Client is masking? What are they guilty of?
  • Q. Is the Client the objectified femme fatale?
    As such they’re a stereotype – generally drop-dead gorgeous (eye candy), but with a seriously dangerous ‘dark-side’ (sultry, seductive) – not the girl you’d take home to Mother. If so, give them depth – make them multi-dimensional – as you did with the Dick, because it’s possible that this character is the real Antagonist to the Protagonist (Dick) and they’re just as important – because through their own actions and responses to the Dick they reveal the character traits of the Dick. So flesh this person out fully with a comprehensive back-story – secrets, wounds, a skill-set that compliments or contrasts with the Dick’s.
  • Q. Is the Client the seriously clueless, loyal and grieving wife – who’s in for a hell of a shock over subsequent revelations (courtesy of the Dick) about her naughty husband? Tee-hee…what if she’s even naughtier?
  • Q. Is the Client the loving daughter whose steely determination to get to the bottom of it all and find her beloved father (possible sexual undertones here) able to inspire the ailing or clueless Dick, who might also be falling for her?
  • Q. What connection do they have with the ‘Master Criminal’ (the alleged perpetrator of the crime under investigation)?
    Are they in cahoots, an ex-lover?
  • Q. Is the Client ultimately responsible (deliberately or inadvertently) for bringing the sequence of events that caused the crime?
  • Q. How are you going to demonstrate (show/tell) via dialogue and action, the above for both the Dick and the Client (all principle characters)? Regarding the dialogue – it’s often more a matter of what they don’t say that ‘speaks volumes’. They often lie – what they’re saying is not
    what they’re thinking and we can just get a sense of that and voila – you have subtext. The actors (the good ones) – even in the table-read, will be playing the subtext, not the dialogue on the page – there should always be an underlying agenda…so give the actors a break and enable
    them to determine the subtext with ease (generally alluded to via action).

#2a Bring in the Criminal?

You could go either way with the Master Criminal – introduce them early or as Larry suggests, later (preferred). If introduced early, he/she is competing with the Dick and the Client – ‘too much information’ in the opening sequence. Or, if you insist, introduce them quickly and decisively – establishing them as a serious ‘bad-ass’.

If you’re going to do that – use them as a shock factor and then leave them out of the picture for a while – we know we’re going to have to face that ‘bad-ass’ at some point and if absent, their malevolence hangs over the narrative and when alluded to in the dialogue – their reputation builds. If we’ve created a cute, lovable Rookie Dick – all the more reason to be deeply concerned for him/her. Don’t forget all principle characters need to be lovable in some way, even the ones we love to hate.

In the opening scene – is there a minimum of exposition – we need action here that may include set-ups… it must be a ‘page turner’!

  • Q. Is the setting unusual, stunning?
    How does it relate to the history/back-story of this narrative?
    Remember, ‘enter late and leave early’. Is the setting deceptively ordinary? If so, what is
    underlying this scene that’s uncanny, potentially dangerous?

As LB has said in his classes, the opening scene and character introductions set the tone for the entire narrative – not just the plot. They have to be unique in comparison to whatever else is out there in TV, Movie or Storybook land.

You have, as a matter of course, given each of the principle characters physical attributes that in some way reflect their character – including speech patterns, mannerisms, how they walk, eat etc. so there’s no need to do that here.

Don’t despair. There’s more to come in Part 2 – tomorrow!

Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer in Larry Brody’s Master Class.

Tips for Creating Your Own Web Series

Yes, it’s true. The Writers Guild of America West wants to help us make it big. And, as we pointed out yesterday, using an indie web video or series as a stepping stone to bigger things is an idea whose time definitely has come:

This is important business!