[The blog is on vacation this week. Here’s an encore of one of our most popular posts.]

“Write for a star” is one of the primal axioms of screenwriting, but it has applications across many other fields as well.


Bette Davis in "All About Eve"

What does it mean to write for a star? Writing for a star means create a role that a star wants to play. Your story may be dynamite, your structure may be sound, your theme profound and involving. But the first question a producer is going to ask is, “Who can I cast in this thing?”

Moviemakers want scripts that attract stars. Because stars make movies happen. If we’ve got Matt Damon, the bank will write us a check. If Sandra Bullock says she’s in, the studio will give us a green light.

Stars put asses in the seats. If you and I go to a basketball game, we want to see Lebron. We came out for Kobe. I have zero interest in “the field.” I’m here for the headliner.

Products can be stars. The iPhone. The iPad. (Steve Jobs himself is a star.)

Style can be a star. Hemingway. Or look. Lady Gaga. Even absence can be a star: J.D. Salinger.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that we cast all artistic considerations to the wind and pander to some glam/slam concept of attention-grabbing. What I am suggesting is that, at at least one point during its evolution, we evaluate our material by asking ourselves, “Who’s the star here? Do we have one? Who (or what) supplies the bizazz that we need to make this material stand out?”

If we’re opening a restaurant, who’s our star? The chef? The look? The crowd?

What’s the star of our clothing line? Our non-profit? Our start-up school?

If our script, our opening, our business venture doesn’t have a star, how do we create one? Hollywood’s rules might help us here. Consider these bonuses reserved only for stars:

Stars make entrances.

Stars get star lighting.

Stars get the best lines.

Stars get Moments. Meg Ryan’s orgasm in When Harry Met Sally, Clint Eastwood’s “Make my day” in Sudden Impact.

Stars’ roles go somewhere. Stars’ characters change and grow.

Stars power the movie. In the climax, the star’s actions decide his own fate and define the meaning of the movie.

Even the tiniest scenes can be star moments. Did you ever see True Confessions, starring Robert Deniro? It’s a period piece, set in Los Angeles in the forties, in which Deniro plays a high-powered monsignor who is torn between the faith he wishes he could embrace and the wheeling-and-dealing he does all day long on behalf of the diocese. The legend goes that during production Deniro asked the director, Ulu Grosbard, if he could have one scene where the audience sees where his character sleeps. The director gave it to him. It’s a scene you might miss if you’re not paying attention. Deniro simply comes home from a long day among the city’s movers and shakers, mounts the stairs in the priests’ living quarters and enters a spartan room that contains nothing but a bed and an armoire. The actor has no dialogue; all he does is hang up his cardigan sweater (on a wire hanger) and sit down silently on the edge of the bed.

That’s a star scene. Only stars get Moments like that.

If we as creators are true to our calling, we’ll imbue even our most minor characters with stardust. As Francis Ford Coppola did with The Godfather. Clemenza. Johnnie Fontaine. Even Pauly. They all got to do what stars do—answer Stanislavski’s questions: Who am I, why am I here, what do I want?

I was working once with a male action star when a rival’s movie came out. The new film had a scene in which the rival star was captured by the bad guys and tortured. Next morning our star demanded a torture scene too. At the time I thought he was crazy. But he was right. A star needs a Torture Scene. It lets the audience know he’s the star.

Writing for a star is a deep topic. Much can be said, including the possibility that we ourselves are the star. But let’s leave our resolution at this for the moment:

At least once during our process (writing our novel, launching our bistro, founding our charter academy) we will ask ourselves, “Who is our star? Do we have one? And if we don’t, how can we create one?”

We’ll imagine living, breathing actors standing before us, each one representing one of our characters (or products or points of interface with our audience). Each will demand from us an answer to the following questions: “Where’s my Moment? Where’s my Torture Scene? Dude, gimme something I can play!


Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

do the work book banner 1


A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.



Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.



Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"



  1. Michael Kelberer on August 17, 2011 at 7:02 am

    Thanks, Steven. While reading this, I realized that this advice applies to non-fiction as well. Every person is a star in their own movie, and the only way to bring them to live is to discover and articulate their unique star qualities, “good” or “bad” (because they’re always good to the party of the first part 🙂

  2. Luisa Perkins on August 19, 2011 at 12:21 am

    I actually just cast my entire new WIP in my mind. It’s going great so far. I see the movie in my mind, and I write down what I see.

  3. Rocko on August 23, 2011 at 7:55 pm


    July 9, 2011
    A Rogue Warrior’s Strategy for Conservatives
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    Stay with me on this, please.

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    If, as members of the modern grass roots movement, we individually or collectively fail to mount an informed and honorable public defense of one of our generation’s most influential, ethical and popular figures, then I submit we are surrendered our courage. What message are we communicating to our neighbors and children if we stand by in silence as one of our most courageous, honorable and accomplished leader receives regular virtual stonings from our friends, family and media?

    Sarah Palin brings positive energy, enormous influence and massive financial support to the entire conservative movement and all advocates of limited government. Regardless of her ultimate decision to run in 2012 or not to run, each person in America that holds a sense of fairness and appreciation for truth, should personally commit to seeing the upcoming movie “The Undefeated.” Viewers will become more informed and perhaps even more appreciative of our movement’s most prolific ambassador, recruiter and advocate.

    The Sarah Palin I deeply appreciate, the accomplished, effective and popular citizen of Alaska, was the highest rated U.S. Governor in the history of Gallup polling, one who maintained statewide favorability ratings that exceeded 80% during both 2007 and 2008. She actually enjoyed an Alaska voter approval rating of 88% on the very August day in 2008 she was selected as the Republican party’s vice presidential candidate. Her life is remarkably extraordinary, yet one our traditional media refuses to tell.
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    “The Undefeated” will be released the week of July 15th through July 21st at AMC theatres in 10 major US cities. A positive reception at each of these theaters is critical to ensuring a much larger national audience benefits from this film. Those interested can purchase tickets online at http://theundefeated.cinedigm.com/tickets.html.

    In one July week, our entire conservative movement can become enormously stronger if we work together and “get out the viewers.” Invite a few friends, visit with your neighbors or organize a youth group. By making a concerted effort to better educate ourselves and our fellow citizens, the best and brightest conservative leaders across our nation will benefit.

    It’s easy to make a point. It is so much harder to make a difference. If conservatives in ten cities become engaged and encourage all they can to attend “The Undefeated,” we’ll each be making a positive difference in America. We’ll be helping to bring educational value to a generation of citizens and possibly impacting their lives, forever.

    You can go to Sarah Palin’s website and buy the DVD.

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