Tag Archives: Screenwriting


Tortoise Tuesday: Motive in Screenwriting

This semester I am taking “Introduction to Screenwriting: Adaptation.” It is my first time experimenting with screenwriting, and as a Writing Center Fellow who works closely with Princeton’s lexicon, I have been very struck by how screenwriting, and screenwriting for adaptive works particularly, relies so heavily on the same process of identifying a strong motivating question to frame one’s work. In my first-year writing seminar, I remember constantly being told to look for a puzzle in the primary source: to seek out a point of tension, or contradiction, or even confusion which I could then aim to reconcile or explain through an academic analysis of the text, as informed by what other scholars had to say. This is what is called a motive. At first, I definitely found this notion of finding a motive to be a somewhat difficult concept to grasp.

However, now that I am more comfortable with looking for puzzles while I read and developing motivating questions which arise out of those puzzles, it has been rewarding to see how this same process is used in creative writing. As its title suggests, “Introduction to Screenwriting: Adaptation” introduces students to screenwriting techniques for adaptation as we work to dramatize true stories for the screen. While the stories we are adapting are true, a lot of our class discussions center around how to go about developing our own perspective on those stories through the specific choices we make regarding the translation of stories to the screen.

In tackling our first assignment, we had to write a short screenplay based on an article we had read. Our professor instructed us to look for gaps in the article, moments that puzzled us or confused us or that left us with questions, as she explained that our own unique adaption could arise in how we imaginatively chose to formulate an answer to those puzzling, troubling, or not entirely reconciled moments of the story from the article. Thinking about the process of adaption in this way, as motive, has proven helpful for me. When I read through my article I was looking closely for a moment in which I felt the timeline progress from Point A to Point B at the same time that some sense of tension or confusion remained in terms of the space between those two points. This between space is what I chose to further develop in my own screenplay.

Taking a screenwriting class has really shown me a whole new context in which motive can be at play. Just as I begin writing academic essays by looking for a puzzle from which I can formulate a motivating question, I have found myself going through this same process, almost in a more direct way, when working through my creative writing assignments, which has been really exciting!

— Danielle Hoffman ’20