The Tools


Dilemma: Trapping your protagonist  between two equally painful choices creates drama in any genre. It works as well in a comedy as it does in a thriller, making him in a situation where he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. A dilemma of magnitude can be very compelling.

Crisis: Building that dilemma throughout the whole second act, it comes to a critical juncture where the issue is forced. It’s a gun to the head that demands some kind of substantial choice.

Decision and Action: A crisis demands an immediate decision and action. There’s no time to contemplate the dilemma anymore. Decision and action in the face of crisis reveals the true character of the protagonist.

Resolution: The protagonist actively resolves the dilemma, for the good or for the bad, but it’s conclusive, irreversible, final. It’s finding a way out of hell or a final descent into the abyss.



The way in which the protagonist resolves the dilemma expresses the theme of the script. You look at the protagonist’s resolution, and then look at the way in which she resolves it– and that enables you to put your finger on the theme that’s emerging organically from your story.



Similar to the periodic table of elements, the 36 Dramatic Situations represents one complete spectrum of elements with which to create stories. Some examples are Ambition, Disaster, Madness, Loss of Loved Ones, and Revolt. You play What If? with them, trying out raw possibilities for your story, triggering ideas or shaking up your own storytelling process. It’s just a What If? game.



The Enneagram is a sophisticated personality profiling system that’s great for discovering, developing and dimensionalizing your characters. A mixture of ancient wisdom and cutting-edge psychology, the Enneagram purports that there are nine basic  personality types, each with their healthy, average and unhealthy aspects. It’s a remarkably powerful, useful and versatile tool that keeps on giving in a different way for each new script.



This unique and powerful tool forces you to strip your script down to its absolute bare bones by focusing on the core conflict. By getting at what sets up the potential central fight, then what touches off the fight to the finish, you can then measure to what degree you have the audience on the edge of their seat wondering how it’s going to turn out. You’ve either got them or you don’t, and if you don’t then you can revise this core dramatic mechanism before your crystallize the dramatic nucleus of your plot. It works for any genre, because whether you’ve got a bone-crunching thriller or a wacko comedy, it has to work dramatically.



This three-step process is a groundbreaking and immensely powerful way to actually construct your script, building from the most general outline, and gradually developing and structuring all the particulars down to final detail. This is a rigorous but flexible process that works with reverse cause and effect, two-sided conflict building, gauging audience response to the open conflict, and wrapping it all up. By working back from each effect to its cause, you separate the necessary from the unnecessary, keeping the action moving crisply ahead with no dead spots, and by building conflict and measuring how much you’ve got the audience, you create continuous coherent dramatic action. There is no tool like this anywhere in the world. Jeff has taught it to development execs from all the major Hollywood studios and they consistently say it’s the most advanced development tool in the industry.