A Writer’s Guide to Allies

On Scriptnotes, we often talk about heroes and villains. In episode 252, we discussed allies, and the different types of relationships between two characters.

What is the point of an ally in narrative?

  1. Characters advance their interests through allies.
  2. Characters learn about themselves through allies.
  3. Characters suffer pain for the wrong rewards.
  4. Allies define the incorrectness of a character’s starting point, and the correctness of their arrival point.
  5. Allies are more subtle and universal than enemies.

In real life, few people have villains that must be vanquished to save the day. But everyone has friends — and friends can be tricky, tricky things.

Allies should theoretically be capable of being heroes — except in feature films, they can’t. Rather —

  1. They need to illuminate the hero without pulling focus.
  2. They need to challenge the hero without becoming the villain.
  3. They serve as a proxy for the audience, asking our questions, sharing our fears.

There’s not much to learn from “we have to stop the evil genius before he blows up the world.” But drama, both in the real world and in fiction, comes from interaction with characters who are theoretically on our side.

Craig had a bunch of examples from Game of Thrones, some of which we didn’t have time to explore on the show. So here’s his complete list.

Marriage of convenience
We don’t like each other, but we need each other

Jon Snow and Tormund

Unrequited love
Jorah Mormont and his Khaleesi

Misplaced faith
Cersei and the High Sparrow
Sansa and Joffrey

The Three-Eyed Raven and Bran
Tywin and Tyrion

Jamie and Cersei Lannister

Disciple and prophet
The Faceless Man and Arya Stark

Manipulator and Manipulated
Littlefinger and Lysa Aryn

Sparring Partner
Tyrion and Varys

Animal loyalty
Hodor and Bran

Bad for each other
Jon Snow and Ygritte

Alpha and Beta
Jon Snow and Sam
Yara and Theon

Robb and Catelyn Stark

Master and slave
Ramsay Bolton and Reek

Bound by honor
Brienne and Sansa

You could argue with any of these categorizations. The point is that characters can be related in many ways other than the simple hero/villain paradigm.

Television Economics for Dummies

Scriptnotes: Ep. 253

Jonathan Groff — the Black-ish writer/producer, not the actor — joins John and Craig to explain the new vocabulary of television and why companies are all about ownership.

Then it’s another round of How Would This Be a Movie (or an episode of network comedy). We tackle Peter Thiel, Swiss banks, psychotic sheep, and absent-minded grampas.

Our track record of predicting which of these ideas will go into development has been quite good. Let us know what you think on our Facebook page or Twitter.


You can download the episode here.

UPDATE 6-10-16: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

An Alliance with House Mazin

Scriptnotes: Ep. 252

It’s a craft episode, with Craig and John discussing allies and allegiances in film and television. Enemies are easy; friends are difficult. We talk through the types relationships characters find themselves in, and strategies for making the most of them.

(This episode has a lot of Game of Thrones geekery, but very few spoilers.)

Also this week, we discuss geographic accuracy, release forms, and showing snippets of plays within movies.


You can download the episode here.

UPDATE 6-2-16: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

They Won’t Even Read You

Scriptnotes: Ep. 251

John and Craig look at how the push to increase diversity in TV writing rooms impacts writers looking to staff for the first time.

Fan outrage over the death of a gay character — and the trope it perpetuates — has prompted an online pledge for writers. But is it a good idea? (Not really.)

We also take a look at three new entries in the Three Page Challenge, with visits to Koreatown, Silicon Valley and exploding Greek diners.

Lastly, a request: this podcast is named Scriptnotes, not ScriptNotes. The “n” isn’t supposed to be capitalized. Thanks!


You can download the episode here.

UPDATE 5-30-16: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

The One with the Austin Winner

Scriptnotes: Ep. 250

Remember the live show in Austin, when we promised we’d read one lucky listener’s script and talk about it on the air? This is that episode.

John and Craig talk with Amanda Morad about her pilot script Betty Bureau, offering praise, suggestions and a few next steps. You can read Amanda’s script in the links below.

We also answer a few short and simple questions about rights and clearances.


You can download the episode here.

UPDATE 5-20-16: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Less IMDb needs a new home

iconLess IMDb, our browser extension for making IMDb less cluttered and more useful, was the very first app we made.1

Here’s what I wrote back in 2010:

They’ve made it more difficult to do the one thing I come to IMDb to do: look at credits. New sections for photos, videos and trivia (star signs!) push credit lists below the fold, forcing you to scroll.

Rather than complain about it, Ryan and I decided to fix it.

And it worked!

In the early days of browser extensions, Less IMDb became very popular because it did exactly one thing well: rearrange layouts to get rid of the cruft, letting you focus on the stuff you’re more likely to actually want.

Six years later, the little yellow tab remains in the upper-right corner of my IMDb windows, silently re-jiggering things. Remarkably, despite all the changes of technology, the extension still works.


Except on Firefox and Chrome.

And even on Safari, layouts will occasionally break spectacularly. IMDb pages aren’t static; you never quite know what you’re going to get. When IMDb reskins entire sections to promote a big summer movie, our little extension gets confused.

Getting Less IMDb back into fighting shape across multiple browsers will take a savvy web person 10 to 30 hours, and it’s just not a priority for us. We’ll be launching Highland 2 soon enough, and that occupies every brain cell of design and coding talent.

But reworking Less IMDb might be a great project for someone else, which is why today we’re releasing all of the source code for it with an MIT license. You can download it here:

Less IMDb source code

Everyone is welcome to use this code to make their own version of the extension. And if one of those versions is great, we’ll even give you the name if you’d like it. (You can find us on Twitter: @qapps.)

I’m really happy we made Less IMDb. It set a great tone and mission for our company: making useful things we wished existed.

I hope someone takes up the charge and can give Less IMDb the love and attention it needs to go another six years.

  1. Is a browser extension an app? Debatable. There’s code and logic, and it has to be installed in an app-like way. But compared to Highland or Weekend Read, it’s not nearly as sophisticated. It falls into the murky area between web and app design, which is part of why it was a great first project for us.