The Defining Moment Is…
By Jessica Spring Brown, Screenwriter and Board Member of Phoenix Screenwriters Association


….now. “Now to identify the key, defining moments in the lives of the characters that we create for our stories, and how awareness of those critical events can help us write more compelling and realistic characters and more thrilling and emotionally charged scenes and situations.”

Thus the opening in the Foreword to a new book by Christopher and Kathy Riley by Christoper Vogler, author of The Writer’s Journey. The Rileys may sound familiar if you read books on the craft of screenwriting. Christopher is the author of The Hollywood Standard, 3rd Edition, on Script Formatting and Style. His go-to guide has been a screenwriting favorite for many years. So when I saw he had a new book, I jumped at the chance to pick it up and devour it.

And devour it I did! The Rileys, both screenwriters, give multiple exercises throughout the book to practice on your own story. Fortunately I am in the middle of yet another rewrite and thus put these to good use. I was pleasantly surprised that I had defining moments in my script, and that they needed to be defined more clearly to stand out and impact my script in a more meaningful way. This book and its exercises really helped. And was actually fun to work on.

This book also helps the writer to “pay special attention to actors and their process of imagining the emotional life history of the people they play.” Reading through the sections on understanding the actor’s role in bringing our characters to life gave me a huge insight to the actor’s role and a new appreciation on how hard they work to bring these imaginary people to life.

The book is set up in the following order of 1) Essential Insight, 2) Characteristics, 3) Discovering Your Own, 4) Discovering a Character’s Defining Moments, 5) Discovering a Nonfiction Character’s Defining Moments, 6) Enriching Your Storytelling, and 7) Beyond Building Characters.

This book is a watershed of revelations that will take your writing and character building to a whole different level. It will also help you figure yourself out too. A lot of the exercises are great for self reflection of your own defining moments in your own life that once explored, will give you more rich material to leverage in your storytelling.

One of my favorite exercises from the book was to look at my own script and identify what I believe to be the defining moments in my characters’ lives within my story and see if I have clearly shown the unmistakable mark of a defining moment, the boundary between the person before and the person after. In some of my scenes, I did achieve that. In other scenes, I failed to create that before person and after person. So was it truly a defining moment, or could I rewrite it so it becomes a defining moment where my audience sees how the moment changed my character?

I am happy to say I had my own defining moment after reading this book. I am now looking at my writing in a more profound and deeper way to ensure I am creating those moments for my readers.

About the Authors
Christopher Riley is a professional screenwriter who cowrote with his wife Kathy Riley the award-winning German language film After The Truth. The Rileys have written scripts for Disney’s Touchstone Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Mandalay Television Pictures, Sean Connery’s Fountainbridge Films, and Robert Cort Productions.

This amazing writing couple have many more credits to their names and personal accomplishments that matter most to them because of the defining moments in their family’s life, of which I deeply respect based on my own personal defining moments for my own family. Thank you Rileys for your personal insights and sharing precious moments in your book.

Happy Writing this summer! I’ll see you at the Writers Insights Workshops. If you want to catch up, you can reach me at


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