The Gap

To screenwriting guru Robert McKee, the essence of story is the gap between what we expect to happen when we act, and what really occurs. Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting.


You tell a joke and nobody laughs. At a party, the person you’re chatting with looks past you for the door. Gap moments can be big or small, but when fantasy and reality collide you want the earth to open under your feet. Gaps are the writer’s holy grail not (just) because humiliating characters is entertaining, but because once you experience the gap you cannot go back.

Murder cracks the gap wide open.

Betty’s funeral was at a little church in the Kansas cornfields. The night before, Duane had gathered his kids. Listen to the priest tomorrow, he said, that’s how I want you to remember her. Betty came from a big family, and the church was packed with relatives and friends. But the priest himself seemed not to know her. The only personal thing he said was that despite her problems, she managed to be kind.

Back home after the funeral, Duane invited Doug and me to dinner at The Red Lion Inn west of Boulder. To share memories of Betty, he said, things Doug may not have remembered or never even knew. After the coldness of her funeral, Doug hungered for them.

Dinner started well. Remember when you were small? Duane began. But he didn’t care about Doug’s memories. She was sick, he said, she couldn’t take care of you kids. I had to leave my job to watch you. I could have invested in Holubar. You have any idea how much I could’ve made investing in Holubar fifteen years ago? And that’s not the only opportunity I lost because of her…. On and on he went. The jobs that were beneath him, the companies where he’d had an inside track, the career he could have had. He’d stopped wearing his wedding ring. I didn’t want more kids after your sisters, he told Doug. If it was up to me, you wouldn’t have been born.

A week or so later, Duane was arrested. After that things moved fast—a grand jury, lawyers, the bail hearing. But that night at The Red Lion Inn was when Doug began to change. My brother called him that golden ear of corn; he’d caught the Kansas in Doug but missed the innocence. After The Red Lion Inn, Doug’s innocence was gone.

Have you experienced the gap?


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