- In jest, somebody wrote “Alcohol because no great story ever started with someone eating a salad.” Many famous writers had an addiction to Madame Alcohol.
- Hemingway said, “It is easy to write. Just sit in front of your typewriter and bleed.”
- I say, if the job was that easy, they’d give it to a relative.
- Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, and the lesson afterward.
Let not your heart be troubled, the above tongue in cheek comments serve as an introduction to a fabulous life as a professional screenwriter. But you already know it’s a fabulous life by now or you wouldn’t be reading this. With a few tried and true clichés, some of what you need to know follows. They are the real rules of the road.
Formatting for success
Like all professional disciplines, learning the language of the business is a must. For screenwriters, the industry demands it. Proper formatting in many ways is as important as the actual dialogue used in telling your story. Without it, script readers, people who work for producers and or production companies advising their superiors if a script has production potential, will either trash your script or burry it in a very high stack of screenplays they read through, as part of their job. If they like your script and synopsis (more on synopsis later) they will push it through the system with a recommendation for the corporate big wigs to consider for production. If your script falls in a forest of scripts and no one reads it, do you get the job? Always remember there is a ‘Business’ end in showbusiness.
No great story started with someone eating a salad.
“To make a great film you need three things – the script, the script and the script.”
… Sir Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock was known as “The Master of Suspense.” His career spanned 6 decades in the business leading to 50 directorial credits. With that legacy, it’s easy to understand his Script, Script, Script comment.
In the beginning was the word, or in screenwriting, 120 pages of them, more or less.
Beyond concept and visualization, a great screenplay is about telling a great story, no matter what the genre. It’s about conflict and resolution by a single person or a group of people called protagonist vs antagonist. It’s about a core concept with a great logline and many edge of your seat misdirects throughout your story. It’s about making your characters ‘real’ and why your audience should care about what happens to them. When you’re not writing, read as many scripts as possible. Seeing how others do it can be your roadmap to success.
And most important, is this the story you want to spend months of your life consuming copious cups of coffee while writing right now?
The blueprint called structure
Set up, conflict and resolution are the classic building blocks of a 3 Act screenplay as they offer a readily understandable storyline for most audiences.
As progressive scenes move from one to the next, they provide the momentum needed to move your story forward to its conclusion. It starts by setting up the character of the protagonist in their world in act 1. Act 2 describes the conflict, either forced to accept or a choice made to right a wrong. Resolution in Act 3, describes the outcome and conclusion to your story. If the artist in you drives you to another format, learning the basics of the 3 Act script makes for a good foundation as you move along.
In the beginning, was the word.
As a screenwriter, mastering the use of the spoken word makes an okay script a good script. How to say a lot by saying a little, is a skill that will serve you well on your screenwriting journey. A test of your success is to read aloud what you’ve written, to discover if it seems natural for the character(s) you’ve designed and if not, a re-write should be considered.
“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”
We’re on the Martini & 10 closing thoughts
- Characters will save you.
- Leave your ego at home or somewhere else.
- Make it believable.
- Action happens on the screen.
- Always raise the stakes.
- Know your structure.
- Small is large, less is more.
- Write about what you know.
- Show it don’t tell it.
- Real writers write and re-write and re-write.