One of the things I often tell new writers is to read produced screenplays, to look at how the best, most experienced writers express themselves in the way they write screenplays – the balance between directions and dialogue, the way they paint a picture with minimal description, the power of visual story-telling over expositional dialogue (how a single glance between characters can often express more than a page of dialogue).
But as well as reading screenplays (and of course watching film & TV)
I think it’s important to read across all media – reading good writing and watching good shows is so often inspiring and as a writer you learn from the books, shows etc that are good enough to inspire you – but also from things that don’t work.
It can be really useful reading flawed work, looking at the mechanics of it to analyse why it doesn’t work and learning those lessons for your own work.
So for instance the other day I was thinking about how much really top quality writing there is by newspaper columnists – writers like Charlie Brooker, Tim Dowling, Martin Kelner – the writing of all three sporadically provides me with laugh-out-loud moments, and in the past the weekly columns of writers such as Nick Hornby and Maureen Lipman were a real treat.
I think it’s also often really useful to think about how you can transfer dramatic ideas from other media \ forms of entertainment to screenwriting – so for instance the structure of an inspiring poem (for example the best work of Philip Larkin) can provide real story-telling insights; and ballads particularly are often structurally really interesting in the way they pack a big narrative surprise.
I’m a big football follower and I often think about the way almost every single football match I go to, plays out in a different and surprising way, nearly always with a fascinating character-driven sub-plot. Yes, really!
So for instance, last week at the QPR \ Fulham West London derby, there was the sub-plot of the new QPR manager having walked out on Fulham, based on Fulham’s supposed ‘lack of ambition’. (You don’t have to guess which team I was supporting!)
Needless to say, he endured a torrid 90 minutes of (generally quite witty!) abuse from the Fulham fans. And then he refused to shake hands properly with the new Fulham manager at the end of the match, with the ‘handshake’ turning into a bit of pushing and shoving.
Such rich character friction that you’d struggle to make up! Dig into this a little and you have the sort of fascinating hierarchical character friction that is easily transferable to any other ‘world’. And this sort of thing seems to happen week after week.
On my 2 day screenwriting course one of the things we emphasize (with some very hands-on creative exercises!) – is the importance as a writer of being constantly open to ideas and constantly observing people around you.
If you’re always looking, and looking in the right way, you will constantly have good ideas that you want to write about.
Look at people, think about how unique everyone is, think about how everyone has their own unique physicality, and their own unique way of expressing themselves (whether verbally or physically)…
A quick reminder before I go. Phil Gladwin and I are now gearing up for our one day London ‘How To Pitch’ workshop next weekend, March 10th (on which I’ll talk more about these ideas-generating exercises and how to turn them into successful pitches) and we still have a few places left.
Here’s the link:-
Good luck with all your writing!
March 2nd 2012