TODAY (Friday June 8th) is your last opportunity to book up for our two day London June 16-17 weekend screenwriting course, ‘The Authoritative Guide To Writing And Selling A Great Screenplay’ at the ‘early bird’ price of £197 before it goes up to the full price – £229 – tomorrow. We are almost sold out – so if you’re interested, I would recommend signing up TODAY!
In terms of my screenwriting poll \ competition, I think I’ve left the best to last –
(and there are so many good ideas that this will be in two parts – more of the same next week)
‘Give us ONE SCREENWRITING TIP that works for you.’
There is so much good stuff here – about both the process and creativity of screenwriting – ideas from the frontline that have helped improve your screenwriting – a load of invaluable tips, all derived from practical, hands-on experience.
Thank you so much for all your input and for sharing these ideas – it’s been enlightening and very entertaining-
I’ve written some responses to some of your tips below…
‘Give us ONE SCREENWRITING TIP that works for you.‘
‘Always know where you’re going with your story. It’s something I struggle with. I’m good at characters and dialogue and coming up with scenes but moulding and working it into a coherent, exciting story is sometimes the hardest thing. No matter how much great dialogue you have, the story is the crux of the screenplay and is arguably the most important element. Plan out where you’re going before otherwise you’ll end up like me, heading down dead ends and off on tangents too much.’
PS: Although this can never be a hard and fast rule – there are all sorts of ways to approach material and sometimes just writing freely with no known destination can be very liberating, IN GENERAL I think this is fantastic advice. STORY is what screenplays are about, STORY is what keeps the reader turning the pages and the audience hooked. Knowing where you’re going comes down to planning and outlining your story – for me, this actually frees up the writing process and removes a lot of the stress from it.
‘Write everyday … I wish I listened to it 7 days a week 😉
PS: There are quite a few tips along these lines – and they all make a very good point. Any discussion about the process is a waste of time unless you’re putting the hours in – and screenwriting is hugely labour-intensive. It will eat up the hours. It’s a major commitment – and you need to decide that it’s a commitment you’re prepared to make.
‘Have a deadline. If you haven’t been given one by somebody else, enforce one on yourself. Otherwise, it’s just masturbation.’
‘work it, loath it, grind it, chisel it, burn it and hose it down, but keep banging those 26 letters on the page.’
“Never use two characters when one will do”. I can’t remember who passed this piece of wisdom onto me, or what book I may have unearthed it in, but this deceptively simple ‘rule’ really has helped me to streamline sprawling, messy stories into more coherent scripts with far stronger characters. I’ve also found myself applying it to other areas of screenwriting too. For example, I never use two locations when one will do, and I try never to use two words or sentences in my dialogue when one will do.’
PS: I like this – so much of writing is about economy and focus.
‘I think it’s John Yorke or Tony Jordan who says “characters are what they do, not what they say” — and ultimately what characters do forms the story. When all that’s working it seems to set a new script off in the right direction.’
PS: Yup – it’s about dramatic action, not about dialogue.
‘To allow the characters to speak to me, and not me to them.’
PS: This is great too – a really good insight. If the characters you have created (and the situations you have put them in) are strong and rich enough – then the characters will have a will and drive of their own.
‘Coincidences are deadly. Unless the coincidence gets your character/s into more trouble, in which case use with gay abandon.’
PS: Another really interesting idea – and I think a really good principle to apply to the thorny issue of coincidence in story.
‘Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote ‘The Usual Suspects’, says that, in the script editing phase, he always deletes the last piece of dialogue in every scene to tighten it up. I’ve tried this … and it works wonders!’
PS: Yes – excellent – the principle of coming in late and getting out early of scenes is always worth thinking about (And yes – in the script editing phase)
‘Copy and paste your whole script into Word or Pages and turn on the grammar and spell checker, you’ll be surprised by all the errors. It doesn’t matter about the formatting, just look for the highlights. And make sure you are in the right language British English or American English.’
PS: Great idea – although not the exciting part of the process, proof-reading and presentation are vitally important.
‘Think about creating your own ‘buzz’. Pick three or four up and coming actors- those just starting to get the big parts (in a little while they could be the ones calling the shots at the commissioning table). Do some research and try to get some kind of contact going. Find out what they kind of parts they would really like to play and develop a piece of work in partnership with them. It would obviously have to be done free of charge but it would be your name on the cover sheet when the actor feels well connected enough to develop his or her own projects- just another iron in the fire.’
‘When creating/thinking of your characters, try envisaging the actor whom you would like to play them. It really helps you “see” your characters and round them out.’
‘Gaffa tape. Gaffa tape your ankles to your chair legs and make yourself sit at the computer/typewriter/biro. Some say writing in a converted loft helps them write – I find a converted underground war bunker or cell is more conducive. Get someone to lock the door so you can’t escape and get them to shove food and water under it at intervals throughout the day. I you’re writing a feature film, a week should do it. When I’m securely strapped down I like to have a think about what I want to write, before typing endlessly in non-sequential order, taking a break to eat some celery that’s been passed under the door, coming back to read what I’ve written to find out half of it is crap, before tidying up the stuff that isn’t. Some days I’ll be in an optimistic mood so can write dialogue for Alan Voondmeiser the librarian suffering from Tourette Syndrome, others I’m in a suicidal frame of mind perfect for writing that end scene where Sylvia Werther decides to electrocute herself.‘
PS: I’m assuming (hoping) there is a tongue-in-cheek element to this advice but the principal behind it is very sound!
‘Don’t be afraid to ‘suck’ at writing. You’re meant to get it wrong before you get it write. ( can you see what I did there).’
PS: This is great advice – don’t censor yourself. Just write. Particularly on your first draft. Resist the small-minded whingeing of your inner critic.
‘the best tip I have for screenwriters is this – give your antagonist the best argument – Jack Nicholson’s speech from the stand in a Few Good Men is the best example I can think of. If your villain makes the best points, it forces your story to be more logical and make more sense.’
PS: Another great piece of advice. Stories work where there is a genuine dilemma – antagonists need to be as credible as protagonists.
I hope all this great advice has inspired and energised you as it has me! More to come next week.
All the best
June 8th 2012