Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Good Advice For Serious Writers

This happens to be aimed at screenwriters but it's applicable to those starting out in ebookery.  I don't necessarily agree with everything, and it is about screenwriting which should be considered quite a separate exercise.  Notice the first point.  The writer entertains the reader.  Think of your reader first and foremost.

The New 10 Commandments of Screenwriting.

There  are thousands of things you can learn as a screenwriter that will be  valuable for you.  But break these commandments and your soul will be  damned to eternal amateur-damnation…
…Or maybe it’ll just be a bit more difficult to become a pro. Either  way, you’ll want to really consider these guidelines as you write or  rewrite your screenplay.

1. Entertain us…or it’s over!  Entertainment is the number one reason that people go to movies.  Every producer and agent knows that. So it should be the #1 focus of  your screenwriting. Become a master at making any character or situation  entertaining and you’ll be a writer in demand. To be blunt, if there is anything in your script that doesn’t  entertain, fix it.

2. Make EVERYTHING more interesting. The industry is filled with readers who are fed a gourmet diet of  professional screenplays. If you want yours to stand out, it has to  captivate their attention and cause them to forget that they are doing a  job. This should be an ongoing campaign of yours. Make your scenes more  interesting. Make your characters more interesting. Make your dialogue  more interesting. Make everything more interesting.

3. Give us a lead character we can’t stop following. Professional screenwriters intentionally create characters we want to  follow. They are unique, yet familiar. We can relate to them and want  to go on the journey with that character. In general, your protagonist should be the perfect person to lead us  deep into this story and the conflict that is about to occur. Don’t  settle for a good lead. Go for great.

4. Promise us something special…and deliver on it.  Somehow, you have to keep people reading until the last page. Here’s a  solution.  About 15 years ago, I read a book called “A Story Is A Promise” by  Bill Johnson. Since then, I’ve always looked at a script from the  perspective of “What is the promise you’re making to the reader/audience  and how do you keep it in a unique way?” Essentially, you are promising some major achievement by the  protagonist or some big confrontation that will happen in the 3rd Act  between protag and antag. If the promise is strong enough, we’ll read  every page to see what happens.

5. Show us deeper meaning.  Deeper meaning can be built into the plot, character, situations,  actions, and dialogue of a script. It doesn’t have to be profound, just  beneath the surface…and perceived by the audience.
Audiences and readers just don’t appreciate on-the-nose writing.  Subtext gives them a chance to interact with the film. They have an  internal experience of the story because they are interpreting what the  dialogue and actions really mean.  Because of that, it is just as important to take care of the subtext  of a story as it is to create the surface story.

6. Put your characters through hell.  Great parents take care of their children and don’t let harm come to  them. Great writers put their characters in the worst possible places to  challenge their beliefs and physical limitations.
Don’t get the two jobs mixed up. Audiences don’t go to movies to see  characters lead safe lives. They want to see your characters take risks,  experience danger, and barely escape from challenging situations.
By your final draft, your characters should hate you for all the  terrible things you did to them.

7. Free up your dialogue so you can express more character.  Beginning writers often fill their dialogue with exposition and story  details, thus reducing the amount of character and creativity that  shows up in that dialogue. Don’t do it.  Instead, put the exposition, information, and story details into the  action and situations.
For example, instead of a trainer telling a new boxer that a certain  philosophy doesn’t work, have him put the character in the boxing ring  and learn it by having his ass kicked. Now, the trainer doesn’t have to  lecture. In fact, he is free to talk about anything – breakfast,  politics, his favorite dog, etc. – because the real meaning is being  delivered through the action.  It completely frees you up so you can be much more creative with your  dialogue.

8. Turn cliches into fresh ideas.  In the film industry, a cliché is defined as “something we’ve seen  before.” If you write a script with the same plot or the same lead  characters or the same situations, people will balk at them.  Audiences want to see familiar stories told in different ways and  familiar characters with something special about them. That means that  your characters, situations, actions, and dialogue need to have  something unique to them.  Your challenge: Hunt down every cliché in your script and brainstorm  more unique ways to accomplish their purpose. Give them a twist or  unique spin or different voice. It takes a bit of work, but it  instantly improves your screenplay.

9. Give yourself permission to write **** in your first  draft and push yourself for perfection in your final draft. Not the other  way around.  Many writers try to be perfect on the first draft, thus giving  themselves writer’s block. First drafts are the time for total freedom  of expression, not criticizing your writing. You want to discover what  you can about your story, characters, etc.  On the other side, writers often send drafts to producers that aren’t  even close to ready. That’s the time to bring out your internal critic  and make sure this is a perfect draft.
The more in sync you are with your creative process, the faster  you’ll achieve perfection.

10. Rethink your script…until it is the most amazing it can  be.  This is the ultimate challenge of a professional screenwriter –  having to rethink the same script over and over until you discover the  perfect way to tell this story.  Even if you think your story or character is perfect, you should have  the skills to re-envision it in many different ways. Not only will this  help you write a better story, it will also help you work with  production companies and Studios when they request script changes.


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