So you want to be a writer.
Not just any kind of writer, a screenwriter. The idea of putting your thoughts down on paper and sharing your vision with your friends, colleagues and, perhaps, other filmmakers makes your toes tingle and your eyes shine. But seriously, does anyone care? It probably strikes fear in your parents, anxiety in your friends who know that one day you’ll ask them to read your work, and a big snore from everyone else. Why…?
Because while telling a story is easy, storytelling is not.
We have all heard bedtime stories. Some of us know how to tell a joke. Each of us spends a portion of our day recounting to our friends events that have transpired. These and countless variations are stories in the sense that they require us to recount events in some kind of organized — usually chronological — manner. We all know how to tell them.
Storytelling is an art.
Dramatic writing — writing for the stage and screen — is a craft. Why a craft and not an art? Because, at the end of the day, movies are a product created to be sold. As a result, we there is an audience of viewer who have certain expectations about what they hope to encounter when we go to the movies or stream them at home or on their laptops, iPads and phones. The pacing, look and feel may differ depending on the genre, but ultimately, movie plots have a specific set of qualities that make them what they are. It’s like a car. They may differ in size, price, comfort and technology; but they all have a chassis, steering wheels, seats, a motor and tires. The same applies to movie plots. There are specific qualities — story points — that must exist in a film for it to appeal to us and hold our attention.
Those elements are found in the plot of every movie. They are employed by people who know how to combine their creativity with a specific set of skills and knowledge to create a world in which characters exist who enthrall an audience and inspire their imagination.
What does it mean to be a screenwriter…?
To succeed as a writer for the screen or stage, it is essential to understand the fundamentals of dramatic writing. It means learning the craft of dramatic storytelling. It means understanding the various genres that exist and the rules for each. It means using your imagination to come up with ideas for stories and characters and thinking about them critically. It means establishing habits of productivity that allow you to write on a regular basis.
And it means embracing failure. Writing is an iterative process. Through repetition, review, analysis and editing, we make things more clear and more evocative. No one is born full grown. We start at infants, and we are shaped by events into adults. No story is born fully created. It starts as a notion that is massaged and manipulated and sharpened by a diligent author into a compelling story that excites our imagination and fills us with emotion.
These blog posts are intended to help you understand the rules of dramatic writing, inspire you to discover and express your imagination and give you the insight you need to hone your skills.
Screenwriting improves with experience. Only through mastery of your craft will you know what makes a good story great and a great screenplay a page-turner.