FEATURES - Writing a Great Screenplay Page 2


Action/Cut Seminars
American Gem Short Script Contest
Action Cut Home Study VHS/DVD

Writing a Great Screenplay

The fatal impediment is not lack of experience but lack of knowing how to recognize, value, and shape it. The key lies in what Thomas Hardy called "moments of vision," those instants of piercing clarity when one stumbles on a special truth or meaning. 

Most people who write want to bring about a script that reflects who they are and their own perception of the world, their own reality. Although the thought of writing material that the market or industry prefers seems like a good idea at first, it has to be understood that by the time production takes place preferences may have changed. 

Writing scripts based on what you think others may want is almost never a good idea. "There's a difference between writing and trying to write," states Bob Hohman (Hohman Maybank Lieb), "It's just elegant." "Oh, I probably look for the same things that producers are looking for," explains Jim Preminger (Jim Preminger Agency), "good writing, a good story, well developed characters, something that feels real, something that feels unusual and not too familiar." 

To be original, writers, composers, and other artists must be able to think radically at the outset. After the basics are laid down and elaboration is under way, it is difficult or impossible to make a clichéd idea into something better. "There's no mystery about writing," explains Lynn Pleshette (Pleshette/Millner Agency), "You can read one page and know. You know if you are in good hands by how somebody writes. 

Good writers have an ear for how people use language. With most new writers, all the characters sound alike. You can tell by the density of pages sometimes. If the descriptions go on forever instead of one line or if the writer needs a half page of prose to describe the scene, generally speaking, you are in trouble. Not to mention that it can be really boring." 

If there is a single key to developing as a writer, it is to keep writing, and to keep submitting your writing to the reactions of an audience. Write every week
One of the many ways to develop story ideas is to write in outline form. This writing technique keeps your basic ideas compact and highly visible. Because you and your critical readers can see the fundamentals of your story's characters, dynamics, balance, and meaning, you can easily make changes. 
This is much harder once you have invested a lot of work in writing an elaborate screenplay. By then, one is naturally more resistant to changes. Writing in outline form also helps you to create stories as if you were an observer seeing from the outside, which is vital in screenplay work.

Michael Rabiger points out in his book Developing Story Ideas, that if there is a single key to developing as a writer, it is to keep writing, and to keep submitting your writing to the reactions of an audience.

Use a computer or typewriter for any presentation that will be read by others. Use your computer's spelling checker to catch typos or other anomalies. Have someone literate proofread your work. Although these suggestions may seem obvious, a lot of discoveries are made through evaluations such as these. "Write, write, write. Until you have made it, don't try guessing what's trendy, write for quality whether for series television or feature films," states Jim Preminger. 

Getting Started
Why do so many people who want to write have such trouble doing so? Usually I find that they are trying to swim against the current of their own abilities. Many are suffocated in school by being made to write to formulas or in a dry, pseudo-scientific style. Strong, communicative writing comes from the struggle to describe what is, not what should be. 

There are numerous techniques that different writers use to begin new scripts or to keep track of ideas. Michael Rabiger suggests making four kinds of collections: picture files, dream journals, news files, and a writer's journal. In the picture file, he suggests removing pictures from magazines and newspapers that are appealing. These photos may bring inspiration to the writer. 

In a dream journal, you write down what you can remember from your dreams as they occur. Although often strange, dreams sometimes bring about very creative and intriguing stories. The news file is used to save news stories for use in news and documentary projects. Finally, the writer's journal should be kept with you at all times, and is used to record spontaneous thoughts, sites or ideas you may have.

For writer-director Lawrence Kasdan the ideas that "bubble up to the surface" tend to be very personal. "I work out of my own interests, enthusiasm, obsessions and neuroses." The man responsible for Grand Canyon and The Big Chill admits that for him, even one movie is hard to come by. "I don't have a lot of ideas floating around. I wish I did. 

I tend to have a few things that interest me, and one tends to bubble up to the surface more strongly than the others and demands my attention. Then I start to let my mind play with that. Of course, once you start writing, almost anything else seems more appealing, but I don't desert what I'm working on for the most part."

Most of Lawrence Kasden's early scripts, including Body Heat and The Big Chill were done utilizing a type of card system. First he would write down absolutely anything that ever crossed his mind onto cards. The thoughts or situations did not have to relate to one another, he wrote down everything. Next he would match up these "idea" cards with "scene" cards and form an outline from this. Of course not all the cards were ever used, just the ones appropriate for the situation.

top of page

| Home Page | Contests | Indies | Features | News | Resource Links | Advertise With Us |

Important disclaimer

Copyright © 1999-2011 by FilmMakers.com.  All rights reserved.
 FilmMakers.com is a division of Media Pro Tech Inc.