The "Right" Way to Write a Script

People who work with screenplays, either as writers, producers, teachers, or theorists, sometimes discuss abstractions like "compelling" stories, "fresh" characters, and the like. One could fill a thesaurus with all the vague, ill-defined terms that people use when discussing what makes a "good" script. None of that comes as a surprise to people who work with words for a living.

What does come as a surprise is how many folks will tell you they have it all figured out. Some of them are teachers, some are authors of books about scriptwriting in its many forms, and some are programmers who create software for the screenwriting market. Should you believe any of them?

Let's look at the evidence: genuine, produced screenplays. You can find them many places, whether in physical form or online. Read enough of them, and you soon realize that "successful" screenplays come in many forms, with varying amounts of description, varying layouts, and so on. In some, the main character may appear on page one, and dominate most scenes, while in others, the main character has much less screen time. There simply isn't a magic formula that suits all purposes.

Having said that, I also don't believe that "anything goes." Too often, beginners try to reinvent the wheel, thinking themselves to be the next Quentin Tarantino, somebody who can break the rules and flout convention, toss out traditional notions of time sequence and narrative structure, and make a fortune in the process. For most people just starting out, this is a bad strategy.

But wait. First, I said that there isn't any dependable, unbreakable rule for any aspect of screenwriting. Then, I warned against being overly creative or original. Isn't this a contradiction? Yes, it sure is.

And that is the answer to the question posed in the second paragraph above. I would be skeptical of anybody who tells you that they "have it all figured out" or that there is a single formula that will work for every writer, or for every story, or for every situation. Instead, what a scriptwriter should do is to listen to multiple viewpoints, consider multiple theories, and become acquainted with multiple styles. You don't want to start completely unprepared, but you also don't want to make a career out of studying screenplays. You want to make a career out of writing them!

So, work at it. Try writing the same scene at differing levels of detail. Try making a character more wordy, or more terse, in conversation with other characters. The best way to find your own comfort zone is by experimentation, and that means gluing your backside to a chair and writing.

(c)Rich Wilson all rights reserved

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