Posts tagged ‘writing tips’

June 18, 2013

Lying to Tell the Greater Truth in Your Writing

Richard Walter has shared some excellent advice for screenwriters on The Wrap which essentially boils down to one point: Lie.

He writes,

Art, Picasso tells us, is the lie that tells the greater truth.

Screenwriters need to learn how to lie through their teeth.

As a screenwriting educator and script doctor I have seen more scripts brought down by a writer’s wrongheaded devotion to some idealized, romanticized, self-conscious, narcissistic, pie-in-the-sky notion of The Truth.

During tutorial sessions with writers in UCLA’s Master of Fine Arts screenwriting program, I often find myself asking something like, “Why is this character hemming and hawing, starting and stopping, meandering, beating around the bush?”

The answer I often get is, “That’s the way people really talk.”

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February 22, 2013

4 Essential Elements of a Knock-Out Ending

Brad Johnson of Script Mag has written a great article covering what he identifies as the four essential elements that you script will need to end successfully. He uses Rocky to demonstrate his point that whether your ending is happy or sad, it won’t work unless it meets these four standards:

It’s probably the most common complaint I hear from people after they see a movie: “It was a good movie, but I hated the ending.” It has always confused me because most of the writers I know tend to start off writing their scripts already knowing how it begins and how it end. So why then is it so common to hear audiences bemoan some variation on this theme? Simply put, there’s a difference between having an idea for a great ending and writing a satisfying one.

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September 5, 2012

How to Fail as a Screenwriter

Dave Trottier of Script Magazine has written a clever article offering up the three best ways to fail as a writer. He explains:

If you’re going to fail as a writer, then you might as well get it over with now.  Then you can focus on your day job and watch television all night.  The following 3 keys are guaranteed to unlock the door to instant failure and free you to flop like a floundering fish on the floor.

1. Just say no

Why didn’t you think of this before?  Stop writing.  It’s as simple as that.  Wait for huge blocks of time to open up, and refuse to write until they do.  Now that’s commitment!  Don’t touch that keyboard until your Muse flies down from Mount Parnassus to reveal the 101 master plots.  Failure comes to those who wait.

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August 2, 2012

50 Dead Giveaways That You’re an Amateur Writer

Danny Manus of No BullScript Consulting has written a new list, 50 signs of an amateur screenwriter. As he puts it,

There are probably hundreds of signs that the writer of that script I’m screaming at is an amateur. But today, I’d like to give a mere 50. Most of these may seem like common sense, yet you’d be amazed at the sheer number of projects plagued with these issues. Some of them may make you worry about your own work. But hey, at least you’ll know for next time and you’ll be one step closer to making sure your work is at the highest of professional standards.

The following is in NO particular order and covers a broad range of script issues.

  1. Writing CUT TOs, FADE TOs, FADE OUTs, or any other Transition between every scene.
  2. Telling us instead of Showing us.
  3. Description is in past tense instead of present tense and does not use the active form of the verb. For example, John drives – not John is driving. Danny stands – not is standing. No -ING verbs.
  4. Not using pronouns or articles in your sentences. THE room, HIS dog, HER chair. You don’t walk into room – you walk into THE room or A room.
  5. Having wordy description paragraphs longer than 4 lines on a page without a line break.
  6. Not CAPITALIZING your characters names the first time we meet them in your description. Or capitalizing characters names every time they’re seen or mentioned.
  7. Capitalizing every noun and/or verb in your description.
  8. Not having a new scene heading for every new location or writing things in your scene heading other than the location, time of day and relation to the previous scene
  9. Your description tells us exactly what your characters are thinking or are about to discuss in dialogue, or tells us backstory the audience cannot see.
  10. The script is written in Microsoft Word, Notepad or Celtx.
  11. Not knowing the difference between a Montage and a Series of Shots. A Montage condenses numerous scenes, locations and the passage of time while progressing the plot and character arcs. A series of shots is a visual style to show many different actions or specific visuals all from one scene or a short time span.
  12. Having Camera Direction in your description (“we see”, “shot of”, “camera pans” etc)
  13. Writing parentheses before dialogue on every page explaining the emotion or how the line should be said.
  14. You are not using “Intercut With” when going back and forth between two scenes instead of restating the scene heading each time.
  15. Lengthy location descriptions or too much production design – we don’t care what color the couch is.
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July 16, 2012

Joss Whedon’s Ten Rules of Screenwriting

Joss Whedon is one of my screenwriting idols. The creative mastermind behind such cult classics as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, Whedon has also written and/or directed such hits as The Avengers, Cabin in the Woods, Toy Story and Serenity.

Several years ago Joss listed his top ten writing tips:

1. FINISH IT
Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.

2. STRUCTURE
Structure means knowing where you’re going; making sure you don’t meander about. Some great films have been made by meandering people, like Terrence Malick and Robert Altman, but it’s not as well done today and I don’t recommend it. I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes? The thrills? The romance? Who knows what, and when? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around: the way you want your audience to feel. Charts, graphs, coloured pens, anything that means you don’t go in blind is useful.

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November 22, 2011

Video: Writing Parallel Stories Effectively

This new video from Jacob Krueger takes a look at effective ways to juxtapose two stories against each other within a script. He uses the example of Blue Valentine and Dead Poets Society:

September 1, 2011

Are You Sure it’s on the Page?

Here’s a great article by Craig Kellerman about making your ideas actually get on to the page in a way that a reader can pick up on:

The mind is a funny thing. Sometimes what we perceive to be true is not true. This happens often with screenwriting when writers think that there’s something on the page that isn’t on the page. This malady is not reserved for wannabes. It happens with pros–a lot.

Recently, I was working with a writer who was adapting a classic novel into a screenplay. The project was being supported by the art division of a major studio. One of the characters, a key one in fact, (in the novel) had always been a bitch. Not just an ordinary bitch, but a real bitch–we’re talking Joan Crawford, Leona Helmsley.

After the first notes meeting, the studio (typically) wanted the writer to “soften” this character. Dutifully, the writer acquiesced–too much. Studio pressure can be formidable.

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May 2, 2011

10 Writing Tips from the Great Billy Wilder

Scott Myers of GoIntotheStory.com recently posted this list of ten writing tips passed down by the amazing Billy Wilder. Wilder was the scribe behind such classics as Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, The Seven Year Itch, Sabrina, and Double Indemnity, to name a few. Wilder’s gravestone reads “I’m a writer, but then nobody’s perfect.”

1. Grab ’em by the throat and never let go.

2. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.

3.The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.

4. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.

5. Tip from Ernst Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.

6. The audience is fickle. Know where you’re going.

7. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they are seeing.

8. The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.

9. The 3rd act must build, build, build in tempo until the last event, and then…

10. …that’s it. Don’t hang around.