This weeks Worthy Wednesday showcases a Meganda Films guest. With the launch of our new website we launched a ‘GUESTS’ page; where Meganda Films guests share a little knowledge with you. This Wednesday we want to showcase our Writers Words guest, Caitlin Durante. Continue to check back to catch more of her Writers Words.
If you’ve got a hankering to write a screenplay, you’ll need to know some DOs, DON’Ts and DOESN’Ts before you begin. Let’s assume that you speak English and know how to string a sentence together. Let’s also assume you know the major components of storytelling, like the need for a protagonist, an antagonist, a conflict, the line, “We’ve got company!” after a character spots a bunch of guys with guns. This brings us to some tips specific to screenwriting. Here are some!
1. DON’T write anything that a camera cannot capture. In other words, don’t write what a character is thinking, feeling, planning, realizing, or fantasizing about, because there’s no way for a camera to capture what is inside a character’s head. Few people read a Hollywood film’s script. A lot more watch a Hollywood script’s film, so screenwriters need another way to express what’s going on with a character. Instead of something like, “Caitlin feels angry because she thinks her enemy is lame and she plans to punch him,” the passage should instead read, “Caitlin snarls and balls her hands into tight fists as she watches her enemy come menacingly toward her.” An actor can easily do this, the camera can easily capture this, and the audience can easily presume that Caitlin has unpleasant feelings toward her enemy. This is all just a fancy way of explaining what every writer should do anyway, “Show, Don’t Tell.”
2. Pay attention to pacing and structure. Momentum is fairly important in film, and different parts of the story structure tend to happen at pretty consistent points in the movie. Take a screenplay that’s 110 pages long, a fairly average length. This will end up being a 110-minute movie, since one page of a script roughly translates to one minute of edited film. The inciting incident, which is the catalyst that sets the plot in motion, usually happens sometime between the 10-20 minute mark. The climax usually happens around 5-10 minutes before the credits roll, and the last few minutes consist of the denouement and conclusion. Everything in the middle, the rising action, should be scenes that move the plot along. Any scene that does not serve a major purpose, like getting the main character one step closer to the climax, should be eliminated because it will slow down the story’s momentum. A screenplay is like a game of Jenga. If you can remove a block and the tower will still stay upright, then get rid of it. If you take away a piece and the tower wobbles, about to fall over, it’s best to keep it in place. You don’t want to throw out so much that your story lacks cohesion and sense.
If you’re ever disappointed by a film adaption of a book because it left so much out, don’t be. You’d probably be even more disappointed if you had to sit through at 38-hour movie and watch every mundane detail that happened in the novel. Screenwriters have to be mindful of the pace of the story, and take out anything that’s superfluous. What’s left will be a script with a solid structure that cruises along swiftly.
3. DON’T write excessive dialogue, both in terms of how much a character says at one time, and how long the exchange is between two or more characters. Sometimes they may be unavoidable, but long-winded soliloquies and lengthy scenes of dialogue will slow down the momentum. Film is a visual medium, and the story should unfold based more on action–what the characters do rather than what they say. You should be able to watch a good movie on mute and still have a pretty good idea of who is who and what is going on. Remember that time I mentioned “Show, Don’t Tell?” It’s hard to believe, but this applies to dialogue, too! If you can show or reveal something about a character or circumstance rather than having a character explicitly state it, show it. After all, it’s not called “tell business.” Some genres, like comedy, require more dialogue than others, like action and adventure, but as a general rule of thumb, don’t overuse dialogue. Famous movie quotes aren’t paragraphs long—they’re usually just a few words.
“I’ll be back.”
…with more screenwriting tips.