Your primary focus is on story and less on writing scenes, sharp dialogue or gripping action.
Inevitably, though, once figured out your characters and their journeys, you are down to the daunting task of writing that next draft.
You will be writing at the scene level, and a slightly different set of rules comes into play.
Suddenly the very particular way in which you organize and formulate your thoughts becomes crucially important, as your mastery of language, i.e. grammar and vocabulary.
From the most common mistakes I have found in my clients’ scene writing, I have deducted three particular qualities.These three qualities your screenplay MUST have if you want the discerning reader to continue reading all the way to THE END, if you want your script to stand up to the competition and have a chance of being produced.
In each and every scene of your screenplay, your writing must be:
Let’s look at these primary qualities one by one, in order of decreasing priority:
It is of the utmost importance that what you want to show, is on the paper. Don’t leave anything essential to the interpretation of the reader, the actor, the director. If it has to be on the screen, even if you want it to be felt by the audience rather than seen, it still must be on the page and it must be undeniably clear in the mind of the reader.
If it is not going on the screen, it shouldn’t be in the script anyway.
Aesthetics are less important than clarity. If you can’t find an unobtrusive alternative to a long-winded description or dialogue phrase without causing confusion about the intention of the scene, leave it in.
An elegant screenplay moves fast. Clutter, both in action and dialogue slows down the reading experience and gives the impression of a slow moving film. Be brief, catchy, summarize as much as possible, but always without causing any confusion (see the first primary quality).
Using ‘lots of white’ is a crucial style tip, but this is only possible if you are able to condense the meaning of your scenes in only a few well-written sentences.
What Robert McKee calls ‘Vivid Action in the Now’, I believe is a successful combination of conciseness and color. It is concise enough to move fast, yet colorful so it speaks directly to our imagination.
Film is a visual medium and therefore you can argue that it doesn’t necessarily matter how you express something, as long as we can imagine what the scene looks like. Although this sounds right in theory, the reality is slightly different.
People making decisions on film funding read many, many screenplays. If you make the reading a burden by using a defective, unimaginative style, this will have a negative impact on the reading experience and potentially on the assessment of your script.
Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.
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