Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Screenwriter Secrets of Effective Storytelling!
What's this series about? Scroll to the end of this post for the answer...

Part 1: The Language
Screenwriters (especially unknowns) are always swimming upstream. They have two pages to grab the reader’s attention, and then not only keep it, but make sure that reader blasts from sentence to the next and one page to the next.

Screenplay readers (usually always attached to a production company) will sometimes take home a stack of scripts to read provide what’s called “coverage,” which includes whether or not to advance the screenplay to whatever the next round is. And script readers claim that the piles of scripts next to their beds are basically worthless, unreadable, and worst of all, boring!

It’s all a part of the ongoing problem we all face: attracting interest, and then maintaining it.

In order to do this, screenwriting language is simple, clear, concise, unadorned, all the things you’ve learned through school and in Strunk & White.

What does screenwriting language do? To begin with it:

I. Plants a crystal clear image in the reader’s mind

Remember the first time you saw Aliens? If it was in a packed movie house, you’ll definitely remember the audience’s reaction to this scene. I remember the audience I was in: everyone said “Oh, NO!”

It started with a crystal clear description in the script. Notice how the words, with blazing efficiency, give us the scene:
Newt, standing waist deep in the water, watches sparks shower blindingly as Hicks cuts. She bites her lip, trembling. Cold and terrified. Silently a glistening shape rises in one graceful motion from the water behind her. It stands, dripping, dwarfing her tiny form. Newt turns, sensing the movement...She SCREAMS as the shadow engulfs her.
Terry Rossio, co-writer of all three Pirates of the Caribbean flicks, says “Write what you see.”

To paraphrase for the rest of us: Write what you saw.


About this series: Made to Stick devotes an entire chapter to Stories. I've found that many of us a pretty good at telling stories, but not so great at writing them. I've seen organizations design pages on their Web sites, asking for story submissions, but what comes back (if anything comes back) is usually unusable.

That's where I'm stepping in. As a playwright and screenwriter (semi-produced), I've compiled all sorts of facts, methods, tools and ideas from the experts in dramatic writing. I've categorized them under three headings: The Language for Stories, The People in Stories, and The Structure of Stories. And I've taken heed of one of the methods and just started the series, without a lengthy explanation at the beginning. Here's hoping that by writing them down, I'll at least use some of these ideas when I get stuck, as often happens.

(This post's "Headline Emotional Marketing Value" score: 80%)

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