We’ve all seen ‘the mentor turns out to be the villain’ a thousand times, and it was never that good to begin with. If you don’t have a truly original take on it, don’t use it.
You’re finished with rewriting when there’s nothing left to cut. If your script keeps getting longer with every draft, you’re doing it wrong.
Never interrupt a writer to ask how their work is going. You’ll either get a surly look or way more information than you wanted.
How to tell if you’re lying to yourself: you think things like “I’ll just write myself out of this plot hole”, or “If I just keep writing, the characters will tell me what happens next”.
When writing a vitally important piece of information (e.g. the gun under the bed, the love note slipped into the wrong jacket) into a large paragraph of action, it might be a good idea to bold it. Your script readers will thank you.
You don’t have to keep reminding us who the secondary characters are, e.g. ‘the pilot Gregory’, or ‘his best friend Janice’. Do it once when they’re introduced, then maybe once more if they return to the main plot after a long time away.
Trust me, every joke involving a man in a Santa costume has already been done. There is nothing new to add to the genre.
P.S. Merry Xmas and happy holidays to you all. I hope you find some time to write amidst all the festivities.
Everybody should have a backstory. Not everybody should have a backstory that conveniently ties into the main plot.
It’s fine to write your teenage protagonist as disaffected and rebellious. It’s probably not fine to write her as a psychotic little monster.
You can hide exposition inside an argument. In a fight, two friends or lovers are likely to use intimate knowledge against each other. That way you get back-story that looks like drama.
Don’t kill the story with detail. When it comes to your most emotional scenes, description needs to get the hell out of the way and let the dialogue do its job.
Most people do not act rationally under pressure. Remember this — it’s one of your biggest sources of drama.
Generating ideas is easy: open a blank document and write down everything you can think of that you personally enjoy in other people’s writing. Use screenplays, novels or any other kind of fiction. Be as specific as you like.
Now read over the list. Maybe mix and match a few entries. You’ll be amazed how many new ideas hit you.
When developing a character, it can help to think in terms of ‘fear triggers’ and ‘courage triggers’. In other words, what would make this character curl up whimpering in a corner? And on the other hand, what brings out the very best in her?
Yes, sometimes coincidence is required to move a story along. But you could at least make some attempt to hide, explain or misdirect away from the coincidence.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A man wakes up in the morning, brushes his teeth, has breakfast on the way to work— Wait, except before that he gets a call from his girlfriend… Well, she’s not really his girlfriend any more. They’re kind of going through a rough patch. But what he doesn’t know is that she’s cheating on him with her boss who’s… No, hang on, you’re not supposed to know that until Act Two…
You wouldn’t tell a joke like this. So for the love of god, don’t pitch like this.
A good idea is absolutely worthless… until you hammer it into a good script.
How do you know when to stop rewriting? Ask yourself:
A) Is it getting better with each draft?
B) Do I still care?
If you answered in the negative for either question, it’s time to step away and reevaluate.
The only thing worse than research scenes (typing in search terms! Scribbling notes! Can you feel the drama?) are research scenes with explanatory voiceover.
Please, can we have fewer long, tedious ‘riffing’ scenes in comedies? They’re a momentum-suck, and usually they just suck.