If you’re struggling to convey complex meaning in a parenthetical (“angrily yet hesitantly, remembering all she’s done for him”), it’s because you’ve screwed up somewhere else. If your dialogue’s any good, all that stuff will be implicit.
If you’re writing a period setting, try to front-load the awesome stuff. Everybody likes Vikings who scream and pillage; nobody cares about Norse systems of local governance. First you suck them in, then perhaps you can teach them something.
When writing conversations between old friends, cut dialogue to the bone. They have their own in-jokes; they know what the other is going to say. When they fight, remember it’s not the first time they’ve ever fought.
Just because a project was announced with the same premise as your spec, doesn’t mean somebody stole your idea. This goes double if your idea was based on an old film, historical figure or public domain story.
If you find yourself writing a scene in which one character walks in and describes what just happened off-screen… stop. You’re writing a play. This is supposed to be a screenplay — “show, don’t tell”, remember?
See? Fabulous. In case you weren’t up to clicking that link, let me tell you what the prizes are: 5 Focal Press books (including a copy of my book) and a 1-year subscription to Filmskills.
We call the competition Audience Tips. To win, all you have to do is answer the following question:
"What’s the one thing you’d change about movies?"
To be clear: we want your answer. It can be as broad, specific, funny, serious, flippant or wise as you like. You might choose to tackle it from a screenwriter’s perspective (“If only scripts with sad endings were more commercially viable”), an audience perspective (“There aren’t enough real female characters in summer movies!”), or your own, highly personal angle (“I wish they’d never closed down the local theater where I had my first kiss”).
The winning answers will be those that Scott, Franklin and I find most interesting and entertaining, and they will of course be published on the Black List blogs for all to see.
There are three ways to enter:
Leave a comment on this post. Make sure to include your email address so we can contact you if you win.
Tweet your answer to @xanderbennett, @gointothestory or @theblcklst with the hashtag #audiencetips.
But wait! That’s not all. Focal has also offered us a very generous 40% discount on their entire catalog for the duration of the competition. Simply head over to www.focalpress.com, choose any book you like (including mine), click ‘Buy Book’ and choose ‘Elsevier’. Then at checkout, enter “BLACKLIST” as the discount code for 40% off and free shipping in the US.
Events transpire, progress is made, and the march of time, uh… marches onward. Here are some things you might have missed:
I was interviewed by tireless writing ninja Brad Sorensen over at Stealmyscript.com. We discussed everything from stealing script ideas, to how the book came about, to where I get the material for this here blog. Check it out.
The new Black List was featured on Deadline. Maybe you’ve heard of this thing called The Black List? I mean, you’re on it right now. So you might be interested to know that The Black List — much like the Superman movies — has just been totally rebooted.
(Oh, and if this is your first time on Deadline, be not afraid. The comment section always looks like that. Just be sure to don your flame-retardant suit and you’ll be fine.)
The book’s Amazon page now shows exclusive content, available nowhere else. The shiny stuff includes a special letter from me to you (aww) and three new mini-tips, available nowhere else. I even snuck in one about video game writing, something I wish I could have written more about in the book. Read all the new words here.
This site got a new coat of paint. Isn’t it pretty? The awesome new site design comes courtesy of our rock star tech guy Dino, who eats HTML for breakfast.
(Special note for Tumblr readers: unfortunately, you won’t see the new design because you’re reading the old site. Why not join us over at the new URL: screenwritingtips.blcklst.com.)
As you can see, there’s a lot going on. But I haven’t even told you the biggest news. That’s coming this afternoon.
Don’t rely on never-explained Macguffins (“Oh, they all want the document folder for some reason. It’s just a mystery — I don’t have to explain it.”). Always know what your characters really want, and why.
The first joke you think of (“Teens text a lot”, “Men always want sex”, etc.) is always going to be a cliche. That’s why you thought of it first. Same goes for action scenes — we’ve all seen the same car chases and firefights. Think past the obvious answer.
When adapting a book or fictionalizing a real event, your job isn’t to be accurate to the source material. Your job is to find the movie. If that means cutting the part where your protag spends five years living in a shack in Peru, so be it.
It comes in two distinct flavors: dead tree and sexy electronic version for your Kindle. (Fun fact: the Kindle edition is apparently titled “Screenwriting Tips You Hack: Crash The Hollywood Gates”. I have no idea how that happened, but man, it sounds awesome.)
This book is the culmination of everything I’ve been doing here for the past 2+ years. I put all I had into writing it: heart, soul, snark, the finest pun-based humor, and most of all, love of screenwriting. This is a book about sitting in front of a computer and pouring your heart out, and the ways in which we can make that painful process a little bit easier.
I wrote it for you, the readers of this blog. I hope you like it, and I hope it inspires you. Thanks for reading.
Research-heavy setting or concept? You don’t have to read every book ever written about your chosen topic… you just have to sound like you have. If you get that far, you’re far enough to write a screenplay.
When writing in a particular genre, swap in tropes from different genres to surprise the audience. E.g. when writing comedy, a dramatic, heartfelt scene can make the next big joke even funnier, while an action-thriller may benefit from a few horror-style scenes of powerlessness and dread.
Sorry, but marketing gimmicks don’t work. No one cares if your script arrives rolled up inside a bottle, or taped to a box of chocolates, or if they have to solve an ARG to read it. They just want it to grip them from page one.
Know the roots of your idea inside out. That includes all major films in the same vein. If you’re pitching a serial killer movie and the pitchee brings up SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, you better damn well know what they’re talking about.
If you absolutely have to compare your script to another movie, don’t compare it to something that flopped commercially, or that nobody remembers. They’re looking for a reason to pass. Don’t make it easy for them.
Choose your next project the way an actor chooses a role. If you want a small audience of like-minded artists, choose the passion project which no one seems to love as much as you do. But if you want your name in lights, choose the story that everybody can get excited about.
If your protagonist is an antihero, a narcissist, a ruthless pragmatist or simply a jerk, here’s an easy way to build a plot: challenge her nature in every scene. Build every beat so that it holds a mirror up and forces her to confront who she is.
Don’t use crappy VO or exposition to explain a complicated setting — let the characters do it. E.g. instead of telling us about life in occupied France, have your protagonist complain at length about those damned Nazis.
If you’re writing a story set in a place you’ve never been to… cheat. There are of plenty of free, detailed travel websites out there. Bonus: many of them contain great travel-related horror stories — perfect fodder for your comedy spec.
Dual protagonists — e.g. a romance shown from two different perspectives — are incredibly hard to pull off. If you can play favorites, do so. Pick the one you love the most and write it from their perspective.
If you’re using newspaper articles or TV news reports in your script, study how those things are actually written. Audiences may not know exactly how a headline is supposed to sound, but they know when it sounds wrong.