Screenwriting Tip #736
The superhero genre isn’t just about being tough and stoic, winning fights and defeating bad guys — that’s every action movie. Superheroes are about transcendant morality and the idea of acting for the greater good rather than personal gain. That’s what makes them “super”.
Joining The Black List
Big news, readers: Screenwriting Tips, You Hack is joining the Black List. Starting next week, this blog will continue at its new home over at the Black List website. You’ve heard of the Black List. You know why it’s cool (not to mention ubiquitous, influential and extremely important to the cause of broader recognition for screenwriters in Hollywood). But in case you’ve...
Screenwriting Tip #735
Meet and work with interesting people who you suspect are much smarter than you. It’s one of the quickest ways to improve your work.
Screenwriting Tip #734
Your teen characters all sound like disaffected twenty-somethings (probably because you’re a screenwriter, and therefore likely to be a disaffected twenty-something). Remember the reality of teenage years — all that ambition, angst and sexual anxiety — and tap into it.
Screenwriting Tip #733
In reality, people don’t always have perfect back-and-forth conversations. They’re often just waiting for the right moment to say something they really want to say. Use this fact to create turning points that flip your scenes around.
Screenwriting Tip #732
When writing about a place you’ve actually been to, resist the urge to show off. We don’t need a sight-seeing tour. What we need is to know how the place feels.
Screenwriting Tip #731
Ask yourself “logic questions” — after all, they’re one of the first things pitchees and potential buyers ask. Logic questions are about internal consistency and world cohesion, e.g. “Why is the monster attacking this specific town?”, or “Why does she agree to marry him when she’s shown to be terrified of commitment?”, etc.
Screenwriting Tip #730
Writers are vultures. And there’s no shame in that. In fact, taking several old ideas and combining them into one new idea is something to be proud of.
Screenwriting Tip #729
It’s hard to spontaneously generate witty phrases and neologisms; great lines arise from the clash of conversation. So when you hear someone say something clever or interesting, write it down. You might get to use it in a script some day.
Screenwriting Tip #728
If your spec script’s title has a colon or parentheses in it — e.g. JOHNNY CLAW (THE LAST WEREWOLF), or LAST CLAW: THE WOLFENING — it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
Screenwriting Tip #727
Respect the geography of your scene. You can’t have seven people conversing across a single row of airplane seats, and it’s pretty hard to have a whispered conversation at a dinner table without someone noticing.
Screenwriting Tip #726
Raise the stakes on your concept. Instead of a mayoral race, maybe a Senate race would be more interesting? If it’s about a heist, make it an impossible heist; if it’s about a virgin, make him a 40-year old virgin, etc.
The Book Strikes Back
Another week, another excerpt from the best book you will read this holiday season, guaranteed. (Not a guarantee.) This week’s chapter is about how to pitch a bunch of ideas all at once. You can find it right here at the excellent Mastering Film site: http://masteringfilm.com/screenwriting-tip-132-your-ideas-are-precious-snowflakes/ The chapter comes from a section on pitching, loglines,...
Screenwriting Tip #725
In certain genres, it makes sense for the villain to be the ‘dark mirror’ of the hero. What would your protagonist look like if she gave up on all her noblest impulses and gave in to her basest ones? That’s your villain.
Screenwriting Tip #724
When engaging in world-building, don’t start with the world. Start with your protagonist and work outwards: first them, then their family, friends, immediate environment, greater environment, etc.
Screenwriting Tip #723
Read biographies. They’re great examples of how someone’s life can be shaped into a narrative form, and they’ll help you consider your protagonist as a fully-rounded character — a product of her choices and experiences.
Screenwriting Tip #722
When you come up with a ‘big idea’ (e.g. a world where nobody can lie, a future where vampires rule over humans), don’t go with the first protagonist or plot that springs to mind. Think around the big idea — consider every angle and version until you find the right one for you.
Screenwriting Tip #721
Learn about the other roles in film and TV production. It’ll give you a deeper understanding of your own job. Plus, you’ll never embarrass yourself by assuming the first assistant director is the guy who gets coffee for the director.
Screenwriting Tip #720
Struggling to find the themes and motifs of your story during the outline stage? Write a sample scene. No obligation to actually put it in your script — this is just for you. Pick a scenario that will work as an emotional testing ground for your protagonist, drop her in and and see how she reacts.
Screenwriting Tip #719
Kill a sacred cow and see if it leads you to a new concept. E.g. what does a rom-com look like if the lead characters almost never meet? (SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE). What does a heist movie with no heist look like (RESERVOIR DOGS), or a thriller that runs in reverse (MEMENTO)?
Screenwriting Tip #718
Let your writing move you. Allow it to make you sad, angry, painfully nostalgic or giddily excited. Put a little bit of blood on your pages.
Screenwriting Tip #717
Spare a thought for your script reader: when describing something small but important which is going to come back later (gun on the mantel, text message on the phone, keys left inside the car) split it off into its own paragraph.
There Will Be Book
Yes, I’m pimping the book again. But I’m only doing it because I love you, and I want you to take advantage of the very reasonable pre-order price at Amazon. Hey, have I mentioned that Kindle and Nook versions are launching alongside the dead tree edition? Because they are. They are totally launching. Maybe I haven’t told you about the latest addition to the book: a special...
Screenwriting Tip #716
During the outline or first draft phases, don’t stress too hard about Act Three. It’s the easiest part of the script to change because there’s no knock-on effect when you tinker with it.
Screenwriting Tip #715
Test readers often see things that aren’t there, or latch onto things that you didn’t think were important. Listen to them. If they keep asking about a certain minor character or plot thread, you may want to bulk up that element in your next rewrite.
Screenwriting Tip #714
Raising the stakes only works if the new stakes make sense in relation to the plot. An Act Three attack, kidnapping, bomb threat, etc. that doesn’t fit the antagonist’s M.O. is more confusing than exciting.
Screenwriting Tip #713
Here’s a little screenplay secret: you don’t always have to bend the plot to suit your protagonist’s arc and will. If you really, really want that set piece, you can go back and tweak the character so that they’re drawn into it. But it better be a damn good set piece.
Screenwriting Tip #712
We have to see how much the protagonist really loves something before we can start caring that she might lose it.
Screenwriting Tip #711
Some of the best villains have very little backstory. A great villain lives and dies by what he wants, and what he’s willing to do to get it.
Screenwriting Tip #710
“Why doesn’t she just walk away?” is a question that writers must answer for their protagonists. But it applies to minor characters, too. When the going gets really tough, there should be good reasons why the sidekick, best friend and love interest don’t choose to run and hide.
The First Sample Book Chapter is Up
And you can read it right here: http://masteringfilm.com/screenwriting-tip-79-character-names-matter/ There are over 70 of these mini-chapters in the book. They’re written somewhat like a blog post — concise and targeted to their particular topic. Some are short like this one; some much, much longer. You should see the one about structure! Stay tuned because there’ll be a new...
Screenwriting Tip #709
If your protagonist is some kind of fugitive or anti-hero being pursued by the cops, don’t spend too much time on the cops’ side of the story. Since they’re perpetually one step behind the main plot, it can be difficult to make their scenes meaningful or interesting.
Screenwriting Tip #708
As a general rule, when the protagonist is trying to think her way out of a dangerous situation, the first thing she comes up with should not work.
Screenwriting Tip #707
Keep track of story time. It doesn’t take a week to drive across two states, and funerals don’t usually happen the day after someone dies. Make a timeline if you have to.
Screenwriting Tip #706
Opening crawl? Not unless your name is George Lucas.
Screenwriting Tip #705
Thinking up titles can be easier than thinking up story concepts. So if you need a new concept, try this trick: write down ten interesting titles. At least one or two of them will immediately suggest themselves as good story ideas.