Saturday, 25 April 2009


I've been meaning to do this for a while. Now that the gig I was supposed to be at tonight has been cancelled, I've started giving it some proper thought. And I'd be grateful for your help.

There are plenty of books out there - not to mention courses - which purport to lead the reader through the ins and outs of screenwriting. I've read quite a few of them. Some have interesting stuff in them, the odd nugget here and there, often surrounded by wads of less than useful information. Some are - to my mind, at least - absolutely bloody useless.

One of the problems is that the expert author feels the need to parade their phenomenal knowledge of the subject at great length. Even on screenwriting courses, I've been shocked at the sense of sinking in a sea of 'How To's and 'What Not to Do's and ever deeper layers of complication.

Screenwriting is hard work, but it should also be fun. There's a lot to learn, yes, but if the balance between creative and prescriptive is all wrong, aren't we in danger of crushing the imaginative spirit and the individual voice of the writer?

I've been mulling over this for a long time, and wondering whether it wouldn't be possible to produce a guide to the art and craft of screenwriting which emphasised creativity, which takes the reader on an enjoyable journey round the pitfalls of scripts, presents practical know-how and makes the whole process reasonably clear.

And there's another dimension. This has something to do with the ways our lives are defined by stories. We're surrounded by them; they tell us what to think, what to believe. We live our lives according to the stories we've been told, and the stories we've told ourselves.

So, theoretically at least, we can devise better stories to tell ourselves (and others), and by doing so we can alter our attitudes to the world around us.

Isn't that what practically every self-help manual and self-improvement course sets out to do? To get you to change your inner story, to tell yourself a different story?

The journey of the script is the writer's journey. The writer undertakes the adventure, and lives through the long dark night of the soul which lies at the heart of the story. The writer returns with the secret of the script, the experience of the story, and, like the hero, acquires a new understanding.

I'm thinking that the time has come for me to start putting together some worksheets, along the lines of a step-by-step process, which look at the journey of the script from start to finish. I'd like to keep it as simple, as straightforward, and as stimulating as possible. I'd like to present it as a month-long plan.

The result, if it comes out all right, will be available as a PDF document.

I could do with any input you have to offer, though.

What are the areas of screenwriting, or the issues involved, which interest or concern or confuse you the most?

What could my guide do differently that would really help?

What would you most like to know by the end of it?

And would you be interested in seeing these worksheets as they come rolling off the press?

Let me know what you think.


Sofluid said...

I would definitely like to see them as they roll off the press :)

As for content, I think the topic of "not letting the rules constrict your creativity" might be a good one to explore. For example, it can be difficult to express your originality in style and content when you're constricted by many "don't do this" and "don't do that" rules. How can we avoid feeling bogged down by all that? Personally I would overcome this by writing some prose first, to get my creative descriptions flowing and really create some excitement in my mind. Then I'd try and convey that in script format.

Another topic I was quite vague about was that of synopsis' and treatments. I always get confused what each of them should be like and how I should write them. I've pretty much got the hang of it now, but I'm sure that amateur screenwriters would appreciate it being clarified.

Lastly, what about a section on what to do with the script when you've finished it? I've just recently come up with the dilemna of how to bind my script to UK industry standard. Is it the same as binding scripts in the US? What's acceptable? What's the norm paper-thickness wise/title pages...

Anyhow, just a few ideas for you :)

Good luck with it!

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

It would be cool if you can explore the differences between US and US screenwriting and the studio system. Oftentimes I feel confused by how the studio system works.

Another helpful idea would be discussing how the business works: what happens after you sold your first screenplay? and how much creative input can screenwriters retain while it's being turned into a film? Shit like that.

and I like Sofluid's comment above, I agree with everything she said.