by Emil B. Garuba on Saturday, July 28, 2012 at 8:26am ·

*This is my third note this week. I guess I've got a lot on my mind to share. It's all been good stuff too. And this one is definitely worth reading... 
I recently discovered that there’s something that holds a lot of screenwriters back for years when it comes to writing their screenplays. I think it's a common mistake, and, especially early on, it seems like common sense. However, I found out that it is unbelievably hard to shake off. Wanna know what it is?  
Its believing that screenwriting is something you do sitting in front of your laptop. 
Yeah. Banging away at a keyboard has very little to do with writing a screenplay that people will read and want to buy. If you think that it is, then I'd question whether you really understand what a screenplay actually is. 
Robert McKee, the revered American creative writing instructor and author of  the definitive “screenwriters’ bible” called Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting, makes a crucial point very early on in one of his screenwriting seminars. He says words to the effect that: 
“Literary talent is ten a penny.” 
Here’s what I understood from that statement: Literary talent, the ability to shape words into musical, meaningful, or fascinating passages is common enough to be relatively uninteresting. Millions and millions of people across the world can do it. What is rare (so rare as to bag a lot of money and accolades for the lucky few like Aaron Sorkin, David S. Goyer, and Judd Apatow) is STORY ability. Movies live and breathe and thrive on story ability. And very few people in the world have it. 
A literary text exists on the page. A novel is a direct creation of (and only of) the words that compose it, as they lie, written down on the page, in that order. It cannot meaningfully exist in any other form. Not so with a screenplay. 
Sure, screenplays are passed around on paper. But their essence is a story told in pictures. A movie MUST exist away from the written page. That's why the dreaded idea of pitching your story is central to the industry. Believe me, few things make me as edgy as the idea of trying to pitch my screenplay idea, with all its complexity, and subtle story twists and turns, to a room full of bored and hostile studio execs (whom I lovingly refer to as “suits”. Thank you, Billy Walsh) or some self-proclaimed veteran producer with a few credits to their name looking for their next big blockbuster script. 
The suits don’t make you do this dance because they are illiterate idiots (as screenwriters who don't make the grade like to complain). Far from it. When it comes to stories the good suits (and they do exist) are very literate. They really know their job. They know that a story which can't exist off the page, that the writer can't tell verbally, that doesn't have a vivid existence hanging in the air between the pitcher and the listener, is going to die on screen. And you know why they know this? It’s because they are in the business of entertainment (emphasis on the business part). Their job is to put butts in cinema seats and make profits off DVD sales for their distribution companies. Which means selling a good movie/product, which ALSO means identifying a good movie/product. If you’re pitching a crap project, and they know it, then you get the boot!


by Emil B. Garuba on Wednesday, July 25, 2012 at 10:00am ·

Here are ten tips to get you started on writing the first draft of your screenplay:
1. Make your audience care. Get a person at the heart of your story that is deeply loved. Make terrible, awful things happen to them.
2. Make sure you are writing in a genre. Basically, writing for a specific category (or categories: Action/Adventure, Romance, Drama, Sci-Fi/Horror, etc.)
3. Happy Ending. You need one. It makes for a happier audience, which leads to bigger word of mouth, which makes for bigger box office. Producers know this, and often factor it in to their choices… unless you are a rebel or have enough clout to fight for justifying sending your protagonist to life in prison in the end by insisting, “Its real life”! Good luck with that one.
4. Love your hero, and force them to choose between two equally powerful alternatives at the end. I personally enjoy the Good Girl/Bad Girl James Bond tropes. But we usually know what Bond is gonna go for in the end
5. Design your villain so they can attack your hero in the most personal, damaging, agonizing way. Love your villain as much as your hero. Basically, The Dark Knight’s Joker set the standard. I love him… I hate him… I love him…
6. Get your story right before you write a word of dialogue. Write a prose treatment of this story, describing what happens to your beloved lead character.
7. Think about getting a gang of your friends to read the treatment. If three or more of them pick up on a point independently, you might have a problem there. If enough people say something’s not right, it’s probably true.
8. Pick the first paragraph in your treatment. Think about it over and over again; visualize it in the bath, when you wake up, when you are walking along the street. Visualize what happens until you can run it through like a little movie in your mind, seeing what happens, almost hearing the dialogue. This will be your first sequence.
9. Get out your script writing software (I personally recommend Final Draft!) and get that little movie down on paper now. Write the scenes. Make the characters move, and talk, and feel.

*At any time you can save your script as a Final Draft file in the accepted .fdx format. You can then email your script or upload it. As long as the recipient also has Final Draft, he or she can read it exactly as you’ve written it. Your script retains its formatting that the industry requires. Final draft is the number one-selling scriptwriting software in the world.


10. Repeat steps 8 and 9 over and over again, until you reach the end of your treatment. Guess what: you have just finished your first draft!
You should be proud. Few people get this far. And if you followed these steps, it's going to be far more readable than anything else you have written.
Most writers take years and years of trial and error before they discover how to write in a way that people want to read. Many of them never ever get there, and give up, having wasted years of their life. These ten points may be just the tip of the iceberg, but at least you know it's the right iceberg...

Emil @ Rated E


Over the next several weeks, I’m going to be discussing many of the myths that get in the way of great dialogue, and exploring some of the truths that can help set you on the path toward the dialogue you’ve always wanted to write.
Dialogue can be one of the most daunting aspects of writing for many screenwriters. It’s easy to become so obsessed with how an audience is perceiving your dialogue (is it believable, memorable, original, unique to our characters, realistic and compelling enough to captivate an audience) that you entirely forget to ask the most important questions:
What is dialogue? And what is it supposed to do in your screenplay?
I’m about to say something radical: just because your character SAYS something doesn’t make it dialogue.
Real dialogue, good dialogue (and the kind of dialogue you actually want in your screenplay) is distinguished from all the other stuff your character says by one simple quality…
Dialogue is just another way of getting what a character wants.
Your characters are just like you. When they talk, they’re doing it for a reason, whether they are conscious of that reason or not.
There’s no such thing as “just talk” in movies, or in life. And though that idea may seem counterintuitive at first, think about a recent social situation where you were “just talking” and you’ll probably be surprised to realize how many hidden wants were happening just under the surface, things you were trying to get from the person you were talking to: approval, congratulations, laughs, sympathy, compassion, protection, encouragement, excitement, thrills, sex, status, a free drink, a friendly smile.
And guess what? The person you were “just talking” with had a similar symphony of wants playing in their mind, the whole time they were talking to you, adding complex, barely perceptible conflicts to the scene that infused it with a certain feeling, and a certain reality.
When dialogue gets separated from the wants that motivate it, it’s almost impossible to make it feel authentic.
The reason most writers have such a hard time writing dialogue is because what they’re really trying to write is not dialogue, but simply talk.
Rather than listening to the complex symphony of their character’s wants, writers find themselves obsessing over the characters individual words and the way they’ll be perceived by an audience.
When you write dialogue in this way, there’s no drive or structure to it. Your dialogue isn’t actually doing anything. And more importantly, it’s not reflecting anything in the real world. That means the burden falls upon you, as the writer, to turn in the perfect virtuoso performance, in order to pass off a false product as a real one. And even if you succeed, unless you have a marvelous gift, you’re going to have to work your butt off for every word.
It’s like attending a concert at Carnegie Hall and listening only to a single violin. No matter how well executed the performance may be, it can’t help but sound a little tinny and false when divorced from the broader context of the symphony.
And heaven forbid a single chord be misplayed or a mistake be made in this context. Rather than being absorbed, or providing an interesting complement to the larger soundscape, it suddenly becomes an object of fixation for the writer, cutting them off from their creative impulses and from their natural talents.
Once you learn that your characters are using their words to get something from another character, the character starts to do most of the heavy lifting for you.
Rather than fixating on the words of the character (and your fear of being judged for how you write them), you can instead allow yourself to tap into the complex symphony of your character’s desires, allowing yourself to play around with the different ways your character can use their words to get what they want, in ways that are unique to that character.
Now, when you first set out to write a scene, the words themselves no longer need to be perfect, because you’re building around the deeper intentions that drive them, following your instincts and listening to the instincts of your character, focusing on what the characters are doing with their words, rather than what they are saying.
As you then work into later drafts, it becomes much easier to hone and refine your dialogue, and to separate the lines you need (the ones that pursue a want in a way that’s unique to that character) from the ones you don’t.
Tap into the symphony, without micromanaging the conductor!
It’s important to remember that just like you, your character may not always be consciously aware of their wants. And if you get super literal about analyzing every want before you even start to write, you may find that it’s just as much of an impediment to your writing as not thinking about the want at all.
Instead, I’d encourage you to keep your characters’ big wants (or at least the ones they are consciously aware of in the scene) somewhere in the back of your mind. And then allow yourself to play, enjoying the different tactics they use as they attempt to achieve those wants, and allowing your subconscious impulses to guide you.
You can then work back into the dialogue you have written, eliminating dialogue that doesn’t relate to the character’s desire, and getting more specific with the dialogue that does.
Stay tuned for the next article in this series, in which I’ll be discussing Truth #2 About Awesome Dialogue, and how understanding it can help you capture the voices of your characters, and discover your voice as a writer.

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