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Monday, August 13, 2007

Another Great Question

Our very own Rouge Waver of the Month, Geena writes:

...of the five areas Premise, Structure, Storyline, Character, Dialogue, which do you think is the biggest shortcoming for a new screenwriter? I'll guess and say storyline - structure. I think most of us come up with a decent ideas, then fail getting substance and flow to our stories.

Actually, Geena, total newbie writers tend to fall down in both areas and primarily in premise. Most new writers do not have the tools to test whether their premise is unique, original, compelling entertainment. Well - let me rephrase that - they either don't have the tools to test the premise or they just can't imagine that their idea would NOT be entertaining to someone else. So you get these self-referential, navel-gazing stories about coming of age or partying or the girl who falls for the rock star.

Most premises from new writers are too small and too "soft". Remember, last week when I included two "vague dramas" in what I had read that week? I see TONS of those. Just sort of soft, vague stories with few exciting or memorable moments because the whole idea is just not that compelling. It's not enough to sustain a three-act feature film. Writers get an idea that is actually more a situation than a premise which suggests enough entertaining conflict to draw out over 100+ pages. And it follows that if your premise is weak, no structure in the world can save it.

Geena had another question:

...also I come across mixed comments on dialogue. The keep it four lines max [rule]. But then folks who want the whole grammatical sentence in there, like " I am never going to return to that cave again", and I get jumped for this "Not going back --" as being on the nose.

I've never heard specifically to limit dialogue to four lines but yes, you do want to avoid big chunks of dialogue. It gets tedious to read, it loses that kinetic quality of the cinema and it can also be an exposition trap for the writer. As for full, grammatical sentences - that sounds crazy to me. The character should speak in the way that is totally natural and organic for them! Just bear in mind that writers, especially screenwriters, are always looking for the perfect mixture of economy and impact - whether that's in dialogue, action lines or anywhere else.

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Christian M. Howell said...

Cool post. As a new screenwriter I feel that you should start with something small and easy.

I think finding your voice in an action packed movie will not pay in the long run.

I wrote perhaps the most boring movie since Shawshank and I like it more than the action/adventure and fantasy comedy I'm writing now.

Three years from now I'd like to be known as a writer who can write many genres but concentrates on things like Must Love Dogs or The Perfect Man.

I'm a sucker for a soppy women's movie.

Anonymous said...

huh? why shoot yourself in the foot and fall behind the other 250,000 people trying to do the same thing as you are? unless you're an indie film dude and making your own flicks you're just making things harder on yourself.