Corey Mandell, an L.A. based script consultant and screenwriting teacher, shares his views on how to distinguish amateur hobby writers from the professional ones.
There are certain essential skill sets required to write at a professional level. Too many writers continue to crank out scripts without learning and developing these skills. This is not generally a road to success. So what are these skill sets?
The first skill set is the ability to write in COMPELLING CINEMATIC CONFLICT, the kind that truly engages a reader and makes them want to keep reading As David Mamet stated in his memo to The Unit writers, “This is a new skill. No one does it naturally. You can train yourself to do it.” And it is imperative that writers train themselves to do this, because not being able to write in compelling cinematic conflict is like wanting to be a professional basketball player without knowing how to dribble.
The second skill set is CREATIVE INTEGRATION. Psychologists note some people create conceptually while others create intuitively. Conceptualists tend to write outside-in, starting with concept or situation. Intuitives tend to write inside-out, starting with character or theme. The result is that conceptualists tend to craft well-structured scripts populated by less than compelling characters while intuitives tend to write strong characters and dialogue, but their scripts lack structure. Successful writers are able to write both conceptually and intuitively. They get the best of both worlds. While few people naturally do this, it’s an ability that can be developed through exercises designed to strengthen and integrate these two creative approaches.
The third skill set is WRITING PROCESS. I’ve heard many successful writers say they know people far more talented then themselves who do not have careers and never will have careers because of their process. Process is how we write, how we create our work. Too many people unknowingly use a way of writing that prevents them from creating their strongest material. Trying out different processes to find the one that allows you to create your most compelling characters and stories is the best investment a writer can make.
The fourth skill set is STRUCTURE. Whenever I bring in an agent, manager or producer to speak to one of my classes, they always say they can immediately spot a script written to one of the this-must-happen-by-this-page, paint-by-the-numbers structure formulas, and these scripts never succeed. In order to have the best possible chance at success, writers need to train themselves to be able to create flexible, non-formulaic structure that supports and enhances, instead of destroys, what is unique and original about their stories, characters and writing.
The last skill set is effective REWRITING. Too many writers spend enormous amounts of time and energy chasing their tails by rewriting their material without really improving it.
“Change the stories people tell about themselves. You change in an instant who they are and can become.”
“Change the stories people tell about their universe and about others. You change the world.”