Tighten Your Screenplay

Tom Lazarus, screenwriter, director and playwright wants writers to rid themselves of the traditional restraints of three act structures, turning points etc. These are merely guidelines which can suck the soul out of your screenplay if you slavishly adhere to them.

The main rule that Tom preaches is RISING ACTION in each subsequent scene. This is achieved through more action, more danger, higher stakes.

If the reader isn’t engaged in the first few pages of your script, you’ve lost them. Write efficiently and effectively. Fully realize every script moment. Each scene should add momentum to the screenplay and propel it forward.

Organize your thoughts and outline before you start writing. Abandoning the traditional structural constraints does not give you the green light for screenwriting anarchy.

Write your first draft in a single pass. Aim for around 85 pages. You can edit and build during subsequent passes.

Is it an OPEN STORY? – told the point of view of multiple characters

Is it a CLOSED STORY? – told from the point of view of the main character

Is your story accessible to a defined audience? Or is it too artsy?

Not all scenes are created equally. The level of written action in each scene should reflect its importance.

Minimize capitalization. Years ago it was a way to draw attention to IMPORTANT PARTS of a scene. Today it’s a distraction. Use it for the first appearance of a character and important sounds.

Keep setups short and exposition minimal. Let the audience discover backstory when the characters do. Introduce and reinforce key information when it’s required.

Allow some freefalling magic in your screenplay or it may become too formulaic. We don’t always need to know where we in the story. Sometimes it’s nice to enjoy the ride.

Don’t add stylistic devices for the sake of it. They must add something to the screenplay rather than distract the reader. These include voiceovers, non-linear storytelling, book ending and flashbacks.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Robert says:

    I enjoyed these sentiments especially the concept that it is more important to propell the story forward than to fit a prescribed formula.

    I’ve read other articles that indicated that the industry recognizes and prefers three acts with two to five sequences per act with two to five scenes per sequence. If you don’t follow the formula then your script will end up in the landfill.

    With such diverse advice it is hard to pinpoint what exactly is the right thing to do. Many people say to be a good screenwriter one must read a lot of scripts, but it is often reported that the quality of the scripts has fallen drastically over the past twenty years. I don’t think it is possible to read successful scripts since those that are turned into movies are purchased products which are typically no longer publically accessible.

    We could look at the movies themselves which are deliberately publically accessible, but this can be baffling. We all have seen a flop in film which leaves me wondering how the script made it through the system. I know there’s a myriad of reasons why films are produced including having the support of influential champions, but there are some movies that are so obviously atrocious, loose money and are heavily criticized. I often wonder how that could ever happen in a system in which everything is subjected to such harsh scrutiny.

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