Writing Craft versus Format
Too often, spec screenwriters think “craft = format”. No. NoNoNoNoNoNo!
Format involves the “look” of the page and is the VERY LEAST you should do, Bang2writers. What’s more, you can get on top of the latest expectations and preferences in format by script readers and their bosses very easily. Just check online lists like the one at The B2W Format 1 Stop Shop.
- Screenplay format is the ‘done thing’ (aka HOW you lay it out on the page)
- Craft is HOW you do it – ie. the actual storytelling.
So, what are the top 5 mistakes in Craft? Chew on these:
1) Overly Long Scenes
I read somewhere – I forget where – that screenwriters should allow for the following:
- ‘ordinary’ scenes = UP TO 1 page
- ‘extraordinary’ scenes = UP TO 3 pages
Obviously you don’t want to stick to these rigidly (there are NO RULES, people!) but I think it acts as a good general rule of thumb to keep our scenes in line, no? MORE: Are You Making Any Of These 20 Killer Errors In Your Screenplay’s Scenes?
2) Chains of dialogue
Repeat after me, everyone: characters are not what they SAY, but what they DO. Don’t really get what this means? Okkkkkk … Basically it comes down to this:
Do not place TALK at the heart of every scene, or allow it to TELL US STUFF about the story or characters too much.
So, instead invest in your VISUALS. You do this via scene description.
3) “False Movement”
Aka BAD scene description. When you have characters doing random actions that aren’t really part of the story, like waving arms, moving eyebrows, sitting down, standing up or walking to and from windows, this is FALSE MOVEMENT. This does not push the story forward OR reveal character, it becomes filler. This then leads to static scenes. So don’t do it!
4) Bad structure
Whether you’re writing a two, ten, thirty, sixty or ninety pager, you’re gonna need a beginning, a middle and an end. But you don’t want your script to end up as a “Bunch of Stuff Happening” (B.O.S.H).
Instead, your structure – whether you use 3 Acts, 5 Acts, 22 Steps, Save The Cat, WHATEVER – needs to represent the idea of your character getting over obstacles. We want a sense of ESCALATION. That’s the point. Your character/s should be climbing walls, each bigger than the last.
5) Indiscernible character role functions
Whilst most spec screenwriters realise characters need motivation, they frequently forget characters need ROLE FUNCTIONS as well:
- A protagonist wants something for some reason.
- An antagonist gets in the way of that, for some reason.
- Each secondary HELPS or HINDERS the protagonist in that goal.
The secondary role functions are where it frequently gets murky. Writers too often want to reinvent the wheel, especially when they confuse archetype and stereotype. So know the difference. Twist your characters, make them left of the middle, NOT out of the left field.
Not hitting the ground running
Too often, spec screenwriters think they have to introduce the characters first, THEN kick off the story. Nope. You kick off the story and chuck the character in the deep end (even if you begin with slowburn techniques!) – this way, the WAY our character deals with what is going on is how we GET TO KNOW HIM/HER. Neat, eh? MORE: 10 Tips For The Perfect Ten (Pages)
Take Your Writing To The NEXT LEVEL!
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I am offering Bang2writers a free mini course called The Foundations of Writing Craft. Using video, worksheets and PDF guides, I walk you through what I call ‘The B2W Holy Trinity’ … Concept, Characters and Structure.
So, if you want proven methodologies for working on your writing craft (including developing your structural toolbox), this course will provide the know-how and the resources you need. To grab your free mini course from B2W then, CLICK HERE. Enjoy!