Writing craft gets a bad rap. After all, it’s just ‘rules’ right?? And rules are made to be broken!
NO. A million times, multiplied by infinity crossed with eternity into Dante’s 7 circles of Hell — NO!!
Writing craft is NOT about rules. Hell, writing craft is not even about guidelines. These things are non-negotiables and frankly, THE VERY LEAST YOU CAN DO.
But do YOU know which parts of craft you’re missing, under-utilising or plain misunderstanding in terms of your writing craft?
Do you know what to do about it?
Do you understand how thee craft elements have worked in OTHER produced content?
Can you describe these craft elements and give multiple examples?
… CAN YOU?
I don’t believe you. You know why? BECAUSE I’M SEEING THE SAME CRAFT MISTAKES IN SPEC SCRIPTS, OVER AND OVER, DAY AFTER DAY.
Strap yourself in, folks!!
You Need To Hear This … YES, YOU!
Before I begin however, I am going to lay down a few questions for YOU guys. So. Do you want to:
- … Write brilliant scripts agents, producers, filmmakers etc can actually sell/make?
- … Be able to pitch them in a way that actually ensures you get the results you want (ie. options, productions, repeat work)?
- … Get hired on others’ shows and features and actually (gasp!) earn money?
- … Not have to work like a dog and get traumatised by the whole process, going back to page 1 multiple times?
- … Save time on writing concepts and drafts that go nowhere?
- … Avoid writing concepts loads of people are bored with?
- … Prove to your family, your peers AND the people you’re working for that you actually know what you’re doing??
THEN YOU NEED TO READ THIS EFFING ARTICLE ASAP!!!
‘Good Craft’ is not what you *think* it is
Whenever I mention craft to Bang2writers, I get a myriad of these kind of replies back:
‘Oh, I don’t want to be too tied down, I want to write freely’
‘If something’s too well-crafted, it becomes dead/pedestrian’
‘I don’t want How Tos and checklists sucking out my creativity’
‘Good craft too often means ‘tick the box’ writing’
‘I don’t respond to writing rules’
Yet ‘good craft’ NEVER means an OVERCOOKED draft. Le duh.
But let me put it this way, since it’s clearly an issue. We DON’T say ‘a great roast dinner’ also includes ones that are burnt to fuckery, do we??
Of course it’s not. It’s effing inedible. YARGH!
So, ‘good craft’ DOES NOT being tied down, nor does it refer to ‘rules’ or any kind of homogenous, formulaic writing.
Plus, as any veteran Bang2writer knows (or even one that reads this blog occasionally, frankly), I reject all notion of writing rules.
So really, BACDEFUCUP ALREADY everyone. Jeez.
THIS is what ‘good craft’ means
What actually constitutes ‘good craft’ in screenwriting is actually very simple. The absolute non-negotiables are:
- A great concept, with a brilliant hook that draws us in (either dramatic or commercial)
- Lean, iron-clad structure that pushes the story forward, both holistically and via individual scenes
- Great characterisation that takes on board both motivation AND role function
- Engaging visuals that tell a story
Other craft elements that are optional – yes, optional – include a sense of genre convention; a rich storyworld or arena; a powerful message, moral or thematic element; strong sense of backstory for certain characters; elements of allegory and/or subtext; particular use of dialogue and so on (much of this, plus how much weight you afford them, will depend on things like genre, tone and your writer’s voice).
What writers rejecting ‘good craft’ *really* mean
Let’s get one thing clear, first. I don’t think any Bang2writer is dimwitted enough to believe what I have just outlined above is NOT what is required.
But how they think they get there has gone off at a giant fuckadoodle of a tangent in their brains … and it’s literally SCREWING with their writing and their potential careers. Eeek!!!
The reason? ‘Tis simple. They have conflated ‘craft’ with HOW THEY LITERALLY WRITE.
Now, **everyone** wants ‘good craft’ so these writers kid themselves that there is ‘no wrong way’ to write a script … Whilst this is indeed true, when it comes to actual craft, these writers let themselves off the hook, over and over again. They’ll say:
‘Planning kills my spontaneity.’
‘Treatments and outlines will change anyway as I write, there’s no point in doing them first.’
‘It’s my unique voice, so my message will get through eventually.’
‘I like the concept, so it stands to reason others will too.’
‘I need to start now, otherwise I will never get it done!’
‘Books and courses etc are pointless; how many did [THIS EXTREMELY FAMOUS WRITER BACK IN THE DAY] do???’
‘It’s the execution that counts!’
And guess what happens … Those scripts, that could have been at leat 90% better than they actually are, don’t go anywhere.
Those same writers will express credulity and say money moguls are all risk averse and everybody sucks and wail a bit on social media about it.
Then they’ll go back to the drawing board, do the whole rigmarole again and rinse and repeat the process, FOR YEARS.
In other words, these writers are making EXCUSES for not doing their foundation work. And guess what: you don’t do your foundation work? 9/10 of ten, your script will go NOWHERE.
Harsh but true.
Even that 1/10 times it DOES get somewhere, it will be accident, rather than by design. Do you think you can capture lightning in a bottle twice? DO YOU? (Hah. Good luck. Considering how the odds are against us even when we HAVE done our foundation work!!!).
But what does ‘foundation work’ mean? Again, it’s simple and it’s what I call ‘breaking story’. More on this, next.
How to ‘Break Story’
When I talk foundations, I describe it as ‘breaking story’. Now, ‘breaking story’ does NOT refer to literally breaking your story like a china teacup and it’s shattered into little pieces. That would be totes counterintuitive.
Instead, ‘breaking story’ is like BREAKING GROUND for a building … it’s so you can – oh! guess what!!! – lay the foundations for your story.
HOW you do this is up to you, since there are no writing rules. The more experienced you are, the quicker the process becomes too. Here’s mine:
- Road test/interrogate concept and characters
- Write a logline – test with others
- Write an outline – get feedback
- Revise outline – get feedback
- Write ‘vomit draft’ – get feedback
- Proceed with more drafts til finished
It should be noted that the first 4 elements on this list TAKE UP THE MOST TIME.
I always say one’s best writing is done by thinking. The more thinking time you put to a draft BEFORE WRITING IT, the quicker you can knock out a draft.
DYK? Pro writers can knock out a draft in 7-10 days on this basis, if they’ve been thinking/interrogating a concept etc for at least a 2-3 weeks beforehand. True story. I’ve seen it, over and over.
So NOT ONLY do you have to have ‘good craft’, you need to know how to use it – and how to use it fast, if you want to advance in your career. The industry demands it. They take forever to pick up your script or novel or whatever and then they WANT EVERYTHING YESTERDAY. It is what it is,
A note against ‘reverse engineering’
In comparison, many new and amateur writers reject ‘breaking story’ upfront. They will simply say it’s ‘not what they do’.
Instead these writers will go for a process I call ‘reverse engineering’, which basically breaks down like this:
- Write a vomit draft
- See if they can carve out a concept
- See if they can carve out the characters
- Go back to page 1 with those bits
- Write another draft
- Rinse and repeat (these drafts are rarely ever finished, btw)
Whilst this obviously *can* work, this has the obvious drawback of being massively time-consuming … and that’s AT BEST (ie. assuming the writers can actually find something of value in that vomit draft).
It also means, they’re so busy trying to FIND THE GOOD STUFF, it’s difficult to pinpoint where their craft is going wrong or needs work.
Think about it: if you’re surrounded by debris and mess, where the ACTUAL HELL do you start???
What’s more, that investment of time blinds those writers to the draft’s faults. I can’t tell you how many times a writer I’ve worked with have been held back by drafts that can’t possibly work because they feel they will have wasted too much time if they abandon it.
Writing is a linear process
It comes down to this: if you want to be a pro screenwriter, you not only NEED craft, you ALSO need to do it in a way that is TIME EFFICIENT and (being a collaborative medium) works with the most people possible at any one time.
Put simply, the industry doesn’t have time for reverse engineering and doesn’t use it. If you are lucky enough to get a writing job and want to do it this way? You will indubitably get fired. End of.
Look, reverse engineering *can* be a useful way for some writers to TRAIN themselves, I get that. But as they get more experienced, they need to lose this method of working if they want to advance their actual careers.
Even if we’re writing non linear screenplays, writing in the industry is STILL a linear process, regardless of what you personally prefer. This means you need to be able to start with the IDEA and take through the various processes. This is why it’s called development and why we talk about ‘going to draft’.
Great pitch material is in short supply
What’s more, if you’re GOOD at that foundation work and can write great loglines, one page pitches and treatments?
YOU WILL BE IN DEMAND.
Even if the ideas aren’t yours, you can earn good money writing these documents FOR other people. B2W has done a sideline in this for many years now, writing packages FOR producers and filmmakers. I enjoy it, too.
But I guess how I learned how to do this? Well, it wasn’t by reverse engineering, that’s for sure. I found out what people wanted and provided them with it, in the order they wanted it. Boom!
As outlined in this article, professional writers KNOW they need good craft and they need to ensure their concepts are bombproof; that their characters’ motivations and role functions are clear; that their structure is iron-clad and that their visuals engage.
Pro writers also know they have to do all this in a time efficient way that ensures a result.
This doesn’t mean there won’t be problems – and so-called ‘development hell’ always hovers in the background anyway – but there WILL be ways around these things, because the foundation work has been done.
In comparison, new writers may be able to learn a lot from the process by literally carving craft elements out of their own issue-laden drafts, but this inevitably takes a lot of time. Sadly, time is something the industry hasn’t got, so those writers invariably won’t get the results they want, bar accidentally.
So which is it to be?
Good luck! YOU NEED IT
Radically improve your chances of ensuring your writing craft is super-shiny with this free B2W online course!
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!
For me, breaking a story is the ABRACADABRA factor. You can pan for gold in the river of NOCRAFT and get some flakes or a chunk or two, but the MAGIC is hidden in the MINE/MIND. Once you take your pick and shovel, you know the feeling of striking a vein, you’re in the game.
Great article… Hate to be pedantic at the end of such a heartfelt rant with something that’s not really relevant to it, as it only came at the end of in impossible calculation to make a point, but there are nine circles of hell, not seven, in Dante’s Inferno. Minor point, I know, but the error at the beginning followed me through to the end so I had to make it. Sry.
I actually did know that and would have changed it at some point … but I’m gonna leave it now, just to fuck with you! MWAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA 😉
Do you ever have anything like your class online for those of us who live in a different country? I wish I could do this, but I live in Texas.
Planning to! Watch this space …