In screenwriting the screenplay is a unique yet very precise form, which uses a simple framework, but to erect it well is quite difficult. The screenwriter doesn’t have the luxury to write without limits. Readers are always looking for any excuse not to read your script, so never give the reader a reason to toss your script in the recycling pile because you haven’t written it in proper form. The screenwriter’s job is to tell an engaging story that keeps the reader turning pages.
Not only do you attack each scene as late as is
possible, you attack the entire story the same way.
- William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade
Goldman is absolutely right. Start late. Get out early. Every scene. Every sequence. Waste no time. Use the least amount of words possible while still applying the Three C’s: Clear, Concise, and Creative. Make sure every word you write is necessary. Look to maximize white space and avoid common pitfalls such as ‘I’ pages, block pages, and writing camera instructions – this is screenwriting!
Of course, the writer needs an original voice to tell a memorable story with interesting characters in a believable plot, but if it’s not in the right form, it might as well be written in Sanskrit. Simply put, if you’re going to do it, do it right.
The writer is the first director of the script. That is to say that the writer has already seen the movie in his or her mind’s eye, scene by scene, shot by shot.
But because the writer has seen the film so vividly, down to the smallest of details, one of the pitfalls the novice screenwriter often falls prey to is the assumption that he or she needs to write in the camera instructions so the director, cinematographer, editor, and others can see how the movie should be filmed.
Not only do you attack each scene as late as is possible, you attack the entire story the same way.- William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade.
In screenwriting, the art of the white space is less art and more artifice. White space on the page is a clever and practical way to get the reader to turn pages: fast and furious.
The “I” Page: There’s nothing worse than a plethora of “I” pages, that is, pages that are top to bottom dialogue. When this happens, the page literally looks like an “I” because dialogue is margined to fill a narrower column. This creates a lot of white space on the right and left of the page, but it also screams amateur. A screenplay is a visual story, not just a stage play. If you want to write characters that talk, talk, talk their way through a scene, you should be writing for the stage, not the movies.
The “block” page: Another mistake occurs at the opposite end of the spectrum with what is called the “block” page. When a writer fills a page with only visual action paragraphs (usually quite long) and no dialogue, the page literally looks like a block of text. The read, therefore, becomes a slower, thicker, more labor-intensive experience. In order to avoid this, dialogue needs to be inserted to break up all the action, hence, one of the reasons the one-liner has become synonymous with action films.
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