Fight Club screenwriter Jim Uhls offers words of screenwriting wisdom.
Welcome to our ongoing Learning from the Masters and Industry Insiders series where we seek out and feature excellent videos, interviews, and discussions of the art, craft, and business of screenwriting and pull the best words of wisdom, writing tips, and screenwriting advice.
Here we feature The Dialogue video Jim Uhls Screenwriting Lesson and share his screenwriting words of wisdom that all screenwriters can use in their own screenwriting journeys, accompanied by our own elaboration on his wise words.
Reading Screenplays Is the Best Way to Learn Structure
“Reading screenplays is the best… the exposure to constantly reading that format [creates] not only an analytical study of it but an absorption of what it [is].”
Many screenwriters turn to screenwriting books to study the various theories of screenplay structure, but the best way to absorb proper cinematic structure is through reading as many screenplays as you possibly can. You expose yourself to that format and can analyze the structure of each script. You can also naturally absorb the various structures by reading as many as possible.
He Despises Outlines
“I despise outlines. I think outlining is shooting your ‘wad’ before your script. And I think then you slavishly work to serve your outline as your main objective. Whether you’re even consciously deciding that or not. And so your intuitive side shuts down.”
Outlines can serve a purpose. Everyone’s process is their own. However, the point Uhls is making is that there should be a balance of intuition and preparation. If you outline your whole script, you are leaving less opportunity for story instincts to take hold — and you, therefore, are writing to serve the outline rather than the best possible story.
He May Despise Outlines, But He Does Notes and Interviews His Characters
“I don’t do outlines, but I do notes. It’s more like streams of consciousness. It might be about the characters. Sometimes I interview the characters on paper. With me being the interviewer. And have them respond as I start pissing them off and they start to reveal their true selves. It becomes a process of making them three-dimensional.”
This further leads to his intuitive approach to screenwriting because he understands his characters as three-dimensional beings and knows how they would react in any given situation.
The Difference Between Novels and Screenplays
“[Novels] have the advantage to describe both external behavior and internal behavior, as well as any exposition that can be ladled on. Screenplays don’t have that luxury at all. It’s watching external behavior.”
That’s the challenge that screenwriters face with writing screenplays. Internal behavior, thoughts, and dialogue have no place in a screenplay. Nor does a major amount of exposition. You have to interpret a story specifically through external behavior.
Watch the full video for more elaboration and some excellent behind-the-scenes information on how he got the Fight Club writing job!
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