Screenwriting Tips from Nancy Meyers

What are the best Nancy Meyers screenwriting tips and what can screenwriters learn from her wise words?

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.

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We turn to the pages of the book Backstory 4 and their interview with writer/director Nancy Meyers (Private Benjamin, Baby Boom, Father of the Bride, and Something’s Gotta Give). We pull some of the best quotes and offer our own elaboration.

“It’s interesting writing alone because you can never get off the hook. You can never toss the ball to somebody else, or you can never say that is a bad idea, hoping they’ll make it into a good idea. It’s like playing tennis with a wall. It just keeps coming back to you, so you’re pushing yourself all the time. There’s never anybody else to ease the load.”

Writing with a partner certainly has its advantages, but when you tackle a screenplay by yourself, the weight is all on your shoulders — and sometimes that can drive you even harder and take the writing places you never thought you’d go. Embrace that pressure.

“How do you [edit]? You just start tearing away at it… It’s impossible to see what it is at first. You just keep taking away and taking away, and it begins to shape up. Story, you know — you just keep following the story.”

There’s no secret to editing your screenplays. It’s relatively simple — you keep trimming away until the core story presents itself. And then you follow that story.

“I don’t always know what the theme is. I have something I sort of want to say, but it evolves. It’s a process. It’s always interesting to see what it becomes, what it is I really do want to say. It isn’t always crystal-clear in the beginning. And the characters, of course, have to evolve and help tell that story, so [character, story, and theme] all work together.”

You should always leave room for discovery in your work. Outlining your screenplays from beginning to end, A to Z, and knowing everything in between, can sometimes be counterproductive. You need to free yourself and leave room for inspiration and discovery.

Focus on the broad strokes in your front-end work. Then leave room for the magic in between.

“I think it’s a mistake to write something you think people will like, or a combination idea, or this year’s version of last year’s movie. I don’t think you’ll ever get noticed doing that. I think you’re only going to get noticed by following your own instincts and doing original work and writing the thing that only you can write.”

Chasing trends never works for unknown screenwriters because they’re behind Hollywood. And Hollywood already has writers employed to jump onto any bandwagon. By the time you write the trend-chaser, market it, and get it into the hands of those that can do something with it, a couple of years has gone by, and the trend is already dead.

Write originals. Give Hollywood what they don’t know they need and set the trend yourself with an outstanding script.

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Michael Lee

Author Michael Lee

Michael Lee has worked in development as a script reader and story analyst for a major studio, Emmy Award-winning production company, and iconic movie director.

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