Finding the Magic Within

By Michael Schilf · January 31, 2011

If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it. – Toni Morrison

Good advice. And screenwriting is no different. If there’s a movie you want to see but hasn’t been written, write it yourself. But be original. Having a good idea and writing a solid script is almost never enough. Great material rises to the top because it’s fresh, innovative, and unique. If the scene you write could be in just any film, it doesn’t belong in your movie. Failure as a screenwriter is easy when you’re a cookie-cutter robot. But if you want success, you must be you.

The reality is that most scripts are bad because they feel built, not written. And this is because most scripts are hollow; there simply is no magic. And the magic IS the art. And even though screenwriting obligates you to follow a specific structure in order to tell your story in a cinematic and responsible way, the magic is necessary all the same.

You’ve heard it before: write what you know. But it’s just as important to: write what you love. You have to get to where you’re inspired, because the real magic originates from inside. And if the spark isn’t ignited from within, there will be no fire in your script. And the best way to conjure up and maintain that magic is to focus on who you are creatively and be true to yourself.

If you’re a sci-fi guy, for example, be that. Be proud. But be the best sci-fi guy possible. And never take a day off. Become a master mechanic of everything sci-fi. Learn about sci-fi characters, stories, and structure. Understand the sci-fi audience. Become familiar with every element specific to the sci-fi genre. But most importantly, go with your gut; it is rarely wrong. Your brain can rationalize why you’re writing the script, why you supposedly “love” the material. But your gut knows the truth. It just feels it, and when it feels right, you must listen.

You need to be excited about your material; you absolutely must care about the characters and the story you’re telling. Your screenplay should be a movie you’d camp out overnight to watch yourself – okay, maybe not ‘overnight,’ but certainly, you’d wait in a very long line. Believe in your script; be excited and confident in your story – because if you don’t feel the magic yourself, no one else will feel it for you.