How to give Producers, Executives and Publishers what they say they want
If you haven’t already, check out Part One here!
In the first part of this article, Ian Kennedy wrote about how stories always show us an important aspect of life. Finding your voice as a writer involves recognizing the aspect you’re exploring and expressing it through the choices you make in your story…
This is a key tool in focusing your script – to ensure that everything that’s in it shows clear choices by the writer which each reveal different, important and often subtle features of that aspect of life which they’ve decided to explore. What choices you make, and how you present them (i.e. your style, another little-understood word that is often used by producers, execs and publishers), gives your writing its voice.
Here are some examples, they’re all just my own interpretations and summations of the stories mentioned but you’ll get the idea:
- “It’s about how life can be brutal and cruel.” This leads us to: “GAME OF THRONES explores a vivid fantasy world that is brutal and cruel, but where you can thrive if you’re tough enough, whether you’re a man or a woman.”
- “It’s about how life can be threatened by chaos and injustice.” This leads us to: “BATMAN battles a world where criminals and injustice threaten to turn our civilization to chaos.”
- “It’s about how life can be determined by what’s in your heart.” This leads us to: “STAR WARS is about how even the biggest cosmic battles come down to the goodness or darkness in people’s hearts.”
- “It’s about how life can be trapped in eternal childhood for some people.” This leads us to STEPBROTHERS, and other comedies.
- “It’s about how having the biggest brain doesn’t always make life easier.” THE BIG BANG THEORY.
- “It’s about how some people have special abilities or powers and have to decide how to use them right.” – Any superhero story. (Technically, Batman doesn’t have any superpowers, but hey, he’s rich and runs a huge tech-innovation company, so that’s the next best thing.)
For me, it’s both the choice of the aspect of life they want to explore, and the way that they then go on to explore it, which gives the writer their “voice”. Make a conscious choice about the aspect of life you want to explore, the many forms it takes and how you can dramatize those in a way that feels convincing (within the internal logic of your story world – even if that’s a silly or surreal one like MONTY PYTHON), and show how that aspect of life creates dilemmas and issues with important repercussions for your characters and their story world, which you can resolve in a way that shows your conclusions about these questions, and give us an answer we can go away with. As McKee explains, it could be a “This means that this”, a “This means that this, but also means this”, etc.
So for choosing your ending, this comes down to the ‘moral of the story’: your ending should reflect the message and new understanding you want us to take away from the story about life, particularly about ‘life in a world like the one we see in this story’. A message like, “in a world like this, hope always triumphs” or “in a world like this, hope is an illusion”. And you should focus your story on exploring all the features of the aspect of life you’re exploring, and bring us to a conclusion that’s both dramatically, emotionally, and intellectually satisfying conclusion which gives an answer to the big questions you’ve asked.
I believe that all great writing teaches us something about the world, that we didn’t already know or hadn’t understood in this way before. That’s why we want to live out alternative lives through characters and worlds that – if we’re honest – we’d run a mile away from ever having to live as. From their struggles and dilemmas, we take back lessons that enrich and inform our lives, for the better. Even grim stories, enrich our understanding of life for the better, and help resolve us not to let our world turn out that way.
In all of this, the writer’s voice is revealed, and proves itself to be unique. So. Focus your writing on what I’ve explained here, and as you’re applying it to every passage of your work, ask yourself whether your telling of this is fully convincing. Because that’s then the main obstacle to getting greenlit, once you’ve found your voice and proven yourself as a writer.
Develop your voice as a writer with even more in-depth advice from an industry expert: check out our Elite Mentoring and script development services!
How to give Producers, Executives and Publishers what they say they want
When they’re answering questions about what they’re looking for in a script or book, you’ll often hear producers, execs and publishers claiming that the vital quality they look for in writing is the unique voice of the writer. I’ve heard this one a lot, and even when asked what they mean, they’ve rarely given any kind of definition to help writers go away with confidence of what they need to do.
But I read hundreds of scripts a year, watch plenty of productions in lots of genres, and help other writers improve their work every day. So here, I think, is a useful definition of where a writer’s voice comes from in their writing, and how they can “own it” and come across as unique and commissionable.
Firstly, it’s vital to recognize that all stories show us an aspect of life – hopefully an important or stimulating/entertaining one. (Why does nature reward us with laughter for recognizing things that are counterintuitive, ie funny? Because it’s stimulating and therefore expands our understanding of the world – which better equips us to survive and thrive in it. Comedy is not frivolous, it’s vital.)
So, recognizing the aspect of life you’re exploring in your story, can be expressed in one simple sentence:
“It’s about how life can be (funny/perverse/brutal/arbitrary/beautiful/whatever!)”
You should be able to pick a word or phrase to finish that sentence, which encapsulates the theme, tone and underlying logic of what kinds of thing happen in your story and why they happen. This is a key tool in focusing your script – to ensure that everything that’s in it shows clear choices by the writer which each reveal different, important and often subtle features of that aspect of life which they’ve decided to explore.
What choices you make, and how you present them (i.e. your style, another little-understood word that is often used by producers, execs and publishers), gives your writing its voice.
Stay tuned for the second part of this article, in which Ian goes into ever greater depth about a writer’s voice, the moral of a story, and how to write a great ending…
“Use the Force, Luke.” It’s one of the most iconic phrases in the history of film – and if you haven’t heard it before, you must have been living on a backwater desert planet for the last forty years.
It also contains a valuable lesson for writers. In our latest Writing Insights article, Edward Smith takes a look at how these four words unlock the secrets of the character arc.
And a quick warning if you’ve been living on that desert planet… This article contains spoilers for the original Star Wars trilogy.
We all want to write memorable characters with plenty of depth, and any writer who knows their craft knows that the key to this is the character arc: a process of change and growth that a character undergoes in the course of the story. A character who changes pops off the page and the screen because they are reacting to the world they inhabit, as real people do, whereas a static character is forever nothing more than a two-dimensional collection of traits.
Yet change just for the sake of change is not enough. The very best character arcs do something more: they equip the hero with the qualities they need to emerge victorious. If your thoughts just went to every training montage you’ve ever seen, you’re on the right lines, but to maximize this concept it needs to be taken further. Skills and knowledge are one thing, but gaining the wisdom to make use of what they know – that is what makes a character’s journey truly satisfying.
And this is where we come to our key phrase. “Use the Force, Luke.”
In the original Star Wars trilogy, the character arc is applied brilliantly – and differently – in each of the three films. Luke Skywalker undergoes three arcs, each one concluding in a different fashion, showing us how invaluable it is to fully understand this concept.
Luke starts out as a mere farmboy who could never triumph against the might of the Empire. In the course of his adventures, however, he grows into a hero who is entrusted, in the film’s climax, with the task of destroying the Death Star. Yet even then, even with all he has learned, he comes dangerously close to failure, and it takes a reminder from Obi-Wan Kenobi to make sure he doesn’t repeat the mistakes of those who came before him. “Use the Force, Luke.” Luke now has the wisdom to listen – and is rewarded with victory.
Here we find the character arc used to different effect – in fact, in entirely the opposite manner. After going to train with Jedi Master Yoda, Luke leaves before he is ready despite the warnings of his teacher – and, erm… It doesn’t end well for him. At all. This is fundamentally the tragic form, in which the hero fails to learn what they need to succeed – although unlike most tragic heroes, Luke is lucky enough to escape with his life.
Luke actually has little physical impact on the film’s conclusion. While the Rebellion faces off against the Empire (albeit aided by teddy-bears), Luke is locked in a personal battle with Darth Vader and the Emperor, emerging with a moral victory by having the wisdom to know when to stay his hand. While it doesn’t directly affect what happens elsewhere, his arc is nonetheless satisfying because it has a karmic effect; his moral victory is rewarded within the story by simultaneous success for his friends in the Rebellion.
So what can we learn from this? The original Star Wars trilogy demonstrates how a character arc is not merely about growth, but growth with purpose, giving a character not merely the skills they need but also the wisdom to use them. It also shows how an arc can be used in different ways: to give your protagonist success, disaster, or a moral victory.
So whichever kind of character arc you opt for in your script, you now have all the information you need – just make sure you have the wisdom to use it…
The Final Deadline is fast approaching for our Spring Contest 2018! Add the finishing touches to your script and submit it by this Sunday, June 17 to win fantastic prizes.
There are 9 winning categories, $2000 available in prize money, plus over $3000 in script development for the 3 winners, bonuses and promotion through InkTip – we promise to develop and promote them to the top of the international film industry.
Plus, twice Academy Award nominated director Habib Zargarpour and WriteMovies founder Alex Ross are looking for VFX driven scripts to take to Hollywood – make it yours by entering our competition!
In addition to our Overall Winner, we also have prizes for the Best Studio Script, Best Indie Script, and Best Short Script – and we’re not just interested in screenplays, either. Our competition includes several other categories: get your television series started with Long and Short Form Pilots, raise the curtain on a future in theatre by sending in your Stageplay, and unleash the screen potential of your Book!
And don’t forget our newest category: Best Video Game Script! Guide us into your gaming universe and show us how creative you can be – we’d be thrilled to read your projects!
See the prizes available below, and enter our competition here!
Prizes and awards up for grabs in each category… Click on the prizes to learn more about them!
The opening ten to twenty pages of your script are so important in really selling top execs and producers your script. If it doesn’t grab ’em, then you got no chance. The first page is the most important of those early pages. The first impression of your script really matters. Here are 5 writing tips from us on how your opening page can stand out and shine from the rest…
1. STRIKING VISUALS OR AUDIO
Find a striking image, sound, or quick sequence of events to start on. If you can immediately make the reader visualize or “hear” your script, it makes it so much easier for them to visualize the rest of the story.
2. NAIL THE GENRE
You need to immediately establish the genre. In some ways, you can combine this with Tip #1 (sci-fi is a great genre for this). But sometimes you need to immediately set the tone of a tense horror, or the light-heartedness of a rom-com with how you write, and how your characters act.
You got a sci-fi? Show us some cool advanced tech. Horror? Give us a murder scene. Rom-com? Give us a visual that we associate with romance (sunsets, weddings, restaurants) and throw some funnies in there.
3. AVOID THE EARLY ICK
You don’t wanna put off the reader with anything yucky. Whatever happens on page one sticks with the reader throughout the rest of the script. You don’t want something icky to stick with them, do you? You have to make us care before you hit us with anything vicious, sick or distasteful
Generally, keep things subtle and ambiguous. If you want to set up a murder, avoid showing and describing the actual act with too much detail.
4. PLEASE NO VOICE-OVERS
You wanna do some world-building, set up the story, tell us all about the characters. I get it. But please, please, please try and avoid voice-overs. they just ooze with laziness and lack of creativity. Ditto for title cards, by the way.
Same goes for info-dump title cards (at the beginning and end of the script – especially for biographical stories…) Your script should be providing all the necessary info the story needs to. These types of voice-overs and title cards should not be necessary for a good script.
5. TRY TO AVOID DIALOGUE
If you don’t start with a strong image, then you’re probably beginning with a dialogue-heavy exposition scene. Bad. If you can effectively open your script without dialogue then you’ll more likely hook whoever’s reading your script.
These all fit in with each other, too. If you’re avoiding dialogue, then you’re avoiding voice-overs. Your striking image can also visually announce the genre of your script and set the tone; a horror film can start with a gruesome murder, for example. Don’t overdo it on the visuals, though. Don’t give us something too visceral and gratuitous – that’ll either put us off with the ick, or give too much of the game away. It’s a delicate balance to manage, but such good practice to get into.
Pretty straight-forward writing tips, right? Seems so obvious now that you see these written down, but you will not believe how many writers fall into the trap of lazy voice-overs and give us no idea of what the genre is.
Just remember to KISS – keep it simple, stupid.
See what we would say about the opening page of your script (and all the other pages!) with our Script Mentoring services…