In Part 1 of this series, we discussed how in writing character arcs, your protagonist should be shaped by all the other elements of the script. Structure and supporting characters should all play a role, having an impact and encouraging the protagonist to change.
Being able to write character arcs is a key skill for a screenwriter. Not only is it a mark of good characterization, it also gives your script a sense of progression and shape – but how exactly do you go about creating one?
The WriteMovies Horror Award 2019 is almost over! With just two days until the contest closes, your chance to submit – and to become the first ever winner of this brand new prize – is fading fast. We’re saying goodbye to it with one final article celebrating the genre: our insights into zombie films!
Horror covers a lot of different bases. Monsters, ghosts, aliens, demons, serial killers, the devil himself… There’s a whole array of things in the genre that can scare you to death.
Speaking of death though, if there’s one thing horror keeps coming back to, it’s the living dead. Traditional horror stories were based on the idea of people reanimated after having died, and coming back as more animalistic version of themselves or mind-numbed, slow-motion versions of themselves.
Part of the success of zombie films is because they thrive on one of the cornerstones of horror: our innate fear of strangers and of being made to conform to the way that other people are, losing our personalities and individuality in doing so.
One zombie on its own is often not that dangerous. Being mindless, the individual is pretty easy to out-think! But they overwhelm through sheer numbers, relentless. It doesn’t matter how many you take down, there are always more still to come.
And so it should be with the films they feature in; this is a genre that will never die (or if it does, it will come back again!). Modern versions of zombie stories in the 21st century have brought them up to date and re-energized them with new dynamic energy, through such examples as World War Z and the rage virus that powers 28 DAYS LATER .
Stories like these have dynamized the previously slow moving zombie world, making for new kinds of fear and modern storytelling experiences and energy levels to put into films.
No matter whether they’re slow or fast, though, there are still key elements to zombies. They always come in hordes – and they always want to make you just like them…
If you’ve got a zombie story for us – or any other horror script! – don’t forget to submit to the WriteMovies Horror Award by this Sunday, September 29th. Stand out from the crowd by becoming the first ever winner of this prize!
To say that book adaptations are popular would be an understatement. Stephen King received no fewer than four in 2017 alone, and has the same set for this year (although only PET SEMATARY has so far seen a release). But what’s the best way to write an adaptation?
There are a few key things if you want to write an adaptation. The first is the big difference in length between a book and a screenplay! The average novel is approximately 90,000 words (with something like WAR AND PEACE getting up over 580,000!), but the average screenplay is only about 15,000.
That means a lot of words need to get cut! A lot of things won’t make it from the book into your screenplay, so don’t try to include everything. But how do you know what to leave in and what to take out?
Here are our tips…
- Identify the central drama and themes, and use them as a signpost. If there’s a scene, subplot, or character that doesn’t add to the central drama, you don’t need it!
- Think about the roles that the different characters serve: what their purpose is in the story. Can any of those characters be combined into one? A screenplay can easily feel cluttered with characters who aren’t needed, so try rolling them into one.
- Look for the key points in the story, like the inciting incident and the turning points between the acts. These moments are absolutely vital; you should look to map them directly into your script and work from there.
- Don’t try to copy and paste the dialogue – it (probably) won’t work! The dialogue in a novel is meant to be read in our heads, but the dialogue in a screenplay is designed to be spoken out loud. That means it will usually need to be rewritten.
- Film is a visual medium – use that to your advantage! Where a novel may need many pages of description or inner monologues to convey a concept or thought, a script can do the same thing with a quick visual clue. Your audience should be able to see what is happening, so they don’t need it explained to them!
There are plenty of other things to think about if you want to write an adaptation, but we’d suggest this is where you start. Novels and screenplays are very different mediums – and that is a fact that shouldn’t be forgotten!
One other thing before you start writing: make sure you pick your project carefully. Some novels rely very heavily on interior thought and description to tell their stories, and won’t translate well to film which (as mentioned above!) is primarily visual.
And above all else, make sure you love the book you’re turning into a script! There’s nothing worse than getting halfway through a project before starting to regret it.
Already finished your script, adaptation or otherwise? Think you’ve got what it takes to impress us? The WriteMovies Fall 2019 Screenwriting Competition is now open for submissions – click here to find out more and enter today!
If you can’t write dialogue, you can’t make it as a screenwriter. In a medium where it’s all but impossible to show thoughts and feelings, it’s dialogue that drives the plot, demonstrates who the characters are, and makes up most of the word count.
Okay, there are films that have succeeded, against the odds, using only a few spoken words: ALL IS LOST is a great example. But for the most part, knowing how to write dialogue is a key skill for any screenwriter. Here are our tips…
- Give each character a different voice. A lot of scripts have characters that all speak exactly the same way – usually the same way as the writer! But if you make your characters talk in their own unique way, not only is it more realistic but it also gives us a better idea of their personalities.
- Avoid exposition. If the audience needs to know something, find a natural way to get the information across instead of throwing in a conversation that feels contrived. There are no worse words to read in a screenplay than “As you know…” If the character already knows it, why are they being told again?
- Listen to how people actually speak. Record a conversation and pay attention to the rhythm and style of real speech; when you write dialogue, that’s the kind of style you want to replicate, although you can cut out all the “um”s and “erm”s!
- When writing a foreign character, don’t turn them into a cliche. Treat them the same as all your other characters – as real, rounded people! Just because their grasp of English may not be perfect, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to just use a stereotype.
- Don’t overuse parentheticals to describe how a line should be delivered. A screenwriter’s job is to write the screenplay, not to direct the film itself; actors and directors won’t appreciate you trying to control how things are said. A lot of the time it’s unnecessary anyway – unless something is being said ironically, it should be clear from the words themselves how to say the line!
So there you have it – now you should know how to write dialogue in your screenplay, and make it stand out over the competition. But of course, this is just one of the skills you’ll need. There are a great many more things to learn…
The fundamental thing that a script should do is tell a great story. Hopefully, that’s not a contentious point – we go to the movies or turn on the TV because we want to be entertained! Whether it’s an adventure, an emotional drama, or a horror, the story is what keeps people hooked. With that in mind, it’s easy to focus on the things that are always visible: plot points, characters, and dialogue.
But it’s important not to forget that the very best stories have layers. Underneath the surface, they have something more to say about life. If you ignore this second layer – if you ignore themes, and forget to include one (or more!) in your script, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice. They might not be visible or obvious, but they’re extremely important.
At the end of the day, it’s the theme that will most touch an audience and make them remember your film long after they’ve seen it. Anyone can string gunfights, explosions, arguments, and witty dialogue together, but if you can say something unique and profound that no-one else can say, it’ll really make you stand out.
It’s important to note that the theme is not the same as the concept of your script. Your concept or premise is the idea that drives your story; your theme is the message that it is trying to convey through that idea.
So for example, in David Lean’s classic film THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, the concept is that a rule-obsessed British colonel helps his Japanese captors to build a railway bridge, while being unaware of an Allied plan to blow it up. The themes, however, revolve around the absurdity of the idea that there can be rules in warfare and that honor can exist in such a situation.
These themes are never explicitly stated, but they’re clear from very early on, as soon as Colonel Nicholson (Alex Guinness) takes out his copy of the Geneva Conventions and attempts to show it to the uncaring commandant Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) to protest that his officers can’t be put to work because it would be in breach of law. And later on, Nicholson even forbids his men from trying to escape the POW camp because, having been ordered to surrender, escaping would be in breach of their orders!
This theme – of the absurdity of the rules of war – is difficult to express in a single, memorable sentence. It’s always there, though, in every scene of THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI. It leads us through the story from start to finish.
Knowing what your theme is before you start writing (or at the very least, during writing) is immensely helpful in this regard. If you don’t know what message you want to express, your story can end up wandering all over the place because it doesn’t have any guidance; a strong theme, on the other hand, can help to keep it on track.
So there are a lot of good reasons to make sure your screenplay’s themes are clear. It will help audiences to remember your work, making you stand out as a writer with something unique to say, and keep your story on track.
It will also help to keep us script analysts engaged. Make us use our brains rather than just dealing with things on a shallow level, and we’ll keep reading – and if you can get people to keep reading your script, page after page, then unsurprisingly you’ll achieve success in this industry!
In our latest Writing Insights article, Script Analyst Edward Smith shares his insights on the things you should think about before you start writing. Here’s our checklist before you start putting your ideas down on paper…
Suddenly it hits you – a new idea for a script! There’s nothing more exciting than this moment. Unable to contain yourself, you rush to your computer (or typewriter, if you prefer to do things the old-fashioned way) and start to type –
Wait a minute!
Yes, you heard us – wait. It can be a hard thing to do when all you want to do is sit down and write, but planning things out in advance, and making sure that you’ve got everything you need, can save you a lot of time further down the line. There’s nothing more frustrating than reaching the end and realizing you made a mistake right at the beginning – and it’s going to mess everything up.
So, here’s our checklist for when you’re writing a new script. Get things right before you start writing, and your job will become a whole lot easier…
- Is this concept really as unique as you think it is? Sometimes we’re inspired a bit too much by the stories we love the most. There’s nothing wrong with going with a proven formula, but make sure your work has a unique selling point too.
- Don’t just think about how you’re going to start your script – think about how you’re going to finish it as well! If you don’t know where the story ends, it’s easy to run into trouble by taking a wrong turn in the story before you even realize it. Figure out your destination before you take the first step to make sure you head off in the right direction.
- What’s the theme of your story? We read a lot of scripts that tell a strong story and are underpinned by great ideas, but without a theme they lack purpose. Don’t just thrill us; make us think as well. Give your script focus by giving it a theme!
- Make sure you know your characters. Their actions should dictate where the story goes, rather than the story dictating their actions; it’s frustrating when characters behave unnaturally just to move the plot forward. Head off this problem by building up a detailed knowledge of them before you start.
- Ultimately, the purpose of a screenplay is to be turned into a film – and that means producers need to see it as a sound investment. Take time to think about the commercial potential of your project – the audience who will go to see it and the costs involved in making it. If it doesn’t look like it’ll make a profit, it might be worth making some changes.
Once you’ve thought all this through, it’s time to start writing. But you know what? For the all the careful thought you’ve put in, there’s one other thing you shouldn’t forget…
Let the story take you where it needs to go! You’ll discover new and exciting ideas as you write, and you shouldn’t feel that you can’t explore them just because you’ve already planned everything out.
Be flexible with your writing. Be playful. Experiment.
Now get writing!
Found this useful? For more Writing Insights from WriteMovies, click here to see our full archive of articles!