Wednesday, 2 November 2016

SCREENWRITING FUNDAMENTALS #4 CONCISE WRITING

I do a lot of coverage of screenplays these days. I see a lot of common mistakes.

The following are a series of concise screenwriting tips.

#4 CONCISE WRITING

I've written about this before, but it's something that I keep seeing, over and over, in amateur screenplays and also in a lot of the 'professional' screenplays I read. 

It is so refreshing to read a 'lean' screenplay. A screenplay where every line of description is minimal and to the point - void of unnecessary detail.

Let's start at the macro - PAGE COUNT.

Try to remember this - your screenplay should never be over 110 pages long.

Remember that number - 110.

When I say this to screenwriters new to the craft, I often hear, 'but I read an Aaron Sorkin script that was 164 pages and it was great.'

Yup, you sure did. 

Aaron Sorkin is one of the highest paid screenwriters on earth.

Are you?

Nope. 

Simple - don't use the standard by which the uber-professionals are judged for yourself.

When starting out you have to EARN your stripes. 

That means bringing in your page count at 110 pages.

Now I'm going to take this one step further. 

Really - if you're an 'unknown' in the sense that you don't have a major IMDB credit to your name - then your screenplay should come in at 100 pages.

Why is that?

Page count is the very first thing readers look at it.

It's their gauge to seeing what kind of writer you are. 

When a reader sees that the page count of a genre film is 122 pages long they automatically dismiss the writer as amateur. 

When another genre script comes in at 110 pages - it's better - but the reader will really want to know why the script is coming in at 110 pages, not 98. 

You'll have the benefit of the doubt going into the read - but the reader will be on the lookout for more red flags as they read. 

If the reader has a genre script that's coming in at 95-100 pages long, they go into the read knowing that the writer has done their homework. 

Think about that - do you want the reader going into the read to be on the alert, looking out for your next mistake so they can go into super-skim-read-mode and give your script a pass?

Or do you want them to go into your script with a sense of respect - knowing that this writer has at least understood how important page count is?

I have NEVER read an amateur screenplay that couldn't have cut its page count by 25% or more. 

Never, ever.

Here's six trim tips to cut your page count. 

TRIM TIP #1.

This is the simplest one.  It doesn't involve very much editing at all.

Go through your screenplay - and look out for wrap-around single sentences.

What I mean by that is - a sentence that spans the width of the page - then goes onto a second line with the final word, or words. 

Then re-write that sentence until it fits onto just ONE LINE.

You do that enough times in your script and you're going to trim your page count by at least 5 pages. 

You haven't changed the story AT ALL - but you have cut the page count. 


TRIM TIP #2

Look at the core of each scene.

Go through every scene you have written. Think about what that scene is trying to achieve. 

X character must deliver this piece of information. 

Then start the scene as close to that key piece of information as you can. 

Then when that piece of information is delivered - end the scene as soon as you can. 

One thing I notice with amateur screenplays is THE PREAMBLE.

The characters enter the scene, have a little chat, then get down to business.

Total waste of time. Cut all preamble.

To see lean screenwriting at its best - Watch THE BLACKLIST or GOOD WIFE.

These shows are hugely successful for a reason, they have no fat on their bones. 

Every scene moves the story forward.  


TRIM TIP #3

Re-write every sentence. 

This may seem obvious - but again - I've NEVER seen an amateur screenplay that didn't have over-written sentences. 

Go through your script - sentence by sentence - take the first sentence - let's say it comes in at 12 words. 

Re-write it until it says the same thing but comes in at 8 words. 

Soooooo simple it hurts. 

TRIM TIP #4

Cut floral-writing. By floral-writing I mean anything that would better suit a novel.

That mostly means similes and metaphors. 

Having said that - it is okay to have a handful of well-placed similes or metaphors in your script so it doesn't read too dry. 

Aim at no more than 6 floral sentences in your script. And make sure they are well placed and well executed.


TRIM TIP #5

Don't underestimate the audience's intelligence. 

If, say, in one scene you have had a major revelation, don't cut to the next scene where another character finds out about the revelation. 

Cut to the next scene and SHOW the character REACTING to the revelation.

Even though we haven't SEEN the character learn of the revelation - we will understand that they have learnt of it - why? Because they are reacting to it. 


TRIM TIP #6

Don't tell the audience what they already know.

I recently tried to watch Walt Before Mickey. 

It was bad. I mean, really bad.

One HUGE mistake that film made - was - after the audience learned of a plot point, it would cut to the next scene and another character would say, 'What happened?' - then another character would tell the first character what had happened in the previous scene.

Do I even need to point out how stupid that is?

SUMMARY --

The leaner your script the more readers will love you. 

When a script is lean - readers focus on the STORY - and that's what you want your script to be judged by.

Not how well you constructed a sentence - but how you bring together all your characters and thread them into your story. 

Be honest with yourself - go to the script you're working on at the moment and - regardless of the page count - apply the six trim tips I've laid out here.

Even if your script was already coming in at 98 pages - apply these tips - you should be able to get your page count down to around 90 pages and yet you're telling the SAME STORY.

That's only going to bode well for you when it comes to the reader evaluating your script.