Thursday, January 27, 2005

How (not) to write a screenplay

Don't get it right, get it written.

This morning I stumbled across that bit of wisdom from screenwriter Art Arthur, a Very Big Name in Hollywood. In the business for almost fifty years, Arthur was head writer for several hugely popular TV shows (Sea Hunt, Flipper, and Gentle Ben, to name a few). And while you might initially laugh at the quote above, it was actually intended as a swift kick in the pants for writers who spend their time obsessing about writing when they ought to be writing.

You might have noticed that the title of this blog hints at the same thing.

After you get something down on paper (or on your hard drive), there will be plenty of time for worrying about how good it and whether you've made a complete (as opposed to merely a partial) fool of yourself and whether anybody will ever buy your work. Save your energy for that friends, because (trust me) you're going to need it. For now, just write.

I don't know anything about screenwriting, but I can't see why a detail like that should prevent me from offering advice on the subject. If you're writing a screenplay, friends, "predictable" is the magic that will sell your work. No, don't scoff. I can prove it. Haven't you ever noticed how predictable movies are?

Sure you have.

Movies aren't like real life. (Are you writing this down?) In movies, there are certain things you can always count on happening the same way every time. Yes, kids, we're talking about formulas, and the movies are full of them. Have you ever noticed, for example, that ...

***A hero will show no pain even during the most terrific
beating, yet he will wince if a women attempts to clean a
facial wound.

***If the hero needs to get into a room with an electronic
security door then shooting the controls will always
open the door. If the hero needs to keep someone from
entering the room then shooting the controls will jam
the door closed.

***If you are blonde and pretty, it is possible to be a
world-famous expert on nuclear fission, dinosaurs,
hieroglyphics, or anything else, at the age of 22.

***If a movie takes place in Washington, D.C.,
either the hero, the villain, or the hero or villain's
government boss will have an office with a perfect
view of either the Washington Monument or
the Capitol Dome. At least once in the movie, the
hero will visit the Lincoln Memorial.

***A hero's finishing move is often ridiculously
protracted - e.g. a running flying kick from 10 feet
away - but the bad guy will never use that lead time
to get out of the way.

Isn't this great stuff? Rush over to right now for six long pages of these gems. You'll want to be sure to pack as many of these elements into your work as possible because, obviously, that's what the movie execs are buying.

Here's one more:

***Many times when a woman/girl is depressed, she
takes a round box of ice-cream from the freezer and
eats it straight from the box.

Hey, wait a minute. That one is true in real life.

Never mind how I know.


Becca said...

Sidetracked in the past week by good books to read, yet I intend to stop worrying and just start writing - when I can put the novels down for a few minutes!

If I had enough money to buy the expensive ice cream used for comfort food on TV... well, I don't think I'd buy it often. I'd rather buy books instead.

The oddball woman,

Becca ;)

Brenda Coulter said...

Well, I'm glad to see you've got your priorities straight, Becca. But I wouldn't worry too much about getting sidetracked by a good book here and there. That's how we feed our imaginations.

By the way, everyone knows my advice on screenplay writing was a joke, right? I'm not eager to see my inbox fill up with hate mail from disgruntled writers again.


Heather Diane Tipton said...

What?? You were joking?? but I was so looking forward to emailing you! LOL You may have been joking but it is true. Books are just as predictable at times. Yeah I think I am obsessing about writing instead of writing. But I'm trying.

Susan Kaye said...

Yeah, yeah, just get it on "paper." Dropping that internal editor over a cliff is a Must Do!

And, as for the ice cream straight out of the carton, it has nothing to do with depression in my case. It has everything to do with not wanting to wash any more dishes than is necessary!

Good post.

Brenda Coulter said...

Yep, Heather, I was thinking about cliches in romance novels, too.

Susan, every time I shove that internal editor over the cliff, she just crawls right back up. Why does killing her have to be such a daily thing?

Anna said...

Hmm, a list of romance novel cliches might be interesting. I had a hoot looking through the movie cliche site. Great quote from Art Arthur, too.