What is your Screenwriting approach?

Jared Isham

Moderator
I recently had a bit of an intense discussion with someone on YouTube about screenwriting and story paradigms. I don't have the traditional perspective on the value of story paradigms create by the likes of Robert McKee, Blake Snyder, John Truby, etc.

I'm curious to know what is the go to place for advice on screenwriting and what is everyone's preferred method of screenwriting?

Do you struggle with the story paradigm structure or have a hard time finishing a screenplay?
 

Kim Welch

Senior Member
Staff member
I have started three different screenplays that I think are great ideas. I am not using any kind of template other than relying on a sense of good story telling but my problem is I have not finished one of them. Not good.
 

Jared Isham

Moderator
I have started three different screenplays that I think are great ideas. I am not using any kind of template other than relying on a sense of good story telling but my problem is I have not finished one of them. Not good.

at least you started. A lot of people just talk about the idea and never go past that.
 

Kim Welch

Senior Member
Staff member
Hi Jared, Thanks for the encouragement. The fact that you asked made me start thinking about solutions for getting them done or at least getting a rough draft finished and start thinking who can help me get it shot and edited and the budget for it and what festivals we could enter it in. Not sure if my thinking is in the right order. Maybe what festival we want to enter and the deadline for entry and then get it shot and edited before that date?
 

thomasr

New member
Jared, I'm curious. What don't you believe about the traditional perspective on the three act structure?

For me, I always start with some generic idea, whether it be a location, object, characters, relationships. Then I try to ask questions about what I have, and I fill in the blanks until I find something that interests me. Then that is what I write about. It usually always follows the three act structure.

As for my support of that tradition, I think the form of three acts is just innate in the act of story telling. You tell someone the players, the characters, the pawns, whatever you want to call them. Then you tell what those characters do. Then you tell what happens because of those actions. It's just a case of cause and effect.

I don't really go anywhere for writing advice. I liked Stephen King's "On Writing", but that's just because I like Stephen King. Other than that, just watching movies, reading master-scene scripts, and just trying to figure out the world of the story being told. Consuming and immersing yourself in stories, and engaging with them during the process seems to help me.
 

Jared Isham

Moderator
I am not opposed to the three act structure. Some people use five act or even four act structure. I think of 3 act structure as the Set up, build, pay off scenario of a story. Act 1 is the set up, Act 2 is the Build and Act 3 is the Pay off.

My issues is with story paradigms, as stated above. What I don't like about them is when they say, you must have your inciting incident happen by page X or "this" must happen by page 13 or there must be an "all is lost" moment by page X or your characters must blah, blah, blah.

I feel the better scenario would be to find the one thing that must change for your character, make sure that they have a clear goal, exclusive to only them, that is potentially achievable by the end of the movie and give them clear opposition.

For my screenplays, I don't try to fill in blanks that tell me what my characters decisions must be, but instead I try to give them mini goals throughout the film (one for each scene), then make sure that I have built in escalations so that things will continually get worse. I do my best to not allow my scenes to deescalate because that is usually the point where people tune out or "get out of the car"

There is value that each of the people I mentioned above have, but I think if you try putting all movies into the same mold you'll be (in the words of Corey Mandell) drinking a $500 glass of wine out of a red solo cup or paper dixie cup.
 

Film.Maker.LA

New member
I think the reason the three act structure works so well is because of the general audience attention span. People want to see stuff happen right away and you can only build up to it so much.
 

Jared Isham

Moderator
Just a quick note. I never mentioned that the 3 Act structure was bad.

My issue is with the Story Paradigms of trying to make the same thing happen by certain page counts with everyone of your screenplays.

Act 1 doesn't have to be 30 pages...a quick example is The King's Speech.

End of Act 1 - Brother resigns from the thrown....that happens around page 60 something.

Let the story dictate when the act breaks are...that's all I'm saying, or the short version of it.
 

Snowman

New member
There's many ways to answer your question.

If you plan on self-funding then write whatever you want. You're the boss. Just make sure the script is good. But, by bypassing the "rules" your script will probably be filled with fatal flaws.

Before I say why you should stick to the rules, I'll point to the God of who didn't. Tarantino. Why did he get away with breaking the rules? Dialogue. Unique, brilliant dialogue. But, even he uses structure. If you can come up with a totally unique idea that trumps structure, then go for it. But, it has to be brilliant. It can't just be good, it has to surpass the structure that the Hollywood machine has used for over a hundred years.

Why stick to the rules? If you want to sell a script, someone who has read hundreds of scripts is going to have to notice your script above all the others who probably didn't follow the rules. Why would your script stick out? If you send a 140 page script to a professional, they probably won't read it. If you have blocks of descriptive action, too much dull dialogue, an inciting incident long past due, they probably won't finish your script. There's too many people who follow the rules and still don't sell their scripts. To just ignore the rules, or change them because you need an extra 20 pages to get to where you should be in your story, isn't because the rules are too rigid, it's because your screenplay isn't good, or because you're brilliant.

It took me years to write a coherent script. Writing and rewriting. I now have no problem putting all the basic structure points in the proper place, it's writing a good script I still haven't mastered. I used to like my dialogue, it was very natural. Now, I just find it bland. But, I'm working on it.
 

Kim Welch

Senior Member
Staff member
Sometimes I think telling a good story is more of an innate sensibility and a feeling kind of thing and all the structural things are just the guidelines like the bars on a 12 bar blues progression that let you know where you are in the chord changes but they can be bent and even broken and still sound great. I know when it's good or not because I enjoy it. It's most important that I have a story to tell and telling it well. Of course I am not a well known great writer. I did well on school assignments and I do edit for some things but I don't do enough of my own writing. I do have two stories I started and I want to finish and I think they will make great movies but I don't seem to make the time to finish them. Am I lacking passion, confidence or something? Maybe, I need to get over worrying about the results or I just need to discipline myself and finish them. Now I think I am going to write novels and then do the screenplays. I think for me that is the only way I can be sure I am not writing to satisfy a format but rather the intellect. Also, if I write them as a novel I could always hire a good writer to help me write the screenplay for them, right?
 
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Snowman

New member
Rules are meant to be bent, not broken. UNLESS the brilliant factor applies. That’s a critical factor.

I’m old, I know I’m not brilliant. Many people believe they are better than the system. If they truly are, they will succeed. Because their “original” product will get into the right hands, and that person who can make things happen will get the project done.

But, 99.99999% of the people who think they’re better than the system, aren’t. They don’t succeed. They just spin their wheels till they give up.

There’s a reason that so many awful movies get made. But, these awful films start out with a properly structured script. If you’ve ever worked on making a movie, it’s easy to see why structure is lost by the final product, or the structure is intact and the scenes, acting, story just suck.

If you enjoy writing, and find writing a book easier, then do it. But, whatever you start, you should finish. If you hate the final product, you can always go back and rewrite. Artistic ventures takes an immense amount of dedication. There’s a great satisfaction when you finish an project. Of course once reviewers rip you to shreds, all that satisfaction turns to anger and hate. With on-line book shops, you’re an instant author.
 

Kim Welch

Senior Member
Staff member
I think Rules can be broken and should be broken and bent. these are the people that make a difference. If it works it works. That should be the RULE. The being brilliant thing is over used. Thinking about if one is genius or brilliant is a waste of time in my opinion. Bertrand Russell compared thinking about things like that to a meat grinder looking at itself instead of grinding meat but then I am all for meditation. Brilliant or not bring on the light. Bring on the lightning! Einstein worked as a clerk and was thought to be under par and less than but turns out he was beyond brilliant. He had passion and he never gave up on what he loved. He and Plank broke RULES that helped us to create some of the most amazing technology and his ideas are still bubbling up in the pot. Not only that but I have seen people who had little or no special talent achieve greatly because of their determination. And, I have seen the opposite of that where a brilliant and talented person did little with it. I think more than thinking and worrying to much about the RULE it is probably better that you focus on determination, passion and disciple yourself to do what it takes. Eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. Sitting down and writing with heart and rewriting over and over again is the key to writing success. Work hard and learn the old ways but be free enough to do it differently. You never know when God might fill you with brilliance. :)

A man of genius is unbearable, unless he possesses at least two things besides: gratitude and purity.

Friedrich Nietzsche
 
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Snowman

New member
“I think Rules can be broken and should be broken and bent. These are the people that make a difference. If it works it works. That should be the RULE. The being brilliant thing is over used.”

The being brilliant is what makes them capable of breaking the rules and making it work. You can’t be mediocre, break the rules and make a difference. You can’t be mediocre, break the rules and actually succeed.

Einstein? Science is not a good analogy to screenwriting. If scientists didn’t break rules nothing new would be discovered. That does not apply (as much) to screenwriting. Even Tarantino uses story structure. Even the nonsensical Inception used 3-Act-Structure. In motion pictures you’re limited to characters set in a specific location, which gives you infinite possibilities. But, breaking the rules without brilliance isn’t one of them.

Yes, determination is more than half the battle in most fields. But, not as much in screenwriting. Because it’s too damn hard to write a good competent screenplay. So, if you can’t present at the absolute least a competent one (structurally sound/show don’t tell), then the only other choice you have is to make it brilliant. A script so good that the reader ignores the structural problems. Otherwise, why would someone spend money to shoot a mediocre script with poor structure, when there’s plenty of mediocre scripts with excellent structure?

“passion and disciple yourself to do what it takes”


In screenwriting the most basic part is adhering to the rules.

“Work hard and learn the old ways but be free enough to do it differently.”

I’m sorry. That’s a recipe for failure, especially for budding screenwriters.

Everything I’m saying about rules pertains to selling your work, and getting a positive reputation. If you plan on shooting it yourself, then nothing matters. You’re the boss. However, if you’re going to try to find financing, it better be from people who just want to be part of something artistic, and who don’t care about the final product.
 

Kim Welch

Senior Member
Staff member
We disagree and have a different view of things. What you consider fatal and what I consider fatal are two different things. It's fatal if you don't have an imagination. Maybe you're way has earned you and your students a lot of success. I don't really know who you are. What is your name? Mine is Kim Welch.

If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter a damn how you write.
– Somerset Maugham


I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell an interesting story entertainingly.
– Edgar Rice Burroughs
 
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Snowman

New member
We do disagree. But, I know I’m right. (sorry)

Having an imagination is a necessity for any of the arts. Having an imagination and following sound rules are not at odds with each other. The majority of magnificent films are all imaginative, brilliant and follow structure to a tee. It’s structure that made them classics.

You seem to hold the notion that following structure inhibits creativity. It doesn’t have to. It’s what separates the writer from the hack.

Before I thought about screenwriting if someone said “Did you know that Casablanca and Raiders of the Lost Arc are structurally the same?” I’d have thought they were nuts,and then asked what’s structure. Then I learned the art of screenwriting, and now every movie I watch I recognize every structural point. The one that gets me every time is the one hour mark (Mid point scene), in the majority of films I watch, the action changes at roughly the one hour range. It’s stunning how precise it is.

My name is George Snow (Snowman). I don’t have students or success in the film industry. What I do have is an excellent example of micro-budget cinema. Which I’ve already mentioned. It really is good, if you watch micro-budget cinema and enjoy horror films. The quality of acting, especially the two leads far exceeds most budgeted horror films without a star. It was created for less than $5000, and a major portion of that went to buying the Canon XL-1 it was shot on, and all the other equipment needed to shoot a movie.

The most important word in Somerset’s quote is IF. That’s where we differ the most... You seem like the IF is an afterthought, it’s not. If you don’t have the IF, you have to follow the rules. Even if you have the IF, you’d be more than likely to write a stronger script following the rules.

I had to look up who ERB was, he wasn’t a screenwriter. What did he create? Tarzan. I think the word brilliant is in place.

Surrealist David Lynch has no use for structure. But, I think the work brilliant can also be applied to him.

I personally can’t think of one structural screenwriter who breaks the rules, is well-known, successful, where some word closely associated to brilliant isn’t used. Why is that? Because it hasn’t happened. It will never happen.

Screenwriting is an art form that few have mastered, and even fewer have success. People who write screenplays for fun or some personal gratification, don’t worry about anything, just enjoy yourself. That would be the category you fit in. I’m in that category because I don’t care if I ever sell a script. I’d like to, I'd really like to, but I’ve never even tried. My screenwriting teacher told me over 5 years ago it was time to look for representation. I’ve never even sent out a feeler. Because I really don’t have the desire. But, I do think that the MAJORITY do, and do want to succeed, and telling them to break the rules is bad advice. You can create amazing work within the structure that works today as it did hundreds of years ago.

Without a word like brilliant, outstanding, remarkable, amazing or anything else that closely defines EXCEPTIONAL, you can’t break the rules and be a successful screenwriter. It just hasn't happened. Even Uwe Boll who many consider the modern Ed Wood uses structure.

Honestly, I feel people who defy structure and claim it's not necessary, are probably people who can't master it. Why? Because it's HARD. That's why screenplays is considered the hardest form of writing. Personally I think writing for the stage is a thousand times harder. I tried once, and man it sucked. I worked in live theatre for ten years.
 

Jared Isham

Moderator
I think there is a lot of value to what Kim is saying. I also really like what Corey Mnadell has to say about structure:
http://coreymandell.net/why-story-structure-formulas-dont-work-part-one/

I think that of we try to apply the same story structure to every one of our scripts we begin to repeat stories and create predictability. What is more important isknowing what tools to use to create a good story and how tomuse the tools needed.

Corey also has an analogy of a wine glass that is pretty awesome.

"If you go into a restaurant and ask for a $1200 bottle of wine, how would you feel if the waitress came out with a bottle and said open up and she proceeded to pour the wine out of the bottle and into your mouth likely spilling it everywhere. That is like a story without structure. Now what if you ordered that same bottle of wine and the served it to you in paper dixie cups even a red solo cup. Is that how you would want to experience a $1200 bottle of wine? Well that is like a screenplay with a formulaic story structure. Just like wine, each different type of wine is ment to be served in a glass specific to the wine style (narrow mouth glass, wide mouth glass, etc.), so is our screenplays. Knowing how to create a cuatome structure for your screenplay is the key to make it as best as possible." - paraphrased by me, the accurate one is somewhere on his website.

I have heard a number of interviews with studio heads who are the gatekeepers for aspiring screenwriters. They all say that one of the things that will cause them to pass on a script is if it follows a generic "one size fits all" story structure.

Know the tools to make the reader keep guessing. The tools to become brilliant, as seems to be the word to reference, can be learned by anyone. It just takes practice and knowing what the tools are.

If you want to stick with a story structure you are more than welcome to, but i guarantee that learning the tools of good story telling will be harder, but once they click then the rest does come easier and is repeatable.
 

Snowman

New member
I’m only going to use one example from that AWFUL blog post you pointed to as a guide as to why structure doesn’t work. Besides the fact that it HAS worked for hundreds of years, Mandell seems like he doesn’t even know what an inciting incident is. He certainly can't read page numbers.

Linda Segars excellent book “Making a Good Script Great” uses The Fugitive as an example of excellent story structure. Your guy gets the story and page numbers incorrect.

From MAGSG: Catalyst/Inciting Incident: The catalyst begins the action of the story... The catalyst is the first main “push” that gets the plot moving.

The Fugitive Script: http://www.pages.drexel.edu/~ina22/splaylib/Screenplay-Fugitive.pdf

In the script the action doesn’t go from real time to flashback as it does on the screen.

Movie: Roughly 14 minute mark he's convicted.

Script: Page 20 convicted, Page 17 we know he's going to be convicted, Page 14 he realizes he is the prime suspect.

All of these are well within the bounds of catalyst/inciting incident, and in both script and screen are thoroughly entertaining, not a wasted moment.

The catalyst is not the murder. Because he’d still be a Doctor able to go to work and rebuild his life. What changes his life? Being convicted of a crime he didn’t commit.

What comes next? By 30 minutes and page 30 the accident happened and the Dr escapes which brings the action to Act Two.

PERFECT STRUCTURE.

That’s just one example of where that blog is flat out WRONG about structure.

He actually explains why the student’s script failed at page 17, she forced everything after it. Once you force the action, your script is gone. It's not structure to blame, it's the writer.

In his previous post “The Most Common Resons Why Scripts Are Rejected” he lists reasons why only 2% of scripts get recommended. #10 pertains to his student. He says: The story begins too late in the script. “... many of these writers fall in love with too much of this pre-story stuff. They fail to realize that while they may have needed to write it, we sure as hell don’t need to read it.” That's his student's problem.

Oh, and if your Mandell is the one that wrote Battefield Earth, complete box-office disaster. It’s his only credit at IMDB. Of course in his bio he’s written a ton of material, yet doesn’t give one example. Maybe he’s a good consultant, after reading that blog post, I can't imagine how.

Structure works, and to tell people who want to learn to ignore it, is terrible advice. But, they could be part of the 2%... Of course then the word BRILLIANT would have to be used.
 

Kim Welch

Senior Member
Staff member
You are talking about how important structure is so explain the structure and how it works instead of telling everyone how wrong they are. What is the right way you say you know that is proven to work time and time again.
 
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Jared Isham

Moderator
Yes we do need structure for screenplays, but I'd prefer a custom structure that best tells the story as opposed to a pre-fabricated solo cup style structure where everything is predictable.

Corey does a lot of ghost writing and script fixes for Warner Bros, in case you needed additional credit.

So, what screenwriting training have you had? I'd be curious to know what your background is. Do you have any projects produced or sold?
 

Snowman

New member
"You are talking about how important structure is so explain the structure and how it works instead of telling everyone how wrong they are."

I merely point to 95% of films and theatrical productions since the invention of theatre. They all use the same structure. It's like asking why does 1-3-5 equal a major chord.
"What is the right way you say you know that is proven to work time and time again."

If you need to ask this question, you shouldn't be giving anyone advice on writing screenplays.

Now, I'll ask you a question, which you can't (or won't) answer. Name 5 US movies that don't use structure, are considered excellent, and are plot not character driven. You say structure isn't important, that it can be bent and broken and still make it to the screen. Name some. Prove your point. Oh and they can't be brilliant. Because that was my point on why the script was picked up in the first place.
"but I'd prefer a custom structure that best tells the story as opposed to a pre-fabricated solo cup style structure where everything is predictable."

What movies have you hated that you thought "man if they hadn't followed structure this movie would have kicked ass"? What movie put "custom structure" together that made it kick ass? By believing that blog you think those films don't use structure the way it's suppose to be. Definitely in the Fugitive example he was flat out wrong. There's a few sites out there that point to the perfect structure of The Godfather.

Things are predictable because of unimaginative storytellers, studio heads who worry more about money than story, and films that rely on special effects instead of story. None of that has to do with structure. In Mandell's example he said the student thought the inciting incident had to be on page 17, which is not part of structure. There is no specific page. But it certainly can't be coming on page 60. Because you can't have an hour of set-up.

Your additional credit for Corey is more unknowns. What's the names of films he's written?

I've already mentioned my credits, twice I think. I might not be rich or famous, but I know structure. I know the reason most wanna-be screenwriters suck is because they don't use it. Hell, I use it, and I'm still not good. But, I can write a competent screenplay. That's two steps above a majority of others.
 
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