Richard Walter. Essentials of Screenwriting: The Art, Craft, and Business of Film and Television Writing. New York: Plume Book, Penguin Group, 2010.
The author suggests that writers dislike the actual act of writing, yet doing so allows them to create, as if they were God forming through their writings. Formal writing instruction can help a screenwriter become a better writer, as good writing is important in the movie industry. It takes a good screenplay to be one that an agent will represent. Writing often involves being able to present chaotic events. Writings should come from the heart.
A screenwriter needs to understand English and how it is spoken. English words are what advances a story in a screenplay.
The human condition should be presented in what is also entertaining to an audience. A screenplay should be commercial while communicating life’s messages. A movie involves voyeurism, as audiences are peaking into the characters’ lives. A screenplay is a craft, involving contrivance to unite diverse scenes in developing a seamless movie. A screenplay must exploit a writer’s resources. Hollywood is the center of movies, and audiences are the customers.
Movies are for many people to view. A painting or poem may be appreciated by a few, but movies require an audience to be appreciated.
Aristotle noted communication requires a source of the communication, a message that is communicated, and a receiver of that message.
Screenplays must never be boring.
Critics who believe that something with mass appeal is pandering to an audience are wrong in that view. Audiences are intelligent.
A screenplay requires structure, character, dialogue, setting, and a story. Aristotle states there are three parts to a story, a beginning, a middle, and an end. Numerous screenwriting theories have expanded upon this, but Aristotle has establishes this basis for stories.
A screenwriting should be a personal story. This is disputed by other screenwriting theorists. Richard Walter notes that exploring one’s own self best produces creative expression. Disclosing one’s own self to oneself should be the basic organizing principle of screenplays.
Each line in a screenplay should advance the story’s plot and present more about the character. The audience should learn something with each line.
All unnecessary dialogue should be eliminated. A scene should being with the story.
Time impacts an audience viewing a movie. A long pause can kill a movie, unless it is being skillfully used for dramatic effect.
A screenplay that is personal and integrated will often be good, regardless of its topic.
Action and character should define each other. Dialogue integrates both action and character towards creating a story.
Movies can heal, and writing a personal screenplay can help a writer heal. What one writes is one’s own story for one’s own heart and mind. A screenplay is a mirror of a screenwriter’s life.
Movies need themes which follow the story. Characters are reflections of us all. Identity is the one theme in all movies.
Movies require visual presentations and not just dialogue.
All parts of a play or movie have beginnings, middles, and ends, according to Aristotle.
The theme of a movie comes out in the story. A good theme will surprise the screenwriter.
Violence can express conflict, stress, or tension in a movie.
People can find truth throughout their lives. When they escape to the movies, they want falsehoods that drew them into watching. Movies are contrived. A screenwriter should write something that seems real, even if it is not the authentic truth. Audiences want the truth, but never find it. Screenwriters thus are free to make up their own stories, regardless of the truth.
There is no mystical formula for screenwriting success. The author seeks to demystify screenwriting by noting all stories follow Aristotle’s beginning, end, and middle structure. The middle is the largest in size.
The tone of most films should be the same throughout the movie. The protagonist(s) needs to be clearly shown. Exposition, or information the audience needs to know but doesn’t, must be presented.
The story is enhanced by complications, reversals, impediments, obstacles, and wrinkles. Audiences do not want a predictable story.
The author recommends keeping coincidences to one per script. Too many coincidences will disappoint an audience. Audiences are more thrilled with a story overcoming a large, gloomy obstacle.
An ending should leave an audience humbled. They should feel as if the movie was about them.
Questions are what are important to art, not the answers.
Positive space in a movie is the area containing the subject. The surrounding area, or the background, is the negative space.
Movies should move and continually be advanced. Screenwriting should avoid having stories stand still or regroup.
Movies should end too soon and have audiences wanting more.
Characters should not be stereotypes, must have some sympathetic functions (even the villains), and should evolve during the story.
Audiences will accept a character doing something they’d never do so long as the character reacts as they would in that situation.
Movies involved sight and sound. Dialogue is critical o the movie. It must move the story and allow characters to grow. Dialogue should be minimized. It must not repeat information. It should quickly get to its intended point. Avoid writing dialect, as that is usually left to the actor.
Dialogue should be conversational. Characters should argue. Don’t have a character repeal information the audience already knows. Avoid writing chit chat that does not expand a story or character.
A screenplay should not have underlined or understood words.
Authors should avoid writing parenthetic directions in their screenplays. Actors resent them. Avoid writing exclamation marks and funny punctuation. Dialogue should not include lengthy speeches.
Integrate action into the story. Action is important as it is drama. It is better to have action than not have it.
A scene setting should be appropriate to the action.
Avoid using scenes on telephones or in cars as they limit action. Apartments, bars, restaurants, offices, and hotels tend to be drab locations.
Screenwriters should have actors doing something visually. It should demonstrate their character.
A screenwriter should treat his or her own self as professional. There should be no fancy or illustrated covers.
A screenplay should be about 100 pages. The author notes a great 169 script that, while he can suggest nowhere to cut, its’ length keeps it unsold.
Screenwriting is rewriting. Screenwriter David Koepp states he has rewritten at least 17 drafts to each of his scripts.
Old scripts should not be abandoned. Many old scripts have later been sold.
Scenes should not be numbered.
Scripts should be in Courier New, 12 point font.
A character, when first introduced, should be typed in uppercase letters. Uppercase letters should inform the production manager of something required from the production manager.
Scripts should not contain technical jargon, such as film shots, unless they are integral to the story and character. Screenwriters should not write instructions such as “CUT TO” nor writing P.O.V. (points of view) camera instructions.
Screenwriters should write what sounds are head, instead of writing “we hear”.
Screenwriters should write in the present tense.
A flashback should be apparent with no need to write “FLASHBACK”. Yet, it is a permitted cheat if necessary to guide the reader. Gentle reminders such as reconnecting a character to a previous obscure appearance, are also permitted cheats if it helps the reader.
A screenwriter should use montage only in describing confusing sequences, such as a car chase. The important aspects of the montage should be described.
INT indicates interior scenes. EXT indicates exterior scenes.
Screenwriters should remember they can write only presentations of sight and sound. Only essential information should be written. More information should be conveyed in less writing.
Information in a screenplay should have a purpose, that purpose should be worthy, and the information should be presented in the best possible manner.
Deleting material from a screenplay is often the best choice.
A screenwriter should not set a scene’s mood. The mood should be clear from the disclosure.
Instructions should be written in ordinary sentence structures. They should not be written in fragmented sentences.
Scripts should not have plot turns. It should not move in a “checkerboarding” straight line. They should not have extreme plot turns coming from left field.
Screenwriting instructions should be concrete. Name the place and the label of clothes worn (even it is is a fake creation).
A screenplay should not use “very” in describing something.
Screenwriters should think of dramatic, rather than drab, locations that will increase the drama.
Do not write things that will be difficult to film, such as a pigeon that acts on cue.
Do not write long dialogue. Point should be expressed quickly. It is often better that dialogue imply a fact rather than stating it “on the nose”.
Try stating in four words what has been stated in ten words.
The words of the screenplay are what are important, not any fancy screenwriting graphics.
Movies involve motion. Audiences should be held breathless and not given paused motionless breathers. Do not waste any time in a movie. Avoid repetitious dialogue. Write to increase tension. Don’t reduce tension with repetition and instead choose one tense scene or the other.
Do not write lame dialogue. Dialogue should be what makes sense when heard. Avoid over brazen exposition.
Remember that an idea for a movie still requires a script to be written.
Writer’s block happens and should be accepted. The cure is to write. Deadlines are important and should help guide a writer to be productive within a timeframe.
An outline should be written first. It is fine to adjust a script that is improved even if it no longer fits the original outline. Screen cards can help guide a writer.
The hydrant effect is when producers and producer assistants all add something to a script in order to later claim credit for their participation in the script. These changes are often not improvements upon the script.
A screenwriter should embrace discarding material that does not work. The author advises removing anything which the screenwriter has a doubt about.
A screenwriter has to go inside each character and realize how each character thinks and acts.
Screenwriters should avoid getting angry at others. This can ruin their careers. They should embrace that writing for their ego is fine. They should respect criticism but they don’t have to agree with it. Accept that rejection happens. Art can hurt. Actors exist so there can be people treated worse than are screenwriters. Note that people in authority often do not take the time to know what they are talking about and thus will talk about things they don’t really understand.
Creativity is often more eccentric than intelligence. It should include some magic. Good qualities lead to more questions.
Audiences attend movies to explore the questions of their lives. These are similar to what they go to places of worship.
Screenwriting is an important, indeed the basic, part of the movie.
A screenwriter should write their part and leave directing and scene design creativity to those who do that work.
The hope of the world rests on middle class values. Sex and violence are at the core of dramatic creations and have been for centuries. It is better to assimilate than to separate from the popular culture.
To sell a script, ignore trends as they die out quickly and movies take years to produce. Write taking risks instead of playing it safe. Good writing is what works best.
A query letter to an agent should provide a quick tease as to the script. A study of well written query letters had 96% response rates seeking the scripts, including many who stated they don’t read unsolicited material.
An email to an agent has to properly stand out to be noticed.
An agent cannot receive than a 10% commission. An agent may represent for 90 days unless there is a bona fide employment opportunity. After 90 days, with no job offer, a writer may contract with another agent.