THE BEST WAY TO IMPROVE AS A SCREENWRITER
In a society where the quick fix is highly sought after, does such a thing really exist for screenwriting? No...no it doesn’t. But, we can certainly speed this process up a bit. We can learn the foundational elements of screenwriting in a more efficient way. We can learn how to be more effective and we can do it without even writing a single screenplay. We can essentially develop our skills, without writing the words FADE IN.
I learned screenwriting about 10 years ago now. I went to Barnes and Noble, bought Screenplay by Syd Field and would read during my lunch breaks at work. This was an amazing and eye opening experience. Mind you I had been writing prior to reading, but this book opened my eye to the things I was doing incorrectly, as well as the many things I got right. Yes, I did have several foundational elements correct.
The only problem for me, with the approach I took to learn this craft, is the fact that I am the slowest reader on planet earth. If I get through 20 pages in an hour, I’m doing pretty good. That amounts to 10 hours of education prior to even writing a single word. For me, that meant 10 days since I was only reading at lunch.
After reading Screenplay, I wrote my feature length film, Pink Heat. I was able to take the foundational tools I learned and apply them directly. The only problem is, my story wasn’t that good. I thought by educating, my scripts would naturally be better. That really wasn’t the case, so I took things further.
Save The Cat! Is a book that would really shine a different light on screenwriting for me. This book would provide me with a new tool, improving my abilities as a storyteller. The foundational elements remain the same(something I would recognize over and over again) but Blake Snyder would provide me with a little different insight, a little different way to look at things, a little different way to improve.
With this new found knowledge, I wrote The Remedy and was invited to the Beverly Hills Film Festival. It seems my education through books had really been working. I would replicate this process one more time.
I have read several screenwriting books to date and I have to tell you, essentially they’re all saying the same thing. They all provide you with the basic, essential elements stated in their own words and then they follow it up with a little nugget of insight, something a little different than the books that came before them.
If that’s the case, did I really improve by reading more books? If they all say the same thing, was I really learning new things with each one? I may have been retaining something a little different with each read but there’s one consistent fact that I’m not remembering. I wrote a script after finishing each book.
LEARNING BY WRITING
The beautiful thing about screenwriting is that you can give 5 people the same elements for a story and they will come up with 5 very different screenplays. Everyone has a story to tell and I stand by the fact that nobody can dictate how you should tell your story.
As I was reading, I was also writing. My writing was improving with each script and I find it was a direct result of the practice of writing. It wasn’t the books that were helping me improve, it was practicing the craft.
The thought here is that a book can only give you the essential elements of storytelling. These elements I find to be very important but also very basic. Books can’t tell you what to write or even how to write it. Books can’t tell YOUR story, only you can do that. It’s your voice and the only way to improve is to use that voice over and over again.
So if the only way to improve is through practice, and each script takes anywhere from 3 to 6 months to complete, is it going to take me 4 years to become halfway decent at this? No. There’s a great way to tell your stories, practice and improve and you don’t even have to write the words FADE IN.
PRACTICE THROUGH OUTLINES
As you educate yourself on the art of screenwriting, in whichever manner you choose, you’ll figure out what you want to write, include the essential elements and then outline your story. STOP at the outline.
If you read your outline and determine it’s shit, figure out why. Find where you went wrong and change it. Hell, just throw it out and create a new one. You will improve on story and storytelling with each outline you develop. Once you finally write an outline you can stomach, this is when you should go off and write the script.
I’m not saying writing the actual screenplay isn’t important because it is. You will gain skills and abilities from writing the actual screenplay that you can’t get from writing just the outline. I’m saying there is great benefit and skills to be gained in the outlining process so before jumping into the screenplay, work the skills, improve and make yourself better. Help set yourself up for success in a more efficient way.
The best thing you can do as a screenwriter, to quickly improve, is to learn the essential elements of storytelling, set up a story you want to tell and then outline. Rinse and repeat. You’ll become so efficient at this process that you can knock each one out, from start to finish, in 2 hours or less. You WILL get better and more creative with each outline. You will see substantial gains and you don’t even have to write a script.
After you’ve outlined several ideas and FINALLY have one worth a damn, that’s when we write. That’s when we take the steps to developing the whole other set of skills. But remember, we now have an AMAZING foundation and we’ll develop our faster as a screenwriter because of it.
Generate and idea, include the essential elements and outline. It’s that simple.