Saturday, 1 December 2012

Scene 35: Five Scriptwriting Tips

Scriptwriting, its a tough business trying to write forty-five to ninety pages, depending on whether its film or television, of something that's good - or even brilliant.  

Then there's so much to consider - character, the whole structure, dialogue, scene structure, story arcs, the meaning behind it all!  So, I thought today I'd share a few bits of advice on scriptwriting that I think are useful. 

First though, here's a quick little re-fresher from the American Film Institute that describes what a script is and how to format it, hosted by Sean Astin from Lord of the Rings. 

1] Write it and finish it!

Whilst doing some research for this, I came across Joss Whedon's Top Ten Writing Tips and the first one on the list was - finish the script. 

Although I don't think this is technically advice it is something that's worth repeating. As sitting down  and starting, and then finishing a script can be difficult. 

2]  Write Three Pages a Day

This is a nice idea for making sure you finish that script, bit by bit, and one I have always liked - though not yet managed to stick too.

It's a simple plan - you sit down and write three pages of script a day, no matter what. The three pages don't have to great either - you can go back and revise it later - and if you can write more, that's great, but make sure you stick to the minimum. 

By doing this you should end up with thirty pages of script in ten days. So by the end of a month, you could have a first draft of a script. 

3] Show don't tell

This is a classic rule for screenwriting. It's important for two reasons. First of all television and film are visual mediums. Secondly, it also helps reduce the need for unnecessary dialogue and to much explaining. 

A great example of  this I found in a book describes  a scene between a girl about to leave home to be with her boyfriend, and her older brother who's trying to stop her. The writer wants to get across the idea that the girl is just a child really, and doesn't know what she's doing.   

So, in the first example of the scene the brother and sister argue and the brother tells her quite obviously - "You're just a kid. You're not old enough to understand." - sort of dialogue, which takes up a lot of the page. 

The second example, using the rule of showing not telling, shows the brother arguing with his sister in her bedroom - but this time the script describes the room, the soft toys on the shelves, the band posters on the wall and the old Barbie suitcase the girl packs her clothes in. All this tells us straight away that this girl is still just a kid, without her brother having to say it out loud. 

I've attempted to do this in one of my scripts. I have a character who's into history. How do I get this across? Have him reading historical novels and history books of course! 

4] Formatting, grammar and spelling 

This is really two pieces of advice I've thrown in together, but both are important if you want to make your script clear and easy to read. 

First, checking grammar and spelling is an obvious one. It can be easy to forget to do this, for example I was a few minutes from a script competition deadline, sent off the script - and then remembered I had not re-read it, so I did not know if there was any redundant words or spelling mishaps the spell check had missed. 

Second, make sure you use the right format. There are different formats of script for different types of medium - television, radio and film. To find out what they are, go to Formatting your Script at the BBC Writersroom. 

5] Read your script out loud

This is a tip from an article called Screenwriting Tips from a Screenplay Contest Judge, written by Gordy Hoffman, who runs an American screenplay competition. 

His explains that dialouge can sound fine in your head, but as soon as you hear it out loud, you may feel like jumping in front of a bus - his analogy.  So he suggests you either read your script out loud by ourself, or get your friends to read it.

I once wrote a short radio piece for a community/university station, which had a line that sounded fine in my head,  but sounded like an innuendeo when read out - as my friend kindly pointed out to me. 

So in future I intend to get my friends to read my scripts, as it sounds like good fun as well as a good re-writing exercise. 

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