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Screenwriting Help E-Mail (Previous)

Updated every Monday, one selected e-mail will be posted and answered here each week. With many years of experience in the film and television business, I look forward to providing answers to your questions about screenwriting or the entertainment industry in general.  Please send your e-mailed questions to: Script Advisor.  You may also wish to visit our Screenwriting Help E-Mails - The Archives.

This week's question: 

I see so many dull, lifeless, flat movies.  How do you write a "nonboring" one?  

Kelly from Minnesota


This week's Answer: 

Nondairy Screenplays

 
I'm sorry, Kelly; I fell asleep during your question.  Probably out of boredom.  It is a killer, isn't it?  Just the word, itself:  "boredom."  It can even take a long time to pronounce:  Boreeeeeeeeeedom.  Sorry, I just fell asleep while pronouncing "boredom."  Maybe I got into writing and eventually studying and assisting with screenplays because of my father.  Whenever he'd start watching a movie, almost inevitably, within the first few minutes of its beginning, he'd designate it as a "piece of cheese."  Now, I, as a child, even though I understood generally that this meant there was a problem with the movie I was watching, I never quite figured out what cheese had to do with a film not being good.  And causing me even more confusion was the fact that I often saw my dad slicing into big chunks of Swiss and cheddar (both mild and sharp) and actually having snacks consisting of only one item:  cheese.  So, even though there seemed to be a contradiction regarding my father's relationship with this diary product, I still somehow understood that a movie that was a piece of cheese was not going to be a very good one (according to my father, that is).

I think I would have had gone through a lot less confusion if my father had simply said, "This movie is boring."  That's what he meant.  He couldn't stand a boring film.  His answer to a boring film was extremely ingenious:  He'd fall asleep.  It didn't matter what the film was about or how intense the action was at a given time.  If my father found it boring, he'd fall asleep.  Or walk away from the television set, go into the kitchen, and cut himself a nice slab of cheese.

So, Kelly, getting down to the basics and keeping with the dairy allusion (and not "dairy illusion" because that would be like spectral or evaporating milk -- which would definitely add to the confusion), essentially, you want to write a screenplay that is not a piece of cheese (or a "cheeseless" one).  How does one go about writing a script that keeps the audience's interest?  I could throw out words like Intrigue, compel, enthrall, entrance, stimulate, grab, hypnotize, captivate, etc., (although, "etcetera" -- "etc." -- isn't one of the words), but those are only words.  How does one create moments in screenplays that create these attributes?  (You didn't ask me that one.)  One way of looking at this is to think of guiding the mental and emotional world of your viewers, taking them along on your unique, ever-altering, surprising, sometimes-shocking, suspense-filled, twisting, tone-shifting, location- transitioning, and anything-else-you-can-think-of-changing route and releasing them at an emotionally-satisfying (or satisfyingly-disturbing) destination.  Be our Yoga instructor and stretch us (or somebody working for the Spanish Inquisition); be an erotic dancer and tease us; be a cabbie and drive us crazy; be a psychiatrist and restore our sanity (but not all of it), and flip us upside down on a trapeze and make us wonder if the flies-through-the-air trapeze artist on the other trapeze will be there in time to (with the greatest of ease) to catch us (and you make us consider the possibility that there may be no net below).  How do you do that? (there's that question again.  This is getting boring.)  And it's not an easy question to answer unless you answer it for yourself.  And you answer it for yourself because:

you write for yourself

In other words,  you are your own yoga instructor, erotic dancer, cabbie, psychiatrist and trapeze artist.  You must take yourself on that unique, ever-altering, surprising, sometimes-sho --  (you get the picture).  Take out all the stops, let yourself go where no viewer has gone before.  Write something that will knock yourself out of your computer chair.  Tear your emotions out of you (but don't forget to put them back).  Manifest a twist that surprises even you. 

I'm not saying that this is always easy to do.  Good writing takes hard work.  But it's always worth the effort.  And don't forget to reward yourself.  And take a lot of breaks.  Take walks.  Fix yourself a good meal.

And get yourself a nice piece of cheese.

DcH

 

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