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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 (often with a humorous eye) 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'm thinking about writing a screenplay in which I really break all the rules.  Do you think it could work, DcH?

Adelaide in England

This week's answer: 

Rules of Disengagement

Rules were meant to be broken, Adelaide.  That's why they call them "rules."  Or why we want to break them.  Or something along those lines.  Now, if you're talking about breaking ALL the rules, including the rule that says you can't break all the rules, then you might be getting yourself in quite a kettle of fish.  Or a kettle of rules.  Or lobsters if you're in Maine -- which you're probably not since, according to your signature, you seem to be from England (unless you're really from Maine and you wrote "England" to break the rules).

The best time to break screenwriting rules if you know what they are and are breaking them for a specific purpose.  For instance, starting your screenplay with "FADE OUT" or "The End" would most certainly be breaking the rules and you should probably have a pretty good idea why you're doing that.  Ending your screenplay as it begins, that is.  Not to say that it couldn't be done.  I'm no stickler for the rules.  But that would be quite a short film, and movie theatre owners (such as Peter Pacific Theatres and George General Cinemas) don't want riots on their hands when moviegoers rebel after taking their seats with their jumbo popcorns and jumbo candy boxes and jumbo soft drinks, only to find that the movie is only ten seconds long (or thirty if there is a long fade out).  So you probably don't want to break that rule.  There are other general rules you want to most likely stay with.  You probably don't want to kill your hero off too early or at all.  Audiences like to root for the good guy.  Or good gal.  Or good girl.  Or good lady.  The heroine.  You know what I mean.  And if the villain doesn't get his just desert (why should a villain get to have desert when we have to sit in the dark theatre with cheap candy stuck to our back teeth?  What about OUR desert?), that can bother an audience to the point that its members start throwing cheap candy at the screen, along with jumbo popcorn, candy boxes, and soft drinks.  

Memento and Run Lola, Run broke the rules, and more and more films are breaking the "screenwriter barrier."  Breaking rules that were once thought in screenwriting circles as being sacrosanct.  What was once taboo is now commonplace.  So break the rules, by all means.

Just watch out for the flying popcorn. 

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