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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 confused.  How do you approach a script?

Rialto in Italy

This week's answer: 

"Twistin' the Script Away

Very carefully.  (I just had to say that, Rialto; it was such a perfect setup for a joke.)  You do have to be diligent about how you approach a script, though.  It's best to come up on it  from behind so you won't be thrown by the title page with all its contact information and title and author's or authors' name(s).  And avoid those brads; they're sharper than you may think and can get stuck in places that even the best screenwriters won't venture to write about.  You could approach a screenplay sideways, but then it may mistake you for an agent and either run away or attack you, trying to envelope you in its wordy description or dull dialogue or sweep you up in its dramatic action, never to be heard of again.

Do you mean, "How do you approach writing a screenplay," Rialto?  If that's what you mean, there are many ways to do so.  Some screenwriters use the "building blocks" method, starting with an idea that they work into a treatment, which is broken down into an outline, depicting the main beats and eventually come up with a blueprint for all the scenes.  Others are less practical in their approach and just "dive right in," writing out scenes or character descriptions or even unsigned checks to put down on a new car or home or second indoor pool.  It all depends on what works for you. 

On one occasion, I wrote a comedy without knowing what was going to happen next, sans treatment, sans outline, sans beat sheet, sans scene blueprint.  Sans sans, I guess you might say.  That was an invigorating experience, flying without a net, so to speak, but it's not the usual way I write.  It's usually best to know at least the general direction in which your story is headed.  It's a good way of avoiding sudden cliffs or quicksand or the edge of the world.  

Of course, don't forget those twists -- which seem to be all the rage with screenwriters these days.  In fact, here's an interesting way to approach writing your next screenplay:  Just write the twists.  Never mind about the actual storyline.  Just come up with great twists.  Better yet, make your screenplay be only twists.  Right after "FADE IN:" have your first twist take place.  Then, before the reader knows what's happening, write in another twist.  Then another.  Don't worry about any through-line or plot; just twist.  Twist and twist. And twist again.

Like we did last summer.


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