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Joss Whedon's Top 10 Writing Rules

daimyodesign:

Joss Whedon is most famous for creating Buffy the Vampire Slayer, its spin-off Angel and the short-lived but much-loved Firefly series. But the writer and director has also worked unseen as a script doctor on movies ranging from Speed to Toy Story. Here, he shares his tips on the art of screenwriting.

1. FINISH IT

Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.

2. STRUCTURE

Structure means knowing where you’re going ; making sure you don’t meander about. Some great films have been made by meandering people, like Terrence Malick and Robert Altman, but it’s not as well done today and I don’t recommend it. I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes ? The thrills ? The romance ? Who knows what, and when ? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around : the way you want your audience to feel. Charts, graphs, coloured pens, anything that means you don’t go in blind is useful.

3. HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY

This really should be number one. Even if you’re writing a Die Hard rip-off, have something to say about Die Hard rip-offs. The number of movies that are not about what they purport to be about is staggering. It’s rare, especially in genres, to find a movie with an idea and not just, ‘This’ll lead to many fine set-pieces’. The Island evolves into a car-chase movie, and the moments of joy are when they have clone moments and you say, ‘What does it feel like to be those guys ?’

4. EVERYBODY HAS A REASON TO LIVE

Everybody has a perspective. Everybody in your scene, including the thug flanking your bad guy, has a reason. They have their own voice, their own identity, their own history. If anyone speaks in such a way that they’re just setting up the next person’s lines, then you don’t get dialogue : you get soundbites. Not everybody has to be funny ; not everybody has to be cute ; not everybody has to be delightful, and not everybody has to speak, but if you don’t know who everybody is and why they’re there, why they’re feeling what they’re feeling and why they’re doing what they’re doing, then you’re in trouble.

5. CUT WHAT YOU LOVE

Here’s one trick that I learned early on. If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favourite scene, or your very best idea or set-piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable. That thing may find its way back in, but cutting it is usually an enormously freeing exercise.

6. LISTEN

When I’ve been hired as a script doctor, it’s usually because someone else can’t get it through to the next level. It’s true that writers are replaced when executives don’t know what else to do, and that’s terrible, but the fact of the matter is that for most of the screenplays I’ve worked on, I’ve been needed, whether or not I’ve been allowed to do anything good. Often someone’s just got locked, they’ve ossified, they’re so stuck in their heads that they can’t see the people around them. It’s very important to know when to stick to your guns, but it’s also very important to listen to absolutely everybody. The stupidest person in the room might have the best idea.

7. TRACK THE AUDIENCE MOOD

You have one goal : to connect with your audience. Therefore, you must track what your audience is feeling at all times. One of the biggest problems I face when watching other people’s movies is I’ll say, ‘This part confuses me’, or whatever, and they’ll say, ‘What I’m intending to say is this’, and they’ll go on about their intentions. None of this has anything to do with my experience as an audience member. Think in terms of what audiences think. They go to the theatre, and they either notice that their butts are numb, or they don’t. If you’re doing your job right, they don’t. People think of studio test screenings as terrible, and that’s because a lot of studios are pretty stupid about it. They panic and re-shoot, or they go, ‘Gee, Brazil can’t have an unhappy ending,’ and that’s the horror story. But it can make a lot of sense.

8. WRITE LIKE A MOVIE

Write the movie as much as you can. If something is lush and extensive, you can describe it glowingly ; if something isn’t that important, just get past it tersely. Let the read feel like the movie ; it does a lot of the work for you, for the director, and for the executives who go, ‘What will this be like when we put it on its feet ?’

9. DON’T LISTEN

Having given the advice about listening, I have to give the opposite advice, because ultimately the best work comes when somebody’s fucked the system ; done the unexpected and let their own personal voice into the machine that is moviemaking. Choose your battles. You wouldn’t get Paul Thomas Anderson, or Wes Anderson, or any of these guys if all moviemaking was completely cookie-cutter. But the process drives you in that direction ; it’s a homogenising process, and you have to fight that a bit. There was a point while we were making Firefly when I asked the network not to pick it up : they’d started talking about a different show.

10. DON’T SELL OUT

The first penny I ever earned, I saved. Then I made sure that I never had to take a job just because I needed to. I still needed jobs of course, but I was able to take ones that I loved. When I say that includes Waterworld, people scratch their heads, but it’s a wonderful idea for a movie. Anything can be good. Even Last Action Hero could’ve been good. There’s an idea somewhere in almost any movie : if you can find something that you love, then you can do it. If you can’t, it doesn’t matter how skilful you are : that’s called whoring.

(via celtx)

Filed under writing script writing screenwriting scripts script writer joss whedon advice screenplay script frenzy screnzy

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The 22 rules of storytelling, according to Pixar

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes. 
  2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different. 
  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite. 
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___. 
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free. 
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal? 
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front. 
  8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time. 
  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up. 
  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it. 
  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone. 
  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself. 
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience. 
  14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it. 
  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations. 
  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against. 
  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on - it’ll come back around to be useful later. 
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining. 
  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating. 
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like? 
  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way? 
  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

-The 22 rules of storytelling, according to Pixar

(via wordscount)

Filed under Characters Pixar screenplay screenwriter screenwriting script script writing scripts scriptwriting writer writing writing advice screnzy script frenzy

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Thinking of signing up for Camp NaNoWriMo? Already signed up? Win some fabulous prizes just for logging in!

Contest: Win 5 bound print copies of your book or script just for signing up for Camp NaNoWriMo

I’m hosting a contest at the link above for anyone who signs up for Camp NaNoWriMo. You don’t even have to win, you just need to go to the Camp NaNoWriMo site and login with either your NaNoWriMo or Script Frenzy login info and then post your camper profile on the post linked above. Anyone, whether they’ve participated in any OLL event in the past or not, is eligible. 

Here’s the best part: The more people who enter, the more prizes I’ll be giving out so help me spread the word about this contest if you can. 

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Shubert Fendrich Memorial Playwriting Contest

Looking for something to do with that script you wrote for Script Frenzy? This contest is free to enter and the deadline is a month away, giving you plenty of time for editing.

To encourage the development of quality theatrical materials for the educational, community and children’s theatre markets, Pioneer Drama Service is proud to sponsor the annual Shubert Fendrich Memorial Playwriting Contest.

This is an ongoing contest, with a winner selected by June 1 each year from all eligible submissions received the previous year. All eligible plays accepted for publication will be considered contest finalists, from which the winner will be selected. The contest winner will receive a $1,000 royalty advance in addition to publication.

Individuals currently published by Pioneer Drama Service are not eligible for this contest. Pioneer Drama Service employees and their families are also excluded.

Info on how to enter here.

Filed under scriptfrenzy Playwriting Performing Arts Theatre Contest script frenzy screnzy writing contest writing writer play writing plays theater play playwright

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Script Frenzy ends tonight! What to do if you haven’t hit 100 pages yet?

To everyone who has already crossed the finish line by writing the 100th page on their scripts, I offer a hearty congratulations!

But if your page count is still a little bit less than 100 pages, you shouldn’t feel left out. There are still many hours left in the contest, plenty of time to add some more pages to your count. But even if you are at page 1, you definitely don’t want to quit today, no matter how far behind you are.

Sure, hitting 100 pages is great but if that is all you focus on, you’ll beat yourself up by the end of today if you haven’t hit that number. The point of this month is to challenge yourself to write more than you usually do so any amount is something to be proud of.

No matter how many pages behind you are, write your butt off today! Even if you only add 10 pages or so more to your count, you’ll end the day feeling like you accomplished a ton instead of feeling bad because you missed the 100. As long as you can sit back and honestly tell yourself that you tried your hardest to add as many pages to your count as possible today, you will still feel like a winner no matter what your final count. Even if you end this month short of the goal, you still wrote a good chunk of a new script which is more than what most people have done. And it gives you something to shoot for next year, to beat this year’s numbers.

Not to mention that it only takes most people about 1 to 2 hours to write 10 pages. You could almost do the whole 100 in one day at that rate. Even if what you write makes no sense whatsoever, just get those words down and you’ll be amazed at how fast the pages add up. Remember, you can always edit poor writing but you can’t edit a blank page so its better to get those ideas down, no matter how sloppily.

So remember, write write write! There is still plenty of time yet. The rest of us are rooting for you! :-)

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