Screenwriting : Go for the hard turn by Paul Zeidman

Paul Zeidman

Go for the hard turn

I recently finished reading a friend's comedy script. It was okay. It needs work, but the one thing I couldn't shake was how the story played out pretty close to how I expected it to. There weren't any real surprises.

However, one of the things that really stood out about this story was that deep within it was the idea for the same kind of story, but from a totally different angle. Not only would this open up new and original ideas, but it also made me think that this new story would be one I don't think I'd ever seen/heard of before.

How many times have you read a script and known what was coming? Don't you love that feeling when you read something and get what you were totally not expecting? A story that keeps you eagerly wondering "what comes next?" is one to be thoroughly enjoyed. The more surprised we are, the better.

Cliches. Tropes. Clams. Old reliables. Whatever you want to call them, writers with less experience use them because they've worked before. It takes a lot of effort to NOT use them.

The challenge is to come up with a new way to present these old ideas. "Familiar yet different," as the saying goes.

It can be a little intimidating to take those first steps into unfamiliar territory, but you want the journey the reader takes through the story to be memorable, right? So why not take that chance and head in a new direction?

Go through your latest draft. Are there elements to it that feel tired or overused? You'll know them when you see them. Is there a different way to do or say the same thing?

You can even go so far as to imagine "What's the least likely thing that could happen/be said here, but still takes the story in the right direction?"

Try it. You might be surprised. And if you're surprised, chances are the reader will be too.

Dawn Gonchar

Good advice Paul. Not that I haven't heard it before; but it always bears repeating. Good timing too; I'm working on a rewrite now :)

Kristy Leigh Lussier

This is a great post/question/point to consider. I just finished (within the last few years) two feature scripts. One is a Rom-Com (with my writing partner). The other a Sports drama. In getting feedback/notes for both, I see a WIDE range of opinion on this. More so the Rom-Com than anything... because, well, let's be honest... a Rom-Com (supposedly) follows a pretty basic, straight forward narrative outline (meaning there are like 7 tropes or old reliable "beats" that must be hit for it to be a tried & true Rom-Com?)

--- So while we get feedback that we did a great job of molding these into the flow of the narrative, sometimes we are actually criticized for NOT hitting those beats exactly as they should be done in a "traditional Rom-Com" --- and we are damned if we do/damned if we don't kinda scenario, depending on the reader it seems. We do find we have strength in "what's the least likely thing to happen here...." -- yet the reader was extremely thrown off saying "this doesn't seem to make sense, it's 'too' off for what a Rom-com would do..." though we know it still has purpose and does take the story in the right direction.

But I can certainly see what you are referring to and it's great advice/stuff to think about! :)

Adam Harper

Hi Paul, good post. I watched the Shape of Water earlier this week and a lot of what you said fits with how I felt about it. A great, gorgeous film but a lot of the structure walked hand in hand with other similar films albeit with some subtle twists. I read an interview with a screenwriter (S Craig Zahler) who said they always try and surprise themselves. I like this advice and try implement it in my work. I believe there is still room to have a unique voice in a traditionally structured script.

Sam Borowski

Adam, after winning Best Picture and Best Director and even possibly surprising themselves at the Box-Office, not sure The Shape of Water will be struck hard by your criticism.

Adam Harper

Sam, true, it's a shame because I'd really hoped my comment would go viral and oust Guillermo as a fraud. I'm kidding, they took my money, I enjoyed the film. My comment was intended to be about how I picked up on parallels in the story's structure to other movies. The more I read/learn about writing screenplays the more apparent things like this have become for me, it's not a bad thing.

Dan MaxXx

Adam Harper that's great screenwriting. Familiar stories with a twist. The endgame is a produced movie.

Bill Costantini

When I saw The Shape of Water, I haven't seen an audience react that emotionally in a long time. Mr. del Toro sure knows how to make great films, and sure knows how to make the fantastic seem real.

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