Screenwriting : What is the "write" way? by Amyana Bartley

Amyana Bartley

What is the "write" way?

I have been learning the craft of screenwriting off and on for 18 years. I gotta say, with all the different opinions out there that state their method is the right way to write, I've become disillusioned and very confused. I have recently completed the eighth draft of the best idea I've ever had. It is very high concept and has unlimited franchise opportunities. The problem is, with feedback, how do I know who is right and who is just a know it all? Are character driven scripts really better than plot driven? What if your characters aren't human and start at an ideal place but fall from there? It's a situation of do or die-which does not have the ideal outcome but begins the process of building whole new ways if life. They don't have a clear choice. I'm just so confused on whether or not I'm writing the "best way", or is there really a best way? I have an internal drive to make my script as wonderful and engaging it can be, but not sure if what I think is the best way, nor do I know if all these "gurus" in the market are either. HELP!!:(

James Chalker

If you tried to follow everyone's advice you'd never write a word. Basic format is important and some advice is helpful, but really at some point you just have to write.

Rob Mc

Yeah, this can be the problem with putting your scripts up for feedback - everyone formats differently and so notes script errors instead of your story. At the end of the day you have to find a writing style you like - to hell with what everyone else thinks, if people can read it and it's got scene headers and action lines then you're pretty close to doing what you need to. Good example - I wrote a script which actually bent all the basic rules and became sort of a short story and script rolled into one. The guy I sent it to loved it - it's now on his site and I half considered ditching my usual way of writing for it. Only for me it was a bit far left field. It's your choice. Write the story you want to see on the big screen, and make other people like it. You have to enjoy doing this or it's a waste of time frankly.

Amyana Bartley

Thanks for the good advice! The funny thing is, I got an excellent on structure, but "fair" on everything else, even though the guy didn't get most of my characters right, nor spelled correctly. I just hate playing all these "games" with the "pros", and not getting anywhere. Plus, whoever comments may not actually know any more than you do on the subject.

Amyana Bartley

I'm not sure if I even have a "style" per se

William Martell

How many different feature screenplays have you written? The more you have written the more objective you can be about how best to rewrite. Since any screenplay is most likely going to be a job application for a writing assignment, focus on writing something that is imaginative, emotionally involving, and something that can not be put down.

Amyana Bartley

I think it is and others have thought so but that doesn't necessarily mean it's great or not great. That's the conundrum. This is my fourth script but the first I had a really great idea for

Annette Stewart-Colon

Stop over thinking and concentrate on one script at a time.

William Martell

I alternate scripts when I rewrite, so I will write a new screenplay before rewriting the last one. This allows me to be more objective.

Amyana Bartley

It was "high concept" and those weren't my words. It was from a supposed professional script reader. I also meant it's the best "idea" not script, I've ever had. No one is ever beyond the realm of learning-I'll be learning my whole life. I've been writing and studying off and on for 18 years. No where did I say I was credited yet. Still figuring out what's "good" or not. I sure don't want my script to be like much of the crap made out there. I want to be proud of myself. All the question was: how do you know when you've done enough? Who's right? It's incredibly confusing

Amyana Bartley

Not to say that I won't continue to improve my whole life.

Dillon Mcpheresome

Since most script readers put down,quit reading a script before page 3. I'd say if you can get an honest opinion from someone who really read the whole thing. Then you would be doing pretty good.

Lee A. Miller

You are probably doing it right... write ... whatever. However, you have to look at the market... and the job.... not the market you think it is... there are SO MANY IDIOTS out there submitting junk the REAL producers have shut the door and only talk to known talent... so the market is flooded.. .and when they get your envelope, phone call or email... then they think you are just another idiot. AND... look at the job... you can't just be a writer... you have to be a marketing expert and a producer... some studios are asking for test films. Like if you were a film maker, you would just MAKE THE DAMN FILM yourself. Frankly, these morons can't read and want to make your submission on video.

Lee A. Miller

About the studio asking for test films... AMAZON STUDIOS... that is something of a scam... they only want the content. FREE CONTENT... they don't buy anything for $200,000 like they claim... they have paid $10,000 to a few people and the rest they stream the writers work "content" online at no cost. In Three years they are yet to produce any films... Warner Bros has made NOTHING from the site. They sure have 9000 scripts and movies online... free content. It is a scam. How is a write supposed to make anything happen in this atmosphere.

Amyana Bartley

Either that or they don't really pay any attention to what you write, pass on it and are total meanies about it. But, once you have those credentials........................

Amyana Bartley

I think too though, if a studio would just make the script, most of us would write, produce, direct and act in it for FREE;)

Amyana Bartley

And Alle, that's why I said "supposed" expert;)-lol

Beth Fox Heisinger

Amyana, it sounds like you may need to just tune it all out and focus on your own sense of writing. There is no one right way to write a script. What a reader or someone else may think of a script is subjective. Plus, there are far too many variables to consider. Granted, there is a general criteria for professional readers to gauge a script against, but it boils down to what each script has to offer and how it effects the reader. Perhaps you might consider working with a professional script consultant to help you not only cut through the noise, but to help you hone your own writing sensibilities. With some guidance and assurances, you will gain even more confidence and will be better able to trust your instincts.

William Martell

"The problem is, with feedback, how do I know who is right and who is just a know it all?" Volume. If 3 people give you feedback and all 3 say the same thing, that's a problem. If only one says it, maybe still be a problem but it's something you have to weigh on your own and make a decision. All story questions are story specific. So whether character driven is better than plot driven depends on the story... and those are two different types of story. One story could not go either way. The concept is going to push the story in one way or another. If this is your fifth screenplay, you probably know that.

Amyana Bartley

I would love that if I could afford it, but even that's no guarantee. The reader I paid to give me feedback and notes, through a reputable company, said I was hugely imaginative, then proceeded to rip through my script, not even getting my characters right, not spelling right, no constructive criticism and was inherently rude just cause he could be. Thankfully I got my money back, which is why I turned to this to get some other opinions on what has helped other writers. From what I heard it only takes one person to get it going......

William Martell

Swap scripts with other people from here or elsewhere and read and critique their scripts in exchange for them doing the same for you. Here's the thing: anything a reader you have paid says is good about your script is most likely to keep you coming back to their service. Anything they say that is bad is more likely the truth, despite the spelling. Another avenue are script contests that offer feedback, which are often less expensive than paying for feedback. But swapping scripts is free... and you aren't married to any of the people, so if they're idiots you can dump them and find someone else.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Amyana, there are no guarantees. Period. And, it takes far more than one person to "get it going." The only person to "get it going" is you. :) I do understand the restrictions of having a limited budget (oh boy do I!)... but, a script consultant does much more than give you feedback. A consultant works WITH you. If you shop around and find the right person to work with you, it may be worth the investment. I was fortunate enough to not only work with an incredible consultant but she then became my mentor. Best wishes to you!

Amyana Bartley

Any suggestions of a reputable service Beth? And thank you to all who posted here. I'm very grateful:). I feel less "alone" in this crazy business!!

Pierre Langenegger

There are a couple of script reviewing sites out there that you can join free of charge. You will need to read and review other people's scripts before you can have yours reviewed but with one site in particular, you can read other people's reviews and learn an awful lot from that process alone. Plus some of the reviews you can receive can be quite lengthy. I generally write 4 - 6 page reviews that will cover Act I, Act IIa, Act IIb, Act III, story, character, dialogue and proofreading. Not a bad deal for zero dollars.

Amyana Bartley

What sites are those?

Pierre Langenegger

I'll PM you.

Lee A. Miller

Beware of vampires... people that teach classes or want money to have a script read. Legitimate producers will not ask for a fee. And you probably don't need a class. You might be sitting in the class and something occur to you... but it is just as likely something will occur to you drinking coffee. THE PROBLEM ISN'T YOU, the problem is the industry being choked with idiots. Readers reading three page and then putting it down. Producers who say to writers, "We will make your film IF you bring us Robert Duvall." Directors who read your script in an entirely new way. Writers think it is them when they don't sell and buy what they are told they need... that is B.S. There is more money made from "Happy Writers" than are paid out by filmmakers to Studio32 writers. Get a calculator. This is a GREAT "vampire" story. Look it is less and less a collaborative art everyday. You can sell your ideas with a computer and Amazon.com. If you want to be a writer do that. You don't need any idiot in Hollywood. If you want to be a filmmaker, go to Best Buys and buy a HD camera and make the film yourself. If you sit here in the middle NOTHING will ever get done. What are the odds here in the middle.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Hey Amyana, sure, I can make a recommendation... Julie Gray is fantastic. Very generous. Extremely positive. She is a coach. I was a finalist in her screenwriting competition -- Just Effing Entertain Me -- but I didn't win. So, I sent her an email thanking her for the great experience and what could I do to improve my script. How can I make it better. This competition did not offer judges notes. She wrote me back and generously shared her thoughts and gave me extensive notes. We went back and forth for over a week! FOR FREE. Her competition partner, the amazing Diane Zimmerman, also contributed and gave her thoughts as well. They are just incredible people. One of Julie's business associates requested my script too. Julie is based in Tel Aviv. She put out a book; "Just Effing Entertain Me; A Screenwriter's Atlas." On her site she offers free podcasts and videos. She also has a great blog. Here's her web site: http://www.rswriters.com/ Also, I mentioned my mentor before... She is someone I meet with in person. I can't tell you how beneficial that is! You know, get off the damn computer! Sit down and actually go over your script with another human being. Scribble notes all over a printed copy. Discuss. Relate. Perhaps you could find someone local? Maybe you could start or join a writers' group? As William had suggested you can also swap scripts online with others here on Stage 32. Everyone here is very helpful. It takes a village, right? I'd be happy to take a look at your script. However, it will take me some time to read it due to my schedule. ;) Keep calm and write on!

Andrea Balaz

I am very thankful for your post, as I have struggled with those questions for many years now too. It it good to see I am not the only one! When I wanted to start writing scripts too, I began with paying far too much money for a diploma –coarse on scriptwriting, with the result that I was very unhappy (not only with its shortcomings). Out of desperation I read a lot about different approaches. (Weren’t an awful lot written by former baseball players?) Lots of recepies. But I am not a good cook. I like to understand the why. So here is what I have come up with, and currently work on: go to the basics: what is it that makes humans understand stories, and why do they bother to read/view them. Look for example at Bandura ‘s social learning theory (we can learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modeling) A story must have certain properties to be recognized as one so we find it interesting. we must be able to connect to the characters in some way, there must be a problem we can understand, there must be progress and obstacles, which create suspension, and a desire to read/view on, and it must have an ending we can understand, which in some way includes the main characters willful actions, that have changed through the story. Now, I think that there is no best way to get there suitable for everyone and all occasions. It is important in writing I think, to eventually find your own voice, and therefore you must find your own way too. I use a structure skeleton that I begin to fill with the basics of any story I start, based on the story basics I mention above. It does have 3 acts, and sometimes I define the changing points too in the structure. Then I break it down into chapters or scenes, writing a few notes on each part. The structure is based to some extent on the theories of others, especially one from a guy called Hauge, who must be a technician, because the theory is very orderly and understandable, and also more multidimensional than others, also taking a characters development into account. It is important to make your writing fractal, that is, each part must in itself have the properties of good stories too, the scene, chapter, act, and story as a whole. (That makes it easier to go on with individual scenes too, if I get stuck in one.) Don’t forget, Character developments need those stages too! If you have the important parts there, and they are strong enough, you can begin to juggle with them, to make it interesting or more original. I still have to give that some practice.. As to some of your other questions, here are my ideas: Are character driven scripts really better than plot driven? I think that depends on the sort of story you want to tell. And your own way to tell things. What if your characters aren't human and start at an ideal place but fall from there? Characters are always virtual beings, they need not be human, but they need to have properties a human audience can identify with. At some early point in your story you need to explain why your hero cant go as always. It can be a new opportunity, or it can be being pushed from paradise. Eventually your hero will have to show some active behavior though; it/he/she cannot only react through your whole story. What I found very helpful in writing drafts is to let it rest for a while, then go over them again with a strangers view. Locate basic story shortcomings, emphasize transitions so they become more clear. And strengthen your voice in your story, it’s what makes it unique to you! Good luck, Andrea

Amyana Bartley

Thanks Andrea!!:)

Beth Fox Heisinger

Great helpful and constructional comments, but I'm going to pull way way back... Let's talk about paradigm. What is a paradigm? An example that serves as a model, a pattern. Right? We can all learn the formulas, plot structure, discuss three act verses five act, character development, formatting, talk about the nuts and bolts of screenwriting, but these are all paradigms. Patterns. Your script is not going to sell because you wrote a kick ass break into the second act. I'm not saying that these things are not important. They are. But, without bringing in the creative element that only you can add, your originality, your script will just be another wonderful execution of the same old pattern. Think of it this way... Cover bands never change the world of music do they. They just keep playing the same songs that someone else wrote. They can practice and imitate the original musicians really well, but they will never rise above them. Unless... they build upon what they know and what they have learned from others and add their own creative interpretation to create something new. What will sell a screenplay? An original execution of a compelling idea. Yup. Sounds simple, but it's true. That point was drilled into me recently and I am so thankful. Sure, we can get lost in the nuts and bolts, the patterns of writing screenplays, but it is that one simple, elusive, mystical thing that makes all the difference -- originality.

Beth Fox Heisinger

My previous comment was just meant as "food for thought." I had a great conversation with a local renown writer ...let's just say it got a little philosophical. I felt inspired to share. :)

Amyana Bartley

Thanks for doing so! Your comments are encouraging!:)

Beth Fox Heisinger

Hey Alle, yes, I agree. That's why I talked about paradigms and enjoy talking about creative endeavors from a higher perspective. :) Some people really need the point by point training, but then they over focus on the details when they really need to be thinking about the overall concept first. Of course, everyone learns differently. :) I know I think differently because I am an artist as well. I hold a BFA. Back in school it was all concept, concept, concept. It was about self awareness and thinking. We had to explain why we painted what we painted. What does it mean? What does it represent? What is the symbology? We were raked over the coals if our answer was "I don't know. I thought it was cool." Anyone care to talk about color theory? I studied art history as well, which is fascinating. I also worked in advertising for over 15 years, so I have a keen awareness of messaging and marketing. With my creative background I understand hidden meanings, subtext and theme really well. What does this have to do with writing screenplays? Well, screenplays are visual writing, are they not? Once I made that leap, I never looked back. I've learned so much from everyone here at Stage 32. If anything I have shared from my own discoveries and realizations helps someone else then I am happy to have been of assistance. Best wishes to you!

Annette Stewart-Colon

Don't you know that no matter what you write, if you script is being produced, it's going to change. As long as you don't lose your credit for writing the screenplay. Chill.

Nanette L. Baird

I appreciated your post and agree that Stage 32 is serving a purpose.

Serita Stevens

You might be interested in my new book, The Ultimate Writer's Workbook for Books and Scripts now from motivational Press. It's based on my years of teaching and available from Amazon and at my site. In addition, I give a fee critique of your first ten pages of book or script for those buying the book. sstevenstarlow@gmail.com /www.seritastevens.com

John E. Johnson

I'm a new writer; and new to stage 32. And, I am sure that there are a lot of books, on screenwriting; However, if may add my 2 cents, the best two screenwriters books I have found that helps me are, "Save the Cat," by, Blake Snyder, and "The Screenwriter's Bible," by, David Trottier. Save the Cat, help me with structure, in turn, teaching me more about screenwriting than the screenwriting class I attended for a entire semester. The Screenwriter's Bible, helps me with format. When I don't know how to format a scene; and I don't have anyone to call, I refer to this book. I hope I have said something that will help you. I wish you well with your writings. And. also, I was told by a writer that writes for TV and Film, that no matter what you write, it will be rewritten.

Amyana Bartley

Thanks John!:)

Melody Beattie

Find and trust your own process. There is no "right way" to write. We start out with an idea; ultimately end up with a "first draft." In the end, anyone's first draft is just that: necessary, but not a finished product. Then we struggle through. People want to watch a good story, well-told. (And we learn the definition of that -- good story, well-told -- by watching stories and reading scripts. One "technique" that's helped me is watching either a movie or an episode, and then making brief notes of the main action that takes place in each act (from an already-produced script). It helps enmesh the idea of acts and turning points into my "writer's brain." Writing those notes also helps me translate not the action, but the emotional response to those actions (or driving force behind the actions) into me. Just a suggestion. The other, very best way for me to get clear is almost always to stop pushing and work on something else. Step back. Trust yourself. Trust the process. I love writing; it's more than something "I do." It's who I am. But don't ever forget: it's extremely hard work -- the most frustrating love/hate relationship I've ever had. As to "who to trust?" When you step back, you'll be able to answer that question yourself. Breathe. Let go. Trust the process. Meanwhile, keep working hard.

Amyana Bartley

Thanks Melody! Great suggestions!:)

Melody Beattie

I've been thinking (obsessing is more like it) about script writing lately. I wasn't "clear" with you; and I understand your confusion. There are many teachers who just want to make a buck -- but usually I learn something from each one (either a lecture or book, etc.). But the deeper I go into this craft, the more all the good teachers make sense; they're all saying the same thing, essentially -- just using different words. Re plot driven versus character driven, when I watch a move where I know someone had a map for the story, and just jammed their characters into that "map" -- I usually don't like the movie. Obviously, we want complications (otherwise there's no story). But our characters should act (I think) the same way we do: we take action (or not) based on emotion and need. Character arc is essential, but the characters just have to change internally in a way that reflects externally (the mandate isn't that a character has to become better; just "change" by the end of the story. If you love your idea (and it sounds like you do), then keep at it. But, like I said, it really helps me not just to read scripts, but to break down shows I like by act, including only a brief narrative line that shows the forward movement. Doing that helps me almost more than anything else to truly "get structure" and acts (and character movement and change). Are you working on a one-hour television pilot, or a feature script?

Amyana Bartley

It's a feature. All my studies have been on screenplays, though with the advent of all the great tv recently, I wish I had a bit of teleplays in there;)

C. D-Broughton

It's your story so write the one you want to tell. Some people will give good advice, others won't; some ideas may be excellent but not right for your story. In life, we all have decisions to make - do I go for the girl who likes me, the one I like but don't know if she's into me or her hot friend I've never seen before or said a word to? At the end of the day, you just have to make a decision and stand by it... then write something else if it bombs.

Melody Beattie

I agree. I've focused almost totally on television writing because I'm so excited about that. It's difficult to find good courses that focus on television writing, but I've found a few. Again, the exercise I shared with you is extremely helpful for writing for television -- even writing spec scripts or writing your own pilot. Best.

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