Screenwriting : If you could give one piece of advice..... by Nikki April Lee

Nikki April Lee

If you could give one piece of advice.....

As writers we all branch out to different resources learning the craft of screenwriting differently. Whether it's through books, other screenwriters, writing classes, reading scripts, etc. With that said, if you could give ONE piece of advice about screenwriting based on your experiences, what would it be?

Mara Lesemann

Always think of the person who (hopefully) will watch the movie one day. You're not writing for yourself, but for other people.

Crystal Bassett

Let the character speak themselves, do not think for them.

Ray Anthony Martinez

Like the 70's motto, "Keep On Truckin"

Melvin Johnson

Mine's an old one. Check your ego at the door. That serves several purposes. It keeps you from thinking you're better than you are. Keeps you from being too disappointed when you get ignored on queries which is the typical Hollyweird reaction. Helps you accept constructive criticism. Forces you to keep an open mind in regards to rewriting.

Richard "RB" Botto

Read screenplays, not screenwriting books.

Nikki April Lee

uh oh richard, I've been going about it the wrong way! LOL!

Richard "RB" Botto

I just find that many screenwriters screw their heads up with too much information. A book that teaches the craft is fine. But, ultimately, reading screenplays of successful films will allow you to see the craft "in action", so to speak.

Eisha Marjara

I suppose screenwriting books can teach you "how" to read screenplays critically. My advice would be to get to the heart of what you want to say. It is so easy after months of writing to lose grasp of the original impulse that got you started in the first place. What is driving you? Find what is original and exclusive to you and only you and put that vision to work.

Jaclyn Abergas

Crystal, could not agree with you more. Always, always listen to your characters. They are the ones who will tell you how the story is going to go.

Paul Mailhot

Finish it. You don't get an honorable mention for almost finishing it.

Dawn Chapman

Find a crew of people at your level of writing, stick with them and progress together, form awesome connections along the way, and you can't fail. Networking is the biggest thing in this industry!

Steven Seidman

Everything can be something, search for the connections.

Kevin Ryan

If its writing funny. Write only what YOU think is funny....not what you think someone will find funny.

Ben Ross

Write first, ask questions later.

Michael Shandrick

Nina Laemmle, the woman who got me interested in screenwriting, was a pioneer TV writer in the golden age of drama. She gave me advice: "Don't write for the money. All the money does is ruin your writing."

Phyllis K Twombly

Respect formatting as set of useful conventions that exist to serve your writing. It's not supposed to drown your story. It should help it sail from Fade In to Fade Out.

Beverly Gandara

Learn the basics, respect the business, never, ever give anyone power over YOUR VOICE! .

W. Jeff Crawford

While all of these hold some great merit, I believe the best advice i can provide is pretty simple: When you write the dialog, READ IT OUT LOUD! If it doesn't come out right, sounds funny, or you cannot imagine your character saying this specific thing, you know you've written something wrong and should probably consider making an instant revision (read:delete it -- try again). That has actually saved me more times than any other thing I've experienced while writing movies.

Lisa Rentuor

I use my writing partner to bounce ideas off of. He helps me build the 'bones' of the script and corrects gross mistakes I make, adds humor, removes roadblocks. We arm wrestle a lot over big and small things. Sometimes I come home from a meeting and complain to my husband. But in the end, Chris and I have a great thing going. Neither of us could accomplish what we do on our own.

Brian LaPan

Write something original. It doesn't have to be high concept, just a new take on life.

Laurie Ashbourne

Get the first one done, and then write another, and another. Too often, new writers write one script then spend countless amounts of $ entering every contest out there. The first one is your first leg of a journey, if the story is good then you can really make it shine once you've written a few more. And about all those books... Caroline Thompson (Edward Scissorhands +) said she could never be a writer if she was just starting today, there are so many rules her head would not be able to focus on the story -- so focus on the story, then when it is compelling (in any form) worry about formatting etc...

Diane M. Johnson

Like Richard Botto said, read other screenplays. Lots of them. It helps you flag flaws in your own work when you see it doesn't work in other people's works, and it gives you perspective on your own work - helps you gage the level of your own talent. And if you can get your hands on scripts of produced films (and you can...), it helps you see how the words on the page translate to the picture on the screen.

Briana C. Boyer

A bad first draft that is complete is better then an amazing unfinished first draft. Just keep writing.

Wanda Weaver

Know your key plot points and the beginning, middle and end of the story. This helps the writing flow also. Always remember that conflict is king!

Stephanie Bourbon (Olivieri)

I'm not a huge fan of outlining, but everyone works differently. I like to use Save the Cat software and also Contour to help me stay on track with the story once I have the idea flushed out.

K. Williams

Index cards, post it notes, and remember, it will all change anyway. :)

Leon de Masi

Outline, outline, outline, and outline. And always trim your dialogue as much as you can while editing (as long as it remains coherent).

Stephanie Bourbon (Olivieri)

I disagree on the outline, outline, outline thing. Do what works for you.

Michael Shandrick

Once I've written a synopsis I go to outline, which then spawns a treatment, then to the script. All the left brain work is done before I get to writing the script. This is the only way I can finish a script.

Jeri Angel McGwin

Be open to comments you receive. You don't have to agree with them, but don't be defensive.

Leon de Masi

@ Stephanie Noted, and outlines really help me. Frequently it's harder for me to write an outline than the first draft of a script. Mind you, I make outlines pretty detailed and spend quite a few hours on them, usually including several dialogue lines I want to write in a scene, for example.

Stephanie Bourbon (Olivieri)

I think everyone has a different process, sometimes I outline, sometimes I don't. The screenplay that has gotten the most attention I just flew out-so you know it is what it is. I just thinking telling any writer to follow any specifics is wrong. Some people suck at outlining. I do find that Contour and Save the Cat help a lot. I tend to work with notecards and move them around in sequences-that could be from my musical theatre and animation background though. :)

Billy Marshall Stoneking

Check out the prinicples of character-based screenwriting at

Sam Vanivray

I agree with Paul Mailhot: Finish it. And I will add to that--even if it's bad, at least you can rewrite it or transfer the momentum to the next screenplay.

Laurie Ashbourne

@Steph - Hey! Fun to see you on here. I agree, I rarely outline at the onset unless it is in the contract to provide it, however, as the story is developed and as I go through the edits I do a quasi outline to keep things in line. Really, it's an individual/project preference.

Stephanie Bourbon (Olivieri)

I do that on the side, it does help Dawn!

Nikki April Lee

You guys gave some really good advice. =D

Dawn Chapman

I agree with Dawn, reading scripts really does help.

Richard "RB" Botto

Hmm...that sounds familiar :) In all seriousness...Great thread...And some killer advice.

Steven Vidler

Write stuff you can get made. While it's gratifying to the ego to be able to say you're writing a feature, the reality is that only a fraction of one percent of these scripts are ever going to be produced. Nothing tests your craft more effectively than seeing your writing produced. Whether it is short film, plays, series television, or micro-scripts for online and mobile content, you can learn a hell of a lot about what works and why [much of which you won't learn from the screenwriting manuals]. Aim to fill your shelves with DVD's of your produced work, rather than with a massive stack of unproduced feature length scripts.

Suzanna Johnson

I am no expert, but reading aloud with different people helped me improve my screenplay immensely. Also, I asked different people to read it and give me their honest feedback. I did read a few screenplay books, but mostly because I knew nothing about screenplay writing. The authors of those books (Blake Snyder and Richard Walter) helped me avoid some major mistakes. Finally, just keep writing, just keep writing, just keep writing...

Hugo Keijzer

Go to McKee's Story seminar if you can. It's worth every penny.

Renard Steele

Write what you know. And if you don't know it, learn as much as you can about it. Then Avoid being an ass when receiving criticism. Someone in the audience, whether you like it or not, will not get your POV and % wise that represents possibly hundreds of folks at a time in the long run. You have to at least honor their honesty. Get the why's and whats about the things that worked, via readings with human voices. Objectively weigh it out. LISTEN. Get back to work. It is a process.

Matt Pacini

Only one? Ha ha! First one, frequently ignored, is to read LOTS of screenplays! Make a giant list of all your favorite films, films that have been successful in the genre you want to write in, and read all of them. I think everyone should read at leas t 50-100 screenplays before attempting to write one. That's a better education than most books on the subject. A couple other important bits of advice are: 1. Take acting classes. This helped my writing tremendously. 2. Shoot what you write, at least once. 3. Read aloud ALL of your dialog, or better yet, get some actors to do it.

Sarah Hoyt

never stop creating

Billy Marshall Stoneking

You can read every book that EdMcBain and Stephen King ever wrote, but that doesn't necessarily mean you'll be able to write a successful popular novel. Whilst I don't absolutely disagree with Matt's advice, there is a danger that one becomes so full of everyone else's stories that one cannot write one's own. Better to imitate - if you must, one writer who's work you already admire and try to produce an original screen pkay in the style of that writer. This would be much more advantagrous than the scatter-gun reading approach and one is actually writing. Having said this, I agree that reading is important. The problem I find with that is that most people - writers, producers, designers, cinematographers, etc - unless they're wokring at the highest level, don't actually know HOW to read. Oh, they are literate - that's ot what I mean - but most fledging story finders lack oracy skills - they don't understand how to translate those black squiggles on the screen/page into the aural presence that is required to read not only what is written but also what is NOT written (subtext) .

Matt Pacini

Bill, I think maybe you missed my point, or I didn't make it clearly enough. I'm certainly not saying just reading a bunch of screenplays will enable you to write one. I'm just struck by the shocking consistency, that almost every single person I've met , who says they are writing their first screenplay, when I ask them if they've read any, say "NO". It's amazing!

Michael Shandrick

I agree...Over a period of decades I have read many scripts, both good and terrible. I remember reading a script from a new television program called the X-files, shooting in town. I wasn't sure I would like the show, but reading it told me that it would feature really good characters. Recently read two awesome scripts by a Vancouver screenwriter, which really blew me away. I can't understand why they aren't being made right now! I re-read them. It's true, you learn more by reading a good script than talking or attending expensive workshops put on by people who've only written a few scripts.

Matt Pacini

Yep. Take a look at Syd Field's scant credits on And Joe Ezsterhas has some unflattering things to say about McKee and his teeny body of work as well. I'm not saying those guys are irrelevant - I've read both of their stuff. But you have to view it with a bit of suspicion given that both of those guys have barely had anything sold or made, ever.

Billy Marshall Stoneking

Matt - point taken and of course, as I have repeatedly said and say again now, reading is important. all sorts of reading. Personally I have found that some of the most profound insights come from reading people that arent actually writing about dramatic screenwriting, but who nevertheless have heaps of interesting and relevant things to say about it (albeit unconsciously), like Martin Buber in I and Thou or Paul Tillich's The Courage to Be. One must read, but read widely, I think. I am reminded of a writing student I had during my time teaching at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School in Sydney. I remarked that her story was very like A Picture of Dorian Grey, to which she responded, What's that? You know, I said, the book by Oscar Wilde. Who? she replied, utterly oblivious to what I was talking about. And she was one of the writing students! hmmmmm...

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