Uncle Tom Cobley and all !

July 22nd, 2010 by Ron
The Script Blogger

Syd Field, Robert McKee and Uncle Tom Cobley and all bring their rigid suggestions regarding rules of structure to the table along with everything else that they deem necessary for a screenwriter.


Everything, that has to be thrown into the pot in creating that great screenplay that lurks within your finger tips.

Their suggestions are all well and good if you are writing to meet an exam paper or a theoretical exercise, then they are probably essential reading.

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Even if you include, the best introduction of a character, amongst your targets of achievement, knowing what you should do doesn’t mean you can do it.

There’s little doubt that researching what a screenplay should look like, even being aware of some of the nuances that divide the good, from the bad and outright ugly, helps, but in all the mayhem and adrenaline rush to get to a keyboard and hammer out the latest blockbuster; in what book do you discover talent?

How do you know if you’ve the talent to be a screenplay writer, let alone a good or great writer?

The only way is by jumping into the fire and getting burnt.

Discussions about what should or should not be included, where to place pulses within a story that move it along and hook the reader, even what to do with it when you have completed your first script; miss the point completely.

Writing is fun, it is something that writers have to do, and successes or failures are just by-products of a writer’s endeavours.

Script gurus, teachers, successful writers and even new unpublished writers have one thing in common; they know nothing, they only think they do.

Great scripts will be ruined by bad directors, inept actors or bungling producers.

Poor scripts will sometimes get made because of inept producers, bungling directors or bad actors who cannot remember their lines; and the writer can’t do a thing about it, except write their next screenplay.

Remember, don’t believe everything you read, it maybe a screenplay.

But one element seems to be overlooked in many books and certainly by many writers, particularly when they begin their career as a screenwriter, is the entertainment factor.

Can they create entertaining stories that project well onto the screen?

Will others pay to watch it? Will actors want to act in it? Will someone see what you see and want to direct it the way you wrote it? More importantly produce it, let alone invest in it?

These are some of the hurdles all screenplay writers face; often without considering the “Entertainment Factor”.

However, what is entertainment to one person almost certainly won’t be to another, but that is what the producer has to deal with.

Part of a producer’s problem is surmising what the market place may be like or want between reading a script and releasing the movie, which can be anything from two to ten years.

The first obstacle a writer has to overcome is to provide a script that a reader wants to read and having read it the reader will want to pass it to someone up the chain, produce it, invest in it, or maybe just give the script a glowing review or critique.

Considering what makes a good novel is a good place to start in discovering what makes a good screenplay.

Comments like. “It’s a page turner, I didn’t see that coming, I laughed out loud, I love the author’s style, it’s such a great story and I couldn’t put it down, are great places to start.

The reader making any of the above comments was entertained and often that starts from page one. Not necessarily from being dropped into a cauldron of action but maybe by the elegant use of language, a turn of phase, an introduction to an interesting character or situation, snappy dialogue or the pure magic on the page.

Now, where as it is possible to learn the craft of scriptwriting, including the guidelines for format, structure and presentation from a book, I don’t believe it is possible to learn the art of writing from a book?

No matter how many hours you sit with a piano teacher if you do not have a sensitive touch you will never be a good pianist, although you may learn to play “Chopsticks”.

Attending art classes, understanding how to mix colours and the use of perspective will not create a great artist, although your Auntie Maude might love one of your paintings next Christmas, an Art Academy is a different matter.

The same applies to a writer. Obviously knowing how to format, understanding the three act structure, the nuances of presentation, even how to create interesting characters, sparking memorable dialogue and sub plots all help, but it doesn’t ensure they will have an entertaining, well paced enjoyable original story.

That requires a talent that I do not believe can be discovered in a book or even on the multitude of courses offered to the unsuspecting novice.

Many filmmakers including writers are successful because they somehow knew instinctively they were that good, they instinctively knew they were different, that original.

It is the same with many stage performers; who knew they would make it before anyone else did.

Sure some fail and often it just a question of good luck or bad luck, maybe being in the right place at the right time, taking a risk and going that extra mile, but it is always a matter of talent and then the skills of the craft.

Please note the order I put that, talent and then the skills of the craft. The talent is the artist within the writer the skills are the lessons in the books.

The first place to start is in believing in yourself, knowing you have the talent to create outstanding original, entertaining stories.

Finding out how to present those stories is a matter of study, hard work and reading McKee, Trottier, Snyder, Field and All That Jazz.

It is when the two come together that you begin your writer’s journey in search for your writer’s voice, because it is your individual distinctive voice as a writer that separates the good from the bad and the ugly by entertaining the reader.

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