What’s missing from most amateur screenplays?

January 10th, 2011 by Ron

The Script Blogger

What’s missing from most amateur screenplays?

Before answering that I trust you have read the books by McKee, Trottier, Snyder and Field.

Screenwriting ‘How-To’ books by these authors have a big contribution to make towards the craft of writing for the screen, if only to establish the format necessary for the presentation of a screenplay, but books by these four authors also give a grounding in the various skills that are needed before serious writing can begin.

Now the interesting thing is that in some parts they agree with each other and in other things they don’t. So even with such an illustrious library to refer to you, you may still be called on to make a judgmental decision.

As a writer that’s a good thing. Because making judgments is what writing entails. How to develop a character, where to set a scene, even what a character sounds like, let alone structuring the story so that it fits a necessary formula for the screen.

Some books do provide an insight into how to create depth in a story, to generate conflict and establish more interesting characters, even how to bring emotion to your characters, create passion and bring pace to your story.

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

The problem is, is what is entertaining to one person almost certainly is not to another, but that is what the producer has to deal with. Part of his problem is surmising what the market place wants now, or what the market will be like between reading a script and releasing the movie.

A time gap that can be years.

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

So what makes a good script is definitely something worth finding out about.

Obviously knowing how to format, understanding the three act structure, the nuances of presentation, even how to create interesting characters, all help.

Sparking memorable dialogue and sub plots is another element, but having an entertaining, well paced enjoyable original story, requires a talent that I do not believe can be discovered in most books or even on the multitude of courses, offered now days.

Many filmmakers including writers are successful because they somehow knew instinctively they were that good, that different, that original. It is the same with many stage performers; they knew they would make it.

Sure some fail and often it just a question of good luck or bad luck, or 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 just a matter of study and hard work but knowing how to do something doesn’t mean what you do is worth a light.

You need the secret ingredient that turns hope into reality.

The “Talent” to write an entertaining screenplay that will appeal to others.

Do you have the talent and if not can you find it in time?

Many of us have a favorite movie but is your favorite the same as everyone else’s favorite.

Do we all laugh at the same jokes, watch the same television serials, like the same food? Of course we don’t, so it is reasonable to consider what ever your write will not appeal to everyone in the same way.

In fact it may upset some people, annoy them and yet with others they may think it is the best thing they have ever read.

Somehow as a writer you have to entertain other people, firstly in the concept of your story but also in the way you write it.

Writing to entertain other people rather than writing to please yourself is probably the hardest thing to learn as a writer.

5 responses to “What’s missing from most amateur screenplays?”

  1. Elton Longbottom says:

    Thanks for a great post, I never thought of it like that before.

  2. Joe says:

    I don’t think I agree with you. Tarantino has said that he writes stories that entertain him. I think that if you write to entertain yourself you will appeal to most people, of course not all but at least some. If you try to write what you ‘think’ entertains others many times you will fall short because you are not focusing your effort and trying to be too broad. But thats just my opinion…

    It is a fair comment if what entertains you entertains others. Not everyone is a Tarantino.

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  4. Macdonnell says:

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  5. My taste in screenplay genres vary, but the one I seem to lack in is Drama, which most others tend to value as the master genre. I’ve even found myself writing one for the upcoming Nicholl Fellowship Screenplay Competition. I would say it is a decent script, but one of the personal favorites? Well, there’s a big list a head of it.

    As of lately I have been proof reading most of my screenplays. Many of which were written years, maybe even a decade ago, but still don’t seem perfect. I’m improved on many. One, a slasher, was written for film-maker Dave DeCoteau (PUPPET MASTER 3) with his interests at heart.