5 Screenwriting Skills: #5 — Conviction

March 22nd, 2013 by

During the nearly 5 years I’ve run this blog, I have been privileged to do one-on-one interviews with a number of screenwriters, especially this year as I set a goal to post a Q&A per week for 2013.

Over the course of those interviews, it’s been fascinating to learn the variety of approaches to the craft, yet at the same time how certain themes recur.

Recently I was struck by five personality traits and five skill sets that keep popping up. So I thought it would be helpful to do a series, a checklist if you will, of aspects of things we should be mindful of as we develop as screenwriters. Today:

Screenwriting Skill #5: Conviction

At our core as screenwriters, we have to believe in our stories, believe in our characters, and believe in ourselves. We must have a fundamental conviction in what we are creating and in who we are as creators. In the many interviews I’ve conducted, we see this over and over again:

Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber breaking every supposed rule of screenwriting they could think of when writing (500) Days of Summer, most notably at the end of the story, boy does not get girl.

Alan Durand writing an historically based period piece [“Willie Francis Must Die Again”] about a lawyer trying to save the life of a wrongly accused prisoner on death row… who ends up being put to death.

Julia Hart following her passion into a story set in the Civil War featuring three female leads [“The Keeping Room”].

Justin Kremer writing a biopic about a despised demagogue from the 1950s, yet another period piece [“McCarthy”].

Michael Werwie writing yet another period piece [“Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile”] whose protagonist is the serial killer Ted Bundy.

Per ‘conventional wisdom,’ none of these scripts should have gone anywhere. Yet each of them had an impact with Hollywood buyers and have served to jump-start these writer’s professional careers.

Instead of chasing the market, they followed their convictions to sell Hollywood their dream.

I want to share with you a photograph I took in Medford, Massachusetts:

Medford Writing Wisdom

Of all places, these words have been stenciled onto the side of a dry cleaners, a completely surprising location. But there’s also a surprise in the words themselves. The observation ends with the line “Not too sure what happens next.” This seems to express the antithesis of conviction. But hold on. Go back and read those prior lines: “I sit and scribble / My moleskin book / Lines being filled / To fruition.” The very act of committing pen to paper, of taking ideas from inside our head, then transforming into being in the physical world, is an expression of conviction. In forming words into sentences, we are asserting our belief in the story, in the characters, in ourselves. Yes, we may not be “too sure what happens next,” but we are empowered to press on if we have a conviction that we will find the story through our creative process.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. Similarly it takes a whole host of personality traits and skill sets to raise a writer. We have studied 10 of them in this series: Passion. Courage. Consistency. Flexibility. Persistence. Talent. Knowledge. Experience. Voice. Conviction.

Every writer is different. Some will need more of this trait or that skill compared to another. But in order to grow and maximize our chance for success as writers, especially screenwriting, we should look for opportunities to engender the development of each of these personal dynamics.

I hope this 2-week series has inspired you. Caused you to do some self-reflection. Made you realize how hard you have to work to make a go of it as a screenwriter. But also that you have the wherewithal to make it happen.

That is my conviction. I’ve gotten to know dozens of writers through Go Into The Story, Screenwriting Master Class, The Quest and other points of intersection, who have broken into business and succeeded.

You. Can. Make. It. Happen.

Part 1: Talent

Part 2: Knowledge

Part 3: Experience

Part 4: Voice

For the preceding series on 5 Screenwriting Traits:

Part 1: Passion

Part 2: Courage

Part 3: Consistency

Part 4: Flexibility

Part 5: Persistence

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings after going through this entire series. Please meet me in comments to continue the discussion. As to your particular writer’s pilgrimage: Onward and upward!

One thought on “5 Screenwriting Skills: #5 — Conviction

  1. An absolutely fantastic series and something I will work on to enhance whatever strengths I have as well as resolve weaknesses. The last one (persistence) particularly struck a chord for me – and I think all these traits boil down ultimately to this: writing the best story you can write (no matter what the odds are).

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