Go On Your Own Quest — Week 4: Style

August 5th, 2013 by

The 2013 version of The Quest starts Week 4 today. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by because you can Go On Your Own Quest by following the structure of The Quest to dig into screenwriting theory [Core – 8 weeks], figure out your story [Prep – 6 weeks], and write a first draft [Pages – 10 weeks]. It’s a 24-week immersion in the screenwriting process and you can do it here – for free!

Plus you can join The Black Board, the Official Online Writing Community of the Black List and Go Into The Story, another free resource to help keep you inspired and on target at you Go On Your Own Quest from FADE IN to FADE OUT on the first draft of your original screenplay.

This week, we are reflecting on the subject of Style, mirroring the content the Questers are engaged with in Core IV: Style, working through six lectures I have written building off the 4th Essential Screenwriting Principle: Style = Voice. The lectures cover Elements of Screenplay Style, Narrative Voice, Psychological Writing, Imagematic Writing, and Action Writing.

As you would I expect, I view screenwriting style through the lens of character. Indeed the very idea of Narrative Voice is that it represents an invisible character in your script: the Narrator, the figure represented in your approach to scene description, scene construction and placement, transitions, pace, atmosphere, and dialogue. All of that combines to convey your script’s voice, or more specifically its Narrative Voice.

Ask any professional who reads scripts for a living and they will tell you how important a script’s voice is as represented in its approach to style.

For those of you who plan to Go On Your Own Quest, let’s begin this week long conversation about screenplay style with this question:

* What is the key to understanding screenplay style?

Why not use the structure of this 24-week workshop to Go On Your Own Quest? That was an idea that gathered energy among many members of the GITS community which I described here:

The first eight weeks, we will focus on eight essential screenwriting principles, reflecting the content of what the participants in The Quest will be learning. The content I present publicly won’t be nearly as in-depth as that in The Quest proper, but the subjects and some of the ideas will be the same. What I’m hoping is that each week as we work through these eight subject areas — Plot, Concept, Character, Style, Dialogue, Scene, Theme, Time — the GITS community will engage in a wide-ranging conversation that will deepen and perhaps even change your understanding of screenwriting theory.

During this phase, I will be challenging you to do two things: (1) Generate story concepts with the goal of coming up with a killer idea for you to write as you Go On Your Own Quest. You may think you have a good idea now. Fine. Use these next eight weeks to come up with a better one. (2) Read scripts and watch movies that are similar but different to the story you want to write. This is not only about research, it’s also about priming your creative juices and centering your energy in that specific story area.

Here is the schedule for the first eight weeks of Go On Your Own Quest:

July 15-21: Plot

July 22-28: Concept

July 29-August 4: Character

August 5-August 11: Style

August 12-August 18: Dialogue

August 19-August 25: Scene

August 26-September 1: Theme

September 2-September 8: Time

Then on September 19, you can move into the next phase of Go On Your Own Quest, where you spend six weeks prepping your story.

And on October 21, you can type FADE IN, then over a ten week period write your first draft.

Again all of this is free.

If you plan to participate in the Go On Your Own Quest challenge, you have 5 weeks before we move into the Prep part of the process. In that time, I challenge you to get to know your Narrative Voice, the approach you will take to your screenplay style for this story.

If you’d like to access the same Core content as the writers participating in The Quest, I will be teaching Core IV: Style starting Monday, September 16. More information on that 1-week online class here.

Why wait? You can have immediate access to the content of all eight Core classes by signing up for The Core Package. This enables you to go through all of the Core lectures (48 total, each written by me), tips, techniques and optional writing exercises on a self-paced basis as well as take any of the 1-week classes as I offer them. Plus The Core Package offers a nearly 50% savings compared to if you took each Core class separately. For more information on this unique offer, go here.

Meanwhile I encourage you to head to comments to discuss today’s questions. And for a related discussion on The Black Board, check out these topics:

For more information on Go On Your Own Quest, go here.


7 thoughts on “Go On Your Own Quest — Week 4: Style

  1. 14Shari says:

    I think the key is that style follows from the genre you’re writing. You have to be aware what genre you’re writing and from there on fill in your style. Here come in tone, look and pace. I get tone and pace but don’t understand look clearly. Is the look literally what you see on the pages. Lots of white spaces, much/less scene description, dialogue, etc.. and how that looks?

  2. NEGenge says:

    Style is a balancing act.

    Essentially, screenwriters are told to stay off the page! :)

    “Be scant with descriptions!”

    “Avoid talking heads!”

    “More white space!”

    “Less is more!”

    “Don’t tell the director what to do!”

    “Don’t tell the actors how to say it!”

    Well, if you followed all that, there would be nothing on the page!

    Granted, while I’ve often had the feeling the industry would be quite delighted to have all the writers in that same bus with the lawyers at the bottom of the ocean, “style” is as much our balliwick as the director’s or the actor’s.

    Our need to impress it on the medium is probably the reason so many writers want to be directors, so some smidgeon of their style, their personality, their individuality can remain attached to a property after everyone – including the craft service’s delivery boy! – has given us their notes. :)

    Well, until you’re Taratino, as famous for his prose-y, rule-breaking descriptions as his dialogue, or any of the other big hyphenates, I think “style” for writers comes down to HOW we balance the pages.

    Word choice, variability of sentence and scene lengths, pace, tone, and craft – *how* you put it together, the details you include and leave out, that’s “style” if your medium is paper and ink. Your personal balancing act.

    1. IvuomaOkoro says:

      So well said! I feel the same way with all those directives. As a newer writer, I’ve always heard most of those one way and as I get further and further into the content here and as I read more and more produced and recognized scripts, I’m realizing writers are breaking these “rules” all over the place! It’s actually very liberating. Lol.

      I completely agree that style is a real balancing act and it seems that if you know what you’re going for and you get notes against particular stylistic choices, you know you can chalk it up to the fact that not everybody enjoys every style. It really seems to be the overall package that’s the most important thing.

      Plus it’d be so boring if everybody wrote the same way! Glad for these differences!

  3. Debbie Moon says:

    Voice is the hardest thing of all to talk about, for me, anyway. I swear mine changes with every script…

    I suppose the key must be translating what you want to appear on the screen into a screenplay style that (somehow) recreates your story world and your characters accurately in the mind of the reader…

  4. lisakothari42 says:

    Interesting – I tend to have a narrative style that uses the page effectively – no on the nose dialogue, to the point that people have said I need to sometimes be on the nose! Also, I write the way people talk – and that leads to few words. I like to keep the narration succinct – given the director is going to fill in much of that vision. I have a style, but it’s to leave as much room as possible for it to be a blueprint for interpretation rather than anything set in stone. Having written 4 screenplays at this point, I seem to follow this style over and over again.

  5. Despina says:

    It’s something I stress out about a lot! I just hope my voice and style are able to pique a reader’s interest without pissing them off or putting them to sleep, and that it’s something that translates my own vision well enough for the actor, director, and cinematographer to parlay that idea into something enjoyable for the audience. Or, you know, do it better 😉

  6. JoniB22 says:

    The key to understanding screenplay style? Finding your own!!

    Sure, there are paradigms and “rules” and accepted ways of doing things — within genres and across them. But within all of that — or, perhaps better said: beyond all of that — is what YOU, the writer, does on the page. Your word choice, your rhythm, your “voice”, your vision of black marks upon white space, your pace, your level of bravado as well as tender loving care, your “efficiency” with words — i.e. your painstaking attempt at mastering the fine art of “Brevity + Meaning = Impact”

    I spend hours reading the greats, and pouring over my fave movies’ scripts. I’ll also read the goofs and the awful stuff, because those too, keep me hungry and willing to put in the time and bear down and push through. Sure, STYLE can be benchmarked and mimicked but I honestly think you don’t understand “it” until you find “yours”.

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