On Monday, I posted this about an occurrence that happens with irritating regularity in the online screenwriting universe: The contentious specter of so-called screenwriting ‘rules’:
What happens is pretty much this:
* Somebody posts something about how there is a rule against doing this or that.
* That circulates as people bat around the idea.
* Professional writers catch wind of it, then lambaste the shit out of the thesis in question.
* The ‘debate’ fades away…
* Until the next time it arises.
* And again…
So it occurred to me, why not just deal with it once and for all! Get every single supposed screenwriting rule out on the table, then go through them, one by one, to see if we can take all the heat that typically gets generated when one of these online snits breaks out and collectively create some actual light.
In other words, let’s make this a real learning experience and hopefully in the process, put some of this nonsense to bed for good.
I asked for your help in aggregating these ‘rules’ and as always, the GITS community responded. Here is a preliminary list:
* Avoid using “we see” or “we hear” in scene description.
* Avoid using flashbacks.
* Avoid using voiceover narration.
* Avoid using montages or series of shots
* Avoid using parentheticals that ‘direct’ actors
* Avoid “continues,” ‘begins,” “tries,” “starts,” and “suddenly”
* Avoid present progressive verb construction… i.e. “is dancing” becomes “dances”
* Do not describe anything in scene description a moviegoer cannot see or hear [i.e., 'unfilmables']
* Do not cite specific song titles
* Do not use camera directions
* Do not capitalize anything in scene description except to introduce characters
* Do no use “CUT TO:”
* You must use Courier font
* Only use DAY or NIGHT to designate a scene’s time of day
* A feature length screenplay should be no longer than 120 pages
* Conversational dialogue should not exceed four lines
* Action paragraphs should not exceed three lines
“…” is used when a character’s dialogue trails off, to show the character is lost in thought or doesn’t know how to finish the sentence / “–“ is used when a character is interrupted by another character or action
* A protagonist can’t be ambivalent or passive
* You can’t shift protagonists
* You can’t have multiple competing plots and subplots
* You can’t shift a Protagonist’s goals
* Certain things need to happen by certain pages
I need your help once again. Which ones of these are the most pressing or important to address? Let’s target the top 10, then we can do a 2 week series (Mon-Fri) taking each one individually and pick it apart, pros and cons, as well as exploring alternative style and narrative choices.
So please, if you would, head to comments and express your opinion as to which ‘rules’ on this list are subject you’d like to see covered in the series.
Thanks to everyone who has and/or is going to participate in this conversation.