Question from Thomas:
I’m beginning to write screenplays; however, I wanted to know how good at stylized writing do I need to be to become a successful screenwriter.
I aim to describe everything clearly. Clear enough for the cast and crew to understand and see the story in their minds.
Most scripts I read are so colorful and stylish. Is that something I should work on or do I just focus on telling my story clearly?
Thomas, your question goes to the heart of a writer’s voice. So a few things.
First, we have to draw a distinction between a selling script and a shooting script. The latter is a blueprint for the production team to make a movie. The former is what we, as writers, write to sell the project and move into development.
They can be two different beasts.
Whereas as shooting script (or production draft) may be much more about being “clear enough for the cast and crew to understand,” a selling script has one audience: The buyer. We are trying to engage the hell out of him/her.
Which leads to the second point: Entertainment is at a premium with a selling script. You may have heard of David Mamet’s one rule for script-writing: “Never be boring.” We have zero chance of getting a script to a production draft state unless we get it set up in the first place. And to do that, while clarity is important, entertaining the reader is more important.
This, Thomas, is why you see “colorful and stylish” writing in the scripts you have been reading. At this stage, we want to do whatever we can to excite a script reader about our story.
So yes, my advice is you do have to pay attention to your script’s style.
And this leads to the third point, something I raised earlier: Voice. Specifically what I call Narrative Voice.
Whatever the script’s genre is, the style exhibited primarily in scene description should reflect that genre. An action script should read hyperbolic. A comedy script should read funny. A thriller script should read intense. A horror script should read scary.
Here’s the thing. A novelist has a lot more leeway to convey their voice to a reader. Not so a screenwriter. Dialogue, yes. But not much else. So we need to embrace scene description as a platform to entertain and engage a reader.
Hence stylish writing.
With a selling script, clarity is important. Establishing a voice which entertains the reader in scene description, more important.
How to learn to do this? Read scripts. Focus on spec scripts which have sold in the last few years. Then test it out. Experiment with your own writing.
Give expression to your own Narrative Voice. It’s a major selling point for any spec script.