Twitter Rant: Eric Heisserer on Minimalist Screenwriting Style

September 15th, 2014 by

Eric Heisserer (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Final Destination 5, The Thing, Hours, Story of Your Life) is probably the Hollywood screenwriter most willing to go online and provide a Twitter rant on a specific subject related to the craft. Writer Tim Wainwright hosts a blog and has been posting Eric’s rants there for the last year or so.

After several GITS readers asked me about archiving screenwriting Twitter rants so they wouldn’t get lost down the online rabbit hole, I reached out to both Eric and Tim about hosting some of Eric’s previous rants here. They both thought that was a swell idea.

Today: Eric’s February 2014 Twitter rant on “Minimalist Screenwriting Style”:

All right my Twitter buddies, I wanna talk about a certain style of screenwriting. It will likely lead to today’s challenge.

I’ve seen a rise in a certain style of writing in the past few months. Half of the scripts I’ve seen use the “haiku” narrative style. By that I mean the extremely terse Walter Hill form of writing. Soft returns, loads of white space.

First off: Yay! Congrats to all of you swinging for this minimalist style. It’s incredibly hard to pull off. So let’s talk about pitfalls.

The Walter Hill minimalist style isn’t merely a matter of omission. You can’t simply cut out a ton of action and format the rest as a poem. Every choice must be a conscious one. We need to know who the characters are in a scene. What things look like. Details. Don’t be vague.

I’ve read scripts recently where the only description was character action, i.e. “Joe runs.” This is too minimal; non-cinematic.

Likewise, there should be reason why and when you choose a soft return. Usually that choice should be directorial in motive. Suggest a new shot with the new line. Or a movement within the shot to catch a detail. Make it a cinematic choice.

So the Tuesday Challenge is this: Try out the minimalist style for five pages with these constraints: 1) With each new location/room, pick three details in the location to describe at the head of the scene. Shine a light on three sensory tidbits (at least 2 visual). 2) When you introduce a character pick three words to describe them. Make 1 physical, 1 psychological, 1 metaphoric.

The Walter Hill style isn’t about omitting descriptive detail, but rather paring it down to poetics. Find the most powerful word and use it.

Do not write it like a kid in a dark room with a flashlight, waving it around and making light saber noises. Point it at the dead body.

The link to Tim’s blog post for this rant is here.

Eric has put together a book that arose from his Twitter exchanges: “150 Screenwriting Challenges” which is available for Kindle here.

Each day this week, I will be posting one of Eric’s Twitter rants via Tim’s blog.

You may see all of the Screenwriting Twitter Rants archived on the site here.

Thanks, Eric, for taking the time to share your insights with the online screenwriting community.

Thanks, Tim, for making the effort to aggregate Eric’s Twitter rants.

Style = Voice

August 25th, 2014 by

How you approach screenwriting style is a reflection of your writing voice. This is the case whether you are intentional about it or not. A professional script reader, who plows through hundreds of scripts per year, will pick up on a script’s sense of style – or lack thereof – from the very first line of scene description. Therefore it stands to reason you need to think about your writing voice as conveyed in your script’s style. And that is what Core IV: Style is all about, exploring the breadth and depth of the 4th essential screenwriting principle I teach in the Core content of The Quest:

Style = Voice

Start with this question: Who tells your story? Obviously, when you sit down to create a screenplay, you write the story. But when a manager, producer, agent, or studio executive reads your script, who tells your story to them?

It is someone who remains largely invisible, but whose presence is felt from FADE IN to FADE OUT. Someone about whom many screenwriters have little knowledge and yet traffic in that unseen world every time they write a scene. Someone who can make a screenplay a great read – or something less.

Let’s call it Narrative Voice.

Narrative Voice is not a narrator per se. You will never see it with its own side of dialogue. In fact, you will never name it in your screenplay. But Narrative Voice is there. And it is a critical aspect of your script’s success.

What is Narrative Voice?

Narrative Voice is the storytelling sensibility you bring to your screenplay through your writing style. Think of Narrative Voice as your script’s invisible character. Although silent, it is present in every scene, every line, every word you write. As you develop and sharpen each visible character in your screenplay, you also need to figure out who your Narrative Voice is, what your Narrative Voice sounds like, and how your Narrative Voice will play an active role in the telling of your story.

In Core IV: Style, a 1-week online class I will teach starting on Monday, September 1, you will learn about:

* The ins and outs of Narrative Voice

* Elements of screenplay style

* Psychological writing (Perspective, Proximity, Perception)

* Imagematic writing (Verbs, Descriptors, Poetics)

* Action writing (Lines, Paragraphs, Direction)

And much more. The course consists of four components:

  • Lectures: There are six lectures written by me, each posting Monday through Saturday.
  • Writing Exercises: These optional exercises offer you the opportunity to test out your own writing style, plus the chance to workshop and receive feedback on one of your own loglines.
  • Teleconference: We will have a Skype teleconference call to discuss course material.
  • Forums: The online course site has forums where you may post questions / comments.

Our study scripts: Wall-E, The Hangover, The Dark Knight, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Last Boy Scout, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Chinatown, The Matrix, Black Swan, Legally Blonde, American Beauty, Little Miss Sunshine, Basic Instinct, Unforgiven, True Grit, The King’s Speech, and Winter’s Bone.

For those of you who have not taken an online class, the interface is extremely easy. Plus online classes can be an amazing experience. Most of the activities you can do on your own time — download and read lectures, review and respond to forum discussions, upload loglines and track comments. In addition, I’ve been teaching online for over a decade and it never ceases to amaze me how much of a community emerges in such an environment.

Core IV: Style is one of eight classes in the Core curriculum. Here is the schedule for the remaining five classes, the only time I will be offering these courses in 2013:

September 1: Core IV: Style

September 15: Core V: Dialogue

October 27: Core VI: Scene

November 10: Core VII: Theme

December 2: Core VIII: Time

Choose one or two depending upon your interests and needs. Or if you’re really serious and want to save some coin (nearly 50% off), consider The Core Package which gives you immediate access to the content for all eight Core classes which you can go through at your own pace, as well as the option of taking each 1-week online course.

“When I found out about Scott Myers’ Screenwriting Master Class, I signed up for the first module, to test the waters, but before the week was out, I’d signed up for the rest [The Core Package]. Wish I’d known about it all those years ago! Value for money, solid understandable notes, a teacher who’s been there and done it, plus swapping ideas with fellow writers – it doesn’t get any more real.” — Philip Brewster

I have gotten to know dozens of professional script readers throughout the years and I can let you in on this little secret: A writer’s voice as exhibited in screenplay style goes a long way toward winning them over and getting you favorable script coverage.

For information on Core IV: Style, which begins September 1, go here.

For The Core Package, go here.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!

Style = Voice

September 9th, 2013 by

How you approach screenwriting style is a reflection of your writing voice. This is the case whether you are intentional about it or not. A professional script reader, who plows through hundreds of scripts per year, will pick up on a script’s sense of style – or lack thereof – from the very first line of scene description. Therefore it stands to reason you need to think about your writing voice as conveyed in your script’s style. And that is what Core IV: Style is all about, exploring the breadth and depth of the 4th essential screenwriting principle I teach in the Core content of The Quest:

Style = Voice

Start with this question: Who tells your story? Obviously, when you sit down to create a screenplay, you write the story. But when a manager, producer, agent, or studio executive reads your script, who tells your story to them?

It is someone who remains largely invisible, but whose presence is felt from FADE IN to FADE OUT. Someone about whom many screenwriters have little knowledge and yet traffic in that unseen world every time they write a scene. Someone who can make a screenplay a great read – or something less.

Let’s call it Narrative Voice.

Narrative Voice is not a narrator per se. You will never see it with its own side of dialogue. In fact, you will never name it in your screenplay. But Narrative Voice is there.  And it is a critical aspect of your script’s success.

What is Narrative Voice?

Narrative Voice is the storytelling sensibility you bring to your screenplay through your writing style. Think of Narrative Voice as your script’s invisible character. Although silent, it is present in every scene, every line, every word you write. As you develop and sharpen each visible character in your screenplay, you also need to figure out who your Narrative Voice is, what your Narrative Voice sounds like, and how your Narrative Voice will play an active role in the telling of your story.

In Core IV: Style, a 1-week online class I will teach starting on Monday, September 16, you will learn about:

* The ins and outs of Narrative Voice

* Elements of screenplay style

* Psychological writing (Perspective, Proximity, Perception)

* Imagematic writing (Verbs, Descriptors, Poetics)

* Action writing (Lines, Paragraphs, Direction)

And much more. The course consists of four components:

  • Lectures: There are six lectures written by me, each posting Monday through Saturday.
  • Writing Exercises: These optional exercises offer you the opportunity to test out your own writing style, plus the chance to workshop and receive feedback on one of your own loglines.
  • Teleconference: We will have a Skype teleconference call to discuss course material.
  • Forums: The online course site has forums where you may post questions / comments.

Our study scripts: Wall-E, The Hangover, The Dark Knight, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Last Boy Scout, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Chinatown, The Matrix, Black Swan, Legally Blonde, American Beauty, Little Miss Sunshine, Basic Instinct, Unforgiven, True Grit, The King’s Speech, and Winter’s Bone.

For those of you who have not taken an online class, the interface is extremely easy. Plus online classes can be an amazing experience. Most of the activities you can do on your own time — download and read lectures, review and respond to forum discussions, upload loglines and track comments. In addition, I’ve been teaching online for over a decade and it never ceases to amaze me how much of a community emerges in such an environment.

Core IV: Style is one of eight classes in the Core curriculum. Here is the schedule for the remaining five classes, the only time I will be offering these courses in 2013:

September 16: Core IV: Style

September 30: Core V: Dialogue

October 21: Core VI: Scene

November 4: Core VII: Theme

November 18: Core VIII: Time

Choose one or two depending upon your interests and needs. Or if you’re really serious and want to save some coin (nearly 50% off), consider The Core Package which gives you immediate access to the content for all eight Core classes which you can go through at your own pace, as well as the option of taking each 1-week online course.

“When I found out about Scott Myers’ Screenwriting Master Class, I signed up for the first module, to test the waters, but before the week was out, I’d signed up for the rest [The Core Package]. Wish I’d known about it all those years ago! Value for money, solid understandable notes, a teacher who’s been there and done it, plus swapping ideas with fellow writers – it doesn’t get any more real.” — Philip Brewster

I have gotten to know dozens of professional script readers throughout the years and I can let you in on this little secret: A writer’s voice as exhibited in screenplay style goes a long way toward winning them over and getting you favorable script coverage.

For information on Core IV: Style, which begins September 16, go here.

For The Core Package, go here.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!

Go On Your Own Quest — Week 4: Style

August 9th, 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.

For those of you who plan to Go On Your Own Quest, we began our week-long discussion on Style Monday asking this question: What is the key to understanding screenplay style? You can read that discussion here. Wednesday’s question: How have you learned screenplay style? That discussion here. Yesterday’s question: Why is white space on a screenplay page important? Discussion here. Today another question:

* How important is a writer’s voice to a screenplay’s success?

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.

Onward!

Go On Your Own Quest — Week 4: Style

August 8th, 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.

For those of you who plan to Go On Your Own Quest, we began our week-long discussion on Style Monday asking this question: What is the key to understanding screenplay style? You can read that discussion here. Tuesday’s question: How have you learned screenplay style? That discussion here. Yesterday another question: Why is white space on a screenplay page important? Discussion here. Today another question:

* Use “we see” or not use “we see”?

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.

Onward!

Go On Your Own Quest — Week 4: Style

August 7th, 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.

For those of you who plan to Go On Your Own Quest, we began our week-long discussion on Style Monday asking this question: What is the key to understanding screenplay style? You can read that discussion here. Yesterday’s question: How have you learned screenplay style? That discussion here. Today another question:

* Why is white space on a screenplay page important?

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.

Onward!

Go On Your Own Quest — Week 4: Style

August 6th, 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.

For those of you who plan to Go On Your Own Quest, we began our week-long discussion on Style yesterday asking this question: What is the key to understanding screenplay style? You can read that discussion here. Today another question:

* How have you learned screenplay style?

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.

Onward!

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.

Onward!

Reader Question: What does "literary style" mean in terms of writing a screenplay?

November 5th, 2012 by

Question from Erik Rolfsen:

Scott: I’d be interested in reading an elaboration on something you posted recently:

“…the shift the last two decades has been away from using directing / editing lingo in screenplays toward more of what may be called a literary approach to style,…”

Or do you have a previous blog post on this you could point me toward?

Keep up the great work!

Let me preface my comments by making a distinction between a selling script and a shooting script. A shooting script is a production draft and style considerations pretty much go out the window. A selling script is any script we write, whether on spec or assignment, in which the goal is to set up the project initially or get the project green lit. For a selling script, there is one golden rule in terms of style:

Write the story in the best, most entertaining fashion possible.

In terms of a selling script when I say literary approach, you can see it quite clearly by comparing older scripts to newer ones. For example, here is a Scene Description Spotlight post I did with an excerpt from the 1951 movie The African Queen:

 
EXT. A NATIVE VILLAGE IN A CLEARING BETWEEN THE JUNGLE AND
THE RIVER. LATE MORNING

LONG SHOT -- A CHAPEL

Intense light and heat, a stifling silence. Then the SOUND
of a reedy organ, of two voices which make the words distinct, 
and of miscellaneous shy, muffled, dragging voices, beginning
a hymn:

VOICES
(singing)
"Guide me O Thou Great Jehovah..."

INT. CHAPEL -- LONG SHOT -- THE LENGTH OF THE BLEAK CHAPEL

PAST THE CONGREGATION, ON BROTHER, AT THE LECTERN, AND ROSE, 
AT THE ORGAN

BROTHER, a missionary, faces CAMERA near center; ROSE, his 
sister, is at side, her face averted. Everybody is singing.

"Pilgrim through this barren land..."

MEDIUM SHOT -- BROTHER:

middle-aged, rock-featured, bald, sweating painfully, very
much in earnest. He is very watchful of his flock. He sings
as loud as he can, rather nasally, and tries to drive the
meaning of each word home as if it were a nail. He is beating
with his hand, and trying hard to whip up the dragging tempo:

"I am weak, but Thou art mighty..."

CLOSER SHOT -- ROSE

early thirties, tight-featured and tight-haired, very hot
but sweating less than Brother.

She is pumping the pedals vigorously, spreading with her
knees the wings of wood which control the loudness, utilizing
various stops for expressiveness of special phrases, and 
rather desperately studying the open hymnal, just managing 
to play the right notes -- a very busy woman. She, too, is
singing her best and loudest, an innocent, arid, reedy 
soprano; and she, too, is very attentive to the meanings of
words:

"Hold me with Thy powerful hand."

INSERT -- HALF-WAY THROUGH THE FOREGOING LINE, AN EXOTIC AND
HORRIBLE CENTIPEDE-LIKE CREATURE SLITHERS INTO VIEW BETWEEN 
TWO OF THE ORGAN KEYS. WITHOUT INTERRUPTING HER PLAYING, AS 
METHODICALLY AS SHE WOULD PULL OUT A NEW STOP, ROSE SWIPES
IT AWAY.

Compare that to this excerpt from The Matrix (1999):

INT.  HALL

She bursts out of the room as Agent Brown enters the hall,
leading another unit of police. Trinity races to the
opposite end, exiting through a broken window onto the
fire escape.

EXT. FIRE ESCAPE

In the alley below, Trinity sees Agent Smith staring at
her. She can only go up.

EXT. ROOF

On the roof, Trinity is running as Agent Brown rises over
the parapet, leading the cops in pursuit.

Trinity begins to jump from one roof to the next, her
movements so clean, gliding in and out of each jump,
contrasted to the wild jumps of the cops.

Agent Brown, however, has the same unnatural grace.

The metal SCREAM of an elevated TRAIN is heard and Trinity
turns to it, racing for the back of the building.

The edge falls away into a wide back alley. The next
building is over 40 feet away but Trinity's face is
perfectly calm, staring at some point beyond the other
roof.

The cops slow, realizing they are about to see something
ugly as Trinity drives at the edge, launching herself into
the air.

From above, the ground seems to flow beneath her as she
hangs in flight --

Then hitting, somersaulting up, still running hard.

COP
Mutherfucker -- that's impossible!

They stare, slack-jawed, as Agent Brown duplicates the
move exactly, landing, rolling over a shoulder up onto one
knee.

What can we learn from such a comparison:

* Contemporary selling scripts do not include camera shots anymore, so gone are the days of LONG SHOT, MEDIUM SHOT, CLOSE UP.

* Contemporary selling scripts don’t have long blocks of scene description, but rather break them up into smaller paragraphs (2-4 lines).

* Contemporary selling scripts don’t have primary slug lines that extend over one line.

* Contemporary selling scripts don’t include directing jargon.

In fact, we can see screenwriting style change even since the time of The Matrix. Check out the opening scene from The Black Swan (2010):

INT. DARK STAGE - NIGHT

A SPOTLIGHT slices black space.

In its beam, a DANCER in a white dress materializes. She is
fair-skinned. Beautiful and pure.

She twirls on pointe, a smile on her face, light as air and
carefree.

Suddenly, her face grows worried. Sensing someone watching.

Scared, she peers into the darkness.

She moves now, looking, growing more frantic.

But she can't see anything. She pauses, relaxes. Convincing
herself it was just her imagination...

Then, a SINISTER MAN emerges out of the darkness behind her.
She stumbles backwards, frightened.

She tries to escape, twirling away, but he pursues.

He flings his open hand towards her, casting the spell.

She wants to scream, but nothing comes out. She looks at her
body, sensing something happening to her. Something
terrifying.

She spins, panicking, clawing at her body with her hands,
trying to stop it. But it's too late.

As she turns, she morphs into the WHITE SWAN, the iconic
protagonist of SWAN LAKE.

See how much white space there is? How much easier on the eyes that is? How each line suggests a camera shot? To me it reads more like a story than something you use to produce a movie. And that’s what I mean by literary where the emphasis on style is about story, not script.

My theory is this is a natural evolution as screenplays become their own literary form. There are companies such as Newmarket Press who publish screenplays in book form. I suspect we’ll see a lot more of that in the future where people will sit down to read a screenplay with a similar expectation as they do with a book — to read a story.

What does that mean for us practically as screenwriters?

First read screenplays of movies that are being released this year so you can track style trends.

But most important we have to think about how we approach screenwriting style because it is a reflection of our writer’s voice — and when you’re in competition with a zillion other scripts, if you have a distinctive voice and an appealing writing style, that can make the difference between a sale or no sale, representation or no representation.

Gee, if there was only someone who taught a course on screenwriting style. Something online so it was easy to take. A class that went beyond format and really talked about how to develop one’s sense of style as part of their writer’s voice.

Wait. There is a course like that? Oh yeah, right here.

[Originally posted February 11, 2011]

How to develop your writing style

September 3rd, 2012 by

Knowing the ins-and-outs of script format is one thing, developing your own approach to writing style is quite another. Beginning next Monday, September 10, I will be teaching Core IV: Style, a 1-week online screenwriting class in which you will learn key principles related to style that not only empower you to craft scripts that satisfy the standards of any professional reader, but also put you on the road to cultivating your own unique voice as a writer.

The essential screenwriting principle at the foundation of this class: Style = Voice. The six lectures cover elements of screenwriting style, narrative voice, psychological writing, imagematic writing, and action writing.

You will have the opportunity to workshop your writing, testing out principles in the class on your own scenes.

In addition we will have a 75-90 minute teleconference to discuss the course content and anything screenwriting related.

Plus I have corralled Max Millimeter to do another round of Log-A-Palooza, where you workshop loglines, then submit one to Max for his unique feedback.

A script written with flair and style is such a pleasure to read, and can go a long way in determining its success. So go here and sign up now.

And for those of you who submitted a logline for The Quest back in May and who have yet to claim your free Core or Craft class, I will enroll the first 5 people who email me. If you would prefer to receive the lectures instead, let me know.

Join me next week and take your writing style to the next level!

NOTE: My newest 1-week class Create A Worthy Nemesis starts today. Sign up here.