How to Write a Terrible Script

    I challenged our office to all write “do it yourself” blogs this week. Feeling like I don’t really know how to do many concrete things, I became concerned with my own mandate.

    As a filmmaker, I often feel like a toddler stumbling around in the dark with an egg on a spoon in my mouth trying to juggle porcelain precious moments figurines, wondering if I’m even walking alright let alone the millions of other things I’m trying to do simultaneously.

    Long story short (too late), I feel like I don’t know how to do anything useful enough to justify a “do it yourself” blog.

    Which isn’t true, but still.

    I’m no master. In fact, I would say I’m still solidly in the toddler stages of screenwriting; I’m just learning how to walk. I still fall on my diapered bottom a lot.

    Then it hit me. I know how to not write a script….REALLY well. Like pro level at how to NOT write a script. So here is my “do it yourself” blog…about how to not do something well.

    I hope you all write scripts that are as terrible as mine were.

    Step One: Keep your ideas to yourself

    Our ideas always make sense in our heads, and sometimes they even sound awesome to us on paper.

    We never really realise how ridiculous they are until we talk them out with others and get their feedback. When you’re first starting out, your instincts will probably be not that great, so I would recommend continuing to shut people out and go with those.

    If you are forced to share your ideas with others, to still ensure your script is terrible, simply ignore every suggestion people make. Assume you’re a genius and no one understands your writing. Less than 1% of the time this is actually true, so doing this is a pretty safe bet to ensure your script will in fact be terrible.

     

    Step Two: Script Formatting?????

    If you want a terrible script, ignore all of the conventions that surround script formatting, which producers will be looking for, when reading your script.

    Don’t read books like The Hollywood Standard and all its updated versions, or find a script writing software like FinalDraft (expensive) or Celtx (FREE!!) that does a lot of the formatting for you.

    Don’t worry about it. Go with the flow. Format it how you feel it should be #postmodern.

    Step Three: Ignore the Rules of Story Structure

    There are so many great resources out there for screenwriters, most notably The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler and Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. These break down story structure in an accessible way, and can help you make your story something accessible to an audience as well.

    There are elements that make a story a story, separating it from other forms of writing. A good writer understands them. A great writer implements them perfectly. A master writer has done both and can successfully subvert them. A terrible writer ignores them completely, which is what I recommend.

    Some great rules to ignore:

    1. Dude(ette) with a Goal: Include one main character with a clear goal that the story centres around.
    2. Conflict: Include conflict to that goal; some things that are BOTH externally and internally stopping our main character or “hero” from getting what they want.
    3. Resolution: Include whether or not our hero succeeds in getting what they want or not.

    These elements are what make a story a story.

    If you want yours to be terrible, you will ignore them entirely.

    The purpose of storytelling is to share an idea in an accessible way. Not only on an intellectual level, but on an emotional level.

    Step Four: tell me, don’t show me.

    When writing a script, it’s easy to forget that film is primarily a visual medium. Most writers fancy themselves the next Aaron Sorkin or Quentin Tarantino (screenwriters known for their great dialogue).

    To write a terrible script, believe you’re a compelling dialogue writer and make every scene in your movie two people sitting in a room doing nothing but talking to each other.

    It’s almost always boring and awful.

    A good screenwriter understands that showing something about a character is more powerful than telling.

    Silent films are great at this because they COULDN’T use dialogue. Watch this scene from a more recent, Oscar winning silent film, The Artist:

    No dialogue, but you learned that Peppy has a soft spot for the story’s hero, George Valentin. She could’ve told someone in “dialogue.” However, it’s more powerful and authentic for it to come out naturally in a visual interaction.

    Watch this beautiful montage where we learn with George Valentin that he, a married man, is falling in love with Peppy and doesn’t know how to feel about it:

    There are so many complex emotions happening in this scene. It does them a disservice if you try and explain them all in dialogue, rather than letting them exist in an emotionally authentic encounter.

    Here’s a non-silent film version of what I’m saying:

    The writer could’ve decided to have a line of dialogue about how the character of Celia (played masterfully by Jessica Chastain) was not liked by her community. Instead, the writer created a scenario to show us. Showing helps the audience build empathy with the character of Celia in a way that telling would not have.

    Visual storytelling is the power of film, want to write a bad script? Never use visuals to tell your story.

    Step Five: Call your first draft good

    Let’s face facts… even great screenwriters don’t film their first drafts. At least none that I’ve found in my super thorough research I just did on google 2 seconds ago. Writing is a process, sometimes one that takes years.

    If you want a good script, let others read your script and gain feedback on what is working or not working. Read other scripts to gain inspiration. Read books on story.

    Terrible? Call it good and move on. As Leonardo Da Vinci famously observed, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

    Abandon it as early as possible to ensure poor quality.

    Embrace the Process

    All joking aside, I think the key to writing a good script is to respect the process.

    Out of pride and insecurity we often want to buck “the system” in order to create our masterpiece. 99 times out of 100 you’ll get something mediocre to terrible.

    The purpose of storytelling is to share an idea in an accessible way. Having a process and rules help create a storytelling experience for your audience where they’ll actually receive the idea you intended to tell with your story. Not only on an intellectual level, but on an emotional level.

    I’ve found the more I am open to the process and respect the rules, the creativity flows and I am proud of what I accomplish.

     

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    • Brenden Bell

      Screenwriter, Editor, Blogger, and Visual Content Manager

      Brenden Bell is a screenwriter, video producer, editor, teacher, and Visual Content Manager with The Initiative Production Company. He loves eating ice cream, everything nerdy/dorky, thinking too much, and dogs (mostly just the big ones, but he’s open-minded)

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