Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters: Be a Natural Observer

What are some habits of successful screenwriters?

Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it.
— Confucius

In order to describe, you need to observe. Most of us go through life only half seeing what goes on around us. We have too much going on to bother with observing details in life and in human nature. As a result, novice writers tend to reference what they’ve just seen on tele- vision and at the movies, rather than draw from what they’ve observed in the real world.

Successful screenwriters develop the habit of observing others, which gives them an ear for the way people talk and an eye for the way they behave. They’re aware of the minutest details of the world around them, silently making notes on everything, and seeing things vividly and selectively. Whether in coffee shops, airports, or restaurants, they cannot resist eavesdropping on a conversation or people watching. In short, they pay attention.

Gerald DiPego: Beginners don’t do enough observing or enough listening when they’re out and about in the world, on buses, or in restaurants. Often, when I read a beginner’s script, I find that the writer is not referencing life but rather what I see in movies and television.

Eric Roth: Everything is writing-related, you live with it twenty-four hours a day, so when you’re out in the world, you’re an observer of what people do and details of what’s around you. Unconsciously, you try to save them and hopefully use them at a later time.

Robin Swicord: Writers have the particular makeup of a person who looks at the world, observes human behavior, and finds themselves amused, intrigued, or emotionally moved by watching people.

Get the full list of The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters at The Writers Store.

2 thoughts on “Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters: Be a Natural Observer

  1. Anthony J. Gomez (@AnthonyJGomez)

    Great post. I was taught in College by my Playwriting teacher to listen in on conversations and watch people all the time. I was always a people watcher anyway, so it made it more fun to know I could use it for my writing.

    To anyone reading, I totally recommend Karl’s 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters. He has collected input from dozens of professional screenwriters on how they work and have achieved success, so you gain insight on things such as how much writers write each day (some write all night, others write for 8 – 12 hours during the day) and what works best for them — and hopefully you discover what works best for you.

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