Every day I get a tweet, Facebook message, email or text from a writer, asking me for advice. They peruse this site for the tips of talented experts who generously share their experiences with our readers. But when is it time to stop listening to the screenwriting experts?
I’ve attended many lectures over the years, and one thing is always the same – every expert has a different opinion. Just when you think you found “the answer,” you open a screenwriting book or step into a conference session and you read or hear a contradiction to the last book or session you experienced. Even on this site, I have purposely brought on contributors I know will challenge each other.
Some swear by the beats of Save the Cat, while others say never to outline, but instead, let your characters speak to you and decide their own fate. I’ve even heard of one “guru” tell the entire audience none of them will ever make it as professional screenwriters while the very next speaker preached they will all break in as long as they don’t quit.
Personally, I love a variety of opinions, but some days, my head begs to explode.
I’m not suggesting to throw all the opinions out and ignore them or to stop reading books and taking screenwriting classes. Just the opposite. Do your research, learn different structure techniques, and understand the perspectives of the people who know this industry and craft better than you. But the ultimate goal should be to find the expert’s advice that speaks to you – the one that intuitively clicks with your own unique, creative mind and makes you say, “Now, I get it!”
Once you understand the rules, then you can give yourself permission to break them. There’s nothing that says you can’t take one rule from one expert, three rules from another, and a handful from someone else and create a system of writing that works for you. Trust your gut. Be original. Write the way only you can write.
Therein lies the “secret” to success – at some point, you must push the books aside and sit your ass in the chair and write. Don’t just vomit out words; write them with your own unique writing voice. Make them sing on the page. Make it impossible for someone to put down. Because I promise you, when someone is engrossed in your story, they don’t even think about Save the Cat, The Hero’s Two Journeys, Robert McKee’s Story or anything else. All they can think about is having to turn the page to discover what happens next.
Last weekend I had the pleasure of speaking to NYC Screenwriters at the invitation of Steven Arvanites about Breaking in Outside of Hollywood. As I shared my networking tips, I kept coming back to one thing – you can master networking and querying, but if you don’t have a great script, you’ll never get your foot in the door.
You can listen to my webinar a thousand times and create an enormous network, but it won’t mean a thing if you don’t have the writing talent to back up your pitch.
A great script does not start with structure, outlining or a beat sheet. A great script starts with your passion for the project. Be connected to it. It will show. If you are just writing something because it’s commercial, it won’t work because you’re lack of passion will be evident. If you aren’t passionate about it, you’ll never get an executive to be either. Your passion will keep you motivated to dive back in over and over and over again for rewrites, inspire you to keep pitching it, and keep your head in the game, unwilling to quit.
One thing no screenwriting expert can teach you is passion. That comes from within you and only you. With that passion, you’ll find your unique writer’s voice and be able to channel your inner Shane Black.
Bottom-line, don’t let any guru box you into thinking there’s only one way to write a script or to break into screenwriting. There are as many ways as there are people. One piece of advice I would bet every screenwriting expert could agree with is that if you don’t love your work, no one else will. And if you love it, it will show in the writing and your passion will become infectious.
I challenge you to be brave enough to write the story that will bring out your passion. If my guess is right, it’s probably the one idea you have that haunts you, but you keep pushing it aside. There’s no time like the present to make it happen.
- Balls of Steel Goes Behind the Lines with DR – lessons in a writer’s room
- Balls of Steel: Change Will Do You Good
- Balls of Steel: Dear New Screenwriter
Tools to Help:
- Breaking in Outside of Hollywood On Demand Webinar
- Save the Cat
- Robert McKee’s Story
- The Hero’s Two Journeys