I don’t have to say that as writers, we’ve realized a very long time ago that this is a job that we have to love to some degree, or we will be absolutely miserable. Writing can be a very lonely place sometimes, even for those of us who are absolutely in love with the process. We put a ton of time into something that may not go any further than our laptops or home computers and we understand this when we sit down and go to work.
As an aspiring screenwriter, it’s not much different. The only thing is that I’m trying to reach a different group of people.
I can’t speak for everyone else, but as for me, I largely taught myself how to do this. That doesn’t mean I haven’t done research or haven’t received help from other people, but I’ve done a pretty good job with doing my best to learn as much as I need to know in order to make it closer to my dream of becoming a professional screenwriter.
With learning anything comes the dreaded “rules.” The “do’s” and “don’ts.” I think that for the most part, we realize some of these rules are very necessary. There IS a right and wrong way in the process and there does indeed need to be some level of structure with what we’re doing.
However, I’m not talking about those rules. I’m talking about the rules that are merely opinions that some “expert” out there is passing off as something that absolutely everyone should or should not do. Those are the ones we despise.
I’ve been doing this long enough to know the difference between a rule I MUST follow and some opinion a self-proclaimed “expert” is passing off as a rule. Being inexperienced professionally, I know that I still have to keep an open mind and pay close attention, because some of the opinions may still be good and work out for me. In other words, just because they’re someone’s opinion(s) doesn’t mean they’re bad. I still value that, because if someone has been in or is in the business and they have tips on something that has worked or not worked for them, I’m open to listening to it. I have to. They have much more to go on than I do.
So, as for the “rules” we can’t stand, I will start to say that one of the rules of screenwriting I despise is the feeling that we can’t do some of what professional writers do. What I mean by that is that there are obviously ways professional writers do their writing that as a new writer, it is suggested that I don’t do.
One example is that I’ve read that with opening scene descriptions, I should only write 4-5 lines. However, I’ve read a few professional scripts in which the writer has written 9-10. I think it was well-done in some cases, but I mentioned this to someone who reads and evaluates scripts and he said, “A new writer’s script will be read differently than a produced script or that of a professional.”
So let me get this straight. Every “expert” in the business says that we should read professional movie and television scripts to learn. Yet, when we incorporate some of what we learn from those professional scripts, our status as “new writers” will mean our work will be looked at differently. What’s the point of reading professional scripts then? If I’m going to be judged more on my status as a new writer than on my work itself, why even bother to read the professional scripts? If there are “rules” that professionals can do that I can’t, number one, how am I supposed to know what those “rules” are and number two, what exactly am I supposed to be attempting to learn when I read those produced television and movie scripts if there are “rules” those writers are breaking that I’m not necessarily aware of?
That’s the reason I determined a while ago that I will use discretion and my better judgment with how I write scripts. That doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore every “new writer” rule, but considering that I want my work to look professional and not as if it’s coming from an amateur, I am going to write it as such. There is one professional actress that I have written one script for (and am working on re-writing a second for her as well), and considering that this actress has been a professional for more than twenty years, I don’t believe she will be impressed with a script that reeks of “newbie.” Yes, I could follow all the “rules” that keep my work in that “new writer” status, or I could break a few of them in ways I see professionals do them, and when this actress sees my work, it will look more similar to the hundreds of others scripts she’s likely read over the years, rather than one that looks like it was written by someone who is grossly inexperienced. Even though that inexperience will still be in the picture, nothing says that it has to be embedding all in the writing.
So what about you? I’d love to hear from you. What are some writing “rules” that you can’t stand and don’t plan on following?