The Art of Screenwriting – Part 5

Screenwriting is like ironing. You move forward a little bit and go back to smooth things out.”

– Paul Thomas Anderson

Once again, welcome to our ongoing series, which is anything but boring. In the previous article, we talked about characters and today we will focus on the importance of these characters’ dialogues.

The Skills of a Screenwriter

5. Writing Dynamic Dialogue

Dialogue works least when it’s telling you what’s going on”

Tom Rickman

A good screenwriter only writes dialogue when she or she cannot communicate the information visually. Hence, the saying “actions talk louder than words” applies to the context of filmmaking and video production. If a scriptwriter can utilise an action instead of a character’s spoken words, he or she will privilege action. However, this rule is more lenient in the context of television compared to other medium.

It is often said that a scene without dialogues can have a more substantial effect on the audience. What is not said is implicit in the actions. In fact, the absence of spoken words dramatizes the scene and makes it more poignant. It also makes the scene more realistic. It is unlikely a person would be able to talk clearly in well-articulated and controlled manner instants after learning of the death of a close relative or friend.

Therefore, the first step when writing dialogue is to assess if the dialogue is indeed necessary. But, the most common mistake of novice scriptwriters is over-writing. Film and television are visual media. However, it is important to note that television is less visual than cinema and tends to contain more dialogue.

By the stage, a screenwriter will approach the writing of dialogue and have a clear idea of the story’s actions and characters. Dialogue supports and develops these two elements. Dialogue must either advance the action or reveal aspects, whether of a character’s interior or exterior facets. When a screenwriter uses dialogue, it is short, lean and purposeful.

For example, social niceties can be used in some situations, such as an exchange between an estranged father and son. The distance between them will be emphasised because the whole interaction consists of only niceties and comments about the weather and other such sundry information. However, this seemingly useless dialogue achieves a purpose: it will highlight the distance between a father and son who had an argument ten years ago and have not since talked to each other. The dialogue remains purposeful.

The scriptwriter also considers the aural qualities of the chosen words and the use of silence. This advanced engagement with language foregrounds the musicality of dialogue as well as its functionality. Good dialogue is similar to the manner in which people talk. Often people do not use the appropriate grammar when talking. However, dialogue in a script is typically more focused than real conversation. For example, the scriptwriter removes or reduces significantly the ‘hmms’ and ‘ands’.

Although the scriptwriter uses dialogue sparingly, the dialogue still plays a very important role in the script. It is the only aspect of the script that creates a direct communication between the scriptwriter and the audience. Scene descriptions are useful to the director and cinematographer, who translate the instructions into images. It is the closest thing to a direct means of communication with an audience in a similar manner to the text of a novel with its reader.

Now let us review some of the objectives of dialogues in a movie:

  • Develop and reveal things about the characters:

Good dialogue originates from the character and consequently reveals something about this character. Education, social class and personal traits are some factors that will provide individualistic features to the dialogue of a character. Moreover, differences in speech across scenes also reveal the character’s mood or emotions.

  • Refer back to the dramatic need of the character:

Dialogue references the objective of a character as identified in the story concept. Good dialogue will either reveal or attempt to hide the motivations of a character in the scene, which are linked to what that character wants to do in the film.

  • Advance the action:

Good dialogue arises out of the preceding action and leads into the next action. In this sense, well-written dialogue in a script is connective. This type of dialogue also advances the action. Dialogue can serve as an exposition device. It reveals past events or the backstory of characters.

  • Serve as an exposition device:

A well-written conversation will reveal a wealth of information about the characters because of what they say to each other and how they react to what is said. Conversations reveal the dynamics among characters. The scriptwriter considers who controls the conversation and when a shift in power happens. Carefully planned, such a conversation will reveal a lifelong relationship in a few seconds.

  • Foreshadow future events:

Dialogue also prepares the audience about forthcoming events by foreshadowing them. Foreshadowing does not reveal the outcome but accentuates factors that result in the outcome. It is subtle and should not reveal the ending of the film or the twist of the story. However, it ensures that the final events are believable as the audience has been prepared. In some cases, such dialogue can have an ominous ring to it.

So, do you think that dialogue is important in a movie? Please share your comments!

The Art of Screenwriting – Part 4

The goal of all feature films, TV movies, episodic series, short fictional films, documentaries, daytime soaps, commercials, news, sport and weather is to create an emotional response in the audience.”

– William K. Coe

Come on, we all know that Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won are the reasons behind Parasite winning the best original screenplay at the 92nd Oscar academy Awards. Actors or producers are not the only ones responsible for the success of a movie. So, once more, let’s look at one of the skills that a screenwriter needs to capture the attention of audiences.

Skills of a Screenwriter

4. Crafting Compelling Characters

Character is the essential internal foundation of your screenplay. The cornerstone. It is the heart and soul and nervous system of your screenplay. Before you can put one word on paper, you must know your character”

– David Howard & Edward Mabley

Whether it is a film, television episode or tv spot, they all contain characters. Characters the medium by which you draw your audience into your film and get them invested in the story. A good character is fully fleshed-out with depth and complexity, one that an audience can root for as they watch him or her push the story forward, unfolding events by overcoming obstacles on their way to the climax of the story. The bottom line is, without great characters, a film cannot capture audiences’ attention.

As both the quality of a script and the film depend strongly on the scriptwriter’s skill at crafting characters that audiences find compelling, they should be able to master this skill and balance the interior and exterior aspects of the character.

Now let’s discuss the interior and exterior aspects. The interior element consists of the backstory of the character and what shaped him or her. It begins at their birth until the moment of their life that is shown in the film.

The four interior qualities that a compelling character should possess are:

  • A strong and well-defined dramatic need

This refers to what the character wants and they must carry strength, weight and importance. For example, finding a lost necklace does not carry enough weight or significance to be sustained for two hours in a film or even thirty to sixty minutes in a television episode. These simple wants should consist of a sense of urgency. Only then will the audience care enough about the characters’ desires and want them to achieve their dramatic needs.

  • A unique point of view

A character has a belief system that informs how he or she views the world. Their point of view will influence their actions and will make them unique individuals. The characters’ points of view will make the story unique as the characters make choices based on a belief system different from others.

  • A personified attitude

The manner in which a character’s opinion is expressed through what he or she says or does reveals the attitude of that character.

  • Character should be able to experience a form and degree of change or growth during the film.

All compelling characters undergo some kind of change as at least one aspect of their life transforms by the end of the film. The transformation can also be less visible on the external level rather than the internal side. Compared to novelists, screenwriters do not write paragraphs to describe the interior aspects of characters but reveal their interior aspects through what they say or do in the movies, consisting of their exterior facet. As a result, it can be deduced that the interior and exterior elements are interconnected. For instance, an essential aspect of the exterior facet of a character rests in action. An audience will relate and empathise with a character only when the latter does something about a difficult situation. No one really cares about a character who just complains about what he or she cannot have.

Furthermore, another interesting principle that screenwriters like to use is the concept of protagonist and antagonist. The protagonist is the central character of the story while the antagonist appears as the personification of the obstacle that the protagonist has to face to attain his or her objective. In most films, the antagonist is the villain. A conflict arises between the two when the antagonist introduces a resistance that prevents the protagonist from satisfying his or her dramatic need and this conflict propels the action forward.

Now, it is not enough for a scriptwriter to know the minute details of the characters, but he must also carefully choose the timing at which details of the characters are revealed to the audience. And, let us not forget about secondary characters. They are as important as the main ones. So, much time and effort should be spent in developing the sociological and psychological profile of secondary characters.

So, according to you, which movies had the best compelling characters? Please share your ideas in the comment section below!

The Art of Screenwriting – Part 3

Viewers go to the movies not just to see stories, but to see stories well told. The

screenwriter’s job is called story-telling, not story-making.”

– Frank Daniel in The Tools of Screenwriting

In the previous article, we discovered some of the essential skills of a screenwriter and today, we shall learn more!

The Skills of a Screenwriter

Telling a Story in an Exciting Manner

One of the most important aspects of a screenwriter’s job is telling a story. A fantastic story concept is useless if the scriptwriter does not tell the story well. Think back of a time when someone has shared something that happened to him or her with you or told you about something he or she saw. Sometimes, the contents of what your friend is telling you are interesting you still find yourself bored. The problem here is not the story but rather the manner in which the story is told. The same principle applies to screenwriting. The ability to tell a story in a manner that grips people and keeps their interest in the unfolding story is an important skill for a good scriptwriter.

What is a well-told story? It refers to how a story unfolds, how it is revealed to the audience, and how the audience experiences the telling of the story. As a result, you can say that story-telling deals with the way by which an audience becomes involved in a story and remains interested in this story until its conclusion.

There are various elements involved that can help screenwriters to master the skill of story-telling and these key elements are:

  • Empathy

    Why empathy? An audience needs to care about the main characters and the situation in which they are. This can only be achieved through empathy. If viewers stop caring about the characters, they will lose interest in the film. Therefore, the scriptwriter must be able to engage the audience to empathize with the characters at the start of the film and continually maintain and reinforce this throughout the whole movie.

  • Dramatic irony

    Dramatic irony can be defined as those instances when the audience knows something a character does not know. It creates a tension that can have both a comedic and dramatic effect. Let’s take an example of a group of people having a picnic. At one moment, they move away from their food and an animal sneakily eats their food. The audience knows before the characters that the food is gone, thereby resulting in a comedic effect.

    Another strong example of dramatic irony is in the epic movie “Titanic”, where Cal has promised Rose that he has room for himself and Jack on another boat. However, as soon as the lifeboat is being lowered, the audience learns that Cal has lied to Rose. This creates a powerful moment of suspense as the audience has become aware of a piece of information that Rose ignores.

  • Conflict

Conflict is an element that pushes the action forward. Conflict is drama and drama underpins all good scripts. Drama drives the action and allows it to develop in complexity. For example, conflict in a romantic story could include the differences in social class between two lovers. 

  • Timing and uncertainty

Timing and uncertainty is a concept which is linked to conflict. As a result of a conflict, a degree of suspense exists. The audience does not know who will win or how the main character will face

the conflict. The timing at which a conflict appears or the manner a conflict is revealed can create uncertainty. The scriptwriter does not create uncertainty by keeping the audience in the dark or by withholding information. Instead, they use the audience’s expectations, hoping that the character will succeed and fear that the character might fail. This keeps the audience waiting in anticipation for the rest of the film to know what happens.

  • Raising the stakes


    The concept of raising the stakes was borrowed from the theatre. The action of raising the stakes can most likely magnify an existing conflict. For example, in “Titanic”, there is a conflict of the upper class and the lower class. However, James Cameron drastically raises the stakes with the slowly sinking ship. By raising the stakes, a scriptwriter injects further drama into an already dramatic situation.

  • Backstory

The backstory can refer to events that happened before the story being told in the film. It includes past events that will most likely influence what happens in the film and the characters’ decisions. They inject color and depth to the story being told. The audience do not always learn events

that happen in their original chronological orders but discover past about events from the characters’ life as the film unfolds.

  • Tone

The tone of the film refers to the mood and atmosphere set by a scriptwriter through the use of pace and speed. A deft scriptwriter will continually change the speed at which a story is told. For example, a moment of quiet and peace will follow a moment of fast-paced, suspenseful sequence. A well-told story does not maintain the same pace from beginning to end. Why? Because the viewer can quickly lose interest. There must be valleys and peaks as the story unfolds.

Do you think that a good story depends on the skills of a screenwriter? Please share your comments!

The Art of Screenwriting – Part 2

A good film always touches many people and makes an impact on the film industry. However, this desired effect depends on the script and the screenwriter. The story and how a film is told must elicit a strong emotional response from the audience, from love to hate, from passion to fear or excitement. As a result, a scriptwriter’s skills are essential to create a story that can attract an audience.

The Skills of a Screenwriter

A film can potentially reach millions of people from across different countries and therefore, the screenwriter must ensure that the written story will grab the attention of millions of people worldwide.

Now, let’s explore the skills that a screenwriter needs to write a good story.

1. A Screenwriter Should Be Able to Conceive an Exciting Story

 

To originate story concepts for screenplays, it is almost always necessary to stimulate

your own thinking by observing, recording, and reacting to all of the potential material

that confronts you every day, and to use that material as a jumping-off point for your own

brainstorming and creativity.”

 

– William K. Coe

 

Before planning or writing a script, a screenwriter should first be able come up with a story concept for the script. This cannot be a vague idea but rather a very clear and concise one.

For instance, a good story concept contains the following elements:

  • Main characters or subjects with whom the audience can relate and identify.
  • A specific goal, desire or objective that the main character must achieve. This motivation to do or search for something creates the impetus that moves the movie forward.
  • One significant or a series of obstacles, challenges, and difficulties that makes it hard for the main characters to achieve their objectives. As a result, this element will make the audience become invested in the characters’ path and how they overcome their difficulties.
  • A good story concept should also include originality and familiarity. For example, aren’t there countless romantic movies released each year? But each one possesses something that distinguishes it from the others while presenting a genre with which audiences are familiar.

The story concept that contains these four elements can be summarised as,“the story about a character or subject who wants to (action) but cannot(obstacle)”. One famous example is Titanic, one of the most romantic movies of the movie industry, where the story is about Rose who wants to be in a relationship with Jack but cannot because of the difference in social class.

However, how does one come up with a story concept? Below you will find a list of some sources of story ideas:

  • Anecdotes from your own life or from what someone else has shared with you
  • Beliefs
  • Dreams
  • Emotions
  • Fears
  • Legends
  • Conversations
  • Current affairs and news stories
  • History
  • Memories
  • Novels, plays or paintings

2. A Screenwriter Should Be Able to Think Visually

 

Imagine your story as a series of pictures. If those pictures keep talking to you, you probably

have a play. If your mind jumps from image to image, and if every image is full of action, you

may be ready to write a film script.”

 

– Laura Schellhardt

 

One significant difference between most people and a screenwriter is how they see the world and think visually. As we have discussed above, a good story idea consists of some crucial elements and a good screenwriter should be able to see and communicate with these elements.

Books, newspaper articles and poems are read by consumers. However, compared to these mediums, an audience does not read but instead watches films. As a result, the scriptwriter must write with the aim of creating a product that does not simply consist of words on paper but that acts as a stimulus to create a series of moving images.

Some of the crucial visual elements for scriptwriting include:

  • Colour
  • Light
  • Movement
  • Sound
  • Location
  • Contrasting elements
  • Metaphor

So, today we discovered two vital skills that a screenwriter should possess. Please share your comments and don’t forget to come back for part 3 if you want to learn more about a screenwriter’s skills.

The Art of Screenwriting

The film that results from a screenwriter’s labours is much more immediate and visceral than prose fiction, yet the process of transforming the writer’s words, ideas, and desires into that final product is less direct and involves many more intermediaries between writer and audience than do other forms of literature.”

David Howard & Edward Mabley

There might be a hundred or even a thousand articles based on movies actors or directors. But what about those who work behind the scenes? The following article will dive into the lives of the unsung heroes of the cinema world: screenwriters!

The Artistic Creator – Screenwriter

A screenwriter is the one who sets the foundation of any film, documentary, television show, or television advertisement. He or she is a person who has mastered the art of visual storytelling and knows how to utilise the different aspects of cinema to give an impression of reality. Unfortunately, these screenwriters often go unnoticed and remain anonymous figures for the general public.

For instance, take a pen and paper and write the names of actors and directors. You will have no problem finding a list of names. However, what if I tell you to write the names of some screenwriters that you know. Chances are this list may comprise of only one or two names.

Yes, you might tell me that there are well-known scriptwriters like Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino or even Karan Johar from Bollywood. But these people are famous because they are also movie directors. Suppose I ask you who is the screenwriter of the world-famous American sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.” Or, who was the screenwriter behind “Gladiator?” It’s a sad but true fact that most screenwriters often remain invisible to the public.

Now, do you know that you are actually absorbing and reading the words that a writer has put on paper when you are reading a novel, a poem, a journal article or any other published written work. Therefore, it can be said that you are reading the direct product of the writer. However, when you are watching a film, the final product does not reflect the screenwriter’s original work. Therefore, today we shall have a look at an invisible facet of filmmaking: screenwriting!

What Is Screenwriting?

It can be simply defined as the process of writing a script outlining what appears on the screen,

from a short film to a feature film or television show to a documentary or promotional spot. It is a type of writing whose finished product will appear on the screen to the audience. And despite the differences across the different mediums and types, screenwriting puts all the aspects of filmmaking on paper.

The following consist of the items that are considered during the process of screenwriting:

  • Locations
  • Time of the day
  • Description and names of characters
  • Dialogue
  • Directions for actors or the camera

The Script

According to one of the most famous film directors, Alfred Hitchcock:

To make a great film you need three things – the script, the script and the script!”

In the audio-visual world, two types of script formats are used, the 2-column script and the screenplay format.

The 2-Column Script

This particular format is used when writing a documentary or promotional spot and includes a basic and simple layout. The two-column format allows the screenwriter to detail what is seen on the screen and what is heard.

  • The left side of the script consists of the descriptions of what will be seen on the screen, that is, the visual images and camera directions. It will also include locations and shot sizes.
  • The right side contains all the audio descriptions, which includes voice-over, material from interviews, ambient sounds, and music.

The Screenplay Format Script

This type of script is written for a short film, a feature film, or a television series episode. Compared to the 2-column script, this one is said to facilitate the task of reading by all the other parties, including the director to the cinematographer and the actors.

Below are some features of a screenplay format:

  • The first page of the screenplay is called the title page.
  • The scene headings are always written in the upper case where the writer indicates the location, time of day, and interior or exterior scene.
  • Characters’ names are always written in upper case and placed above their dialogues.
  • Camera directions, such as camera angles and shot sizes, are also written in upper case.

So, did this article help you to learn more about the art of screenwriting? Please share your comments and don’t forget to come back for part 2!