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

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!