After a loving wife murders a blackmailer to protect her husband’s flourishing law career she must watch as he prosecut...
Creating A Great Read
by Glenn Benest (Secrets of Screenwriting)
Hello, everyone. As you may know, I gave a lecture at the Writers Store recently about creating a great read.
I’d like to share some of those thoughts with you in the next few weeks. This topic is dear to my heart as I see so many writers not putting in the time to write great narrative.
When you read as many scripts as I do (and that’s not even close to all the scripts a reader has to wade through or a producer or director) the thing that jumps out at you immediately is how careless most writers are in sculpting their narrative. In this regard, we are more like novelists, but unlike novelists, we are very succinct in how we write our prose (narrative).
This talent in creating a great reading experience is usually one of the last things a screenwriter learns. First the beginner learns about structure and then character development and then writing great dialogue. Finally, he or she must learn about creating a great read.
It used to be in the good old days that screenwriters would just write the narrative pedantically without giving a great deal of thought to the reading experience, not pumping up the description and style and tone of the writing. Shane Black changed all that with The Last Boy Scout and some of his other early scripts. He gave these screenplays a true voice and the narrative was supercharged with energy. It helped Shane to sell a bunch of screenplays for over a million dollars.
So what does narrative do? It describes action. It paints pictures for people. And hopefully it should also set a tone for your screenplay. Obviously, if you’re writing a romantic comedy, the tone of your screenplay should be quite different than a horror script.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make in this regard is not only disregarding the style of your story but also writing your narrative in big blocks of description.
Why do readers and development people hate this? Because when you read a screenplay you basically speed read through the narrative and then carefully read the dialogue. Why? Because it’s easier to read dialogue. It’s easier on the eyes.
So it’s easy for readers to miss important information in your narrative if you’ve got it hidden with all kinds of other data.
So you need to be lean and you need to be witty and poetic.
I’d like to leave you with this thought. Think of your narrative vertically, not horizontally. In other words, write it more like poetry. Make it easy on the eyes. Big blocks of horizontal narrative is difficult to read and makes the reader just want to skim through it.
So write vertically when you can. Here’s an example from Shawshank Redemption.
Norton scoops a handful of rocks off the sill. He hurls them at the wall.
NORTON: It’s a conspiracy (Smash)
That’s what it is (Smash)
And everyone’s in on it! (Smash)
He sends the rock whizzing right at Raquel.
It goes flying right past her.
Do you see how the writing is more vertical than it is horizontal?
Here’s another example from one of my students:
Jessica unlocks the door of the house, opens it.
An empty room.
Furniture, lamps, rugs, paintings.
All gone. Stolen.
When I read narrative like this I see the scene clearly. It’s easy on my eyes. I’m looking at images as I would a poem.
Start thinking more like a poet than a novelist. Create a tone, a style for your screenplay. Make it easy and fun to read. Interject energy into every line of narrative.
We’ll talk more about this in the weeks to come.
Until then – KEEP WRITING!