“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” – Stephen King
A writer reads. Not only novelists like Stephen King need to read, but any writer there is who wants to sharpen their writing tool(s) – and that includes screenwriters. Besides writing and watching movies, this is the only way you can improve in your craft.
But what should you read?
Some people suggest that you should read anything you can get your hands on and interests you. This is not necessarily the worst you can do; it can be quite invigorating, if you do enjoy reading a lot – and have a lot of time.
But like most people, I’d imagine your time is quite limited, and you’d rather cut to the chase.
Here are my tips to get the most out of reading scripts (fast):
- Find a good resource. The Internet Movie Script Database is full of freely readable scripts. The only downside; you cannot download them. Keep an eye out on articles that make Oscar-nominated movie scripts available around the Oscars; that’s how I could download Nocturnal Animals, for instance.
- Pick high-quality scripts. Why waste your time reading poorly written scripts? After having read a lot of high-quality scripts, you may have a look at a low-quality one, just in order to see the difference. But I’d say doing so is rather unnecessary in general; especially because you do not want to develop a voice that is similar to that of someone who writes poorly. Now you may ask, what distinguishes a high-quality script from a low-quality one? Generally speaking, movies with a great story tend to have great scripts. As a screenwriter, you’ll also have to watch movies of course, and get a feeling for what kinds of movies have a good, tight, intriguing story. Read the scripts of those movies. You may also want to have an eye on Oscar-winners (see Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Screenplay, Best Picture), and read their scripts.
- Pick scripts that fit into your chosen genre. If you are about to or are already working on your own script, it could be advised to read high-quality scripts in your chosen genre. For instance, before I started working on my own Thriller script, I read those scripts which I imagined could be inspirational and educational: Memento and Nocturnal Animals.
- Read everyday. Don’t let a day slip by where you are not reading any work of art. Ideally, you would finish reading a script within a day in one go, but for most of us this is rather unrealistic. At least read one script in a matter of a few consecutive days. Let your mind be consumed by that script, and don’t cut the cord by missing out on a day. Make it a habit to read everyday. When I was reading the aforementioned scripts, I’d set aside the time for each morning, just to read. The exception to this “rule”: You may not focus on reading other scripts when you are actively working on your own.
- Make notes. Take note of what excites, intrigues, frustrates you about the script you are reading. What would you do better? What do you find fascinating? What is especially cinematic (as in visual)?
The gist of it is quite simple: Read (high-quality) scripts (everyday). 😉
At last, I ask you: Which scripts have helped you on your journey to becoming a (better) screenwriter? Please share your recommendations in the comments!