Screenwriter’s Journey: Reading Scripts

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“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):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

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Screenwriter’s Journey: Books and Websites

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If you are new to anything, you’ll have to learn from those who’ve successfully walked the path before you. As a newbie to screenwriting (apart from that one dabble in it in High School, where I wrote a “one shot” for class), I was pressed to find resources and guidelines that would introduce me to the craft of screenwriting, and teach me how to do it properly – in a short amount of time.

Typically, the first thing we do in this day and age is using Google. So like my fellow Modern Westerners I went ahead and googled screenwriting, which was followed up by a move towards Amazon.

I purchased Charles Harris’ “Complete Screenwriting Course” ebook, which I can highly recommend. This book is certainly all you need, in my estimation. It’s affordable and very well-structured, instructive, and useful.

Harris’ book guides you through the process of writing your (first) script, from start to finish, including how to develop an idea, and eventually pitch your script and get involved in the business.

Browsing through my own personal library at home, I discovered I had already bought a book on Screenwriting a few years ago; the German version of one of Syd Field‘s screenwriting books, called “Das Drehbuch“.

Field’s book is more personal in nature, and less structured. It reads more like a personal story on how he got into screenwriting, how he assesses the value of scripts, and how his students did in his classes.

If you don’t have much time (like I did), you’d be better off focusing on something more instructional and to-the-point like Harris‘ ebook.

Personally, I read both books alongside each other to gain the most value and knowledge in a short amount of time; relatively short. Within one month or two, I felt mostly confident in my ability to set up and write a script, thanks to the books above and the following websites/articles:

http://www.scriptmag.com/features/meet-reader-writing-first-screenplay

http://www.scriptmag.com/features/balls-of-steel-dear-new-screenwriter

http://www.scriptreaderpro.com/writing-style-mistakes/

At last, some of my friends recommended Robert McKee’s “Story” to me, which I have heard some audio excerpt from before. I imagine it to be quite interesting, and I might check it out more closely another time.

With the help of the above resources, I managed to finish my first short movie script within one to two months, starting from absolute scratch.

I hope this article was helpful to you, and I’d like to hear which resources you’ve found valuable on your way to writing your own (first) scripts. 🙂