KEEP YOUR STORYTELLING ORIGINAL by A SCREENPLAY READER, Terri Zinner, A FILM WRITER
It’s always invigorating for a screenplay reader or producer to read a script that offers an original point of view or a refreshing narrative. While there’s always room for tried and true concepts, reaching into the depths of your imagination will make for a more inspiring read.
I thought I would share with you some common scenarios that I often run into:
1. The protagonist is introduced by waking up to an alarm clock to begin their day.
While this might setup your protagonist’s ordinary world it’s not very exciting to the reader (unless you are watching GROUNDHOG DAY). It’s a rather ordinary way of introducing your script to the reader. Give your protagonist a hero’s introduction. The introduction should establish his character and personality. This can be accomplished through action, behavior, dialogue and physical appearance.
2. Opening with a dream.
I see this more and more. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I am not a fan of opening a story with a dream. I want to be grabbed right by the real story from page one. Dreams can take the audience/reader out of story and they tend to feel too surreal.
3. The “alcoholic” anything.
Stories are about damaged characters, characters that are struggling with their internal fears. A character has to overcome their inner conflict before they can achieve their external goal. Yet, most of the time the writer seems to feel that making their character an alcoholic will satisfy the audience and the need to establish internal struggle. Certainly it can, but it lacks originality. It might give your character some depth, but consider other more creative ways to develop a character. There are so many options for the writer. Give your character a more unique fear or obsession. There are some many neuroses, terrors, and compulsions that are awaiting your character. Give them one.
4. The rush to the airport to stop the one you love from leaving.
Yes we want romance and we want a sense of urgency. But how many times do readers want to read about the frantic rush to the airport.
5. Being evicted and losing a job.
I have read far too many comedies in which the main character is either being evicted, or has lost their job or both. Write out of the box.
6. Save the world and I’ll be the leader.
Go ahead do it and make my day. Does the audience really believe the antagonist is going to blow the world up and become the leader of the new world order? While terrorism is a serious topic and can make for tense, gritty films, the everyday common foe whose goal is to take over the world falls flat for me. Give me a realistic story and create a world in which terrifying events can genuinely occur and you probably have a great story.
7. The immature man playing video games.
In the last few weeks, I have probably seen this in almost every comedy script I have read. It’s great for video game business, not some much for the writer. Play with your creativity.
8. The immature man who farts.
Everyone who knows me, knows I can only tolerate one fart per script. Sometimes being a reader just stinks.
9. Women called various offensive names and sexually exploitive.
Okay, this is a sensitive topic. Sadly, in the majority of scripts women are called distasteful and derogatory names. Women are often placed in abusive situations. It’s going to continue and I have no delusions that this will end. Remember this, rape is a very serious and sensitive topic. It’s about power and control. Don’t add rape to be sensational. I once read a script in which an adult was molesting a teenage girl against her will, but the narrative description referred to it as “making love.” If rape doesn’t forward your script, cut it. If you can refrain from calling women bitches, or using the “c” word, do it.
10. Cliché dialogue. So, a horrific event occurs and the character responds with, “NOOOOOOO!” or “Oh my God!” Cliché lines that drive this reader foolishly insane: “You’re crazy!” “You’re insane!” “You’ll never get away with this!”
Powerful words and powerful dialogue propel a script. Dig into the heart of your character.
Okay, enough said for now. Remember, writing begins with the very first word.
Terri Zinner, A FILM WRITER