7 Screenwriting Tips: Take Your Script From Formulaic to Unique

March 3, 2016 Strategy

A screenplay is made up of concise scene work. Sometimes the medium is faulted for being so overly formulaic. If you’ve pondered the Hero’s Journey or read Save the Cat, then you’ve seen that a feature screenplay can be broken down into a 120-page series of plot points and story markers; you’ll find similar rules in television. It’s up to you to infuse the same old recipe with truly standout characters, themes, voice, and plot.  You can shine in your attention to detail. These screenwriting tips will elevate your story.

Where is the love? 

Always ask yourself, “where is the love?” in every story, in every scene, in every character. A lack of love causes indifference in the characters and in the reader.

Each scene should serve a purpose.

Each scene should serve a purpose to further the story along, unless you’re super into experimental film or something; odds are you’re not. If you’re stuck on a scene, ask yourself what does it do to further the story in order to find out what you need to show.

Give your characters dimension.

Double check that your characters are dimensional, that they have their own sets of wants and needs/flaw and vices/hopes and obstacles. You don’t have to give every extra a backstory, but best friends, love interests, and antagonists all deserve to be real fake people (you know what I mean).

Integrate your themes into character actions.

Make sure your story themes come out through action. It doesn’t do anyone any good if you have a brilliant philosophy that isn’t on the page.

Show don’t tell. 

Show don’t tell. Instead of a character saying, “I’m angry at you,” show their anger. Is it the silent treatment? Is it bottled up snark? Is it physical violence?

Make active choices. 

Have your protagonist make active choices. Instead of the story happening to them, they make the story happen. Passive stories tend to be less engaging. Someone always mentions the Big Lebowski or Forest Gump when this comes up (debatably more passive characters). Let’s just assume you aren’t the exception to the rule, and if you are, I’m sure you have the sheer will to ignore all advice in general.

Don’t be afraid to cut. 

Even a story that unfolds out of linear order needs to add up. If you have too many characters or scenes that don’t serve a purpose or are redundant, cut it. Don’t be afraid to cut. “Kill your darlings” as they say.