LAPL Panel Series: Screenwriting - Discussion


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How do you feel about writing?


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How do I feel about writing? It’s somewhat painful. Screenwriting for me is like one of those complicated 3D puzzles, where you have to fit all these impossibly odd pieces together and have it make something whole at the end.

I learned to do it the “right” way, with the whole 120 page thing, the plot points, the three acts, the character arcs, and for god’s sake NO ADVERBS. (“He leans into her adoringly”–NO!! What does that LOOK like?)

Every scene, every line, needs to be tight and short and to the point, and it’s an excruciating process, sometimes to the point where I don’t want to do it.

Please tell me there’s a less tortuous way to do this.


@royce I empathize with you & your sentiments totally. And I feel that in one way, there’s absolutely no way to avoid the rigor and hard work that writing is. I think in many ways its always going to be a difficult and draining process, especially when you’re writing on spec and on your own. It can be grueling and totally demoralizing to spend hundreds of hours typing and erasing and typing and reading only to end up with a document that feels devoid of the very thing that made you start writing in the first place. Its just a rough place to be, and I feel like its part of the thing itself :frowning:

On the other hand, I think that there are some really cool solutions out there for your problem with the “right” way of doing things. People like Brian Koppleman and FilmCritHulk have spent considerable time and wrote lots of eloquent words on why the so-called “experts” of screenwriting often fall totally flat and hurt both the process & resulting work they attempt to guide. The whole idea of “three acts and 120 pages” I have personally come to reject, in part because of their writing and how it holds up to my own experience.

More concretely, some of my favorite films, and some of the best films ever made don’t follow any of these conventions! And some of the best screenplays, even modern screenplays, don’t follow these conventions. And they’re great screenplays which produce great movies. Michael Clayton by Tony Gilroy is one I always show people. The script breaks a lot of the traditional rules, but in doing so makes both a better read and (I think) suggests a more interesting and fully fleshed out movie. That and its basically a cornucopia of fantastic dialogue.

I don’t want to purport myself to be an expert in any sense though, so I encourage you to check out Hulk’s Screenwriting 101 (which should be RJFS required reading) and Koppelman’s vines and engaging with the ideas therein. Also get your hands on scripts of your favorite movies, and read them! For me all of this has both helped tremendously, not necessarily in a commercial or career sense, but definitely in how much I enjoy both writing things and the final products of what I write.

Best of luck. You are not alone! :slight_smile:


@BDHTaylor What a great response, thank you!

The very structured, static method of writing we’re discussing seems to me as though it will produce a whole lot of movies that may look different, but are actually pretty much the same. There are conventions to story-telling that resonate with, and are accepted by, most modern audiences. Things that go outside of those lines are considered quirky “art films,” assuming they ever get made in the first place.

Of course, you can defy the 120-page, three-act rule and still not violate the audience’s expectations for the usual things (hero’s journey, a gratifying resolution to the conflict, etc.). But if you’re thinking to get a spec script looked at, don’t you pretty much have to follow the formula or risk having it thrown in the slush pile?

Established screenwriters can break the rules and it’s not a problem. But for us wannabes, I’ve been told to toe the line. And that’s OK to a point, really … I get that this is a highly structured form of writing, although perhaps excessively so! It’s just frustrating and a little exhausting to have to cut good stuff to get your script down to the prescribed page count and get your plot points to hit at all the right places. (I was told by my writing teaching to keep dialogue blocks to three lines or less, talk about restrictive!)

Maybe part of the problem is that I tend to write organically. I decide who the characters are, what they want, what they need, create their back stories, and then I throw them together and watch stuff happen, let them drive the action. That doesn’t work so well, though, when you are constantly trying to hit your marks. As you may imagine, the whole outline-index card thing makes me want to sob.

Of course, we’re talking feature film here. I’ve written a short film (had it produced, too, which is a terrible story I’ll tell you sometime if you want to hear it), and while that was easier because the usual rules don’t really apply, it was fraught with its own challenges.

All my rambling aside, I’ll definitely read some of the material you cite. It will be great to get a different perspective and may actually get me back on track with writing.

Again, thanks for your thoughtful post.