Writing Tips: What Makes a Good Screenplay, Fan-Fic or Not
A few writing tips that may help aspiring writers in future endeavors. Also, share your tips here, too! Nobody knows it all! Everyone can learn!
Let me start off by saying this: I know this is an article that can come off as very presumptuous, so I'll go ahead and give my "qualifications" to dissipate any tension that may follow. My name is Cameron Carpenter and after completing six screenplays, two plays, five failed web-series, and a novel, I am not published or professional. However, last year, I won an award for distinguished journalistic writing in state-wide college newspaper competition. I didn't enter my own piece, other members of the staff at the paper did it for me...without telling me. I don't consider myself an amateur by any means, but I have a lot to learn. These are a few things that I've learned so far that I'd like to share with you. And my hope is that you all will have additions as well.
1. Story Comes Before Agenda
I have a friend, who is also an aspiring writer, who has sent me scripts and treatments to read over. And while he's not a bad writer, he's an awful storyteller. All of his screenplays and plays end up attempting to "give" some sort of message. And that's a major issue, because it doesn't matter how good the story is if a specific message is so overbearing in a work of fiction; it'll put people off.
Now, I'm a Christian, but I'll go ahead and tell you right now that I don't think I've ever seen a film made exclusively by Christians "for" Christians that I've enjoyed. Those movies cling to their agenda that every person is the same and has the same basic needs and that, no matter their situation, there's a complete solution for it all, and their movies suffer because they constantly give way to the message over the art. I've always had an opposite approach. I've told myself that I'll live as a Christian in the industry, treating people with respect, making fair judgement, and showing no discrimination to any member of different race, gender, sexuality, or religion. But I won't make "Christian" movies. Don't lose or alienate your audience. Remember that they're why you're in business, and they're who will keep you in business. And, fair note, any slamming of any religion or religious followers in the comment section will be deleted and not tolerated.
2. Give Your Characters Independent Goals
Understand that while you're writing a movie, possibly with a single protagonist, that the other characters in that movie exist in their own universe as real people. That means that, as a screenwriter or author, these people have to be living somewhere else and doing something else whenever they aren't on screen. It's an issue I had with Gwen Stacy in the new Spider-Man film. Her character doesn't seem to have a life on her own. We know she works at Oscorp and that she is very studious, but we're never given any insight to her passions or dreams or hopes; because of that, her character sort of becomes just another meandering body with some screentime that happens to have a relationship with the protagonist.
In my Daredevil scripts, I tried very hard to give every character their own motivations not to simply serve Matt. Karen Page has dreams of becoming a Hollywood actress, and as we see in Speak of the Devil, she acts upon those dreams. Foggy wants to keep things going as a respected lawyer and starts a relationship with a girl named Glori. Jack Murdock makes an attempt to be a better man for his son, but his character doesn't pander to Matt in a way that it can't be said Jack lives an independent lifestyle.
A good example is Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises. Her character goal is incredibly simple: get the clean slate program. And while it may seem somewhat fleeting to normal viewers, it allows her character to exist outside the realm of a Batman movie and gives a bit more depth to her as a character. Motivation goes a long way.
3. Remember That Characters Are Their Own Living Entities and Should Speak as Such
We'll take a flipped look at out above examples. The Dark Knight Rises has an issue of making all the characters speak somewhat the same. When you read the script, everyone (based on dialogue) is interchangeable, predominantly because the characters talk as if they're trying to "thicken" or "move" the plot forward. It's like each character knows they're on a set path for some sort of collision and they all have to let each other know where they are in that progression, and it leads to very unnatural writing.
It's something that The Amazing Spider-Man does pretty well. A lot of the dialogue doesn't seemed forced or that it's aware that it's in a movie. It's very natural, as if that's how people truly speak. So, remember when you're writing characters that everyone should have their own flavor. Just be careful how much flavor you pepper on.
4. Don't Be Afraid to Circle Back Around to Specific Themes
In my Daredevil trilogy, a theme that appears nonstop is one of "fatherhood." If you'll notice, the good characters lose their fathers (Matt, Mickey) and the bad characters lose their children (Kingpin, Manolis). My movies are very much about finding one's identity through what someone has lost and if, ultimately, that's the right way of going about it. There is also an overwhelming sense of failure that rides throughout the film. Matt never really brings justice to the Fixer and he can't save Mickey's father in the first movie. In the second movie, he fails to save the people in the arena who are left to fight for their lives. And in the third film, the massive Hell's Kitchen battle leaves many dead and wounded. In essence, it's a testament that while one good man may not be enough, it's no excuse to stop being a good man.
5. Never Write if It Feels Like a Chore, But Write Every Single Chance You Can
If you're bored and you're putting stuff in a script or story just to move things along, that's exactly how it'll come across in your product. You won't be able to fool anyone. It's also important to realize that writing is an intimate look into your own head on specific scenarios. You'll find yourself at a dilemma, sometimes morally or ethically, about what should be done in a specific situation.
It was a little difficult having Bullseye give Richard Fisk AIDS in the middle of Speak of the Devil. It was a place I wasn't sure I wanted to go with the characters. But I gave it more thought and brainstormed with it more and eventually decided that it wasn't "my" story, but the characters'. I realized that what happened made sense for the characters and it opened up some channels for other characters to react accordingly. And I'm fairly sure it hasn't been done before, so that's a plus. I'll put it this way: don't write if you aren't willing to really question yourself about some things you just may not be ready for.
That's what I've got for you all. Now, what do you have for me and for each other?
Also, click here to check out JOLT17's posters for my DD trilogy, and be sure to vote it up so maybe it can end up on the main page!
: This article was submitted by a volunteer contributor who has agreed to our code of conduct
. ComicBookMovie.com is protected from liability under "safe harbor" provisions and will disable users who knowingly commit plagiarism, piracy, trademark or copyright infringement. For expeditious removal, contact us HERE