April 12, 2012
You’ve worked on your script/novel for months or even years with dozens of rewrites. You’ve had all the time in the world to complete it. You want this baby of yours to be perfect; rejection proof, before sending it out into the judgmental world of agents, managers, production companies, publishers.
So when do I know I’m truly finished ?
Have you completed this screenplay/manuscript checklist?
- Did you read your script/novel straight through at one sitting?
- Did you specifically look for emotional turning points, three act structure, and clear plot points. Are they working? Are they strong? Contain big emotional moments? Does the story slow down at any point?
- Did your characters have arcs, uniqueness and consistency?
- Did you read your dialogue out loud? Is it on-the-nose dialogue or more complex by using subtext? If it’s a script, have you had a reading of it with actors or friends?
- Is your prose clear and clean and in tone with the story? If it’s a script, are the action/description lines short but powerful and add great visuals?
- Do your scenes or chapters flow? Does each one move the story forward? Can some be cut or combined? Is there complexity to them?
- If it’s a screenplay, can you make it more cinematic, or add set-up/payoffs or interesting transitions?
- If you feel you’ve completed all the above steps, you’ve earned the right to put it in a drawer for a day or two. After a short time away, re-read it again. Still working for you? Good.
- Do your first polish draft. Look at each word and each sentence. Are there misspellings or wrong punctuation? Did you vary your word choices? Have you replaced the “to be” verbs with more powerful action verbs? Is the script/manuscript in the correct format?
After all that, if you feel like you want to tweak it more – STOP!!! DON’T MOVE! TAKE YOUR HANDS AWAY FROM THE KEYBOARD!
Writers that still want to fiddle with it, tell me: “I think I’m almost there but I still have to find that perfect ending” OR “I just have to nail a killer opening and then I’m done” OR “If I just punch up my dialogue a little more, then it’s ready.”
You are afraid to finish. You’ve worked on this dream project and now it will be judged. It will be out of your hands and you are about to find out if someone else likes it. You are staring in the face of rejection. That’s scary. But if you’ve followed the above checklist it is almost ready.
What do you mean, “almost”? There’s more? But I thought you said I was done.
You are, almost.
Click on Part Two to see Part Two.
Part Two of WHEN DO I KNOW WHEN I’M FINISHED will delve into getting feedback and from whom before you finally send it out.
January 17, 2012
THAT’S RIGHT, YOU HEARD ME.
Try this: As an experiment, copy your script into a new document but cut off the first 5 or 10 or 20 pages. Read your new 30 pages. Does it start with your hero in action? Is your script zipping along? Were those first 20 pages mainly backstory? Don’t worry, you can place any missing vital information later. Don’t start explaining who this person is. Set him in action then slowly reveal him.
FIRST TWO PAGES. Man wakes up. Man kisses his wife. Man drives to work. Man goes into an office building. Man goes up elevator. Man on rooftop takes out a rifle. Man starts shooting.
FIRST PAGE: Man opens a rooftop door. Man goes to the ledge. Man takes out a rifle. Man starts shooting.
Which grips you? Which one will keep the reader/producer/agent, who only read the first 20 pages, going?
It always goes back to: SHOW DON’T TELL.
September 2, 2011
A spec screenplay is a reader’s experience. When you use the word, “beat” that experience becomes boring. A “beat” is just a place holder when nothing happens. Gee, that’s exciting to read. Using a gesture or movement can actually add to your scene. It can show character or tension. For instance:
CARRIE: I don’t want to talk about this. (beat) I want to talk about us.
Examples of substituting “beat”.
CARRIE: I don’t want to talk about this. (smiles) I want to talk about us.
CARRIE: I don’t want to talk about this. (looks down) I want to talk about us.
CARRIE: I don’t want to talk about this. (slaps the table) I want to talk about us.
CARRIE: I don’t want to talk about this. (takes a deep breath) I want to talk about us.
Each substitution of “beat” added character or tension to the scene.
Should you never use “beat”? 95% of beats should be an action.
A “beat” shouldn’t be a pause in life; it should have a life in your script.
July 26, 2011
Your title page is your introduction to the reader. What to make a good impression? Format it correctly.
Do put on the title page
- written by
- Your contact information.
THE BEST SCREENPLAY EVER
Stephen W. Buehler
(In the lower left or right hand corner, email address, street address and phone number)
- 4804 Laurel Canyon Blvd. #506
- Valley Village,CA91607
If you wrote the screenplay with someone else you use the “&” sign. – You’re a writing team.
Stephen W. Buehler & Albert Einstein
The “and” is used when the first writer has now gone and they’re hired a second writer.
Albert Einstein and Stephen W. Buehler
Don’t put on the title page:
- WGA registered – If you want the receiver of your script to view you as a professional, they assume that you have already registered your script – that’s what professionals do. Amateurs put WGA#.
- The © symbol. Same as above. It’s not necessary.
- “All Rights Reserved”. Same as above. It’s not necessary.
- Any image, design or cute figure. Keep it clean and simple.
If you place those items on the title page, you’re saying, “If you steal my idea, I’m going to sue you.” Wow. That’s not a good way to start a relationship. They know the score and they hope you do too.
You want them to read all the pages of your script. Don’t make them stop at the TITLE PAGE.
July 15, 2011
There are plenty of screenwriting books out there. Everyone one has their favorites. Certain books seem to speak to you just at the right time. However, over the years the following four books are the ones I’ve gone back to again and again.
1. Syd Field’s – SCREENPLAY is still the holy book when it comes to structure. It’s been around forever but it’s still relevant today. It should be the first book any new writer reads.
2. Linder Seager’s – HOW TO MAKE A GOOD SCRIPT GREAT is excellent with character development and the rewriting process.
3. Blake Synder’s – SAVE THE CAT, (The last screenwriting book you’ll ever need), isn’t quite that but written in a causal conversational manner, it reinvents the Beat Sheet. Plus it renames 10 different genres according to what they need to accomplish and how your script should fall into one of them. It’s a new way of thinking about screenwriting.
4. Lastly, William M. Aker’s – YOUR SCREENPLAY SUCKS! – is a great checklist after you’re done a draft and before you send it out, besides being just a fun read.
What are your favorites?