This past weekend we attended a social event, and one of the other attendees knows that I write scripts, so I was asked the list of usual questions.
“Have I seen anything you’ve written?” “What sort of stuff do you write?” “How many drafts do you go through?” “Do you read a lot of scripts?”
The follow-up to that was “How do you know if a script is good or bad?”
I explained that you can usually tell by the end of the first page. The way the writing reads. The characters. The dialogue. Good or bad, chances are pretty high that’s how the rest of it is.
I’ve been reading scripts for a long time, which has had a major impact on my ability to effectively recognize the level of quality in a script.
When I occasionally go through some of the online forums, there’s always somebody asking how they can improve their craft, as if there’s some kind of trick or secret to it.
Well, there isn’t. The answer is extremely simple and straightforward, and a lot of experienced writers say it and repeat it on a regular basis.
Read more scripts.
There really is no better way to learn.
It’s astonishing that some writers don’t see it as helpful. Or necessary.
Too many newer writers might feel their work is either “just fine the way it is”, or aren’t sure if it’s up to snuff. The more scripts you read, the more it’ll help your analytical skills, which you can then turn around and direct at your own work. Many’s the time I’ve been able to either come up with a solution on the spot, or taken the time to really think my way through to it.
Would I be able to do either if I hadn’t been reading scripts and see how other writers put their story together? Probably not. Nor is this saying I’m copying what other writers are doing. Far from it. Their work is influencing how I do that; putting my own spin on it, if you will.
One of the definite benefits of living in the digital age is that there is an abundance of scripts available online, just waiting for you to come along and read to your heart’s content.
Websites that feature scripts for already-produced films. Members of online groups. Other writers with whom you connect (via networking and good manners).
While I try to devote at least part of my day to working on my own material, if time permits I’ll also spend some time reading a script. It’s usually that of another writer. Sometimes they’ll come to me, asking for notes, or I’ll read something about their script that really grabs me and makes me want to read it, so I’ll politely ask, provided I already know them.
If I don’t, I’ll introduce myself and explain how I found them and mention what intrigues me about their script, then ask if they’re open to me taking a look. Most of the time, they’re totally cool with it, and might even offer to read one of mine. Win-win.
I read a lot about writers who spend so much time writing and so little time reading, no matter how much it’s advised doing so will help further develop their screenwriting education and skills.
Their writing will get better – gradually. Maybe. Not being willing to learn more will only hinder their own development.
Don’t be that writer. Be the one who’s always writing, reading and learning.
That’s the one who gets better.