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The Best Kept Secret In Hollywood

The pros say the secret to effective screenwriting is rewriting to make the story do exactly what you want it to. If something doesn't work, I don't hesitate to change it. I get feedback from others, then rewrite. Rewriting can seem boring, but if you think of it as crafting a fine story and making it do what you want, then it is more fun. Following are tips for rewriting:

1) The story seems weak - no pizzazz.

What does your main character have to lose? If the stakes are too low, there will be very little interest.

Is this a rehash of some plot we already know? Add new problems. Find different solutions.

2) The story wanders.
What does your main character want? Remove the scenes, dialogue, events and actions that stray from reaching that goal.

Are the subplots taking over the story? Too many characters with too many motivations will take the story in too many directions. 

3) A character doesn't act consistently the same through the story.
What does the character want? He should be trying to achieve that. 

Are his motives too hidden? Show what they are.

4) The plot seems hard to believe.
Did you make real characters and put them in a real setting? Or did you make up 
the characters and setting as you went along, conveniently adding whatever worked? Real characters work in real settings. Remake your characters and setting with real limitations.

Are your characters responding like real people might do, or are they just doing imaginative thing? Make your characters stay within a normal realm of behavior, unless you're writing fantasy.

5) The story is like the pages of my friend's life - it goes everywhere but nowhere.

Real life anecdotes are difficult to work into a story, and stories that use them usually play like a series of unconnected stories, and no one wants to bend the facts to fit the story. If something that happened in real life fits with your character's motivation, use it. If not, throw it out.

6) The main character wins every battle very easily. It's boring.

The good guy and bad guy (or conflicting situation) should be equally matched. 

7) People like the lesser characters better than the protagonist.

A lesser character often steals the show. Either limit his role, or give his characteristics to the main character. 

8) The main character ends the story just like he began it - same person, same problems.

The main character should change as a result of the story. He becomes stronger, wiser, discovers inner resources, becomes better at handling problems, or acquires new abilities. 

9) The dialogue is boring and it goes nowhere.

Dialogue results from the conflict when two characters are trying to reach different goals. What do the characters want? 
. .......Giving information makes bad dialogue. Use conflict situations to give information. If it isn't important to the character, then he doesn't need it.

Focus on what the story is about. If it isn't important to the story, don't say it. For example, introductions, entering the scene, making plans - all can be kept very short.

10) The dialogue and scenes go on forever.

Less is more. The shorter things are, the more pointed they are. 

11) Over half the script is already taken up with character history and explaining motivation.

Screenplays are not like novels. The first pages need to be filled with dramatic action, not character history. Older screenplays commonly began like a novel, but that is less acceptable with today's audiences. Characterization is shown through the character's behavior (words or actions). Set the pages aside as a character sketch and begin again, drawing on action from the pages you set aside. It isn't wasted.


You are free to give this article in its entirety to others (small groups, under 100) as long as the copyright with my name (Dorian Scott Cole) is included. This material is not public domain and may not be sold, mass distributed, published, or made electronically available in any form, without permission from Dorian Scott Cole. Complementary distribution (unpaid - no charge) will not be charged for. Visit the Visual Writer Web site for e-mail address information.

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