Claudine wrote this in the comments of yesterday’s post on Show Dont’ Tell and you write such a thoughtful, kick-ass comment, I want to put in on the front of the blog for all to see (I will, of course ask before I do so, don’t be shy to comment). Thank you so much, Claudine. There is so much good here.
Edit: Claudine tells me this is the source. Good advice, this.
I completely agree… sometimes ago I got this “memo” which I do use as well when writing a novel:
1: Does your screenplay use the 3 Act structure? 99% of successful films over the last 100 years have used it. Are there exceptions to the rule? Of course. But for now, use the 3 Act structure. Here’s an overview: Focus on the exploits of your main character, as well as defining the three main acts. Act 1 typically sets the unique circumstances that propel the story and character’s agenda. Act 2 is split into two smaller acts (a, and b). 2a brings momentum to the challenges your main character faces, as the various plots are woven. 2b typically brings a surprise conflict or challenge that must be overcome. This is the “twist” that may put your character’s agenda at risk, and complicate it to a point of being compelling and entertaining to watch. The darkest time for your character is at the end of Act 2. Act 3 brings resolution to your plot and character’s agenda. Themes of redemption, revenge, confirmation of love, victory, or acceptance are all common themes.
2: Are you SHOWING instead of TELLING? TELLING would be “Michael and Sarah are having fun with a lot of people at the house party.” SHOWING would be “A steady stream of people push by Michael as he makes his way through a darkly lit hallway carrying two beers. He spots a dancing Sarah from across the crowded living room.” Dialog must be natural and organic. Obvious dialog is boring. “Hello, Sarah. Wow, you sure do dance well. Isn’t this a fun party?” Don’t write obvious dialog.
3: Are you revealing people and story elements strategically in your scenes? Don’t show everything immediately. An example of what not to do is this – “5 tough guys are sitting around a poker table. A mound of chips is sitting in the middle of the table.” Instead, it should be like this – “Nervous eyes glance to the left. We see another guy meet the glance and look down. He’s holding 5 cards. A third guy pushes chips toward the huge pile at the center of the table.” Do you recognize the difference?
4: Are you maintaining your audience’s attention at every moment? You must. Keep them in a constant state of anticipation. If you follow the previous 3 suggestions, you’re on your way to holding the attention of your audience.
5: Are you starting your scenes at the beginning? Don’t. Come into a scene that is already underway. This technique engages the audience immediately – the audience feels they are ‘catching up’ and as a result, pay closer attention to what is going on, because clearly there was something going on previously.
6: Are your scenes too long? Keep your scenes short. You can have 1 to 3 set pieces (longer scenes) in your script, but keep the other scenes short.
7: Have you had your script read out loud? It doesn’t count if you read it out loud to yourself. Have a private or public reading. You will be surprised how helpful it is to hear your script read out loud. Don’t know any actors? Maybe a local theater troupe would be willing to help out. In fact, they would more than likely jump at the chance! If you decide to have a public reading, good for you. You never know who may be in your audience (i.e. potential investors, etc).
8: Have you sent your screenplay to friends and colleagues? They will give you feedback that you can benefit from right now. Be patient and be open to input. Now is the time to adjust and rewrite – before production starts.
9: Is your script a page turner? It must grab the reader from half way through the first page – or sooner!
Take my advice and follow these suggestions now so you stack the cards in your favor. Remember, your script is the foundation to your movie. Would you build a skyscraper on a bog? Of course not. Can you make a great movie from a weak script? I have heard too many filmmakers say “Oh, it will be great! I’ll work out all the kinks on the set.” That approach never works. Never.
I don’t remember who wrote it, but it’s very helpful.