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A quote doesn’t always become part of the screenwriting lexicon because it deserves to. A lot of times, a quote becomes famous simply because it sounds good. And there’s nobody better at creating sexy-sounding quotes than writers. I mean, that’s their job, right? So today I wanted to sift through some of the sexiest writing quotes throughout the years and determine which advice is actually good, and which you should ball up and toss in the wastebasket.

“If you want to send a message, go to Western Union.” – This was uttered by a famous studio head in the Golden Age of Hollywood in response to screenwriters who argued that their stories should be about more than surface-level entertainment, that their movies should actually contain a theme, or “message.” Here’s the thing about this piece of advice. I think what the studio head was referring to wasn’t themes in screenplays. He was responding to bad writers clumsily executing over-the-top themes in screenplays. Of course your script should be about something. But if you’re on-the-nose and clumsy with the way that theme is executed, people aren’t going to respond well. As is the case with most aspects of screenwriting, you must integrate the component invisibly.

“Every story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. But not necessarily in that order.” – This was one of the most famous screenwriting quotes to come out of the 90s, and it was born out of the success of Quentin Tarantino, specifically Pulp Fiction. The advice itself is fine. But it set a bad precedent to aspiring screenwriters, encouraging them to write these wild out-of-sequence narratives before they knew how to tell a simple story. Who cared about a narrative spine, stakes or compelling characters when you could rapidly cut back and forth between disparate storylines? As such, I would be wary of this advice. Learn to tell simple stories first and then move on to more complex narratives like Pulp Fiction.

“Kill your babies” – This popular piece of advice has been around for half a century, and the idea behind it is simple. Writers – especially beginner screenwriters – believe that every thing they write down on the page is gold. As in, once it’s there, it cannot be erased. Ever. To be a great screenwriter, you must be willing to eliminate that character, that scene, that subplot, that dialogue exchange, if it doesn’t keep the story moving forward. This is the essence of “Kill your babies.” You have to be a harsh editor. This advice was relevant when screenwriting was invented, and it will be relevant for as long as screenwriting is around.

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” – I remember when I first heard this quote and it kind of blew my mind. You can’t fail if you never give up. Death is literally the only thing that can stop you. But I do think the quote is dangerous. There are people who are 15 years into their pursuit of screenwriting (or whatever artistic endeavor they’re pursuing) who aren’t living productive lives. You have to be smart about it. As you get older and “adult” responsibilities creep in, you shouldn’t be hedging every aspect of your life on selling that big screenplay. It’s cute at 25. Not at 35. However, the awesome thing about writing is that it’s the cheapest of all the artistic pursuits. So make sure you’re giving the rest of your life ample attention and squeeze in time to write after those duties are over. As long as you love to write, there’s no reason to stop.

“Always ask yourself, what’s the worst thing I can do to my hero right now? Then do that.” – There are a lot of variations of this quote. Another comes from Kurt Vonnegut: “Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.” One of the biggest mistakes young writers make is that they’re too kind to their protagonists. Every aspect of their journey is too easy. You gotta put your protagonist through the wringer, man! For the exact reason that Vonnegut points out. We only find out who a person truly is when they’re faced with adversity.

“If there’s a problem in the third act, it’s because of an issue in your first act.” Of all the famous pieces of screenwriting advice out there, this is one of the ones I like the least, mainly because it’s vague. And there’s no quicker way to confuse a newbie screenwriter than to give them vague advice. I think what the advice is trying to say is that if something isn’t working in your third act, it means you didn’t set it up properly. For example, if your hero kills the dragon with some potion he randomly found two seconds prior, that would’ve worked better had you set the potion up earlier. But it doesn’t mean you needed to set it up in the first act. You could’ve just as easily set it up in the second act. So the advice here is more, “If something isn’t working in your climax, you need to set it up better somewhere.” Of course, that doesn’t sound as flashy, which is one of the problems with famous quotes.

“If you show a gun at any point in your story, it must be used later.” – I agree with this one. And note that “gun” is a stand-in for any weapon. Crossbow, hunting knife, bomb. And this is mostly due to the way we’ve been conditioned by cinema. It’s happened so many times in movies before, that if you DO show a weapon and don’t use it, it’s confusing to the audience. I remember reading a script once where the writer went to great lengths to highlight this sword on a wall. He described every crevice of the thing. I was convinced it would be used later to decapitate someone. Nope. It was never mentioned again. Drove me crazy.

“If I have anything to say to young writers, it’s stop thinking of writing as art. Think of it as work.” This one comes from Paddy Chayefsky and it’s something I’ve come to appreciate more as I’ve grown older. Screenplays only reach their potential during rewrites. And, unfortunately, when you’re on your 7th draft and nothing about your story is fresh or fun to you anymore, busting the computer open isn’t as easy as it was during that stream-of-conscious rollercoaster ride of a first draft. The good writers buckle down and they get the work done, even when it’s not fun. So I totally agree with Paddy here.

“Write drunk, edit sober.” – I don’t know who said this (was it Hemingway?) but this is the very definition of what’s wrong with famous quotes. This is such a sexy quote and so fun to say but it’s terrible advice. While writing drunk is fine to do every so often, you do not want it to become a crutch. You’ll be convinced that the only way you write good stuff is to get wasted, and that’s not sustainable. However, I do like the cousin of this quote, as it captures the spirit of it in a much healthier way: “Write from your heart; rewrite from your head.” Be non-judgmental when you write. Let yourself feel things without right-braining them to death. Then, when it’s time to rewrite, bring a more logical assessment to the writing.

“Grab’em by the throat and never let them go.” – This comes from Billy Wilder and I think it’s one of the most important pieces of screenwriting advice you’ll ever hear. Too many writers put the burden of investment on the reader. “You owe me,” is how they look at writing. No no no no no. Readers don’t owe you anything. It’s up to you to keep them invested. And the second you drop that ball, whether it’s on page 1 or page 50? They’re gone. They’re done with your script and they have that right. You want to grab your reader with the very first page and then every subsequent page, ask yourself, “Do I still have them?” If you don’t think you do, rewrite the scene until the answer is yes. That doesn’t your script should be one long action set-piece. You can use mystery, suspense, foreshadowing, conflict, dramatic irony, confrontation, anticipation, an intriguing new character, and, sure, a kick-ass action scene we’ve never seen before. You have hundreds of tools available to yourself. You are in control of whether your scenes are good or boring. Never take that for granted.

Carson does feature screenplay consultations, TV Pilot Consultations, and logline consultations. Logline consultations go for $25 a piece or 5 for $75. You get a 1-10 rating, a 200-word evaluation, and a rewrite of the logline. I highly recommend not writing a script unless it gets a 7 or above. All logline consultations come with an 8 hour turnaround. If you’re interested in any sort of consultation package, e-mail Carsonreeves1@gmail.com with the subject line: CONSULTATION. Don’t start writing a script or sending a script out blind. Let Scriptshadow help you get it in shape first!

  • Poe_Serling

    3 for 3. I’m on a roll.

    • carsonreeves1

      It’s actually pretty hard to do with how much my posting times vary.

      • Poe_Serling

        It must be all of the good Halloween vibes that you were
        sending out the past ten days.

        ;-)

        • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

          Good Halloween vibes? Dude I STILL haven’t gotten an amateur review for the script I submitted entitled, “The Commune” which is a dark, sci-fi. You want good post-Halloween mojo, THAT script should be reviewed. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/37e2a25c4482856530c3078e0c549e3b0887085b49bea08e46e4f2aac403cf09.jpg

          • hickeyyy

            Sigh… Copying and pasting again…

            You’re never guaranteed a spot. For the millionth time.

          • Kirk Diggler

            But it’s got hand grenades!!!

          • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

            Fuck’n A! (though in my Commadore 64 pictures as Jaco so uneloquently likes to THROW in my face, there is really only ONE grenade featured) BUT for YOU, Kirk Diggler, if this ever becomes a greenlighted movie we’ll make it grenadeS. See, I’m easy to work with. First revision, check! Aced it. Knocked it out of the park like George Springer in the 2017 World Series. Fuck’n A, part II.

          • CJ

            I notice that the alien is the only one breaking the boundary surrounding the Commune, making a play for the sweeeet over/under AR-15/grenade launcher. Is this a clue about something in the story or just the way the drawing took shape? I sense it might mean something.

          • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

            Hopefully sometime soon Carson will post the script and you’ll be able to find out for yourself.

          • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

            Big Foot, man; Big Foot. When are you gunna drop that script on us?

    • klmn

      Didn’t Truman Capote write Beat The Devil while it was filming?

      I like that movie a lot.

      • klmn

      • Poe_Serling

        Could be. I don’t think I’ve ever taken the time to watch
        that one.

        • klmn

          You should. The dialogue is extraordinary.

  • BMCHB

    If, and only if, Carson really wrote the words above, then this is his ultimate moment. Wow.

    I love all the SS peeps. My life is in a mess but this place is always the best. Write on!

  • brenkilco

    Every movie should have a beginning, a middle etc. This one is from Godard. And like a lot of stuff said by the king of post modern cinema it might be a joke; it might be profound or it might be utter bullshit. But it’s definitely worthless advice for anyone attempting a genuine story.

    Kill your babies. It’s actually kill your darlings. Yes, vital truth from Faulkner. Or was it Oscar Wilde? Actually an article in Slate attributes it originally to a now wholly forgotten Welsh writer called Arthur Quiller-Couch. Maybe he didn’t take his own advice.

    If you have a problem in your third act etc. This is Wilder. And I think it’s probably literally true. The first act is all about setup. It’s where all the heavy lifting happens. Real major structural problems that become glaring in the third act I would bet relate more to a poor first act foundations than to smaller second act omissions. Also it’s obviously not an either or. A poor first act will inevitably create consequential problems in the second and everything may come home to roost in the third.

    If you show a gun etc. That’s Chekov’s gun. Absolutely. Of course it’s not a literal weapon. It’s a warning to avoid extraneous elements and to make damn sure that anything you do draw attention to is going to be vital. When Dustin Hoffman brings home that antique man trap in Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, well you just know. It’s also closely related to my favorite basic screenwriting maxim. Set it up early and pay it off late.

    • filmklassik

      Yeah, I always attributed “Kill your darlings” to Faulkner, too. Never heard of the Welshman who *actually* coined it, which means the wrongly attributed Faulkner quote might be Quiller-Couch’s greatest contribution to literature.

    • filmklassik

      I understand the porn industry has it’s own version of Chekhov’s Gun: The (*bleep*) on the dresser in Act One MUST go up the leading lady’s (*bleep*) in Act Three.

      (I’d have been more graphic, but this is kind of a family website. Not that it matters. I have no idea what belongs in those parenthesis anyway. Just treat it like mad libs)

      • Citizen M

        Strange. I never noticed where the pizza delivery guy put the pizza.

      • brenkilco

        Chekhov inspired a lot of porn. There’s’ Uncle @#$%ya’ and ‘The !$@$#@ Orchard’ and ‘Three !#$@$@.’

  • Scott Serradell

    Good list.

    A great quote on writing comes from the best writer in English:

    “Make the truth appear where it seems hid.”
    (Shakespeare)

    Many years later, another writer (a pretty good one) said this:

    “When you are up to your neck in shit, all you can do is sing.”
    (Samuel Beckett)

    To me, it kind of says the same thing. But that’s what writers can do: They can find something true if they dig deep enough into their own voice.

    • Jack madden

      Nice. Never heard that Beckett quote before.

  • Funny Games

    “If you show a gun at any point in your story, it must be used later.”

    I remember a movie that did something really interesting with this, playing against our expectations. The movie Funny Games (the American remake, but I presume the original too) sets up a knife as an important prop. It gets left on a boat by accident. At the end of the film, the killers take the mother out on the lake in that same boat. We the audience think, of course, the knife, she can use it to cut her bonds and escape. But, nothing happens with it. The knife simply falls into the water before she gets the chance to use it. The movie sets something up, knowing that the audience will think things will work out in a certain way, and then plays against it.

    • klmn

      Yeah, red herrings can be useful – as well as being tasty.

    • RO

      I found Funny Games to be a bad film. What made it bad wasn’t the premise but the fact that the family is utterly stupid. Shortly after it was released on DVD a comedy troupe I was with competed in an improv contest where we were set up to reinact the film (the strangest thing I have ever seen used in an improv contest, but the person running it was a huge fan of the film). So I used an improv tactic of status deflection. Where I would react to something opposite what the “villains” were doing (like telling the kid to stop picking his nose in front of company etc). Within ten minutes I had the two invaders fighting with each other and then ‘struck’ them over the head with a table lamp and took their “universal remote”. The final act of the scene was an awkward dinner between myself, the wife and kid as the two invaders were tied up in chairs continuing to argue about how they failed.

      Funny Games (both foreign and the remake) is a great example of what not to do with characters. You want there to be a real threat and it’s more effective keep your audience hook if your heroes exercise cleverness, guile or intelligence against their enemies. But make your enemies just as smart if not smarter. A cat and mouse game of wits is far more entertaining than a flat oppressor over stupid people.

    • James Michael

      There’s an episode of Archer where they introduce a literal Chekhov gun (named after its owner) only they introduce it as a red herring. in the end the attention is on the gun while something else (i think it was a pen that was handed over at the same time) does the killing

    • Citizen M

      There’s an episode of “Married… with Children” where the son Bud has stolen a skeleton and hidden it in a closet. I kept watching to catch the inevitable ‘skeleton in the closet’ joke, and it never came. The skeleton was didn’t get a mention for the entire rest of the episode. Maybe that was the point — to keep you watching in anticipation.

  • Erica

    Carson, such language. I almost couldn’t keep reading…

    [“adult” responsibilities creep in]

    With writing,
    My cake analogy: Cake is just flour, eggs and water. How hard can it be? https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e59b6df0562750933be3019f83adae6fd42f04be21105122edabddd1c437a7e3.jpg

    • klmn

      That’s all you put in your cake? No sugar? No flavoring?

      • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

        Stop being picky. The woman was bearing her soul.

        • klmn

          Must be heavy.

      • Erica

        You learn that stuff in time, ;)

    • Midnight Luck

      I think that is literally a picture of one of mine. (on the right—–:>)

  • Kirk Diggler

    One of my favorite Vonnegut quotes.

    “Start as close to the end as possible.”

    • Justin

      Ooo… That’s actually a good one. Love it.

  • James Michael

    I forget who said it… and when… and what the quote was…. because it’s really more of a situation than a specific quote… and it might not have actually happened…?

    But it was a lecture hosted by a well known screenwriter. He walks out to address the dozens if not hundreds of budding screenwriters eager for his advice. Takes a deep breath and says:

    ‘Why aren’t you at home writing?” and turns and walks off the stage

    • Citizen M

      I think it’s from Herman Wouk’s “Youngblood Hawke”.

    • filmklassik

      I’ve heard different writers getting credit for that one. The most credible account I’ve heard has Sinclair Lewis saying it to a packed auditorium. But who knows?

    • BMCHB

      “I forget who said it… and when”

      That’s my quote of the day! I’m definitely going to use that one. :-)

  • klmn

    I think it was John Steinbeck who gave the advice, “Seek truth and marry money.”

    • BMCHB

      I watched “Brad’s Status” the other night. Film of the year for me. Stiller and the kid that plays his son are awesome. It’s probably an investigation of that quote.

      • Midnight Luck

        It came and went in a weekend here. The weekend I was out of town.
        I so wanted to see it.
        Glad it was great.
        Now I have to watch it at home.

    • Matt Bishop

      Replied to wrong person sorry

  • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

    “Write drunk, edit sober”: Definitely can’t write drunk OR edit drunk–God knows I’ve tried to mix pleasure with business, but it has NEVER worked out for me. That’s a good thing! As I want to honor the Lord in my writing. Being drunk doesn’t fit into that.

    “If I have anything to say to young writers, it’s stop thinking of it as art. Think of it as work.” NEVER! That’s CRAP advice. Good screenwriting is an ART. You want to be a great artist and you have to work at it. But in the end screenwriting is a form of art, and should be revered and admired as such.

    “If you want to send a message, go to Western Union.” This is shallow and STUPID side of the pool advice. YES movies are about entertaining people. But why not put MEANING into a piece of art?! Movies that are devoid of meaning can work, like Leslie Neilson’s “The Naked Gun”. But sometimes you WANT to go to the movies and have your brain be challenged. Take for instance Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus”. I went into that WANTING a message; how was Ridley Scott going to answer the question of our existence in the context of the world of a story that proceeded and set-up the “Alien” movie?

    “Every story should have a beginning, middle and an end–but not necessarily in that order”. Homage paid to Quentin Tarantino and the work he did early in his career with “Reservoir Dog” (my favorite QT movie) and “Pulp Fiction”. I wrote my dark urban drama, “The Judas Project” in E.C. Henry tribute fashion to Quentin. Have nothing but love for that man. Would also have to give a tip of the hat to Charlie Kaufman in this field. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” comes to mind here.

    • Citizen M

      but its so much EASIER to write dryunk..

  • BMCHB

    Here’s how I smoke out a real writer, using a paraphrased Arnie quote:

    Me: You write like a vegetarian.

    Responses so far:

    1) I’m a vegan;
    2) I eat meat;
    3) What’s wrong with being a vegetarian?

    None are writers. None mentioned the writing in their responses. If they cared, they would…

    • Midnight Luck

      Be a Hunter and a Forager when you write.
      Be an Omnivore when working Talent, Producers and Directors.

  • Citizen M
  • Marija ZombiGirl

    I like writing quotes but I intensely dislike the negative ones made to reassure the writer, such as “The first draft of anything is shit.” Nope, it ain’t :) I prefer the Jane Smiley version: “Every first draft is perfect because all a first draft has to do is exist.” This lady won a Pulitzer so I’m guessing she can be trusted :)

    My favorite, though, was from a writing teacher: “Don’t think, feel.” No four words have ever been truer. So I’m off to feel :)

    • Citizen M

      “Don’t think, feel.”

      Are you sure that isn’t a Harvey Weinstein quote?

      • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

        Funny!

    • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

      The first quote you sited is meant to reassure and FREE the writer: you don’t have to be perfect when doing a first draft. You have to remember for some people it is hard to get “it” out. Maybe for you it’s easy. But some writers need to be freed.

      The other quote, “don’t think, feel” sounds very, very screwy. Sure a script or movie should invoke feeling but never the disconnect of the mind.

      • Marija ZombiGirl

        Oh no, it’s not easier for me than for anyone else :)
        This kind of quote is received very differently from person to person, I think. I also really like this one from Bradbury: “You fail only if you stop writing“ because it has deep personal meaning for me whereas it coud be perceived as very negative for someone else.

        The “Don’t think, feel” quote does mean what you think it means. It’s for the writer, not the reader. It basically means to get out of our own way. Stop thinking so much that you overthink your story. Feel it. Put yourself in the characters’s shoes and feel the story through them. That quote was the one that freed me both in life and writing.

        To me, the “feel free to write shit” quote is anything but. Of course a first draft is only that but if it was complete shit, there would be no point in rewriting it. And once again, I refuse to use negative words about myself and my writing because it’s very counterproductive to me. If my upbringing taught me anything it’s that you don’t raise confident and productive children by pissing and shitting on them every day. So I’m not gonna do that either to myself or my stories.

        • Erica

          I agree, that’s why I’ve never liked the term, “vomit” draft. Why set yourself up to put all that effort into writing shit?

          I just like to say it’s the first draft. The beginning, it will evolve, but I am not spending months writing shit. If you believe that it’s shit, then the first draft will be, if you even finish at all.

    • BMCHB

      “Spill your guts”

      400-page vomit drafts are the best. That’s real writing. After that, you’re just editing.

      • Citizen M

        Rewriting a first draft is more than just editing. It’s like debugging a program, figuring out what’s not working and fixing it.

        Editing is like optimizing a program — once it’s working, make it faster and smoother and more attractive to the end user.

        • BMCHB

          Damn you for being correct! I was glib :-)

          • Citizen M

            Spoken like a meat-eater.

          • BMCHB

            Written as a meat-eater! ;-)

        • brenkilco

          But remember GIGO.

      • klmn

        “Spill your guts.” By Yukio Mishima.

        • PQOTD

          Almost made me splutter my first coffee of the morning over the keyboard. Almost.

  • scriptfeels

    Grab em by the throat and never let them go is the quote I most resonate with. I want my scripts to grab the reader and not let them off the ride until the end. To me that’s the power of a great script.

  • Ashley Sanders

    One quote that I like to remind myself of regularly in general life, but I find constantly useful when encountering wobbles in screenwriting too is, Anne Lamott: “Never compare your insides to everyone else’s outsides.”

    Which I think I first encountered being to do with alcoholism, but in terms of screenwriting I take it to mean: “Never compare the second draft of whatever you’re currently working on and is still broken, with the final shooting script of Aliens or Notting Hill (insert name of script you hold in high regard here).”
    I find it helps me when I get that – I’ll never be that good – feeling, and it helps me press on.

  • moog

    Attributed to Billy Wilder – “get a character up a tree, set the tree on fire, get the character down.”

  • Buddy

    “writing is 5% inspiration and 95% transpiration”

  • Scott Crawford

    “Write what you know.” Unless you live a VERY exciting life or something happened to you that was, like, straight out of a movie… no.

    “Write ABOUT stuff you know.” Better. If you know a subject better than most anyone, you MAY be able to write something really great.

    “Know what you write.” Two meanings: know the subject you’re writing about (research) and know the story and characters you’re writing about (outlines and bios, etc.). Nobody should know your screenplay better than you do.

    On research… there was a Swiss-American banker who turned novelist named Paul A. Erdman. I’ve read several of his books, they’re great if you like financial thrillers. Won an Edgar too. He wrote his first book while in prison in Switzerland (some of his bank’s clients were wrong-uns). At first he wanted to write a NON-fiction book but he realized he didn’t have the resources in prison to do all the research he needed to do. So he wrote a fictional book instead (The Billion-Dollar Killing).

    • hickeyyy

      I’ve always disliked the ‘write what you know’ quote because it really leads to boring screenplays because people don’t look deeper at that quote. They think they can only write about their real-life experiences. I think the better way of saying it is “Let what you know inform what you write”.

      • Scott Crawford

        That’s a nice way of putting it! It’s definitely true you need to make it PERSONAL and you need to let your personal experiences, whatever they are, inform upon what you write.

        But you can’t limit yourself… I’m not married and I don’t have kids. Maybe I might be better NOT writing about people with kids… but I CAN’T limit myself if that’s what I need to write. I just need to write it the best I can based on what I have experienced (and not just what I see in other movies).

        • hickeyyy

          Absolutely. And though you aren’t married and don’t have children, I’m sure you know people whom have!

        • Citizen M

          I’m male, but I do put females into my scripts. (Although I don’t know much more about them than their bra size.)

    • S D

      Do you have the script Bios by any chance? It’s the new Tom Hanks/Amblin project.

      • Scott Crawford

        No, but I’ll keep half-an-eye out.

        • klmn

          Sounds painful.

    • klmn

      Here’s a clip from Erdman’s Silver Bears. Unusual casting there.

      • Kirk Diggler

        Jay Leno clearly missed his calling in life as the smoldering anti-hero with the high-pitched voice who shouts every line..

      • Malibo Jackk

        How could it miss?

    • brenkilco

      Another Edgar award winning author Adam Hall who wrote spy thrillers for thirty years had his first success with one called The Berlin Memorandum. It takes place almost entirely in Berlin and at the time he wrote it the author had never been to Germany. Always found that sort of encouraging.

  • BMCHB

    “Give me the best page that you’ve got.”

    Page 1 better be the best page you have ever written.

    Page 2 better be better because you’ve had time to improve since you wrote Page 1.

    Page 3 better be better than that again…

    And so on and so on…. until…

    The Last Page… This needs be so good that you immediately retire and expect other writers to do likewise as nothing in the Universe could ever mean more at this moment in time than the words that you just have bled onto your Final Page.

    THE END

    • Scott Crawford

      There’s a lot of stuff on how the first ten or so pages have to be very good and then other people say that its pointless focusing on the first ten pages, ALL the script has to be good.

      Truth is that, by nature, SOME parts of a screenplay are not going to be as strong as others. Not BAD… anything thats bad has to be fixed. But there are times when you need to explain things or slow things down… there are these moments when a screenplay isn’t going to be as amazing as it is in other parts.

      But it’s OK.

      Not every script HAS to open with a BANG. And then a BANG on every page. One of the worst types of openings I see… in amateur scripts… is where it opens with one of two pages of, say, a woman being chased through the forest by a man with an axe and then she falls over, looks behind her, screams… and then the axe comes down.

      In and of itself, that’s NOT a terrible opening. But frequently it’s followed by pages and PAGES of tedium. In short, the writer is hoping that we will sit through all the FILLER MATERIAL in there because he doesn’t really have much of a story or his characters are so poorly defined that they have to express themselves in long stretches of dialogue over multiple scenes (as opposed to GREAT characters who define themselves in no more than a couple of scenes and often WITHOUT dialogue, through their actions) in the hope that may be more axe murders to come.

      Such an opening CAN work if a) the opening has something more original about it than just a wood and a man with an axe (like SEVERANCE where the man dressed in a shirt and tie is running through the woods, ignores the pleas of a couple of Eastern European women trapped in a pit to help THEM, only to be gutted anyway) and if the subsequent scenes are rewritten.

      BONUS TIP: Not so much what not to write as what to write. Doesn’t always apply, but there’s a nice pattern of scenes that makes for a pretty effective opening… it involves crisscrossing between two or three DIFFERENT storylines or POVs.

      Scene 1: Someone is murdered. And/Or something is stolen. In other words, the villain’s opening crime.

      Scene 2: Introduce the hero doing something heroic like arresting a bad guy or stealing the microfilm from the germ warfare factory before skydiving off a waterfall. Or if it’s not that kind of movie, have him take a really complicated coffee order.

      Scene 3: Show the hero and maybe the hero’s friend talking about what just happened and maybe have the hero’s friend criticize his actions, express his flaw, etc. (but keep it short).

      Scene 4: People (other heroes) investigate the villain’s opening crime.

      Scene 5: The hero’s storyline and the villain storyline (and possibly that of the other heroes) combine. So maybe the hero is asked to investigate the crime. Or the villains go after the hero. Or the hero is at the place where the villains are likely to strike next.

      And so on. And that’s loads of variations… you could add in more scenes of the villains or (it’s kind of what they would do in TV) have the hero investigate the murder in the second scene. But too many people will start with scene 3… a non-action, dialogue-heavy scene. OR they’ll start with a murder THEN got to the non-action, dialogue-heavy scene… and maybe some more after that and not really connect back to the opening scene until much later.

      • klmn

        Who axed you?

        • Scott Crawford

          Nobody. I just talk whenever I feel like it.

          (Does everyone outsid3 of New York get that joke?).

      • Malibo Jackk

        Just a note:
        There is such a thing as an opening teaser that seems to have nothing to do
        with the story being told – until much, much later in the story.
        Prime example – Murder On The Orient Express.
        Also used extensively in the PBS broadcasts of many Agatha Christie mysteries.

        Yeah, I’ve used it.
        I call it the What-The- Fuck opening.

  • S D

    Does anyone have the script Bios, which is that new Tom Hanks project? I’d love to read it. dsg763@yahoo.com

  • GBlivins

    “Grab me by the balls.” – Harvey Weinstein.

    • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

      I think Harvey took his advice a little too literally.

  • Buddy

    Taylor Sheridan itw with great screenwriting quotes :
    “I’ve made up little mantras for myself, catchphrases from a screenwriting book that doesn’t exist. One is “Write the movie you’d pay to go see.” Another is “Never let a character tell me something that the camera can show me.” Then there’s “You always want the audience wondering what’s going to happen next, never what’s happening.” Maybe if I’d graduated college or read a book on screenwriting, I’d do things differently. But this is how I do ’em.”

    • BMCHB

      “Write the movie you’d pay to go see.”

      ///Close thread – this is it.

      • Citizen M

        Why else would we put bra size in scripts.

        • BMCHB

          All female characters should be introduced like this… if you want to write a BRatt movie…

          Kerri-Ann, 34, answers the door. She has the body of a supermodel and the mind of a nuclear scientist. She carries with her a certain sadness, a longing – it doesn’t stop her piercing eyes project beams of blue light that reveal how translucent her short negligee really is.

          • PQOTD

            We should treat all characters equally ‘cos you gotta give the straight girls and the gay guys eye candy to drool over, too, man.

            Gary-Stu, 34, emerges from the locker room wearing lycra running shorts so tight there’s no imagination required to work out which side he dresses to. Bristling with a three-day growth, his square jaw oozes the toughness and confidence of a battle-hardened Navy SEAL. You could pound nails with that thing. Noticing his shoe lace in untied, he bends over provocatively to tie it. The shorts split, revealing his perfectly-formed butt cheeks in all their muscular, hyper-masculine glory…

            Okay, so I’m really crap at that. But Gary-Stu’ll be in somebody’s wheel-house. :)

    • Erica

      “Write the movie you’d pay to go see.”

      That’s my philosophy I use all the time, I write scripts to movies I want to go see.

    • Marija ZombiGirl

      “Never let a character tell me something that the camera can show me.”

      Amazing how many writers ignore what is one of the most important pieces of advice ever. Show, don’t tell.

      • http://dlambertson.wix.com/scripts Eldave1

        Agree – other than I would replace never with generally. But I get the point.

  • JakeBarnes12

    “Never let a character tell me something that the camera can show me.”

    It’s just another way of saying show, don’t tell, Raza.

    For example, I recently watched “Don’t Breathe” and I was impressed by how much information was communicated through visuals as opposed to dialogue, especially in the first act where most set-up happens.

    • Lace

      True, it is a good film for the most part, however, I do remember there were a few clunky lines of exposition too. For instance as they are breaking into the first property, one of the characters says something like:

      “Remember, let’s not steal things that add up to more than $10,000 or else it becomes a felony and we all go to jail.”

      There is no way someone would need to mention this to his criminal buddies during their robbery. They would know it already. This line was made purely for the audience to understand that they are not high collar criminals making hundreds of thousands of dollars from their level of crimes. It didn’t ring true to me at all.

      • JakeBarnes12

        Innocent-looking dude was the careful one. Also knew penalty for being armed. The tough guy didn’t know and didn’t care.

        Worked for me.

  • Poe_Serling

    “… a lot of screenwriting is: putting new twists on old twists.”

    — William Goldman

    That’s another quote I still remember distinctly from “Adventures in the Screen
    Trade.”

    Then Goldman goes on to tell how he put that into action in one of his first
    flicks:

    Masquerade

    A comedy/thriller from the mid ’60s with a knowing nod to the James Bond
    films.

    One of the scenes had the protag (Cliff Robertson) captured and put into
    a cage right next to a vulture.

    As they often do in these cases, the villains of the piece head off to plan
    more mischief of some kind.

    So…

    The Robertson character is left alone with just the bird of prey on the
    other side of the steel bars.

    Trying to figure a way out, he notices a set of keys hanging on the
    wall… too far away to grab with his outstretched arm.

    With some clever and painful maneuvering (has to reach inside the
    vulture cage) on his part, he obtains a long stick and uses it to reach
    for the keys.

    After a few failed attempts, he finally hooks the keys, brings them
    into the cage, and tries the lock.

    No luck.

    The keys aren’t the right ones.

    • Malibo Jackk

      Love how something so simple
      gets the audience’s mind working.

  • Marija ZombiGirl

    Of course thinking is needed – I never said it wasn’t. Everything needs balance in order to work. But I still completely disagree about any kind of negativity being needed in child-rearing. Why? Because I know the opposite works when I see how my amazing daughter turned out.

  • Marija ZombiGirl

    That piece of advice is not meant to be taken literally – we’ve moved on from the silents many aeons ago. What it means is “Think about your dialogue – is EVERY WORD really necessary? Or can you reduce some of it to an action?” So, nothing weird about it, really.

  • Marija ZombiGirl

    That’s not what he said :) You just read too much into it.

  • Marija ZombiGirl

    I get what you mean but I truly believe that over time, as you gain objectivity about your own work and mostly as you get the words down, story after story, you no longer write shitty first drafts. I refuse to use that word about my writing because it would be like acknowledging that nobody evolves. Ever. Which is untrue for the writer who writes every day, churning out story after story.

    We’re not all complete beginners here, I started writing seriously some 16 years ago – I may not have sold a script but I’ve had about 20 short stories published (and I got paid for most of them). How many have I written? I don’t know, I’d say a couple hundred. Did I send all of them off to editors? Of course not. Those that stayed home helped me get published. Do I write 365 days a year? Yes. So, today, even for several years now, are my first drafts shitty? Nope. Are they ready for other eyes than mine? Of course not. Do I still rewrite? Of course. Do I have better discernment about my work? Absolutely. And that’s not bragging, that’s acknowledging my own progress through daily work. And if we don’t do that, we stay in the gutter feeling miserable about the shit we’re shoveling onto the page. That’s not the best way to move up and ahead…

    • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

      Are you kidding me?! Brag away, I didn’t know you’d been at this, this long. Congratulations on getting 20 short stories published and getting paid.

      STREET CRED. You got it, girl!

    • Erica

      Think of first drafts like assemble edits. If someone was to watch the assemble edit, would it make sense, no, it’s not complete yet and could be missing scenes. Does this make it a shit edit? No, it’s just the beginning of the processes. Once all the scenes are in there, color corrected, effects added, sound and music done, then a story takes shape.

      You have to stay positive to produce positive.

  • http://dlambertson.wix.com/scripts Eldave1

    Good article – lot of food for thought.

  • Malibo Jackk

    REPORT FROM NORTH KOREA

    Gore Vidal once said–
    Writers have been telling stories for over 2,000 years.
    Only around 50 are really good.

    • klmn

      Gore Vidal – the writer of Caligula and Myra Breckinridge.

      • brenkilco

        I believe Caligula was the only script credited to to Gore Vidal and Bob Guccione. But I could be wrong.

        • Kirk Diggler

          Comment of the day.

  • Poe_Serling

    “the audience wants to work for their meal, they just don’t want to know
    to know they’re doing so”.

    That’s a fascinating insight into movie watching in general.

    Yeah, I think audiences like to be challenged in a roundabout way when
    reading/watching a script/film (as the quote above points out) and if you
    can keep them laughing/guessing/gripping their seats in fear/whatever
    else the genre requires (even in little ways) from one scene to the next …
    then you have them hooked to the very end.

  • JakeBarnes12

    No idea what you mean by “every little thing.”

    If it’s crucial to the script, choose show over tell.

  • Levres de Sang

    Rarely disagree with Carson, but I’d say Wilder was dead right about the relationship between Act 1 and Act 3. I’d even go so far as to say there should be a symbiotic relationship between them. In other words, one could not exist (make sense) without the other. The most perfect Act 1-Act 3 relationships become mirrored images of themselves. In Wilder’s Double Indemnity, for instance, we open with Walter Neff struggling to get into the insurance building — and we close with him struggling to get out.

    “You are in control of whether your scenes are good or boring. Never take that for granted.”

    This could be a quote in itself! It also suggests the often strenuous work involved in crafting a script into something that will flow as a unique whole — something more than a collection of first-choice scenes borrowed from elsewhere.

  • Erica
  • RO

    Apparently Sly Stallone uses the term “squeeze the lemon” regarding getting the most out of your story. I don’t think he realizes what “squeezing the lemon” actually is, which would explain The Expendables films…

    • Kirk Diggler

      I’ve never seen The Expendables, was their juice running down Sly and Statham’s legs?

      Courtesy Led Zeppelin by way of Howlin’ Wolf.

      • klmn

        Actually Robert Johnson.

        • Kirk Diggler

          Hmm, you’re correct as far as that particular lyric. Howling Wolf gets a credit on Zep’s “The Lemon Song” (lyrics borrowed from Wolf’s song “Killing Floor”) but nothing is given to Robert Johnson for his borrowed lyric about the lemon. Oddly enough, Johnson himself may have been inspired to take from “She Squeezed My Lemon” by Arthur McKay. But that is kind of how the blues evolved anyway.

  • -n8-

    Well done CR.

    Ill add this. Not a quote but something I think about when I work on this craft–

    Stories (films) are mini manuals on how to transform oneself.

    And we are all looking to transform ourselves.

  • Poe_Serling

    Wonder if Carson will be rolling out an early three-day AOW tonight
    or early tomorrow…

    He should have some new projects and more than a few leftovers
    from Halloween Week sitting in his email box.