Steven Barnes' Free Writing Class!
"Introduction to Screenwriting"
Hi, there, and Welcome back!
The world of screenwriting thrives on simple definitions. When
your script is first considered, one of the first questions
which will be asked is: what genre is it?
There are many different slots that stories fit into, and understanding
how the studios will view your work is quite important. Now,
this doesn't mean that you can't combine genres--quite the opposite.
In fact, there are certain genres which exist largely in combination
Mystery and romance, for instance, are often combined with
each other, or with suspense, adventure, science fiction, horror,
western, crime, etc., for effect.
If for no other reason that your own clarity, it is probably
valuable to have definitions in mind for each of the major genres--and
MYSTERY. Something has happened,
and someone must determine who, what, why. Every Sherlock Holmes
movie, episodes of MURDER, SHE WROTE, Sleuth, Never Talk To
Strangers, Psycho, etc.
Usually, such stories involve a murder--murder being the only
crime which absolutely cannot be undone.
SUSPENSE. Similar to mystery,
but the identity of the perpetrators is not so central. The
question is usually whether the hero can prevent an action,
or escape death. Mission: Impossible, Foreign Correspondent,
ADVENTURE. Similar to Suspense
and mystery, but actions are more central to the plot. The hero
is confronted with physical challenges in every act. Ghost and
the Darkness, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Aliens, etc.
FANTASY. This covers a wide
range, but dark, disturbing fantasies are generally called "Horror"--this
is a form of mystery where the death being dealt out is particularly
obscene. Alien is also a horror film (as well as Science Fiction).
Curse of the Demon, The Exorcist, Alien and Child's Play all
SCIENCE FICTION is a genre
where a very specific game of "What If" is being played out.
Star Wars is NOT science fiction--it is fantasy which incorporates
S.F. image systems. Star Trek is rubbery science fiction--they've
created a universe in which anything can happen, damn near.
Blade Runner was very definitely science fiction, as was The
Time Machine, Terminator and Day the Earth Stood Still.
ROMANCE is such a consistent
element that it fits into all of these. There are others, but
these are the ones that your instructor is most familiar with.
Musicals, War movies, Dog movies, Slapstick comedy, and other
divisions create additional slots--and in fact, there are probably
as many divisions as you choose to sit down and define.
Where does yours fit? The straight drama (Terms of Endearment,
Ordinary People) is its own genre, and has its own conventions.
In many cases, you can learn a lot by watching a film for the
second or third time, and deciding what genre, image systems,
balance of overstructure/understructure etc. is being used. An
infinite combination of possibilities awaits!
It's time to talk again about constructing your career. One of
the most important things you can do is to plan out your time
so that you are moving toward your goals at the rate of about
1% per week. If you do this, just little baby steps, over the
course of a year you will make massive strides--well more than
52% growth, because the change is compounded.
So...if you can only find 30 minutes a day, what can you do
toward your goal?
- Detail 3 scenes on three index cards?
- Dictate 30 minutes of dialogue onto a tape recorder, or
transcribe for 30 minutes?
- Watch 30 minutes of a favorite film, and dissect dialogue
- Brainstorm story problems on a legal pad?
- Mindstorm with a friend on the telephone?
- Re-read previous work, and take notes?
- Re-write previous work?
- Close your eyes and run scenes in your mind, clarifying
the order of occurrence?
- "Pitch" your idea to a group of friends, to read their response?
- Use "mind Mapping" techniques on a chalk board or scratch
paper to analyze the relationship of characters to plot?
Little bits of time, well used, will lead you to your goal.
You must learn to make maximum use of your time. I would strongly
suggest reading Alan Lakein's book, "How to Get Control of your
Time and Your Life."
Among his suggestions:
- Have daily, monthly, and yearly goals.
- Prioritize all activities into "A" (Urgent and important),
"B" (Urgent or Important) and "C" (Neither Urgent or Important).
Do all of the "A"s before you do any B's, and all the B's
before you do any "C"'s.
- Continually ask yourself: "What is the best use of my time,
SEX AND ACTION SCENES.
In general, these scenes are often used when the writer can't
think of anything else for his characters to do. Ugh. They should
be utilized when they reveal something about the character,
or further the situation.
SEX is possibly the single
most revealing activity a human being can participate in. You
probably learn more about someone by going to bed with them
than you do through any other single means: their health, their
ethics and morals, their self-concept, their intelligence, their
creativity, physical condition, sensitivity, and on and on.
When you add foreplay and pillow talk, it is truly amazing how
much you can learn. Why not let this come out in such a scene?
Give the audience an "Ah-Hah" moment, so that afterwards, they
have a deeper perception of who this person, or these people,
ACTION SCENES usually involve
life-and-death decisions. Again, the way a person behaves when
death is on the line tells you a huge amount about them. Use
these opportunities to the max! Do they exude fear? Confidence?
Crack jokes? Display cruelty? Remorse? Do they freeze? Think
on their feet? Reveal cowardice? Hidden strength?
Unless you ARE revealing character or furthering plot, you
have to ask yourself why the hell you put that scene in in the
Nothing specific this week. if you look at the lesson, you'll
clearly see some tasks.