Monday, September 30, 2013

How to Write a Script

The Ballad of Julio César
May 2012
It doesn't matter your background, aspirations, hopes, dreams, or talents. Even if you've never written a creative word in your life, by following the steps below, you'll be cranking out the hits in no time. That's a guarantee. 

Tragedies, comedies, farces, monologues, dialogues, screenplays -- all of them lie at the very tips of your fingers. Yes, your fingers. 

I offer this advice as a free service to the community, asking nothing in return. Just promise to mention me in the credits. 

(And cut me in for 10-15% of the profits. Because a girl's gotta eat.)

How to Write a Script:

Step One: Brew some coffee.  As with any noteworthy life event, all good writing hinges on the completion of this critical step. (Although in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that just now I happen to be drinking tea. So you might as well stop reading. There's no way I'm going to say anything worthwhile in the rest of this post.) 

Step Two: Respect conflict. Much like Friday nights at my old apartment complex, a good script can't seem to exist without conflict. Neither can life. So rather than letting the inevitable conflicts split your focus, allow them to become the inciting incidents that drive you to the keys. When conflicts arise and frustrations mount, trace your emotions back to the source, pull them up by the roots, and plant them deeply in the soil of your script, fertilizing them with all the seething froth of broiling emotions that accompany unresolved tensions. There's nothing an audience responds to so well as raw human emotion.


And things randomly blowing up. Audiences love a good explosion. 


Step Three: Record what the voices say. The beauty of script writing is that settings are dispensed with in a few phrases and emotional responses are at most sketched, left to be inferred and fleshed out at the discretion of the actors and directors. This leaves you to focus your remaining energies on the primary task of channeling the voices in your head directly onto paper.

Good luck with that.

Step Four: Open yourself to failure. In the end, it turns out that writing a script is the easy part. After all, you just have to brew some coffee, think of a conflict, plunk yourself down, and churn out some snappy dialogue.

But you then must have the script read by others, opening it up to the enthusiastic criticism of your peers. After licking your wounds and making edits based on their constructive criticisms comes the simple matter of finding a performance venue and convincing a cast of right-minded humans to perform some live shows, possibly directing them yourself, swilling coffee all the while and wondering what is this hideous thing you have created and why anybody in his right mind would even come to see it. 

Then comes the horror of opening night: a truly gruesome ordeal during which you will huddle backstage with two paper bags, one marked "hyperventilate" and the other marked "barf," both of which you will clutch to your heaving chest while praying for the end. 

Even leading up to the performance, things can go wildly awry. A simple table reading can reveal a script deeply flawed or riddled with inaccuracies, driving you back to your Hobbit hole of a study, your only companions a defective script and a vat of coffee dark and dense enough to mirror the anguish bubbling up from the depths of your soul. 

Even if an initial reading goes well, a script that reads well around a table may fall apart in live performance, revealing scenes that work well in theory but fall flat before a breathing audience. There's nothing worse than skulking about backstage, clutching at your hair and moaning, "Laugh, people. Laugh. That's a funny part," before reaching in despair for the appropriately-labeled paper bag. 

No matter how hideous, though, Step Four will eventually come to an end... revealing fresh terrors ahead.

Step Five: Find a publisher. After the above horrors, submission to an acquisitions editor will leave you only mildly queasy. After all, unlike during a live performance, you can be assured that only one person will be judging your work at a time, and at least this time you won't have to be lurking nearby watching it go down in real time. Besides, if your Script Baby can survive the early stages from table reading through live performance, then there's a distinct possibility that it's not complete drivel. But even then, it might not be what publishers are looking for, and even if it does eventually find a publishing home, it might not sell that well. 

When it comes right down to it, the truth about script writing (or any kind of writing, for that matter) is that it's really not that hard to sit down and do

Honestly, almost anybody can do it. If you can string together conversations in real time, then you can most likely write decent dialogue. 

But like with most worthwhile pursuits, the difference between success and failure in writing pivots on your ability to persevere through setbacks, missteps, and failures toward the desired end result, never giving up, no matter how long it takes.

You must be willing to sit alone in a darkened room for long stretches of time, nursing a cup of fragrant, steaming sludge while wrestling with the flaws of your Script Baby. You must be willing to invest large chunks of your life to this pursuit, while simultaneously acknowledging that in the end, it might all come to nothing anyway.

You must put your shoulder under the load of your mistakes and force them upward toward success. You must surrender a piece of yourself to the page, then hold it up before the world for summary judgment. 

In short, you must endure the entire mass of of agonies on the way to opening night in order to achieve the ecstasy of one riotous curtain call. 

Plus you must drink coffee.  Lots and lots of coffee. 

* * *

For more information on my slowly-growing collection of adorable Script Babies, feel free to visit Brooklyn Publishers

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