Typing Faster

February 4, 2011

Joss Whedon’s Top Ten Screenwriting Tips

Filed under: Craft, Features, Joss Whedon, Stuff I Like — petertypingfaster @ 12:12 pm

Amazing post over on Danny Stack’s place listing Joss Whedon’s top ten writing tips. Worth a read for any writer, whether or not you’re a fan of Whedon’s work (and let’s face it, if you’re a screenwriter you probably are).

Of particular note for me were:

1. FINISH IT
Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.

If you can’t finish it, then what’s the point? This is so often the case with new writers I meet. I ask them what they’ve written and they tell me about all these great ideas they have. I ask to read something, and they say they’re still trying to finish all those great ideas.

If you want to write, you need to finish stuff. End of story.

2. STRUCTURE
Structure means knowing where you’re going; making sure you don’t meander about. Some great films have been made by meandering people, like Terrence Malick and Robert Altman, but it’s not as well done today and I don’t recommend it. I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes? The thrills? The romance? Who knows what, and when? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around: the way you want your audience to feel. Charts, graphs, coloured pens, anything that means you don’t go in blind is useful.

I’m a structure nazi. Nine times out of ten, when I read a script that’s struggling it’s due to structural problems. It might not have a clear through line, it might be trying to juggle too many timelines, either way I’m pretty sure the writer didn’t bother to outline first.

Outline your scripts folks. It makes writing so, so, so much easier.

5. CUT WHAT YOU LOVE
Here’s one trick that I learned early on. If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favourite scene, or your very best idea or set-piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable. That thing may find its way back in, but cutting it is usually an enormously freeing exercise.

Oh yeah. If it’s good enough for Mark Twain, it’s good enough for you.

The rest of Joss’ advice is equally good. You should head over to Danny’s place and check it out.

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