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What is Screenwriting?

Most of us think screenwriting is about writing down the way we talk. In fact, it is a careful distillation of all we use when we talk in order to get to the bare essence of what we mean to say.

Screenwriter, Tinker Lindsay says all screenplays follow a certain formula. And no matter how much a veteran writer may mess with it, all successful screenplays honor the structure that make a story satisfying.

Tinker Lindsay says screenwriting is not just visualizing and writing it down, most screenplays she explains, “Follow a fairly traditional three-act structure.” The first act is the first 20 to 25, sometimes 30 minutes, which equals pages of the screenplay. It’s usually a minute a page. The second act is between 60 and 75 minutes, or pages. And the third act is between 20 and 25 minutes.

“With a screenplay, more than anything else my job as a writer is to give the reader the sense very quickly that whoever is driving this story has their hands firmly on the wheel.”

“What makes the film satisfying, if you are watching as the audience, is that in the beginning you get to know everybody and usually pretty soon some problem is thrown up. By the end of the first act there is a major turn.... So the second act is all about the complications. If it’s a love story, its boy meets girl, boy versus girl, boy gets girl. First is to have them come together. The second act is all the things that come between them actually getting together. The third act is usually they do get together, if it’s a romantic comedy, a happy ending. That part is the resolution,“ adds Tinker.

There are, of course, movies that may turn this structure upside down, play with it, mess with it. But I can guarantee you that if they are successful, whoever has written it has written so many that he or she so deeply understands the structure that they can mess with it and they are still following some kind of order underneath it all.

“You have to distill the actual dialogue of a movie into the most dramatic and in key and insightful ways.”

For example, the movie Memento did a structure that was completely backwards. “With a screenplay, more than anything else my job as a writer is to give the reader the sense very quickly that whoever is driving this story has their hands firmly on the wheel. So they will just go where I take them, because it’s almost in our DNA, there is a kind of mapping out of what makes a story satisfying. You have to honor that.”

Also, how we talk is not actually what a screenplay is. If this were a movie it would make you crazy the way I am repeating myself and saying ‘you know’ and the answers and the ‘ers.’ You have to distill the actual dialogue of a movie into the most dramatic and key and insightful ways. Even if you are not saying what you mean, that has to be perfect, so that everybody hearing would say, ‘Oh, I know what they mean.’

“My job as a screenwriter is to create situations in which there is a gap that the viewer then gets the pleasure of leaping over. It’s very hard to do well. It takes years…of viewing, and listening and reading.”

“Of course, the other element of a movie is about action, about things that happen. In a book you might have much more leeway to go inside a person’s head and write about what they are feeling as they are doing something else. I read a lot of scripts and I have noticed that, because we are in an age of texting and e-mailing and Facebooking, everybody is constantly telling each other what they are doing.

So now these screenplays are coming out where it’s just pages and pages of people telling each other what they are doing and how they are doing it—and nothing actually happens. My job as a screenwriter is to create, with actions and key pieces of dialogue, situations in which there is a gap that the viewer then gets the pleasure of leaping over. It’s satisfying. It’s ‘Ah! Of course, I knew it!’ but in a good way. It’s very hard to do well. It takes years…of viewing, and listening and reading.”

Courtesy: SPAN Magazine

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