Friday, March 23, 2007

Too Much Story / Too Little Story

It's funny. As I read more and more screenplays one thing has become clear.

Most people do not know how to communicate a story (in any medium, let alone screenwriting).

It is the one defining element that a professional writer can always manage to accomplish that hordes of amateurs can not. And most likely never will.

The majority of screenplays I have read have two problems.

1) Too much story
2) Too little story

It gets even stranger. Most bad scripts have both.
And it is for the SAME reasons that the script has both too little and too much story at the same time.

How can this be?

The key word of telling a story is FOCUS:

What is the story about?
Every scene (or damn near every scene) should relentlessly tell your story.

If your story is about... how the loss of his father effects poor little Johnny, then EVERY scene should reflect that.

  • Most pros do this without even thinking about it.
  • Most amateurs think they are doing this, but they aren't.
What I see in the majority of spec screenplays (I have read) is a writer who doesn't know how to expand on their central premise...

...So instead, they (at least the better ones) throw more plot at it in the hopes that it fixes the problem.

The result is a screenplay that has too few scenes that address the central premise (too little story). But they also have extra material that "fits" logically into the narrative, but has nothing to do with the central premise (too much story).

In both cases, too little and too much story, is a result of the exact same thing: a screenwriter that doesn't know how to tell a story.


annabel said...

Thanks! That was thought provoking. Am I focused? Hmm...

Dignan Zissou Hart said...

Really enjoy your blog. I'm a grad student at Northwestern University for screenwriting and currently taking a TV writing class. We're doing specs...and I'm doing the riches...which is amazing. One of ourassignments is to find a screenplay copy of the spec we plan to write...any ideas? My e-mail is if you can help, thanks.

James said...

Can't help ya there. Not my property to give away :)

Glad you like it. I'm actually juggling two spec ideas for The Riches :).

It is 4 Act structure + a Teaser. The scripts run from 48 - 65 pages. Usually end up at ~ 55 -ish.

P.S. Notice that FX has let the show run over the one hour duration on every episode so far.

They've been doing that with The Shield as well.

I know they teach having an exact page count for every Act. But with cable you get more flexibility.

Dignan Zissou Hart said...

Thanks a ton. Is there a tv show that has a similar page layout as the riches?

Dignan Zissou Hart said...
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