Two manuscripts. Both 110 pages. Both the same plot. Both with very similar characters.
And yet, one is utterly fascinating. The other I want to throw out the window -- and possibly myself right after.
There is a difference between writing what you see in your head and crafting a story from ideas rattling around in the old noggin'. But wait -- there's more...
Even the dumbest reader can tell the difference. And that just may be me.
I really hated reading. I read slow. It wasn't until the last year or so that I actually started to enjoy reading. For the first time in my life I was choosing books I wanted to read, and not reading something that was forced upon me. I could take my time, or stay up all night to finish a book. Hell, I could even stop halfway through and throw the book in the garbage if I didn't like it.
I was free to enjoy reading.
I find myself going to Border's and perusing the new stock. Luckily, they also have a great selection of comic books so I can bail out if need be.
Point is, reading became more than a prescription issued by a teacher.
There is a magic that happens when a reader can ignore the fact that the words are orchestrated and arranged by another person (the writer) and bask in the glow of the world that is being created. To be able to take part in the lives of those that live there and feel confident in the fact that by the time the journey comes to a close you, your participation in the story, as the reader, was well worth it.
As a writer, first and foremost, it should be your job (hell, it is your job) to instill confidence in the reader that you are going to take them on a journey. That the time they spend reading each and every word you put on the page is time well spent.
Easy to say, harder to put on the page.
If for nothing more than giving me something decent to read, I want to pass this on to you...
Each and every SCENE in a movie/screenplay needs to have its place. It needs to exist for more than the fulfillment of the plot. If a scene ONLY exists for the fulfillment of the plot, you have a very weak scene.
I find all too often "scenes" in bad screenplays are simply a scene of filler. That is, a scene in which the writer needs these characters to come together in order to fulfill the plot. So it does. And is ultimately boring.
Watch any B-Movie picture.
The plot moves forward, making sense (usually), BUT WHO CARES!!!?
Every SCENE in a screenplay should be able to answer the question posed by a future viewer: "WHY DID I JUST WATCH THIS?"
Every scene MUST contain something that is to be won or lost, while putting at risk something valuable to your central character(s), at the same escalating the tension of the screenplay as a whole. This is no small feat.
For a terrific example, watch the FREE 9 minutes of Pixar/Brad Bird's RATATOUILLE.
This IS a SCENE!
Look at all the exposition it covers. Watch how it introduces those unfamiliar with cooking (most of the main stream audience) to the inner workings of the kitchen, while trumpeting the main character's love of cooking, and managing to slip in the central tension/dramatic question, foreshadowing the conflict that you will see throughout the entire movie.
(NOTE: This is done in about a minute).
It introduces the ANTAGONIST and there is no question that this guy is the antagonist.
It introduces the SIDEKICK who will become part of the hero team.
It manages to do all this work in a very fun, action-packed, thrilling chase sequence, without becoming muddy or confusing. The objectives of this scene are established.
This is a SINGULAR SCENE. It is completely self contained. You know where you came from before it and you know where the story needs to go after it. This is the essence of masterful screenwriting.
(If you want the Screenwriting book(s) definition of what this particular scene is, it goes by various names: The inciting incident, The catalyst, The Hook, The what the hell is this story about?)