Scott Frank is one of Hollywood's most versatile writers. He can tackle any genre and any story. But when he picked up the book for The Queen's Gambit, he was hooked. Still, he didn't think anyone would ever take a chance on him making it. But then, after a long wait, Netflix stepped into the arena. And they created one of the most fun and interesting limited series in a long time. 

There are lots of lessons to be learned from Frank, the series, and the experience. Check out this video from Outstanding Screenplays and let's talk after. 

11 Screenwriting Lessons from Scott Frank's The Queen's Gambit

1. “The Queen’s Gambit was a book I just loved and I didn't think anybody would make it. I was shocked that Netflix was dumb enough to do it.” So write what you love, you never know what will be successful.

"Dumb" here should be synonymous with daring.

The fact is, if you have ideas, it might take a long time to make them. And you might struggle to find your tribe of people who want to make them with you. The point is to keep trying and to keep ideas around. A fully fleshed-out idea is timeless. 

2.  It took 30 years, nine rewrites, and a series of directors interested to get The Queen’s Gambit finally made. If you love the material, never give up. If it doesn’t work as a movie, add new elements to it and rewrite it as a TV series.

You have to love what you work on. When you open a new spec, understand that it might be a relationship that lasts a very long time. Love it, be okay treating it apart, and be okay seeing it in different versions of itself. Do whatever it takes to get it done. 

3. “Endings are very much a function of beginnings. Deliver an emotional payload at the end, because that's what the audience really wants. Not just exhilarating, but something that's emotional on top of that.”

Learn your lessons from the opening scenes you write. The end should provide closure to those openers. Have we tied up the problems the characters faced at the beginning? Have these people changed? For the better or worse? What can you do to deliver the emotions from it? 

4. “I firmly believe that every character has to be in the gray area. They are not all good and they are not all bad. And I think that's hugely important. Your good guy needs to be complicated and your antagonist needs to be complicated.”

People are people. Some are bad, some are good, but so many are in between. Let people exist in that world. Let them be interesting and make mistakes, even if it pushes against their best interest. That's what will make your writing stand out. 

5. “There are three things that get old fast—grief, anger, and drunkenness. Usually, the anger is fake, because it's built off of some fake conflict. But if you have real characters, then there can be real conflict. People are not behaving just because the script said so.”

Character motivation is important. Don't let the events of the script dictate the people in it. Let the characters dictate the events. Make them feel real and calculated. React how we think a real person would react. 

6. “I realized that you had to contextualize each of these chess matches in some sort of emotional context. You had to understand what the stakes are—not just about winning and losing, but for her personally.” It’s always about emotional stakes!

No matter what you're writing, it has to have emotional stakes. We have to know what the characters are risking to succeed.

So what are they risking? What will happen if they don't succeed? Write with some passion and with stakes. 

7. If you have a character who is not very communicative or affectionate, you must create some trait that will make the viewers identify with her. With Beth we care about her because we know she's trying, we know that she doesn't want to be alone.

To identify with characters, you need to make their problems relatable. What part of ourselves do we see in them? Even if they are larger-than-life or famous people, we have to see the human element to connect with the story at hand. 

8. Ninety percent of directing is casting. Discuss your character with your possible casting choices. If you know you need a peculiar character, whose face will be in a lot of close-ups, choose someone with unusual facial features, who can do a lot with her eyes and her facial expressions.

Find talent who can do a lot with a little. You want to make your movie or TV show great, and so much of that has to do with the people you trust in front of the character. Think in shots and performances and work back—if they can make a facial expression work, they can make your dialogue work. 

9. Encourage your actors to voice their point of view and give them “their take.” Be in control, have your vision, but involve the actors in the creative process. They will feel valued and you might get surprising spontaneous performances from them.

All filmmaking is collaboration. Begin a discussion and work in tandem with the talent so you both have a vested interest in the final piece. Listen, allow for push and pull. This will make the project rewarding. 

10. Create character change through cinematography. First, set specific rules for your story world. For example, one rule is never use a handheld camera. Then at the end when you break that rule and use handheld, it will say something about your character.

When it comes to worldbuilding, you have control. Set up the world and what we can expect in the opening pages. Make it tangible for the readers and characters. Let us see the tone and story and then we will be on the same page for the rest of the story. 

11. Scott Frank talks about three common script problems. First, there is no character. Second, the tone is all over the place. Finally, the third act doesn't work. He offers the solution: “Whenever I'm stuck 99% of the time it's because the characters aren't good enough.”

These are the most common problems amateur writers find themselves facing. Take this advice. It all starts with character development. Storytelling must come from the heart of these people. 

Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Source: Outstanding Screenplays