December 13, 2013

30 Things About Screenwriting: Lessons Learned From Go Into The Story's Scott Myers

Scott MyersWriters write, or we need to write. Sometimes, writers need a kick in the pants to get back to writing. Recently, Go Into The Story's Scott Myers compiled a list of 30 things about screenwriting, pulled from his various ruminations about the craft from his blog over the past several years. So if you're looking for the proverbial kicks in the pants to get you back to writing, maybe one of these 30 things will do the trick. Continue on to check them out. 

When Scott Myers began his month-long series on 30 Things About Screenwriting, he prefaced it this way:

Reflections on and basic tenets about the craft. They represent my take. If any of them resonate with you, great. If not, feel free to ignore them. Bottom line: You need to figure out your own approach to screenwriting. My hope is what you read on this blog day after day helps feed that process and provides you inspiration along the way.

Sure enough, some of Myers' musings on screenwriting resonate with me and some of them don't. But really, that's not the point. If one of these things inspires me to do better work -- and gets me back to work -- then it's worth the read. I think a big reason screenwriters look to other screenwriters for lessons learned is to discover that we are not alone in our craft. We want to know that we are not the only ones who wrestle with the words on the page.

Here are three things from Myers' list that resonated with me.

Watch Movies. Read scripts. Write Pages.

It's a simple mantra that holds a simple truth. Following these three things will teach you everything you need to know about screenwriting. We watch movies not only because we love them, but also to understand how stories are told as films. We read scripts to understand how movies are written on the page. We write pages every day because we are compelled to do so and we learn the most about our own craft when we write. Now here's the irony about reading this tip from a website, in Myers' words:

Writing is the process whereby you create stories — and the best way to develop that process is to do it. Every day. For this, I have no websites to which to point you. No lists with which to challenge you. Just this fact: When you aren’t writing, someone else is.

If you haven't written your pages today, maybe you should stop reading this and start writing. Don't worry. We'll be here when you get back.

Stacking Projects

Recently, Koo referred specifically to this idea from Myers in his post about Dogfish Accelerator, MANCHILD and 3RD RAIL, and it's an important skill (or art) to learn if you are pursuing a career as a screenwriter and filmmaker.

Myers points out that if you look at successful screenwriters on IMDB and check out their projects in development, you'll discover several projects stacked on top of each other, many announced in the same year. Myers explains why you need to stack projects this way:

Simple answer: So you can know what your next gig -- and your next gig -- and your next gig is going to be. As a free-lancer, that’s as close as you get to job security.

How you stack projects as a screenwriter ties into another skill Myers has discussed repeatedly on his site. If you want to stack projects as a screenwriter, you should be rewriting one screenplay, writing the first draft of another screenplay, and prepping the story for yet another screenplay. Personally, this is a skill I constantly struggle to master, but I continue with the struggle because I am passionate about the profession of screenwriting.

The Only Way Out is Through

All of us screenwriters are tempted at one point or another to give up on a story. Even if we have broken the story methodically before writing page one of the screenplay, we find ourselves lost in the middle of our script, certain that this was all a big mistake. Those doubts are normal. They happen to all writers. But those doubts are not an excuse to give up. We know we had a good idea before we started writing, so what do we do? As Myers explains, the only way out is through:

You have to push yourself through your feelings of doubt. Push yourself through the ambiguities of your plot. Push yourself through the hard work of pounding out pages. Rather than quitting, take the opposite approach: Go deeper into your story. To paraphrase The X-Files, the truth is in there! If you go through the process, you will find your way out.

You can find all 30 things about screenwriting from Scott Myers on his blog Go Into The Story.

What is one of the main lessons you have learned about screenwriting along your own journey? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Link: 30 Things About Screenwriting -- Go Into The Story

Your Comment

8 Comments

"Myers points out that if you look at successful screenwriters on IMDB and check out their projects in development, you’ll discover several projects stacked on top of each other, many announced in the same year."

Like how Myers stacked K-9, K-911, and K-9: P.I.? Those classics? I have so much to learn from this brilliant writer...

December 13, 2013 at 5:22PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Gavin

Blake Snyder wrote 'Blank Check' and 'Stop! Or my Mom will shoot' with imdb ratings of 4.8 and 3.7 respectively, but his book Save the Cat is required reading for many Hollywood production companies because his system works.

Good information is not invalidated by how much you like the source's personality or body of work. The best players of a game do not usually make the best coaches.

December 13, 2013 at 6:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Dan

Blake's book is not highly regarded in the industry sorry.

December 13, 2013 at 8:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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stew

I have actually seen Save the Cat given out to new script readers at several Hollywood production companies from ones located at Warner Brothers to Marvel. One of my friends who worked as a reader for a very successful writer producer was told to, "just use the save the cat terms to save time, I know what you mean."

You may disagree with Snyder but Save the Cat provides a functional vocabulary and method for analyzing plot especially when you read and summarize several screenplays a day.

December 14, 2013 at 11:47AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Dan

Blake's system works for producing sellable screenplays that follow the norm of todays storytelling.

I'd say that it's required reading because it makes you realize what the studios want. But it says very little of how to make a good, sellable script into a awardwinning screenplay.

Yes, his work isn't exactly stellar. But he sells his scripts using this method. And others sell theirs using the same system.

I have my own qualms about his method (he wants a section of a script for fun&play, but I cannot see any good script that does the fun&play-bit without it getting superflous) And also I'm not so sure about the absolute strictness of the page-numbering. But I realize this is what sells. But as they say. Why just be passable. Be Great!

December 14, 2013 at 9:21AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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I think you need to hit the plot points in a creative and interesting way to have a really good story. Most beginning writers fail to hit the points or don't hit them hard enough to move the story forward. Jaded rewrite professionals hit the points hard but not in a unique or interesting way as that will draw attention to them in the note phase.

Fun and games refers to playing with the premise of the story in a way that sets up future conflicts. Superheroes learning to use their powers. The controversial voice exercises used to help a stammering king. Forrest Gump running into football. Usually the first half of a movie trailer will show fun and games moments but for serious movies these are neither fun nor games, which is why the term can be difficult.

December 14, 2013 at 12:34PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Dan

Excellent point. Myers hasn't sold a script in many years, or had a movie made in more than 20. He doesn't even have an AGENT. He's just the latest "guru" to cleverly separate wanna-be screenwriters from their cash. I wrote for every issue of SCRiPT Magazine until it ceased publication (and I've sold two scripts and had a third optioned in the last two years), and when I interviewed major writers of hit movies, they always said, "Unless you've gone to a theater lately and seen a movie by the person, their advice is worthless." And Myers ie just another example of the adage, "Teachers do and doers do." He is a hack, and the proof is that K-9 is his claim to fame. Come on, folks...

December 15, 2013 at 4:54PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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John B.

I think these comments are uncharitable. I read Scott's blog every day. Not because I'm looking for a Save-the-Cat-type formula that I can plug into a computer and magically create a commercially viable script, but because Scott is a good blogger. He doesn't appear to have a formula. And although he promotes his seminars it's unobtrusive. I like his posts. It's a really good blog. Haven't seen K-9 and probably won't, but I think he does a really good job.

August 20, 2014 at 9:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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David