10 Screenwriting Tips from Christopher Nolan

'Dunkirk'Credit: Warner Bros.
Want to write a great script? Listen to Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan has been making movies for almost 25 years. Over the course of those two decades, we've seen him deconstruct genres, think outside the box, and deliver us some of the most fun and most epic titles Hollywood has ever seen. 

With that in mind, he's obviously someone who can teach us a lot about filmmaking, screenwriting, and storytelling.

In the meantime, if you really need help getting started here is a great way to write a logline, plus tips on writing a synopsis, which are the first steps in the writing process for many!

Check out these screenwriting tips from Outstanding Screenplays, and let's talk after the jump.  

10 Screenwriting Tips from Christopher Nolan

1. Do something you believe in, rather than what other people want.

It's easy to get bogged down in following the trends in Hollywood, but the best work comes from writing the specs that showcase ideas you believe in, not ones you think follow the trend of what people are buying. 

Write what excites you!

2. Figure out what is interesting to you, and present it in a way that will be interesting to the audience

Writing is a personal journey that you happen to take other people on.

When I try to come up with a script idea, I like to think about what I'm dealing with in life and how I need to deeply analyze that situation. Push yourself to confront what scares you and what you think others can empathize with. 

3. Add multiple layers.

Stories are not just the plot we see on the surface, but the themes we see below the surface.

What is really going on with your characters? What wisdom do you have to impart to the audience? Get another layer in your writing. 

4. Approach structure mathematically with diagrams.

While writing is an art form, some math can go into building out the structure.

Maybe it's looking for specific beats at certain page markers or just seeing the foundation from which you build, either way, approach things with an analytical mind. 

5. Start by yourself as soon as you can. Grow your projects and never stop.

Every time you sit down to write, you get better. You're honing skills that will take you to the next level.

So sit as much as you can. You can only build off what you've learned so far. 

6. Make a film you would want to see yourself.

Write your idea based on why you would go to the theater. Chances are, other people will feel the same way as you do and want to be in on the action. If you are working for yourself, you will hold yourself accountable for making the idea the best it can be. 

7. Learn a little bit of all aspects of filmmaking.

You might just want to be a writer or cinematographer or director, but learning about every job on set will not only give you an appreciation for the work, but it can change the way you write or block a scene on the page. Empathizing with other perspectives can only deepen your understanding of the medium. 

8. Write about what inspires you.

What inspires you? We've talked a lot about finding ideas and chasing what stories mean to you. I won't belabor the point, but you need to produce pages that make you want to get up in the morning and to keep going.

Try using a Le Menu if you haven't already. 

9. Have a new project ready for when you are asked what you want to do next. 

So much of this business is people liking one thing but then asking what's next. Have "what's next" ready to go. A great spec can open a lot of doors, but it might not sell.

Having another script ready to go will allow you to take advantage of the heat in that moment. 

10. Take your favorite genre, bring new elements to it, and flip it on its head.

There are many different genres in screenwriting. All of them could use a little bit of a twist inside them.

Think about a genre you love and something new you can bring to it. What's a way you can surprise the audience and flip old, tired tropes on their heads? Attack those genres and bring something unique to the party. 

Up next

Start writing! Get our ebook on how to write a screenplay and get started!     

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1 Comment

Give your crew and talent a place to sit, Nolan.

August 7, 2021 at 11:05AM

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Sketkh Williams
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