The scriptwriter’s temper tantrum goes something like this:
"I have had it with all the writing theory and the lectures on story structure and the beat sheets and the outlines. I don’t need it.Aristotle is ancient history. Joseph Campbell is borrrring.And if you even mention Robert McKee, I will beat you over the head with ALL 480 PAGES of his HARDCOVER BOOK!I don’t need any of it. I am an ARTIST. I don’t follow rules. I break the rules. So, forget it. Forget all of it. There are too many guidelines, too much lingo and I’m pretty sure it’s all made up just to sell books and to torture me. Where did all this come from, anyway? Can you tell me that? Why should I listen to any of it? Why why why why why why why whyyyyyyyy?”
I’m familiar with the scriptwriter’s temper tantrum because I spent several years teaching playwriting to undergraduates. Every year, I’d begin the class with a discussion of dramatic structure. I’d give examples of how this structure has been used in stories throughout human history. In subsequent classes, I’d delve into the intricate details of script construction: how stories move on a river of a thousand conflicting currents, how the writer must control and direct this deluge, carrying the audience on the raft of story as it careens through this class 5 whitewater. How the writer must maneuver to keep everyone in the boat so that no one gets thrown out, no one gets swept away by a wild wave, no one drowns in the details, and everyone experiences this journey from beginning to end.
And that’s when someone in the class would think to themselves “Wait a minute, this sounds hard. This sounds COMPLICATED. This doesn’t sound like art— art is wild and fun and free. This sounds like engineering. This is all formulas and best practices and manufacturing. This teacher obviously doesn’t care about my artistic process!!!”
And that’s when the temper tantrum would begin…Read more
I gave this interview after my presentation at the Toronto Screenwriters’ Conference. If you’ve ever wanted to hear my deep thoughts on the teaching of dialogue writing, there ya go.
The dialogue scene that you’re struggling with? Take the page, crumple it up into a paper ball and throw it into the trash can across the room. If you can make the shot, then you instinctively understand everything you need to know in order to write subtext.Read more