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About this book

This revised and refreshed edition guides the contemporary screenwriter through a variety of creative and critical approaches to a deeper understanding of how to tell stories for the screen. With a renewed focus on theme and structure, the book is an essential guide for writers, script developers and teachers to help develop ideas into rich dynamic projects, and craft compelling, resonating screenplays. Combining creative tools and approaches with critical and contextual underpinnings, the book is ideal for screenwriting students who are looking to expand their skills and reflect on practices to add greater depth to their scripts. It will also inspire experienced writers and developers to find fresh ways of working and consider how new technology is affecting storytelling voices. Comprehensive and engaging, this book considers key narrative questions of today and offers a range of exercises to address them.

Integrating creative guidance with rigorous scholarship, this is the perfect companion for undergraduate students taking courses in screenwriting. Encouraging and pragmatic, it will provide a wealth of inspiration for those wishing to work in the industry or deepen their study of the practice.

Table of Contents

Foundations

Frontmatter

1. Establishing Practice

Abstract
There are several practical issues that affect the life of a screenwriter and make it distinctly different from that of other creative writers. The screenwriter has to strike a balance between working independently, with discipline and creativity, in isolation, and working effectively with producers, script editors, directors and promoting themselves through networking and pitching. The development of a script tends to follow a rather prescribed path, and screenwriters have to learn how to work to brief, respond to notes, deliver drafts to deadlines and offer work in a number of forms, such as pitches, treatments and step outlines. It is therefore imperative that the screenwriter establishes a sense of creative practice to help maintain a sense of focus among a potentially convoluted process, where many voices enter the fray to offer comments and demand changes, not always with great insight or knowledge.
Craig Batty, Zara Waldeback

2. Subject: Ideas into Character

Abstract
Writing a successful screenplay is not only dependent upon excellent craft, but also the suitability and desirability of the idea. There are a number of issues to address at an early stage of development, long before any writing of the script. Screenwriters must ask themselves, what makes an idea suitable for the screen? What is its thematic essence? How will the idea transform into fully fledged story (plot, character, etc.)? What criteria can be used when deciding which idea to develop? Such questions will help writers create and select strong ideas that fit the medium, be it feature film, series or shorter formats.
Craig Batty, Zara Waldeback

3. Structure and Narrative

Abstract
It is not only contentthat creates meaning in a screenplay (what is in a scene) but also the formthat content takes (how scenes relate to one another). Structure is one of the most important storytelling tools in screenwriting: it creates pace, rhythm, atmosphere, narrative flow, point of view, a context for meaning and a fundamental way to interweave subtext. Structure makes story cohesive but, as with character and theme, it is often most successful when unearthed naturally, rather than blindly applied like a prefab formula. Sophisticated scripts also use the concept of deep structure, where rhythm and form reflect the theme of the story.
Craig Batty, Zara Waldeback

4. Visual Storytelling

Abstract
Screenwriting is exactly that: writing for the screen. Story is achieved through action, subtext, motif, landscape and movement between scenes, as well as dialogue. While dialogue is important to screenwriting, especially in television and genres/forms such as comedy, many novice screenwriters focus on writing dialogue as if it were the only driver of story. Voice – of character and world – is important, and can be a crucial element of telling a story, but the visual importance of screenwriting cannot be emphasised enough. A common motto in screenwriting is show, don’t tell; this means writers need to carefully consider how they visually tell their story and show the audience what is happening, rather than relying on character dialogue to explain things. The narrative experience of film, television and other screen media is an audio-visual one, so finding ways that a story can be conveyed in actions and images, as well as words, is vital. We live in a highly visually literate culture, where people rely on visual depictions of the world – from Facebook food posts to Instagram style status – and can easily understand complex and demanding ideas when portrayed visually. Writers should not be afraid to allow a narrative to develop in images, using the performance space of the screen to convey plot, character and theme.
Craig Batty, Zara Waldeback

5. Dialogue and Voice

Abstract
Those not closely involved with screenwriting often believe the main task of forging a script is to write dialogue. In a screenplay there is a lot of white on the page, with brief visual description and a fair amount of speech. However, much of what makes a script excel is ‘invisible’ work on structure, character and scene sculpting. Writing good dialogue is an important skill, but by no means the only one. This chapter looks both at the role of dialogue within the screenplay and how to craft it effectively.
Craig Batty, Zara Waldeback

6. The Cultures of Screenwriting

Abstract
While the screen industry is rapidly evolving, particularly in regard to the distribution of content, there are still – we argue – three distinct areas a screenwriter may choose to work in, and it is important to understand the conventions and expectations of each in order to make informed decisions about working practices and career choices. This chapter looks at these three areas: cinema, television and the short form. They are not always as distinct as they once were – for example, television series are often referred to has having cinematic potential with its complex and long character arcs – but they do usually have distinctive industry practices, even as practitioners increasingly work across them. Similarly, whereas in the first edition of this book we discussed the short film, here we discuss the short form as it has grown – mainly through technology – to include the web series and micro forms such as the mobile film or vignette. These forms are further discussed in Chapter 13. Genre is also discussed in this chapter, in both industry and writerly contexts, as a way of working with and for audience expectations, not only to help your work succeed in the industry but also to keep the industry fresh and thirsty for new ideas. For further essential insight into industry practices, we recommend regular reading of industry magazines, journals and blogs.
Craig Batty, Zara Waldeback

7. Key Points and Foundations Exercises

Abstract
This final chapter of Part I illustrates some of the key points covered in Foundations, and suggests exercises to develop a deeper understanding of how to put them into practice. For more exercises of a similar kind, see our book The Creative Screenwriter: Exercises to Expand Your Craft.
Craig Batty, Zara Waldeback

Speculations

Frontmatter

8. Exploring Possibilities

Abstract
Critical appraisal of screenwriting has developed rapidly since we wrote the first edition of this book. Through entities such as the Screenwriting Research Network, publications such as the Journal of Screenwriting, and the steep rise in people undertaking practice-based doctorates in screenwriting, the field has come into its own. Theories and discussions available to screenwriting have their own unique position, concerned with practice, process and intent, as opposed to ‘post-event’ analysis of finished works that are common in disciplines such as screen studies. Knowledge can be created and applied ‘in practice’: before writing (ideas gathering, inspiration, character development), during writing (screenplay drafting) and after writing (editing, viewing, reflecting). Knowledge can also be the driver of practice, resulting in screenplays that think (Batty et al., 2016); a practice of ‘critical making’ (Ratto, 2011) that values the possibility of screenwriting to contribute to what we know about and experience of the world
Craig Batty, Zara Waldeback

9. Subjects: Ideas into Characters

Abstract
In Chapter 2 we discussed the importance of character and its close relation to story, and how to develop ideas using concepts such as objectives, power questions and character arcs. This chapter offers further ways of thinking about ideas, and how to find and develop them, using existing techniques in innovative ways, exploring different approaches to character, and balancing on the boundary between fiction and reality. All of these creative territories share an intention to broaden the writer’s creative spectrum, and ask critical questions of the assumed notions of creativity and storytelling in current screenwriting practice.
Craig Batty, Zara Waldeback

10. Structures and Narratives

Abstract
The purpose of this chapter is to explore how classical narrative structures can be challenged or expanded, and at the same time to offer a critical reinforcement of what purpose structure serves in the first place. Some of the alternative structures suggested, which break away from the conventional three acts, offer ways in which screenwriters can experiment with storytelling chronology, and challenge audience perceptions of and interactions with story. Flashbacks, multiple protagonists, parallel and sequential narratives are all ways of breaking the mainstream mould – but they still need to work for an audience. Narrative pleasure and story coherence are fundamental aspects of screenwriting, and sometimes those who challenge the rules are in fact doing little more than reshaping them. The chapter thus also revisits notions of story and dramatic pleasure, discussing how narrative structure embodies ideology and can serve societal intent
Craig Batty, Zara Waldeback

11. Visual Storytelling

Abstract
Potential ways of speculating on the concept of visual storytelling are numerous. For example, we could consider a semiotic study of the signs and motifs on screen and assess their ideological functions in regard to story; or we could undertake an in-depth examination of the use of mise-en-scène, drawing alternative readings of meaning from various cultural and societal perspectives. These theories may well prove useful for the screenwriter, for example enabling them to locate their practice within a theoretical framework, though a question underpinning this would be: What purpose is it serving? Here, then, we focus on critical approaches to, and developments in, visual storytelling that link directly to screenwriting practice. What we offer is, to some extent, ‘academic debate’, but only as it connects with processes for and reflections on the craft of writing.
Craig Batty, Zara Waldeback

12. Dialogues and Voices

Abstract
Dialogue and voice has become an area of interest not only for practitioners, but also for those researching screenwriting practices. For example, attention has been paid to comedy writing and the feminist voice (Tofler, 2011), voice and national identity (Ferrell, 2017), the voice of a body or oeuvre of work (Rossholm, 2013), voice in the context of adaptation (Iles, 2014) and dialogue and realism (Nelmes, 2010). All of these critical approaches to dialogue not only provide useful underpinnings to better understand dialogue and voice, but also open up opportunities for writers to reflect on and, potentially, expand their practice – informed writing that might aim to do something fresh, different or more conscious.
Craig Batty, Zara Waldeback

13. Further Cultures of Screenwriting

Abstract
This chapter further explores some of the emerging and changing cultures of screenwriting highlighted across Part II, Speculations, of this book, and ways that writers might shape their careers in more unconventional ways. The industry is constantly evolving and screenwriters need to keep abreast of developments, but as with all systems, cracks exist and writers can subvert and challenge current practices if they are willing to work hard and push creative boundaries. In today’s climate of fast, cheap production and distribution, which can be achieved on smartphones and other portable devices and streamed via online video channels, the writer’s relationship with their audience can also change. Particular demographics can be targeted relatively easily, creating an audience following as evidence of interest in the work, which can then have an impact on what gets made and how.
Craig Batty, Zara Waldeback

14. Key Points and Speculations Exercises

Abstract
This final chapter outlines some of the key points covered in Speculations, and suggests exercises to develop a deeper understanding of them by putting them into practice. For further similar exercises, see our book The Creative Screenwriter: Exercises to Expand Your Craft. A story is not always best served by having one sole author – collaboration can open up creativity and productive working relationships. Many forms of creative collaboration exist within screenwriting, from working with the feedback of script editors and producers, to team development and more innovative working practices, which might involve the public and future audiences by digital interactions.
Craig Batty, Zara Waldeback
Additional information