Everyone loves a how-to screenwriting article filled with nuggets of truth. How-to articles give us a window into someone else’s process. We get fresh ideas about how to approach storytelling, and we feel less alone in the struggle to create. It’s all good. But let’s do one better.
Let’s showcase the methods of working screenwriters who are making television shows and movies now. If you’re going to study screenwriting, why not learn from the best?
There are hundreds of working writers in Hollywood, but here are five great screenwriting tips that focus on actual methods used by top screenwriters.
No. 1 — Vince Gilligan
We all know Breaking Bad was a groundbreaking show that won dozens of awards. What is Vince Gilligan’s secret sauce? The element of surprise.
“It’s always a conscious choice to surprise people. That is always the mandate. Today, with all the wonderful — and sometimes not so wonderful — entertainment it’s harder than ever to keep things interesting, so you have to surprise people.”
— Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, The X-Files)
No. 2 — Aaron Sorkin
Aaron Sorkin is one of those legendary writers who can write dialogue like nobody’s business. His approach? Keep the audience on its toes.
“We started at 100 miles an hour in the middle of a conversation [in “The Social Network”], and that makes the audience have to run to catch up. The worst crime you can commit with an audience is telling them something they already know. We were always running ahead.”
Aaron Sorkin (Social Network, A Few Good Men, Moneyball, West Wing)
No. 3 — Matt Weiner
Ever heard that persistence is key to a writing career? Matt Weiner takes that advice to the next level with some brutal honesty about his own journey:
“It took seven years from the time I wrote “Mad Men” until it finally got on the screen. I lived every day with that script as if it were going to happen tomorrow. That’s the faith you have to have.”
Matt Weiner (Mad Men, Sopranos)
No. 4 — Tina Fey
Tina Fey has written one hit television show after another. She even managed to squeeze out a few cult classic movies like Mean Girls. Her advice to perfectionist writers? Hint: it’s pretty fetch.
“You have to try your hardest to be at the top of your game and improve every joke you can until the last possible second, and then you have to let it go. You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to let people see what you wrote.”
Tina Fey (Saturday Night Live, Mean Girls, 30 Rock)
No. 5 — Joss Whedon
Joss Whedon is one of the coolest cats working in Hollywood. But even cool cats like Joss get stuck in their writing, and here’s what he does when that happens:
“If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favorite scene, or your very best idea or set-piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable. That thing may find its way back in, but cutting it is usually an enormously freeing exercise.”
Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Toy Story, The Avengers, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
What is your favorite writing advice? Why does it work for you? Sound off below!