Five (More) Tips From Top Screenwriters

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Screenwriting how-to quotes are incredibly helpful for both inexperienced and experienced writers alike. We find out how other writers work, and maybe we pick up a few new tips-and-tricks. Everyone can benefit from adding more tools to their writing toolbox.

Writing advice abounds in Hollywood—but the best advice comes from the writers who are currently working in trenches. So, let’s take a look at what five working screenwriters have to say about their craft. If you’re going to study screenwriting, why not learn from the best?

Get Out (2017) Photo courtesy: Universal

No. 1 –  Jordan Peele

“I’m obsessed with giving the audience something they didn’t see coming.”

Let’s start with the writer who just won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (2017): Jordan Peele. His sleeper hit Get Out (2017) was a critical darling that went on to make serious box office bank. One of the things critics liked most about the movie? That so much of it was unexpected. It’s filled with twists and turns that keep audiences nailed to their seats.

The Shape of Water (2017) Photo courtesy: Fox Searchlight

No 2. — Guillermo del Toro

“There is beauty and humility in imperfection.”

The characters in Del Toro’s poignant film “The Shape of Water” were intriguing and sympathetic to audiences across the country. Guillermo del Toro wanted everyone to see how beautiful imperfections can be—and it got him the Best Picture (2017) award.

Lady Bird (2017) Photo courtesy: Universal

No 3. — Greta Gerwig

“Let your characters talk to each other and do things. Spend time with them — they’ll tell you who they are and what they’re up to.”

Another popular film from 2017 was written and directed by Greta Gerwig. Her film “Lady Bird” is filled with some of the most unusual and interesting characters committed to film. How did she do it? Instead of trying to force a story, she let her characters lead–and the result was an Academy Award-nominated film.

Isle of Dogs (2018) Photo courtesy: Fox Searchlight

No. 4 — Wes Anderson

“I have a way of filming things and staging them and designing sets. There were times when I thought I should change my approach, but in fact, this is what I like to do. It’s sort of like my handwriting as a movie director. And somewhere along the way, I think I’ve made the decision: I’m going to write in my own handwriting.”

Anderson has made a number of movies, and each one of them bears the mark of his recognizable style. Critics love it and audiences consistently come back for more. But it was an active decision on his part to make that style part of his unique signature when making films. He knew his work was distinctive—and he embraced it.

Game of Thrones (2011-present) Photo courtesy: HBO

No 5 — George RR Martin

“Nobody is a villain in their own story. We’re all the heroes of our own stories.”

George RR Martin’s “Game of Thrones” has become one of the most celebrated television shows of all time. One reason it’s so popular? The characters are fascinating, even villains like Cersei. She’s definitely evil, but she’s also dynamic and interesting and oddly sympathetic at times. Martin’s approach to character makes his villains three-dimensional—and makes for must-see TV.

What is your favorite writing advice? Sound off in the comments!

author-avatar

Jennie Evenson is the author of "Shakespeare for Screenwriters" (Michael Wiese, 2013) and the forthcoming "Storytelling Secrets of the Masters." As a writer in LA, Evenson worked as a consultant for Netflix and developed ideas at production houses from DreamWorks to Focus Features. You can follow her on Twitter: @JM_Evenson

6 Replies to "Five (More) Tips From Top Screenwriters"

  • comment-avatar
    Karen LaMantia April 17, 2018 (7:44 am)

    The story should be bigger than you are, maybe bigger than all living today are. If it does not reach into human past and future, at this critical stage of our literal survival, stop writing and get a perspective. Then write again remembering that the Universe probably does not care who is dating whom.

  • comment-avatar
    Lamont Green April 17, 2018 (9:44 am)

    I live between New York and Atlanta, and would be honored to consult with you, thank you

  • comment-avatar
    Denice Hughes Lewis April 17, 2018 (10:40 am)

    Thank you. The more we absorb and use in our screenwriting, the better writers we’ll be.

  • comment-avatar
    John Hruby April 18, 2018 (3:09 pm)

    Thank you. I have LOVED the characters in Game of Thrones for years now. How different each one is. Magnificent. I studied screenwriting for 15 years before writing my first novel, Space Spiders on Prom Day. And now people are talking about turning it into a screenplay. Life is whack.

  • comment-avatar
    John Boal April 21, 2018 (9:18 am)

    “Action is Character. Character is Action.” Best advice ever from someone whose smarter than me, and whose name, unfortunately, I can’t recall for giving him credit …

  • comment-avatar
    Ichabod Nutson April 22, 2018 (9:11 pm)

    My Surefire Writer’s Tip: Sit at your computer for 12-hours per day, and watch the screenplay write itself right before your eyes. Pure Disney-esque magic. It’s like your dreaming with your eyes. open. And man, do those characters get chatty. All you’ll really be doing is transcribing.
    – C. Baer

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