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10 MAXIMS TO MAXIMIZE YOUR SCREENPLAY

If you’re a writer who wants to improve the quality of your story, or a producer who wants your film to have the best possible chance at the box office, I've got 10 writing maxims for you that will maximize your chances of success...

If you’re a writer who wants to improve the quality of your story, or a producer who wants your film to have the best possible chance at the box office, here are 10 writing maxims that will maximize your chances of success.

THEME IS QUEEN

John Lassiter said, “Story is king.” He is right. The story is the most important creative element of any motion picture. But in my humble opinion there is one thing senior to story, and that is theme. Theme is that underlying message that drives every aspect of a screenplay: character, dialogue, action, plot. So make sure your theme is golden, then let it guide you like a compass.

ACTION IS CHARACTER

So says F. Scott Fitzgerald. You don’t reveal your characters by having them tell you about themselves. And you don’t do it by having them spew their personal neuroses. You reveal character through the actions that characters take. A hero doesn’t say “I’m a hero,” he simply steps into a hail of gunfire.

SHOW IT, DON’T SAY IT

Film is a visual medium. Anything that can be revealed through action or visuals should be. I once had a producer who told me to have the character say what he was going to do, then do it, then say he had done it. Don’t do this. Just show it!

WRITE FIRST, EDIT LATER

Wearing both the writer’s and editor’s hats at the same time will slow you down as a writer. You will be questioning everything you write. This can be so bad as to create writer’s block. Don’t do it. 

KEEP IT SIMPLE

George Orwell said, “Never use a long word where a short one will do.” Great advice! Simple words are clearly grasped. But words are just the start. Keep your characters and plot as simple as necessary to tell your story. It’s simple.

LESS IS MORE

If I told you more about this rule I would be breaking it.

WHEN IN DOUBT LEAVE IT OUT

This is a sub-rule of less is more. Orwell also said, “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.” The same goes for scenes.

MURDER YOUR DARLINGS

What Arthur Quiller-Couch meant when he said this in On the Art of Writing is that a writer must not fall in love with his writing. If you’ve written something you feel is brilliant but it doesn’t further the plot or theme, take a knife to it!

WRITERS ARE THE MOST IMPORTANTPEOPLE IN HOLLYWOOD...

No, this isn’t a maxim written by a writer, it was written by perhaps the greatest producer in Hollywood history, Irving R. Thalberg. But that was only the first half of his sentence. It ended, “...and they must never find out.”  Well, now you know.

And finally, the most important maxim of them all:  

WRITE!!!

©Jeffrey Scott, All Rights Reserved