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Sunday, 6 November 2011

Essential Screenwriting Tips - Nailing the Story Arc

Hola Gartholomites!

As 5 of you will know, last week I tried to write a drama script in eight days, to enter Channel 4's drama writing competition.

As anyone who has ever read this blog will know I didn't make the deadline. I got fifteen pages in and then didn't know what the fuck was going to happen until I got to the end. That's because I went out the night I was supposed to write the story outline, and tried to write it on the wing.

And it taught me a very important lesson. There are two types of writers - those that have an intrinsic sense of story, otherwise known as fairies, elves and creationists, and the rest of us.

Before you write any scenes always make sure you have cracked the story by writing the whole idea as a short story first. This way you can tell if you truly have a beginning, middle and end, with character development. 

Earlier in the year I sent a script in to the bbc's writersroom and just got a standard response - thanks, but no thanks A.K.A. thanks for wasting your time and ours, fuck off.  How dare they - it was genius! So, after my latest failure I went over this past project and got it.

Each scene on its own had something intelligent and well written about it, but when I tried to write the whole thing out as a short story I had to skip the first forty pages! It was all just disparate, waffly bum gas and bile, without any solid stool. I'd spent page after page skirting around the story and putting off an confrontation A.K.A. a literary form of my life, wherein it takes me two hours to decide what jam to buy, even though there are seven empty jars of economy raspberry jam sitting on my bedroom shelf, containing numerous alchemical potions, derived from bodily secretions.

By all means deviate from the narrative of your short story, once you come to sit down and write your script, just make sure that you have the short story outline to deviate from, otherwise you'll spend hours in the john farting and getting backed up, when all you really want is to have a good dump.


  1. I wouldn't personally waste time writing an actual short story unless you were going to use sections of it to expand. With screenwriting, a good skeleton of the beats and KNOWING THE ENDING is very important I have learned after years of just winging it. I have about six completed novel manuscripts that will probably never be published I understand now because they don't have a conventional (or conventional enough) structure for a marketable product.


    Zephyr -- a superhero webcomic in prose

  2. Yeah, I get what you're saying Warren, but beat sheets and the like don't do it for me - they are either too prosaic or too practical - I can't decide which. The beauty of short stories is that it necessitates narrative discipline whilst opening up the mind to creating new depths possibilities.