When it comes to screenwriting advice, one of the most common suggestions is for screenwriters to read more screenplays. Much like watching more films helps broaden one’s appreciation for the language of film, so does immersing oneself in the world of screenwriting. Reading the work of other writers can help screenwriters find inspiration as well as learn about different storytelling techniques, character development, dialogue and more.
Let’s explore this a little further. While it’s easy to just say read more scripts, it helps to know exactly what you’re getting out of the exercise. Familiarity with the craft and variations within screenwriting come with time. It also helps to learn about format and structure. You’d be surprised at how many industry professionals still haven’t quite mastered some of the most basic aspects when it comes to format. While every screenplay has a unique structure, there are some basic elements that all screenplays share. It really helps to read a variety of screenplays to get a better sense for the different ways stories can be told and how to structure your screenplay effectively.
Another thing you’ll start to uncover and appreciate in your own writing over time, is your unique voice and style. Whether you learn by seeing what works and what doesn’t or take inspiration from the flair of others, it pays to write with a view to discovering your own distinct voice. This relates to theme, language, pacing and feel… something that can take a while to finetune or unearth.
Creating natural, believable and engaging dialogue doesn’t happen overnight. Films create a space that emulates life but doesn’t necessarily mimic it. While you may think our own dialogue may be worthy of the silver screen, you’ll quickly discover that it’s much messier than what typically makes it to screen. As polished and purposeful as the words may seem, it’s often an ideal… there to move things along without too much stop-start chatter or as much processing, depending on what kind of movie you’re watching. Reading screenplays helps you get a better sense of what works best and how to create a natural-sounding patter for your characters.
When you read someone else’s screenplay, try to hone in on character development. This is the lifeforce of a screenplay and without memorable characters, things tend to fall flat. Absorb as much as you can in the process of crafting characters that are complex, relatable and unforgettable.
Screenplays are a blueprint for a film, which is why they’re so critically important to finetune before anyone yells “ACTION!”. When you read, get a strong understanding of the visual component of screenplays as screenwriters create worlds for their characters to operate and live in. Dialogue can help unearth character but it’s important to use the action segments and choice of words to enhance the visual storytelling.
Ultimately, it pays to learn how to identify what makes a good screenplay and what doesn’t. This skill of discernment will help you criticise your own work and apply this kind of feedback when assessing the work of others too. The art of screenwriting is one that takes a lifetime to master. So, while it’ll give you a big jump in the early stages, it’s one of those things that will hold you in good stead as long as you keep doing it.