How A Spec Writer Can Beat The Competition

As a coach and lecturer many times I’m asked the question, ‘why certain movies resonate so much we watch them over and over again’. The simple answer is that the story resonates with the reader/audience on a deeply emotional level. A more complicated answer deals with structure, pacing and building of the story to a satisfying yet not obvious climax. Those scripts / cinematic experiences subtly adhere to a unique formula that is flexible enough to permit the organic evolution of the story. One of the least helpful theories promulgated over the last twenty plus years is the one that posits that every story is represented by a writer’s / hero’s journey.

It’s true that some stories fit this journey paradigm (myth, fantasy, action and some combos) however, force fitting a script or analyzing select films after the fact is akin to the proverbial “three blind men describing an elephant” story – valid only from a narrow point of view.

For a new writer starting out, a 1:2/4:1 act structure is helpful for learning the concept of pacing and placing important story elements. That said, force fitting elements to a certain page is more destructive to organic story telling than it is helpful. As a long time reader, I care ‘not one wit’ which page contains the inciting incident, where the first act, second act, third act break occurs or how long a script is. Just tell a compelling page turning story. Above all, DON’T Bore Me. Messing with the margins and font size is a guaranteed toss though.

The beginning writer should consider the conventions but not so strictly that those conventions choke the life out of the story. That said, writing a script akin to War and Peace is not encouraged. Realize that editing will be necessary to accommodate production cost per minute and the exhibitor showings per day. Therefore, the closer a script comes to 105 – 115 pages the better the chances for production. A longer script with a compelling story may be optioned and purchased but will be re-written.

All this is of no value unless the spec script writer understands that s/he is forced into the untenable position of outperforming those writers who are already working. These working writers have a body of bankable work and have become the genre ‘go to’ scribes production execs have confidence in. This means the budding writer has to be 110% better just to “break the glass ceiling”. Writing errors are not as important to the exec reading these vetted scripts as is getting the story into production to beat the competition. Internet scripts don’t carry their provenance so they are of minimal value when it comes to what format or style to follow.

Just write a compelling story, understanding that a new writer is presenting a script as a resume. Spelling errors, malapropisms, misuse of its, it’s; there, their, they’re; greatful, grateful etc, will create the impression that the writer doesn’t care. Then why should the reader?

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