Go Into The Story Resource: Reader Questions
Nearly 300 questions on virtually any subject related to screenwriting with my responses and feedback from GITS readers.
On May 16, 2019, Go Into The Story turns 11 years old — you can read the very first blog post
here. I led with this paragraph:
Welcome to Go Into The Story! Right now, it’s nothing but a humble, threadbare blog, but I hope it will evolve into an active resource for aspiring screenwriters, as well as a community for anyone interested in storytelling and the creative life.
And evolve it did! To the point where it was recently named
in the “Best of the Best” Scriptwriting Website 20th Annual Writer’s Digest Best Websites for Writers list.
11 years of b about screenwriting, writing, Hollywood, movies, TV, and the creative life, each day in May, I’m going to feature a piece of Go Into The Story trivia, plus a writing resource you can find in the site’s archives. This is not an exercise in self-congratulations so much as I figured readers could use some tips about how to best use the site. With — to date — logging 26,317 articles and over 100 archive topics, there is a LOT of content here. Hopefully, these posts for the next 31 days will clue in more recent followers and remind long-time readers about resources you can use to facilitate deepening your understanding of the writing craft. Today’s trivia: Go Into The Story is on target to hit over 3.5 million page views in 2019. Today’s Go Into The Story resource: Go Into The Story Reader Questions.
This ongoing series began in Year One of the blog. I’d receive an email or someone would post a comment asking a question about the craft or the business of screenwriting. I’ve always framed my responses this way: I don’t claim to know everything, but I’ll provide my take on the subject based on my three decades of working in the film and TV business.
And truthfully, some of the best information has come from readers following up on my responses. Oftentimes, that feedback has come from people who work in the business — lawyers, managers, actors, fellow writers.
If you’ve got a question about screenwriting, TV writing, Hollywood, and so forth, chances are I’ve touched on it before. Check out the links below. If you do
NOT see your question listed, feel free to email me or post your question by clicking on RESPONSE.
NOTE: The questions have been grouped into general categories.
Adaptation How about adapting a comic book into a screenplay? How do you go about writing an adaptation or remake? Should I try to adapt my own book? What do I need to do if I want to adapt a book into a screenplay? Business 101 Are screenplay contests any good or not? Could you break down the numbers related to a movie’s budget? Could you explain how writing credits work? Do any screenplay competitions take comedies seriously? Do any screenwriters work on a commission basis? Do I HAVE to use INT/EXT — LOCATION — DAY/NIGHT in scene headings? Do screenwriters get a percentage on the back end? Do you have advice on handling money after first script sale? Does posting your script on a public website hurt its chance of selling? How do I get my script into the marketplace? How do I go about selling a script if I’m not interested in a screenwriting career? How do screenwriters manage their income? How much does a top screenwriter get paid for a rewrite? How much money is my script worth? If someone wants to option my short script? Is it true that only 2% of independent films get distribution? Is January a good time to submit a spec script? Is summer a bad time to send out a spec script? Is there a rule as to how many “cuss words” can be used in a script? Now that I’ve written it, how do I go about selling it? Should I focus on writing a lot of scripts or just one? Should I write a science fiction script on spec or not? What about writing for the Web? What are the advantages / disadvantages of script attachments? What are the qualities of a marketable script? What does a “bidding war” mean and how does that happen? What is life really like for a beginning screenwriter who has just broken into the business? What is the most creative way you’ve seen for someone to get their script read? What makes a movie a big budget and a small budget? What makes a stellar logline? What’s the best way to test your story idea’s commercial viability? What’s the scoop on writer’s residuals? What to do if you are contacted by several managers? Characters Are there movies where the Protagonist is the Nemesis? Can writing a character bio get in the way of one’s creative process? Do all characters get their own ‘hero’s journey’? Do all Protagonists need an arc? Do characters “own” a scene? Do nemesis characters necessarily HAVE to suffer in the end? Do you actually plot the Protagonist’s emotional arc or go with your gut? Does a mentor character always have to be right? Does a story absolutely need an antagonist? Does one character “own” each scene? How can a movie succeed if characters don’t have an arc? How do I make supporting characters distinctive and interesting? How to approach writing a story with multiple main characters? How to approach writing an anti-hero? How to build a powerful nemesis? How to convey a character’s emotional state in scene description? How to create genuinely unique character voices? How to create unforgettable characters? How to differentiate between two characters with the exact same name? How to handle a character who changes names? How to handle multiple protagonists? How to know which characters to keep and which to cut? If my characters are taking over my first draft, should I rewrite Act One or keep going? If my story’s main character is a ‘bad guy,’ do they need a ‘Save the Cat’ moment? Is it possible to have a screenplay without a specific Antagonist character? Is there a danger of having a ‘good’ antagonist until the last act? Is there an ‘aha’ moment for a character in terms of their metamorphosis? Should antagonists think they are the protagonists of their own stories? What about introducing the hero? What about the Protagonist and the inciting incident? What are some keys to developing great characters? What are some ways to visualize the inner world of a character? What do I do if I am less interested in my Protagonist than my other characters? What is the best way for readers to love my characters? What to do if I’m good with plot, but weak with characters? What to do with two characters who serve the same purpose? What’s the deal with character archetypes? When is the most appropriate time in a script to handle a character’s backstory? Who is the Nemesis in character-driven films? Why do main characters in movies almost always die? Creative Process How do I know when I’ve done enough story prep and can start writing? How to handle multiple ideas and the creative process? How to write if you have a long commute behind the wheel? What to do if you fall out of love with a script after 2–3 drafts? What to do when you feel out of touch with your creative energy? Dialogue & Narration How and when is it okay to use narration? How to make dialogue sound not like me? Is it necessary to have scene description before dialogue in a scene? What is the best way to master a particular type of dialogue? Education Does a college education have any value to screenwriting? For great movies, should I watch them or read the script first? How does a 15 year-old go about getting experience screenwriting or directing? How well read (books) does a screenwriter need to be? Is it useful to read a bad script to see what not to do? Know any producer or director blogs? What are some good movie analysis websites? What are some great DVD movie commentaries by screenwriters? What are the most useful screenwriting books? What are three good ‘how to’ scripts to read? What does it mean to “workshop” a script? Which movie scripts do you recommend for a beginning screenwriter to read? What screenplays and screenwriting books should I read? What’s the best way to teach screenwriting to children? Where to find spec scripts, not shooting scripts, to read and study? Where to learn more about specific narrative devices? Film Industry Can a writer-actor expect to play a role they wrote if they sell their script? Could you provide some insight into the script development process? Does Hollywood even care about making compelling movies anymore? Does it hurt your chances of working in Hollywood if you start out as a film critic? How can you make up for sending out a script that stinks How do cultural whims affect a screenwriter’s career? How insane is it for a 46 year-old to try to start a Hollywood writing career? How likely is it newbie writers get screwed in rewrite process? How may I approach a favorite screenwriter (since I’ve got their personal email)? How much detail should I go into about my story with industry insiders? How should I handle an event where I will meet a Hollywood writer-producer? How should I query Hollywood agents if I live outside the U.S.? How to manage writing vs. networking time? How valuable are script consultants? Is Hollywood really like it’s portrayed in movies and TV? Is it worth it for an aspiring screenwriter to spend some time in LA? Is there a source for coverage of recently produced scripts? Only ‘distraction’ movies during a recession or is there room for ‘realistic’ movies? Should I take my name off a script? What about a script with an all ethnic cast? What about ageism and screenwriting? What advice do you have for someone attending the Austin Film Festival? What do I do with a script that is Nicholl quarterfinalist? What do you think of screenplay competitions? What if I’m not sure I want a career in Hollywood? What is the history of script reading/coverage? What should I do if a project sells in Hollywood that is similar to a script I’m writing? What’s the best way to network in L.A.? What’s the low-down on screenwriting contests? (Updated) What ways are there for a writer to market and promote him/herself? Why are so few script contest winners made into movies? Why do some great movies fail at the box office while other succeed? Would a studio allow a novice to direct a script they wrote? Format and Style Are there any script rules that really shouldn’t be broken? Bolded sluglines: Yes or no? Do I HAVE to use INT/EXT — LOCATION — DAY/NIGHT in scene headings? How consistent should the tone in scene description be? How do I know if it’s too much or too little scene description? How do you handle one character with different names? How much do I need to focus on “stylized writing”? How to balance scene description which is minimal yet descriptive? How to handle capitalization in scene description? How to handle characters speaking in a foreign language? How to handle dialogue happening under voice-over? How to handle insert shots? How to handle passage of time in a script? How to handle POV shots? How to handle scene in blackness? How to handle songs in a screenplay? How to indicate a jump cut? How to misdirect a reader in scene description? How to write “unwritable moments of a film” in a screenplay? If I’m writing and shooting my own movies, are there style and format issues I should be aware of when writing my script? Is an 80-page spec script too short? Is it okay for there to be more action lines in an action script? Is it okay / advisable to put a logline on the script’s title page? Is it okay to include an image in a spec script? Is it necessary to have scene description before dialogue in a scene? Is there a danger of having an Act One that is too short? Should I use “is” construction verbs or not? Sluglines and character intros? Use or don’t use title cards? What about a credit sequence at the beginning of a spec script? What about a credit sequence in a spec script?’ What about a flashback as a ‘flashpresent’? What about a revelation flashback? What about breaking screenwriting style / format rules? What about capitalizing sounds in spec scripts? What about “establishing shots” and “establishing scenes”? What about screenplay page count? What about showing a character’s emotions in action description? What about submitting a 187-page script? What about using (CONT’D) in separated dialogue? What about using a flashback / flash-forward as a prologue? What does a secondary slugline/shot look like? What guidelines are there for using scene headings / primary slug lines? What information should I include on my script title page? What is the absolute limit on script page count? What is the difference between a montage and a series of shots? What to do with a 70 page screenplay? What’s the best way to master writing a particular type of dialogue? What’s the structural difference between a play, a screenplay, and a teleplay? When writing do you paint a visual picture through your action lines? Will new technology cause script style to change? Genres Any tips re: writing short film scripts? Are today’s adult comedies more about the concept than the screenplay? How much serendipity are we allowed to write in a rom-com? How to approach writing comedies and jokes? How to handle writing a musical? How to manage time and characters in a contained thriller? Is there a difference marketing a script as animation versus live-action? Is this a good time to be writing a script aimed at children? Should I write my story as a screenplay or a graphic novel? Should we be careful about the genre of movies we watch while writing a script? What about story and ‘tone poem’ movies? What about writing a mockumentary? What about writing a spec script for an animated movie? What are ways to study films in the same genre as my script? What is the market viability of a time travel screenplay? What’s the best way to write cross-genre movies? Glossary What does “literary style” mean in terms of writing a screenplay? What does “pre-awareness title” mean? What exactly do you mean by “story conceit”? What exactly is a “script polish”? What should be on a one-sheet? Are we too cynical for Capra-esque movies nowadays? Is the last line in (500) Days of Summer a cheat? How do you read a script? Who is your favorite screenwriter? Pitches How do I prepare for a meeting with a possible attachment for my script project? Is it okay to pitch a story with an open ending that implies a sequel? Is it worth it to attend pitch fests? Should I reference other movies when pitching my own? What about title mash-ups to help pitch a project? What’s the best way to approach pitching? Is a Twitter ‘pitch’ protected by copyright laws? Representation Are the holidays a lousy time to send out a spec script? Are there differences between seeking representation with a manager versus and agent? Do you need to have an agent to go up for an open writing assignment? Does a logline constitute “unsolicited material”? How do you decide between managers? How important is a logline in a query letter? How to go about querying multiple reps at the same agency? How to parlay advanced screenplay competition into representation? How to work with a manager / agent? If a manager passes on you, does that hurt your chances of getting read by them in the future? If you sell a project on your own, do you owe your agent/manager their commission? Is it necessary to get an agent to sell a screenplay? May I deliver my scripts personally to a literary management company? Should I give away my story’s twist ending in a query letter? What is the difference between an agent and a literary manager? What is the protocol in following up after a script submission? What should I do with a script after a falling out with my manager? What to do when a manager responds, “I liked the writing but…” What’s the best way to determine a “helluva good” entertainment lawyer? What’s your opinion about signing release forms for material submissions? When is it time to give up a lead? Would a personal lawyer suffice in lieu of an entertainment lawyer? Rights and Copyright Are writers included in “nuisance lawsuits”? Do I have to get someone’s life rights? Do I need to secure the rights to a book I’m relying on for research? Does a writer need permission to use public figures in a story? How easy is it to steal a story? How much of a real life person’s life can I use in a script without getting sued? How to track down who owns the rights to an obscure story? If my story is based on an actual event, do I need permission from the participants? Is it okay for my spec script to have the same title as another movie? Is it okay to include specific product names in scripts? Is there a way I can protect a story that is in the public domain? What about soliciting story ideas from people to incorporate into my script? What about song / song lyrics rights? What about the rights to public domain films? What is the difference between an homage and plagiarism? What legal issues should one be aware of when writing a parody? What measures should a writer take to protect a script? Would there be copyright issues on the sale of both an original screenplay and a movie? Spec Script 101 Are there professional screenwriters who just focus on writing spec scripts? Future of the spec script market? How do I stay on top of spec script sales? How is the spec market for Christmas stories? Is it better to have talent attached to a spec script or not? Is the spec script market dead? Should I take budget into account in a spec script or just write best possible story? Should I trim a 125 page spec script or not? Should I write a big budget spec script or not? What exactly is a “spec script”? What is the average price of a spec script sale? What is the state of the spec script market? What kind of chance does a period piece have as a spec script? Why has the spec script market been so strong? Software and Apps What about the screenwriting program Dramatica? Story and Plot Are there specific ways to simplify and focus a story? Does a story hook (first 10 pages) have to be suspenseful? Does Tarantino use traditional narrative structure or not? How big of a plot point do I need in the middle of Act One? How do I know which version of my story to write? How to hit the right pace at the script’s beginning? How to keep from getting stuck in Act Two? How to raise the stakes in the plot? How would you define “inner motivation” and “outer motivation”? Is any exposition scene a “crock of sh*t? Is it okay to have the antagonist drive the plot? Is it okay to take more time than normal to set up the story in Act One? Is it possible to develop a story from a scene? Structure is character. Agree or disagree, and why? Tips for writing a ‘big’ story ending? What about midpoints? What are the keys to a great opening scene? What do I do when my Protagonist and plot aren’t in sync? What are some tips for figuring out the ending of a story? What does it mean to tell a “simple story”? What makes a great scene? Where to start when developing a story? Television How can I tell if a story idea is better suited for TV or as a movie? How does an American become a British TV writer? Tips on a template to develop and structure story for a Belgian soap opera? TV spec scripts? The Black List Q&A Franklin Leonard Q&A #1 Franklin Leonard Q&A #2 Franklin Leonard Q&A #3 Franklin Leonard Q&A #4 Reader Question for Franklin Leonard: Is the ‘calling card’ script dead? Reader Question for Franklin Leonard: How much lobbying for votes goes on for the Black List? Reader Question for Franklin Leonard: Is there a common factor for Black List scripts? Reader Question for Franklin Leonard: What do you look for in a quick pitch? The Writing Life Do you have any time management tips on how to write while holding down a full-time job? How do you deal with disappointment? How to balance writing and family time? How to decompress after finishing a script? Shouldn’t a writer figure out the craft on their own? What advice for someone wanting to give writing a full-time shot? What if I am beyond the beginning stage as a screenwriter? What is the best day job to have while writing spec scripts? What’s the biggest challenge novelists face when switching to screenwriting? Which has better opportunities for writers: Movies or TV? Would you support your children pursuing a screenwriting career? Treatments & Synopses How do you write a professional story treatment? How much time between sending prodco synopsis and treatment? How to write a professional story treatment? What about selling a synopsis to Hollywood? What does a good story treatment look like? What is a treatment versus an outline? What to do with treatments for a reality TV series? Writing Process Are there any rules of thumb to “locking down” your script? CGI budget concerns in a spec script? Could we talk more about stacking projects? Did you ever keep writing a spec script even when you thought the project wouldn’t sell? Do I continue to write a 5th draft or start writing a new script? Do writers have a responsibility to avoid being “offensive”? Do you have any suggestions to ‘warm up’ for writing? Do you have any tips for working with feedback? During rewrites, how can I tell if something is lacking in my story? How can a writer find their own voice? How can you tell if a scene is necessary or unnecessary? How do I handle characters speaking in a foreign language? How do you know when your script is ready to send out? How do you read a script (and thoughts in general about script readers)? How far can a writer go with the “similar but different” approach? How important is it for writers to analyze screenplays? How long for a first draft? How many scenes does a screenplay have on average? How many scripts do you need to write to “get it?” How many scripts should you write before you try to sell something? How to actually sit down and do it (i.e., write a script)? How to approach a final draft of a script? How to approach prep-writing? How to balance screenwriting theory and the actual writing? How to blend a script’s physical journey and emotional journey? How to cut 10 pages from a script (when I don’t want to)? How to develop a sense of ‘rhythm’ in my writing? How to find a writing partner? How to manage time and writing? How to search for and find inspiration movies similar to the story I’m writing? How to set the mood or mindset for a scene? How to write a logline of my story? How to write a single-location script? How to write action with a marooned character? Is it advisable to ‘star-cast’ the script I’m writing? Is it better to end a scene as dramatically or logically as possible? Is it better to write long first drafts or short? Is it okay to use a pen name when submitting a script? Is it typical to hate your script while you’re writing it? Is there a list of bad scripts someone can read to learn what NOT to do? Is there a list of writing mantras? Should I write a similar but different script to one that sold last year? Should we be concerned about profanity in a spec script? What about “set pieces” and how to use them in a script? What about using a pseudonym? What about working with a co-writer? What about writing a screenplay and a novel? What about writing a spec with a sequel or trilogy in mind? What are keys to a sparse style of screenwriting? What are some guidelines about “breaking the fourth wall”? What are some key things to look for when rewriting a first draft? What are some tips on striking the right tone in a script? What are some tips working with a writing partner? What are the biggest craft and attitude issues holding writers back? What are the pluses / minuses working with a writing partner? What can I do if I’m an overwriter? What do I do if I feel like I’ve regressed as a storyteller? What do you do if nobody responds to an idea you’re passionate about? What if I’m having trouble starting and finishing scripts? What is a writer’s workshop? What is it like to work with a partner on a script? What pitfalls to avoid when writing a script? What questions should I be asking when rewriting a script? What responsibility does a writer have in dealing with experts during research? What’s the deal with color-coded index cards? What to do if I have trouble starting and finishing scripts? What to do with projects when splitting from a writing partner? When can you stop tinkering with a script and finally say “done”? When writing a historical piece, how important is dialect?
Many thanks to
Wendy Cohen for her help in administering this archive.