screenwriting 101

Because I promised Erika to talk a little about screenwriting, here’s what I learned during my “conquest of Hollywood” between 2006 and 2008.

First, the easy part. When you write a screenplay, you don’t have to wonder what person or what tense to choose: it’s always present tense and third person. Try to avoid passive voice, of course, and also the “we see”. Write only what can be seen or heard – no thoughts or things that cannot be filmed. Wrylies (or parenthetical) are to be avoided at all costs in dialogue, apparently actors won’t read them anyway, so it’s useless to add them, unless the line is intended to be sarcastic or it’s totally unclear how it should be said. But again, the less the better.

Second: movies are action, not dialogue. Dialogues should be kept short. Monologues are for theater, not movies. Some say more than four lines of dialogue should be cut. And Talking Heads are boring, make sure to put some action between the characters’ lines (and never ever put the actions into parenthetical).

I’m not going to talk about the rules of having something happen by page 10 or the act breaks, or anything like that – feel free to check either the Screenwriting bible or How NOT to write a screenplay (my favorite, giving examples of both good and bad screenplays). For proper formatting, use either Celtx or Final Draft. Don’t give camera shots – you’re writing a spec script, and all the technicalities are for the shooting scripts.

Length is between 85 and 120 pages with the belief than one page equals one minute – don’t even try to sell a three hour movie, they’ll trash it without reading it. I’ve also heard drama doesn’t sell, and avoid children and animals. Your spec script will be considered a writing sample, and probably never actually shot. You might land some assignments, but before you see YOUR movie out there, it’s better if you write something low budget and shoot it with your friends! 😉

To “direct” without camera shots, simply put a new paragraph. Avoid big blocks of text and descriptions and purple prose, of course. And then… check Bekah’s article on screenwriting, she certainly knows a thing or two as well! 😉 Questions? Feel free to ask. Can’t think of anything else at the moment… *blush*


Graphic novels & screenplays

Because I don’t expect everybody to read my comments on this or other blogs, I thought I’d do a specific post on the different sorts of writing I’ve tackled through the years. First the difference between novel, illustrated novel and graphic novel, as I have figured it out on my own.

A novel is, of course, all prose. It can be written in the form of journal, letters, paper article, poems, with single or multiple POV, but it’s all written words. Illustrated novels are by now basically for children. I have an edition of Dumas “Three musketeers” with the original XIX century drawings (same with a couple of Verne‘s books), but that was, indeed XIX century prose. Nowadays only children’s book have drwains inside – few exceptions in the fantasy genre: “The rose of the prophet” trilogy was illustrated by Larry Elmore, but usually it’s just a symbol at the beginning of the chapter. I wish there were more adult illustrated novels, though.

Graphic novels are basically comic books shaped like novels, i.e. with a beginning, a middle and an end. Some have bist in prose (Poison Elves, Strangers in Paradise, my own SKYBAND), others are all drawn in comic book format (Sin City, A distant soil, Alan Moore’s works). The art varies if the author is one (Marjanne Satrapi’s Persepolis, Colleen Doran’s A distant soil) or many (Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore’s works). Some have great art (Strangers in Paradise, A distant soil), others I couldn’t read because I didn’t like the art (Sin City – didn’t like the movie either).

Screenplays are another animal. They might sound like plays, their storiboards might look like comic book frames, but even if Shakespeare is the more adapted playwright of all times and lots of movies comes from comics these days, the term doesn’t change: all are “adapted for the screen” by a screenwriter. Screenwriting should incorporate a dry prose, snappy dialogue and lots of visual action. Forget those Hamletic monologues: they belong to theater. Talking heads aren’t appreciated in movies (nor in comics, actually…). Movies also require a pacing that is not cecessary in plays nor novels. Nor some comic books for that matter: I still remember how they turned the touching beginning of Crying Freeman (a great manga, even if it becomse sort of repetitive after some time – but it does end, unlime most American comics) into a kung-fu movie. Doh.

So, it’s different media and different kinds of writing. I might adapt SKYBAND for the screen some day, will have to chop off the “boring bits” (i.e. character studies – talking heads, haha), but I might do it eventually. In the meantime, hope this was helpful in explaining the main differences between three different kinds of writing.

CS open – spring edition

To keep my screenwriting muscles in use, I’ll keep doing the CS Open, or Cyberspace Open as it’s now called. That’s because I enjoy the thrill and I like Jim Cirile, mostly! 😉 This latest edition I didn’t do very well, though, probably because I was supposed to be in London and the Icelandic volcano destroyed my plans… but gave me this very silly idea for a scene. Formatting screwed as usual, premise first, then scene, then results.

Round 1 Scene Premise:

Your protagonist is crushed. His or her plans have been dashed; his objective now appears impossible. And yet if he throws in the towel, bad things will happen. Write a scene in which a mentor, friend, love interest or enemy rallies or provokes your protagonist in an unexpected way. Be sure to give us your best dialogue here as your protagonist comes around and rises – or falls — to the occasion.

Write on, and good luck!



          Beth's PC is on, but she paces the room with a frown.

          Mary rushes in, breathless.

                    I came as fast as I could! What

          Beth points dramatically to the PC screen,

                    All flights canceled! I'll never
                    make it!

          Mary slumps herself on a chair.

                    Oh, well. I guess it wasn't meant
                    to be. You better reschedule, or
                    ask for a refund.

                    I can't! I must go!

          She sits at the PC and quickly types.

                    If I can get to Paris, maybe with
                    the Eurostar...

                    Beth, they won't change a flight to
                    London with a flight to Paris!

          Beth gapes at the screen.

                    198euro with the Eurostar! Plus the
                    new flight ticket!

                    Told ya. All this to use 60pounds
                    worth of workshops?

                    It wasn't only the workshops, but
                    London... I mean, I had plans...

          Beth shakes her head with a sigh.

                    I know, you wanted to meet Mr
                    Wonderful out there.

                    Well, he could be there waiting for
                    me, and I'm going to miss him!

                    Maybe he won't be at that specific
                    event and-

                    Wait, I'll see if they can
                    reschedule the masterclass!

                    What if they don't?

                    Gee, thank you for the optimism!
                    I'll ask Alice to go for me...

                    So she can find your Mr Wonderful?

                    No, don't be silly, but at least
                    she can take notes at the

                    Sounds like a plan.

          Beth quickly types some more, then stares at the computer
          screen with another sigh.

                    I really hoped to spend the
                    week-end in London... I had to meet
                    people and...

                    Yes, yes, I know...

          She pats her friend on her shoulder.

                    You can't always have it all,

THE RESULTS: 85 points

The problem with this scene is that we’re not very clear about what Beth’s essential objective is, and why it’s so terrible that her plans have to change. Also, Mary doesn’t really suggest a plan of action, just kind of comforts her… which is less than engaging, and doesn’t really address the competition prompt.

The CSopen is Back!

And it’s not even Expo time! They’re doing a spring version with videotaping of  the final three scenes. Even if I don’t get to the third and final step, I’ll have to remember to go there and vote! You find everything about it here or here.

I already booked my place in the contest, even if that weekend I’ll be in London for the London Book Fair masterclasses. But my generous Brit teacher is giving me a bed for two nights and maybe he’ll even allow me to check my e-mail on Saturday night. Otherwise I’ll check it as soon as I get back home Sunday afternoon – living 9 hours ahead of LA means that I also have Monday until 6pm (even if I have a day-job in the mornings). So plenty of time and looking forward to the thrill of it.

I wonder if something like this could be done for prose writers… but then a publisher should run it, giving a prompt and a deadline to write a short story (that can be later expanded into a novel, why not! Or simply a scene from a novel on that prompt). Maybe some Book Fair could organize such a writing tournament (after all the CSopen was born at the Screenwriting Expo) and then turn it into something that could be done online.

I might even try to organize it, but there wouldn’t be any prizes available… if you’re in for the thrill and the writing, I might try to set that up (help wanted, though!!). Although I’d have no idea where to start from… mumble mumble…sigh! 😦


I wasn’t sure what to write today, but then I found this post on my tag surfer about selling screenplays from outside LA. Great post, he’s probably totally right. So, should I go back to my screenwriting career? Not so sure.

True that I still have to through my screenplays again and decide if they’re worth the effort of networking online, researching producers etc. The experiences I’ve had so far with the Screenwriting Expo, the Final Draft events and Virtual Pitch Fest weren’t that good.

Thing is – I prefer genre. I’m back into my own world, and until there’s a bestseller behind it, I don’t think I can sell screenplays. Sure, I can write some stories in the present, with present day issues, but my heart is not really into it, and I think it  shows in the writing.

So, wishing the best of luck to all my screenwriter friends out there (I know you’ll make it, guys! :-)), I think I’m going back to prose. I’m a writer and a lone wolf. Maybe the movie industry is not for me. I’d love team work, but maybe I’m not good at it. I like watching movies, but maybe I’m not good at writing them. Yet.

Add to that that English is my second language, the screenwriting industry is highly competitive and I don’t know anybody to get in… unless I start stalking Mr Muccino until he introduces him to my muse-turned-producer… 😉

Ok, enough joking. I don’t know what to do with my screenplays yet, but maybe it’s only February and the Nicholl Fellowship is probably open (haven’t checked yet), so I should give it one last try… I’ll have to seriously think about it! 🙂


A screenwriter friend of mine recently asked if I’m still writing screenplays. Not for the rest of the year (I did edit Choices this month, but that’s the last work I’m doing on a screenplay). I did send Choices to Coverage Ink for coverage, and got another PASS (but also a “writer – consider with reservations”, which I had only once before).

The formatting is easier (especially using Final Draft or free software Celtx), but I obviously don’t have the timing, or the right voice for movies. Mostly because to be marketable I have to write present day stories – not my favorite subject.

Thus I’d rather go back to world-creating. If I want to do visual stories, I can go with graphic novels – the drawings won’t be perfect, but then neither are the ones of Turning scripts into comics, and at least my drawings come free. I don’t have to bother with budget restrictions and only have to make sure I can render my own special effects which, with the help of Photoshop, shouldn’t be too hard.

So I’ll keep those screenplays in the drawer for some time. Maybe I should read them again (after all, some I haven’t touched for over a year) and then decide what to do with them. I have a body-switch comedy, a character-oriented sci-fi piece, a romantic comedy and this drama of choices, plus an historical piece that I’d love to turn into a graphic novel for the French market, but that one I can’t draw myself. It’s historical (second half of 12th century), has lots of knights, horses, battles, and other stuff I can’t draw (I cheated when representing the Gladius Games in SKYBAND, but then I’m not showing it to the French publishers…). The only guy who could render it greatly is too slow, thus either I start going to comic cons again, looking for artists, or the story stays in the drawer a little longer.

It could also be a TV mini series, but the BBC rejected the movie. I wonder if I could rewrite it for the History Channel – but then, do they care about the middle ages?

on screenwriting

Everybody says to learn how to write, you must read. In your genre, if possible, if not anything. Thus, if you want to be a poet, read poetry, a novelist novels (genre novels if you’re a genre writer, of course), and if you want to be a screnwriter, read screenplays. I’ve read some (not hundreds, I admit it, but dozens yes), both produces and unproduced, good and bad, blacklisted or not.

Of the unproduced, some I could see the movie and wouldn’t change a word, others needed major rewrites (IMHO), others were not too bad and should stand a chance. Of the produced scripts, I tried to read them and then watch the movie with the script at hand to check the changes – I did that also with Matrix (even wrote an article about it, but it got lost to the zine I sent it to), then I read the Matrix Reloaded script now labelled “fantasy script” and wondered why the Watchovski bros didn’t shoot that one instead of the thing they did, but whatever. I still haven’t figured out why those changes occur (Director? Producer? Actors? Never been on a set…), but it’s interesting nevertheless.

You can go to all the film schools and creative writing courses you can find, but the only way to actually learn the craft is read and write, write, write, read some more, and then write and rewrite and so on. As for breaking in, especially in Hollywood, it’s like William Goldman says: “Nobody knows anything”.

Screenwriting Expo and the likes

I’ve invested quite some money on screenwriting events. Expo 5, 6 and 7, Final Draft, Sherwood Oaks classes. I’d compare them all to the writing courses (except for the CS Open) – lots of talks, some interesting networking, nice people most of the time, but in the end a waste of time.

Glad I count that money as “vacations travels”. I never pitched except for a manager at the Final Draft event – too daunting doing a five-minutes speech in a foreign language (Final Draft allowed me 15 minutes, that’s why I “dared”). And from what I heard, not many succeed at these pitch fests.

Competitions are probably another waste of time and money, although I did some in the last couple of years (mostly the ones that gave also some sort of feedback, sometimes for a fee, sometimes not) and I do intend to try the Nicholl Fellowship at least once.

So, what will I do with all my scripts? I don’t know yet. Maybe I’ll “novelize” them (which I already did with the first one), or maybe I’ll just leave them in a drawer along with other abandoned projects.

One or two things I’ve learned: even if I sell a spec script, it’s going to be rewritten; it’s only a sample and then I’ll be hired to rewrite other people’s stories; until I become a writer-director I won’t have any control on my script-babies. So, let them lie low for some other time. I better go back to markets I’m more familiar with.


I just loved this post by Sean Minogue. I don’t know who he is, haven’t checked his IMDB credits, but he writes just like the guys at Creative Screenwriting or Script Magazine. And he’s right about screenwriters.

That’s what I figured out myself in the past 3 years, and one of the reasons to put those screenplays of mine into a drawer for some time. If in a year or so I read them and think they’re worth sending out, I’ll do it, if not, I’ll become a novelist instead. It would give me the confidence to become one of those screenwriters mentioned by Sean, that 0,01% who does things right…

2009 Cyberspace Open

Creative Screenwriting Cyberspace Open, managed for Creative Screenwriting Magazine by

Cyberspace Open Round 1 Premise

“Your PROTAGONIST is in a jam. He (or she) had been relying on deception in order to further his objective, but his ENEMY has figured out the ruse. Write the scene in which your protagonist’s LOVE INTEREST confronts him with this information acquired from the enemy – while in staging it in a tricky or dangerous situation.”



SARAH packs.


When you move out, I’ll settle in and we’ll live happily ever after!

Quickly, emptying drawers and throwing clothes and books in either luggage or boxes.

She checks her watch, panics, starts locking trolleys.

HENRY enters.

She stares at him, panting, hands behind her back, looking innocent.

He takes in the bags and boxes.


You’re packing?


Uh… yeah. I need a vacation.


That’s not a vacation, you’re moving out!

She looks around the room.


Uhm… yeah. I’m going back home for some time.


And why is that?


I… I need to think. I love this place, but… I think Mandy would love to move in.


Who says I want to rent her the room? I thought we were doing fine!


Indeed, but I… I really must go, I’m sorry.


And this… decision has nothing to do with the fact that you’re not a lesbian, uh?

She stares at him, depressed.


She told you.


You “girlfriend” has been hitting on me since she met me. Until I told her “Excuse me, but aren’t you with Sarah?” and she ranted on how you pass yourself as a lesbian to avoid relationships, using her as screen and blah blah blah.



(to herself)



Is that all you can say? What is she exactly for you?

She shrugs.


I thought she was my best friend.


Why did you tell me you were a lesbian when you rented the room?


Because I didn’t want complications! I’m not looking for a relationship or anything, but I loved the apartment and I really wanted to call it home.

He moves forward, hands in pockets.

She backs up, fearful.

He stops, closer but not too close.


Why are you leaving then? I thought you felt at home.



She can’t look at him, sighs.


There is a complication now.


You’re sick of lying?


That too. I really hoped we could be the best of friends.



She whispers, lowering her head.


I fell in love.


So you’re moving in with someone else?


No… no, I’m running away from him.

He smiles.


And why would you do that?


Because… it’s complicated. This is not what I want, I mean, the room is great and everything, but I didn’t come here for this and…


It might be unexpected, but I wouldn’t throw it away.


I don’t deserve you, Henry.

This time he takes her in his arms.


What makes you think so?


Don’t you prefer Mandy? Men usually do.


And you call her your best friend? I bet she’s been stealing boyfriends from you since you were a teen!

She nods, not sure if she should push him away or cuddle against him.


Well, I don’t like her much. But I was very fond of you, even if you were a lesbian.


OK, I’m not.


Great, this is settled then. You’re not going anywhere.





He kisses her.

Total Score--Calculated: [22+22+23+23]
Structure Score: 22
Dialogue Score: 22
Style Score: 23
Originality Score: 23
Judge's Comments: Solid scene, with a good breezy pace. Not quite sure how much of an 
"enemy" the unseen Mandy is, or the fact that she figured out Sarah's ruse. Mandy knew 
all along. Sarah's not so much in a jam, as she's running away from potential conflict. Good 
back-and-forth dialogue, with some honest emotion. Nice work!

Cyberspace Open: Score of 93 Needed To Advance

My comment: So, in spite of doing better from home and with longer deadline, the cutoff keeps going up… sigh!

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