The story that made me want to be a better screenwriter

MAD MEN, a great example of quality TV.
MAD MEN, a great example of quality TV.

One of the main things I’m learning in my screenwriting classes is to stop depending on dialogue — my biggest fault and potential downfall. TV writing is more about one-liners and witty banter, but screenplays are more about the story itself, which shouldn’t simply rely on what everyone is saying. I ultimately want to write TV shows, but I also want to be able to do movies, so I need a solid understanding of both. I’m here to learn, not to make my own rules. My biggest weakness is my love for conversations between characters, but when I put all the weight on their words, the project has an episodic feel to it, according to my screenplay instructor. No one goes to a movie just to hear people talk.

In my screenplay class the other day, a student mentioned seeing Zodiac over the weekend. That prompted the professor to recount a traumatic experience with mugging shortly after watching that very film in theaters. I won’t repeat what he said, as it’s his incredible story and not mine, but I’ll just tell you that he had all of us at the edge of our seats with his storytelling abilities. He integrated backstory to show why he reacted the way he did to the attempted muggers, and he also appealed to our senses by saying he screamed so loud, a bunch of car alarms went off and the vehicles near him shook. When he was struck, he literally saw stars and heard birds chirping. His scream was loud enough to scare off the bad guys, but that wasn’t even the most interesting part of the story. His backstory was, as it explained why he had so much fight in him in the face of danger. Once again, I won’t get into too many details, but his story was enough to make me want to be a better storyteller and screenwriter. It wasn’t a story involving ample dialogue, but it was excellent.

My screenwriting classes are almost over, but I’ve learned a lot from them, and I hope to improve my own storytelling skills significantly before the start of next semester. I haven’t decided whether I’ll continue taking courses, I think I have enough base knowledge for now, but I do admire my professors greatly, if anything because they make me want to be better every single day. I’ll get where I need to be soon enough — I just have to get used to this very different form of storytelling.

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