The Art of Reading

“Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life” says Stephen King, in his book On Writing. “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time to write. Simple as that.” As a writer myself, and sometime script developer, I can’t tell you how many bad scripts I’ve read over the years. Lazy, poorly-written scripts that demonstrated an author who was not even familiar with the craft. If you don’t know how the hell a screenplay works, or never read books by strong writers, it is a farce to say that you have what it takes to actually emulate them. Screenwriting is different than the prose that Stephen King talks about: plot is paramount, and the characters have only a certain amount of time to develop their stories. The writer becomes seemingly nonexistent, simply the vein through which the story unfolds. There is no use of the word “I,” no room for explaining things that are unclear, like backstory. Unlike prose, the dialogue can make or break a script. Even if you’ve got a world-class idea, if you can’t convey character, action and dialogue, you might as well tell it to your dog. At best, you can hope to sell the idea itself, but the script will be entirely rewritten before you can say “ankle.” Even good scripts get rewritten. It’s a fact of life. Amanda Silver, co-writer of the Planet of the Apes reboot, said “to be a writer is to be fired.” Unless you’re looking to make a quick buck in the industry (which is nearly impossible) no writer wants to have another’s name on their movie.

The only, and I mean the only hedge against being rewritten is to have so strong a voice, so strong a conveyance of character, that no one else can possibly tell the story as well as you can. If your writing is shoddy, no great concept can save it. There are plenty of scripts out there with cool ideas and good writing, and those are the screenwriters that get the jobs. If you want to get ahead of the gang, you need to READ. Forget those people sitting at Starbucks, typing away on their laptops, believing that “if only someone would see my work, they would understand my brilliance.” Get yourself a book or script and, before you even sit down for the day to write, skim the pages. Even for a short while. It’s a great way to get you in the mood for writing. On my first feature, I took a screenplay of a writer that I admired and broke down the entire thing, page by page. Then, I got to writing my own movie. With the author’s snappy dialogue still in my mind, my script began to reflect this wittiness, and allowed the story to pop.

 

Author: Amanda Glassman - LA REELS

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