Ground Hog Day’s Scribe Danny Rubin’s 10 Rules for Screenwriters

Screenwriter Danny Rubin shares his 10 rules for screenwriters.

The comfort of rules can be very important to a writer’s motivation because telling them the truth (there are no rules and nobody knows anything) is for most people not useful and a little intimidating.

Here’s my list. It’s designed for screenwriters writing screenplays, but all kinds of dramatic fiction and nonfiction can be invigorated by the same rules. Or not. Equally.

1. Writers write. And rewrite.

Everybody’s got a great idea for a screenplay. “All I need is someone to write it down for me,” says my neighbor, my barber, my UPS guy. Nope. Coming up with great ideas is part of the job, and I certainly spend a portion of my “writing” time on the sofa and in the shower; but most ideas tend to look fully formed and perfect until you actually try to write them down.

If you are a writer, you are actually writing things down. And then we rewrite. Getting to the end of a 120-page feature film is huge, and I often print it out and spend the rest of the day just picking it up and feeling its heft. I did that! Yes I did! But getting to the end is not the same as finishing. Most writing takes place after the initial basecoat is laid down.

2. Show it, don’t tell it.

Anybody can create a character who opens his mouth and tells us everything that’s on his mind, and some people can even make those words funny or poetic or heartbreaking. But movies are first and foremost a visual medium, and the strongest screenplays take advantage of that. What can a character do to show us how they feel or what they are thinking about? What scenes can you create and in what order can you arrange them in order to show us a routine or an intention or a memory? Dialogue is most amazing and powerful in a movie when it is not forced to carry the burden of exposition. Concentrate on showing and the telling will take care of itself.

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