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10/06/2003 - 5 Ways to Make the Next Contest Round

This is a very informative article by my friend & peer Wendy Moon...

Here are five elements common to the best scripts in any contest. By applying them to your script, you'll increase your odds a hundred-fold:

1) Tell me a story
Story is everything. Everything. Don't worry about original-concentrate on fresh. Find a new way to tell old stories. Above all, story is movement-things happen, people change. I care about the story if I care about the people (either love or hate them) and if I understand why what's happening is important to them. The best way to do that is to have clear movement from one state of being to another-from insecure to confident, from unloving to loving, for example-and to have the situation clearly different at the end. Notice I say "clear" not huge or big-it can be "small" if it's significant.

2) Tell me where I'm going and then drive me faster and faster
A great script has to make me want to find out what happens next. This directly translates into the speed of the read; the faster I want to go the more I care about what's happening. To do this, give me a tangible, specific goal for the protagonist by the end of Act I. For example, six minutes into My Best Friend's Wedding by Ronald Bass, Julia Robert says, "I'm a very busy gal. I have exactly four days to break up a wedding, steal the bride's guy and I don't have a clue how to do it." Three minutes later, Cameron Diaz tells her "I have four days to make you my new best friend." These clear and opposing goals fuel everything else that happens, but notice that neither character tells me how they're going to do it. That's what happens for the rest of the script. And the pace can't slacken from there-each incident has to be that much worse or tempting or critical for the protagonist. Therefore:

3) I get it. I get it! Repeat beats, extra beats and exposition
Don't ever give the same information twice and don't tell me anything I don't absolutely need to know. These things slow down the pace of the script. It "feels" like it can't matter that much to the characters since they seem to be taking their time. Try skipping every other page in your script-if you can understand what's happening, you've got excess material in the previous page. Then apply this technique within a scene-skip every other bit of dialogue or description.

4) Make it real
Emotions are primary, plot is secondary-this is what makes "small stories" big. In As Good As It Gets, we learn to care about Jack Nicholson's character because we quickly realize how he does care but is so awful at expressing it-what happens is secondary. Make sure your characters have big emotions-love, fear, jealousy, greed and so forth-then choose what happens so those emotions are battered and refined-forced into action to achieve their goals.

Don't make your characters eccentric-make them recognizable and exaggerate a little. If something about them is something we see in ourselves or someone we know, we're more interested in what happens to them because it has personal relevance.

5) Find your voice.
You wouldn't believe how many scripts-particularly romcoms and action-adventures sound like they were written by the same person. Actions are described the same way and the characters all sound alike. To find your voice requires relaxation and/or passion. Voice is found when you stop thinking about how others are going to react and have written so much that you finally start choosing the words that are really "yours." That's when how you say something becomes distinctive-because it's something only you would say that way and that's powerful and compelling to the reader.

For more info about Wendy, please click here..


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