Ask the Expert: Beyond the Chick Flick

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Question: What are the top ten things to remember when writing a female-driven screenplay?

Answer:

1. Turn The Tables on Female Stereotypes

Don't ignore negative perceptions about women; challenge them by turning negative labels into positive traits for your character. "Gossipy" becomes well informed. "Catty" becomes competitive. And don't forget that positive stereotypes are still stereotypes. Humanize the perfect model of a woman by showing the darker side.

2. Heighten Your Female Character's Goals

The unappreciated temp doesn't want to be noticed; she wants to be boss. The neglected wife doesn't want to find out about her husband's infidelity, she wants to get even. Scripts that think big sell!

3. Give Your Female Character More Traditionally "Masculine" Activity

Are you undermining your character just because she's a woman? Ask yourself "what would a guy do?" Perhaps then your character will build the house she wants, instead of just dreaming about it. Perhaps she'll wait in the dark with a weapon for the burglar, rather than just calling the cops.

4. But Don't Forget She's A Woman

The female experience can bring its own activity and entertainment to a scene. In Kill Bill two female assassins suddenly hide their knives as a school bus pulls up and a child comes home. It's a funny, revealing moment that we normally wouldn't expect from a kung-fu action pic.

5. Create Sharp Act Breaks

Even if your script falls into coming-of-age, dramedy, or stage-of-life category, we should still get a strong sense of what the goals are for the characters at each act break. Don't force the reader or audience to have to analyze or interpret a murky script. Define those high and low points.

6. Bring Edge to Your Tone

Don’t give the reader a chance to write off your female-driven screenplay as soft. Watch the dreamy voice-over, sepia-toned southern settings, and mother/daughter bonding moments. Kick it up a notch. Have a sense of humor. Don't write a movie for your mom!

7. Use "Macho" Format

Flowery descriptions and over-choreographed scene direction only weighs down a script and, again, makes it feel soft. If the genre allows for it, hit hard with your words. Be lean and mean in your description. And move purposely down the page.

8. Put a Spin on Familiar Male-Driven Templates

It's Rocky ... but with a woman. Sound familiar?

9. Put a Spin on Familiar Female-Driven Templates

There's a reason we’ve seen so many modern-day princess stories. It's fun to spin the familiar. Modernize or come from a different point of view with a fairy-tale or classic story and you could find yourself with a pitch-friendly, high-concept project.

10. What's Her Story?

Remember the girl in the "guy movie:” the helpless girlfriend, the supportive wife, the stoic mom. What's her movie? What would she do if she were the lead character? Isn't it time to tell her story?

Pilar Alessandra is the director of the popular writing program On the Page. As a consultant, she’s helped thousands of writers create, refine and sell their screenplays. Her students and clients have sold to Disney, DreamWorks, Warner Brothers and Sony and have won prestigious competitions such as the Austin Film Festival, Open Door Competition, Fade-In Competition and Nicholl Fellowship. In the interest of expanding access to her teaching tools, Pilar has created two popular titles: On the Page DVD, and The Coffee Break Screenwriter: Writing Your Script Ten Minutes at a Time.