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Business of Screenwriting: Choosing the Right Story

If you are hoping to get signed by an agent or manager, if you are hoping to sell your script, you may not be thinking in the right direction. Choosing the right story is critical to your career.

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What could you be thinking? It is something I often wonder when I’m reading a new script from either new or seasoned writers. I know that you have received advice that tells you to write something about which you know as well as advice to write in a genre you prefer. These points, my friends, are not enough info for you. Here’s the problem. You may be choosing the wrong story and that is catastrophic for your writing career. If you are hoping to get signed by an agent or manager, if you are hoping to sell your script, you may not be thinking in the right direction.

Agents and managers want to read something they can either sell or use as a great writing sample. That means your story must be timely in its concept and characters. That means that you must write the way people talk in today’s world. It means that the inner motivation and/or story line must have a common ideological subject for today’s market. Example: No one cares if a 30-year-old female is a virgin. People are still afraid of dying. Everyone wants to be liked, no one wants to age, young people want to be older, older people want to be younger, etc. These are just some of the issues of our times. Use them as your underlying raison d’être for your main character and build your story around that character’s fulfillment of that need.

right story

If you want to sell your screenplay you must also build a story with some credibility. Ask yourself; “Who is my audience for this picture?” If you don’t have a specific audience, especially an audience that is huge, then re-think working on that story. Studios, and even independent film production companies, need to make a lot of money just to stay even. Will your viewers come to their expensive theaters in droves? Will there be a huge word-of-mouth promotion? Will your storyline hit people so that they can’t wait to see this picture?

In today’s competitive market, you must think hard about your subject matter. I don’t care if it’s a comedy, drama, sci-fi, action or adventure film. All of these need a great story to which people can relate. The great Rocky was about a man searching for love. Gladiator was about a man trying desperately to right a wrong. The Life of Pi was about a young man’s separation anxiety. These are big issues that are dressed up in great writing and great stories. Everyone can relate to the feelings, fears and needs of the heroes.

When all is said and done, people want to feel that they have come away with some meat and potatoes after they’ve spent that hard earned cash to see a movie. They may not even be aware of what they’ve learned about the human condition, however; they will feel it.

You need only to go into your own life experiences to find what you will need. If you are very young, you have experienced all the aspects of going to school. There’s plenty of grist for the mill in that. If you are older, then you’ve had loads of situations that you have had to work through with family, friends, co-workers, et al. Men and women experience situations differently from one another. Read books on psychology. Ask people about their lives. It’s not difficult to find a universal theme for your screenwriting.

If you cannot do this, your scripts will continue to go unnoticed. Adequate writing is never enough to make a career. You must have these inner issues as either your story or your back story. It is what will make your characters likeable and this is a key element to getting your scripts sold and noticed.

I know there are lots of things to remember when working on a screenplay. You must have the star in every scene. You will need to have the star resolve the plot problem. You have to keep your script at about 110 pages. You need to be innovative, but not too “out there.” There are many things to learn and to know about the craft of writing. This article is about one of the essentials.

Keep writing!

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