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Screenwriting Tips

Expert screenwriting tips by working screenwriters



Fill your screenplay with Drama and Conflict

Include as much drama and conflict in your screenplay as possible. Drama and conflict keeps readers turning pages and movie goers transfixed to the screen. These elements are at the core of every great script.

You want to keep your reader fully connected and engaged with your screenplay - you want them to be desperate to turn the page, find out what happens next.

Packing your script with well thought out and executed drama and conflict is the screenwriters tried and true method for achieving this. If you can do this with 90% of your script, you've likely got a damn good piece of work in your hands.

Read the screenplays for Seven, Silence of the Lambs, Argo, Flight, Crash, Traffic, A Few Good Men, Erin Brockovich or any other great movie - they'll teach you a lot about drama and conflict.

If your script makes a prodco reader sit up, pay full attention to it, you're well on the way to getting it optioned or sold. Drama and conflict is your key.

American Beauty

Example

Screenwriter Alan Ball's dialogue is laced with drama and conflict. Here's a great scene from his Oscar-winning screenplay, American Beauty:

INT. BRAD'S OFFICE - DAY

Brad is seated behind his desk, reading a document. Lester sits across from him, smiling.

BRAD

(reads)

...my job consists of basically masking my contempt for the assholes in charge, and, at least once a day, retiring to the men's room so I can jerk off, while I fantasize about a life that doesn't so closely resemble hell.

(looks up at Lester)

Well, you obviously have no interest in saving yourself.


LESTER

(laughs)

Brad, for fourteen years I've been a whore for the advertising industry. The only way I could save myself now is if I start firebombing.


BRAD

Whatever. Management wants you gone by the end of the day.


LESTER

Well, just what sort of severance package is "management" prepared to offer me? Considering the information I have about our editorial director buying pussy with company money.

A beat.

LESTER (CONT'D)

Which I'm sure would interest the I.R.S., since it technically constitutes fraud. And I'm sure that some of our advertisers and rival publications might like to know about it as well. Not to mention, Craig's wife.

Brad sighs.

BRAD

What do you want?


LESTER

One year's salary, with benefits.


BRAD

That's not going to happen.


LESTER

Well, what do you say I throw in a little sexual harassment charge to boot?

Brad LAUGHS.

BRAD

Against who?


LESTER

Against you.

Brad stops laughing.

LESTER (CONT'D)

Can you prove you didn't offer to save my job if I'd let you blow me?

Brad leans back in his chair, studying Lester.

BRAD

Man. You are one twisted fuck.


LESTER

(standing)

Nope. I'm just an ordinary guy with nothing to lose.

Writing a comedy or family movie?

Make sure you include drama and conflict too - read Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Spy Kids etc - without drama or conflict your characters cannot face and overcome adversaries.

Nicholl and AFF Screenplay Competition directors talk about conflict

Greg Beal, Director of the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting; and Matt Dy, Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition Director, said this about conflict:

GREG BEAL: If we’re talking about well written screenplays featuring intriguing characters and strong dialogue, then the missing ingredient is all too often conflict...

MATT DY: I second Greg in that not establishing conflict is the most common problem with a lot of scripts. Conflict is what drives a story and moves it forward. Without conflict or greater stakes, there is no story.

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Amp Things Up

Your Script Must Emote Well

Put your Characters in the Worst Possible Situations

How to Create Great Characters

How to Write Great Dialogue

External links

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AFF Interview: Greg Beal, Franklin Leonard and Matt Dy