Expert screenwriting tips by working screenwriters
If you have not already, please read the Nicholl Fellowship introductory article.
The How to Win a Nicholl Fellowship is a series of articles:
The Nicholl Fellowship team answered this fundamental question on their Facebook page:
Sometimes it goes like this:
Within a page or two, you realize you're being taken on a journey by a writer who knows how to assemble words and phrases. Five pages in, ten pages, you've been introduced to characters you want to get to know, you need to know. And a story has appeared, the beginning moments, threads to be unraveled, mysteries appearing and inklings of solutions promised. Suddenly the pages seem to be flying in an onward rush through a story that engages you totally while causing you to feel, to care, to laugh, to cry, to rejoice, to cower in fear, to cheer excitedly... and when the script carries you to the bottom of the last page, you're in awe of the story, the characters, the dialogue, the description - and so much more.
That's one version, only one. There are many more.
Nicholl Director, Greg Beal, was asked this question by Moviebytes - his reply:
Originality; strong, intriguing characters; and a compelling story. If I added a fourth and a fifth, they would be exceptional storytelling and exemplary writing and craft skills.
AbsoluteWrite asked Nicholl Director, Greg Beal:
There are probably what you consider to be the cardinal rules of screenwriting; obviously formatting, storytelling, structure, that kind of thing. What can you tell screenwriters that might improve their chances in the hunt?
You mentioned formatting, so let me begin there. The basics are so simple you should just get them down. Or spend some money and get a program like Final Draft or Scriptware, or Moviemagic 2000. In a similar vein, a lot of screenwriters don't read scripts. They watch a lot of movies, but they haven't read scripts. If you ask a group of screenwriters how many novels or short stories they've read, they'll say thousands. Ask the same group how many scripts and the answer is usually something like ten - or fewer.
I'm always surprised that people aspire to be screenwriters, but they haven't read any scripts. If you read pro scripts, you're going to see how people handle situations. You're going to learn from what they've done. If you can build up a library, go to the Internet and download scripts, you can look up certain scenes - how did they handle flashbacks - character introductions - a particular craft element. The more you've read, the better you'll understand how pros have done it and your scripts will be better for it. It can truly come in handy to join a writer's group and read every script you can get your hands on. Read mediocre scripts from all sorts of people.
One of the things I learned when I was writing myself and reading hundreds of scripts is I would see mistakes over and over again and realize that I made those mistakes in my own scripts. Read all sorts of scripts - good ones - bad ones - because you will learn from both. Writers who watch movies or television know how it looks and sounds and feels on the screen, but too often they have no idea how it looks when it's put down on paper. There is a considerable difference.
The Nicholl Fellowship team post this advice on their Facebook page:
Originality is next on our list of the criteria Academy Nicholl readers consider while judging a screenplay.
Inherently, originality seems obvious. Does the script explore unusual stories, introduce fresh and vibrant characters who speak in their own voices and take us to places we've never visited before? But originality can be much more than its obvious components.
Stories that might seem familiar on the surface can made original through their characters and dialogue, in their arenas and settings and by introducing moments of true feeling, whether silly, serious or fantastic. Originality can also surface through the use of alternative structures, the mingling of past and present, the swirling of dreams and reality and in voyages to fantastic realms built entirely from the imagination or on a foundation from the world we know.
Since one could argue that genre screenplays are intrinsically unoriginal because they are, by definition, formulaic, we ask our readers to consider several aspects for all genre scripts. Within the confines of the genre, does the script feature original characters, dialogue, arenas and settings, etc.? Does the screenplay twist or tweak the strictures of the genre in any way? Does the script fulfill the requirements of the genre - in other words, is a romantic comedy romantic and funny, a thriller thrilling, a horror script scary, etc.?
Reel Authors has a number of helpful articles on this topic including:
Due to production work we have suspended our coverage service for now.