Technicians versus Performers (“rules” vs “just write a great script”)

No one agrees on anything in screenwriting. One of the classic arguments is whether people should follow ‘rules’ or ‘just write a great script.’ This is a classic technician vs performer argument. It’s a war between two different approaches to learning and skill, and it’s useful to know where you fall on the continuum.

James Hunt vs Nikki Lauda. Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird. Michelangelo vs Donatello.

There are people who love “rules” and the neurotic security that comes with them, and there are people who hate them, seeing them as enemies to creativity. In my experience, the former group needs far fewer rules, the latter group needs more of them.

The irony is, both roads aspire to the same end goal – greatness. If you get really good at rules, you free yourself to play. If you get really good at playing, you end up discovering rules. The two ways don’t diverge, but they circle back to meet each other.

I’m a total technician, which means I’m bad at the things performers are good at. I work to shore up my weak side, but I’ll never be a true performer, just as true performers will never be a technician. Nor should they, the world needs all kinds.

Understanding the difference between the two styles, the gap in communication styles, and the strengths that come with both will help you enormously in writing and in life.

Published by Matt Lazarus

WGA screenwriter offering in-depth writing instruction, notes, critique, and assistance.

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