Three simple, useful things about screenwriting

These aren’t dogma, they’re just some guidelines I find generally useful, good as any, better than most.

Screenplays are models of movies. Movies are entertainment. Therefore, screenplays ought to be entertaining. Or, in human terms, movies ought to engage emotionally and viscerally, sweep people up in narrative, transport them away from an oft-disappointing and humdrum existence. If a screenplay is entertaining, it will have entertainment value. We could call this “joy,” “magic,” or whatever you’d like. I prefer entertainment value because it says exactly what I mean.

All good stories have some kind of entertainment value, but not all stories create the same kind of entertainment. Let’s call this genre. Comedies amuse. Thrillers thrill. Horror stories horrify. Pornograpy pornographizes. Action movies create entertainment via action scenes. Musicals create entertainment through musical numbers. Drama creates entertainment through character and keen observation of the human condition. When you write a story, you implicitly promise it will entertain. Genre suggests the kind of entertainment it will provide.


Stories are about something, most can be boiled down to some form of “who/what/where.”

You want the entertaining moments to be conceptually specific. Premise is your friend – if a premise is working, the movie is working. If you put in something that’s not related to the core concept, you’ll have to work twice as hard.

If you do a story about a werewolf cop, the story is conceptually specific whenever his werewolfing is complicated by his policing. If the vast majority of the entertaining scenes are about something else, say the werewolf cops tortured relationship with his father, or a subplot involving his learning disabled daughter’s quest to get mainstreamed by the school district, then the story wastes a premise and feels misframed and misaimed.

Not every scene in a movie needs to be conceptually specific, you’ll have subplots, breaks from the action, etc, but most scenes needs to relate to the premise, otherwise I’m not sure why the premise is there.

Published by Matt Lazarus

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

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