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Screenwriting: Break All the Rules!

September 14, 2015

You’ve heard them all before. Even in my blog. The rules that say certain things should happen within the first 10 pages of your script, your protagonist must be a likeable character, you must follow the three-act structure. If you know all of these rules, if you’ve practiced all these rules and you still can’t seem to get any recognition after several re-writes, then it’s time to break ‘em. If you’re sill learning the rules, then it’s important to keep following them. Let me explain:

In order to be great at anything you must first learn the rules of the game. It is a must. If you go into it all willy nilly, just doing as you please, you’re going to lose. Okay, maybe not everyone and maybe not all the time, but the vast majority will lose… frequently. If by some freak chance you knock it out of the park on your first attempt without knowing or following the rules, you will struggle to have follow-up success (Example: Juno). So knowing the rules is important. Once you know them, then you will know how to break them successfully.

My point is, don’t get so caught up and trying to fit your inciting incident into the first 10 to 15 pages that you force it in where it doesn’t fit. BUT (this is a big butt) make sure that what you have leading up to the inciting incident is important to your story. There needs to be incidents that tie into the inciting incident, but don’t drag it out too long. One rule not to break: if it doesn’t advance your story, if your story loses nothing from removing it, then it doesn’t need to be there. It’s okay to have your inciting incident happen much later as long as you have [an] event(s) leading up to it.

Don’t fall into the belief that your hero has to be a likeable person. Antiheroes have just as much success as a likeable one. Tyler Durden was an asshole. You most likely would not choose to be friends with him if you met him at work. However, there was some quality about him that made the audience go along for the ride. People related to him because he did the things we always think about doing, but didn’t have the courage to follow through with. Not that we wanted to be like him, but we could appreciate having the courage to stand up to adversity. The protagonist doesn’t have to be likeable, but he does need to at least have some relatable quality.

The most important thing to remember when writing is to have fun with it. Don’t get so bogged down with the rules and details that you lose sight of why you write. Tell your story. Get that first ugly draft out of the way and then go back to fix the things that don’t work. Get more eyes on it. Let your friends read it. Submit it to contests and get discounted feedback. Spend a little extra money and get a professional reader’s opinion (shameless plug). Keep in mind that they are all just opinions. If you don’t like the feedback you get, don’t make the changes, but be open-minded enough to at least consider the suggestions.

This is what I want you to walk away with: Learn. The. Rules. Master the rules and then you can break the rules like a master. Don’t ever forget the rules. Just learn when you can, and can’t, break them. Until next week, happy writing.

One Comment
  1. zannamochaccina permalink

    As much of a rule follower as I am, sometimes I just feel the need to break them once in a while.


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