SCREENWRITER’S GUIDEPOST: Writing to Win (the Insider Contest)

Q: How can I give myself the best chance to win the Industry Insider Contest?

It boils down to this:

Finish the rough draft ASAP. Then rewrite more than anyone else.

Q: How do you finish your rough draft ASAP when the contest announces the finalists and you’ve barely finished responding to all the congratulations posts on Facebook when the final round begins?

Plan ahead. Prepare for the best. Don’t wait to be a finalist to think about where your story will go. Cue the instrumental theme music for Chariots of Fire before the race starts.

There will always be a lot of discoveries during the writing process; however, using the first 5-8 weeks (or longer) of the 12-week contest mentorship to figure out where your story will go—or what your lead is trying to accomplish in Act 2—will put you at a disadvantage.

Quite simply, it’s hard to recover the necessary rewriting time with a shortened window. You’ll be finishing your first or second draft as another finalist is finishing their fourth or fifth draft. Which script do you think will read better when the deadline arrives?

A Possible Approach

Consider trying this: expand your logline into a one-sheet, building to where you imagine your lead character will be emotionally when the story ends. Flesh out this synopsis as much as you need to envision a draft of the story—probably between 2-8 pages, but it could be more or less. Woody Allen works from a paragraph. James Cameron crafts a scriptment. Whatever works best for you.

The objective is to have a sense of the broad emotional flow of the story: what the lead will experience physically and emotionally; what will power the conflict; what the lead will look like in tangible pursuit of a goal during Act 2; what you think the climax of the story may involve.

When the contest begins, show that map to me or Kay or Anthony or Joe or whoever your mentor is for the running. We will serve as sounding boards to help you maximize your story’s potential—while offering tips, advice and feedback on the micro and macro aspects of bringing your vision to fruition.

If the doc is strong, and you feel the desire, fire out that draft as fast as you can. You will be ahead of the game because you will have more time to rewrite, resulting in more time to clarify the intent of your story beats.

And make no mistake: clarity goes a long way toward elevating material to a…

Winning Caliber

A finalist during the most recent running of the contest asked me for a list of what patterns I’d noticed in past winners’ scripts. The following is lifted from my response:

What past winners of the contest share in common is high-level execution of all storytelling basics in service of an engaging concept.

Here are the boxes I recall most winning scripts checked off:

-Scenes average 2 pages or less, start with clear conflict and end on strong button beats

-All characters have unique voices and clear attitudes throughout

-An understanding that POV (point-of-view) is not only for novelists and camera moves

-Page counts come in under 110; somewhere between 103-108 being the sweet spot

-There’s at least one “axe” in every scene. (Pocket Screenwriting Guide co-scribe—and recent Nicholl Fellowship winner—Anthony Grieco offered a good definition of the “axe in the room” during a recent interview for Scott Myers’ Go Into the Story blog:

“That’s the object in the scene that is an extension of how the character feels about what’s happening. Does someone incessantly click a pen, chop onions, make their bed, etc… Basically behavioral subtext. That often says more than dialogue.”)

-Many setups, callbacks and payoffs, giving an overall cohesiveness and tapestry-like impression

-Ultra clear on what audience/protagonist are meant to think and feel beat by beat; nearly impossible to get lost in terms of the intended emotional experience

-Plot and world rules simplified to the absolutely essential

-Beats that take more real estate than story value they deliver all cut or re-calibrated

-Better to be weird and interesting than logical and lackluster

-Compressed and clear timeline, utilizing the tightest time-scape possible (often 1-3 days)

-Very visual storytelling but with a lot of white on the pages, always leading the reader’s eyes toward the page-turner (the last beat on a given page)


Finally, remember:

Winning isn’t everything (no matter what Cam Newton says). If you work hard, put in the time and trust the process, you will come out of the contest with a stronger grasp on the craft; and ideally, you’ll be equipped with a script to use as a calling card going forward.

Harness this script as a tool to advance your screenwriting career. Enter it in other contests. Send it to your contacts. Seek representation. And be ready for the process to go full circle… because the question you’ll hear at every industry meeting you get will be:

“So what are you working on next?” 

Followed by:

“Where do you see that story going?

Article originally published by ScriptMag (