Some people say that the key to screenwriting success is to stick to the template established by other successful writers. “Don’t make waves.” “Don’t be original.” Time now to hear from someone who said “Stuff it!” to all that and, well, so far so good:
How I Broke the Rules and Survived
by Craig D. Griffiths
ving a unique and compelling voice as a writer is something we all desire to have. Yet we are told (in forums and by so called gurus) that “We must follow the rules” to be a screenwriter, we must do everything exactly the same as everyone else.
People have looked at great screenwriting and found commonalities. However, commonality is not causality. Because if these common things are all that is needed to create a great script, writers wouldn’t be needed.
How the Rules came about
The rules came about by people looking at previous works and analyzing them to see what they could discover. (As far as I can see) Christopher Volger was credited with sending a memo that outlined some rules, which is what I think kicked off this entire rule concept.
This was intended as a way of quickly weeding out the vast number of bad scripts and making a studio’s workload less. It works, as bad writers do break these rules, but of course, so do some great writers.
People seem to point at the vast number of movies that comply with the rules, so therefore, the rules must be correct.
It is also a bit of a self-weeding garden, meaning that if everyone believes the rules must be followed, then all scripts and all movies would be following and complying with the rules.
The truth is, bad writing is just bad writing and squeezing it into some rules or structure would just make it well-structured bad writing, but there are commonalities between bad writing and good writing, which very few people are willing to admit or acknowledge.
As you can see by the graph above, Bad Writers and Great Writers don’t consider the rules when they are creating their work. They are focused on the work, but the only difference is that the great writers have craft and skill. It may be true that the rules outline the thousand-year-old patterns that have evolved in storytelling, but they are not rules. They are at best-accepted norms and as such are easy to recognise and are comfortable, but they are not mandatory, which is after all the definition of a rule.
What I have a problem with is people saying that things MUST happen or that you MUST never do something. Those are the rules that I think are wrong and don’t need repeating….