How do you find your voice as a screenwriter?
12. Find your voice – and stick with it.
Ever found yourself writing a script similar to a film you like? When you read it back, does it sound a little too similar? Then chances are you’re writing in someone else’s voice. Every writer writes differently; every writer has his or her own voice.
Most scripts by novices rehash popular films that likely struck a chord with them. Never mind the quick-fire chatter of Aaron Sorkin, the quirky protagonists of Greta Gerwig, or the eerie visuals of Jordan Peele. We’re here to help you write in your sexy voice.
Honesty is the basis of writing
Why do you want to write, exactly? Honesty is at the forefront of all writing. Do you want to make people laugh, inform, change political viewpoints, tell stories from unheard voices? Find what makes you tick, the stuff that lights the fire in your belly like a vindaloo curry on a Friday night.
It’s great that certain films have inspired you to write. You just need to make sure not to copy them verbatim. Break your favorite films down into their constituent parts. How do they achieve what you enjoyed so much? Use that stuff as a springboard for your own ideas – not necessarily as a blueprint. You don’t have to try to emulate – your favorite works will influence you regardless.
We’re sure you’ve heard this a thousand times: you’ll only find your voice if you keep writing. Practise, practise, and more practise. If Daniel Day-Lewis can learn tailoring for Phantom Thread, we’re sure you can put the hours in for what you love, too.
One day you’ll look back at everything you’ve written and identify a pattern in the stories you’re inclined to tell, the themes you favor, and the genres you’re best suited to. How well do you really know yourself? Maybe you thought you were an action-comedy writer when in fact you’re a closet romantic!
Truth forms the connection to stories
Back to honesty, the most important part of what your write: truth is what connects us to stories – no one likes a liar. Audiences can spidey-sense the authenticity that makes stories resonate.
For comedy (especially standup) to work, the writer must completely expose those deep inner thoughts, opinions, and embarrassing stories totally without fear. We recommend The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to see how the protagonist uses her real-life experiences to make an audience split their sides with guffaws.
Knowing your own voice will be eternally useful for writing competitions and writers’ rooms because you know what your strength is. We writers are terrified of what the world will think of what goes on in our messed-up heads. But the truth is that messed-up, weird, and different are why we choose to watch films & TV.
Your unique voice needs to be heard
We don’t want to watch someone going about a regular life with nothing strange or interesting happening. Zzz . . . what?! We literally just fell asleep at the thought of it – it’s what nightmares are made of! We’d rather watch The Room . . . twice.
If “normal” were what interested audiences, we’d be entertained constantly by our own lives. Truth is, most people’s lives are boring – which is why we tune in to see how people basically like us would react to irregular circumstances.
Listen to the king, Alfred Hitchcock: “Drama is life with all the boring bits cut out.”
You guessed it – you get to watch more stuff. We know – we’re just so horrible to you! Get your notepad and pen ready and prepare yourself for some active watching.
Goooood . . . let the voice flow through you
Watch a few films or TV shows. In the first few scenes of each, observe the tone presented.
For example in the very first episode of Riverdale, there is a death almost immediately, which sets the tone for the show. Now we know this show will be very serious at times – we know what tone to expect, what we’re in for.
In your chosen films and TV shows, note how quickly the tone is set, and how it is set.
Look over your title page and make sure you’re still happy with it.