How Do You Execute Your Screenwriting Voice?
How Do You Execute Your Screenwriting Voice And What Goes Into Creating A Style On The Page?
In this article, Alexander Robb (Literary manager at Insignia Entertainment) discusses how your voice translates into your unique writing style.
I get asked this question – All. The. Time. So many writers struggle to find their voice or style. The biggest thing I look for from any writer, in any genre and format, is how they bring their ideas to life in a form and fashion that captures the distinctions of what they see and how they see it unfold.
I want to see how they manage the real estate and pacing. The flow and rhythm. How the physical writing “rolls off the tongue.”
There are tens of thousands of words in the English language. Hundreds even. And every script is like a farmer cultivating their crops. How you tend to the craft of screenwriting is what can create a more prosperous yield.
Or think of it like a painting. Some guy named Voltaire once said, “Writing is the painting of the voice.” And he was right!!
The size and shape of the canvas, married with the types of brushes and the myriad of colors, is just the start. There’s an infinite number of permutations that can create a wholly unique presentation to the world. And screenwriting is the exact same. The format, narrative/story, character arcs, and structure is the same thing as the blank canvas, brushes and paints. We’ll come to applying that more practically, but there’s another element to take into consideration before we get there…
Previously, I've said: “Every genre writes itself.” That’s a bit of an esoteric thought but think of a horror film vs an action comedy.
The pacing and cinematic elements for each are completely different. As such, the rhythm of the physical execution of the screenplay should reflect those differences.
And that’s where “feel” comes into play. Any written story makes you feel. And the way the author articulates their story on the page is what shapes our ability to see what they see. To feel what they feel. Then, roll that into how a writer shapes all of that to make someone see the differences between a black comedy over a paranoid thriller over a broad comedy etc.
So to bring that full circle into a practical application? Every word. Every syllable. Every sentence. Every use of punctuation. They all blend together in creating an exact cinematic rhythm that evokes an emotion in the reader.
Take, for example, the opening scene of Jaws. The scene where Chrissy gets sucked under while the dope tumbles into the sand, drunk as a skunk.
I created a screenwriters’ mentor program where I help screenwriters find their voice. One of the exercises I have each writer go through is to have them watch the opening sequence of Jaws and then reinterpret that sequence through the writing lessons learned prior to the exercise.
And wouldn’t you know it, but every single writer has created something distinct unto themselves? Not one single writer has been like the other.
But each was able to reimagine that sequence in a way where they articulated what they saw in their mind’s eye, per the lessons I share to help them shape their vision. We all know what opening sequence of Jaws is like. But how a writer makes that their own, that’s what I look for.
Oh. And on a personal side note. Thanks to Steven Spielberg, I still can’t go in the ocean!!
Spielberg created a very distinct cinematic rhythm and emotional impact on the audience. We can feel the energy of “don’t go in the water!” or “get out of the water!”
In the context of screenwriting, the question becomes, how do you create that on the page? That’s where style comes into play. It’s not just WHAT you say but HOW you say it. The flow of the sentence structure with a mix of punctuation that showcases a rhythm that represents the film’s sequencing and pace. That’s the key.
It’s that kind of power, the power of change, that a writer possesses. It starts with a rep, then an exec, then a producer and financier. They have to appreciate the nuance and want to grab the baton for their leg of the race. Then, and maybe most importantly, a writer is charged with the task of equipping a director and actors with the tool to make someone so terrified to literally change a person’s real-life actions and thoughts and emotions. That’s the peak of where a writer can find what it means to paint the tone, the energy, and the emotion.
Throw in the balance of word choice, simile, and metaphor, cinematic description, and punctuation. Add in the rules of “never use the words is, are, we see or we hear” (at least until you have a handle on your voice.) And keeping your descriptions and characters in the moment by avoiding passive uses of “-ing” (which also keeps the reader in the moment the same way we watch something)?
Do all of that and that’s where you execute your voice and find a style on the page. That’s how you bring your vision to life. That’s how you stand out.