To learn more about screenwriting, read The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters: Insider Secrets from Hollywood’s Top Writers by Karl Iglesias. Rather than teaching readers about the theory behind screenwriting, it proves habits that Karl Iglesias believes should be adopted by any writer who want to be successful in this field. These habits are also practised by some of the most famous screenwriters in Hollywood, including Eric Roth, Ed Soloman, and Steve Desouza.
The Most Important Habits
Habit #4: Being a natural observer
Characters need to be based on something. In order to create authentic characters that move audiences you need to understand people, and to understand people you need to observe. Pay attention to the world around you and make note of everything!They may be useful things to draw upon when you’re writing.
Habit #5 : Being Collaborative
While the initial writing process is very individual, the process that follows is very collaborative. You need to be about to accept other opinions and compromise, which is exactly what you’ll have to do when working with executives, directors, actors, agents, etc.
Habit #11: Understanding the Downside of Being a Screenwriter in Hollywood
As the various screenwriters interviewed for the book clearly explain, it has its disadvantages. Screenwriters are not the final decision makers of the product. They have to deal with constant rejection and criticism (which is often unmerited). Due to its collaborative nature, there can be a clash of opinions where the writers opinion doesn’t hold much weight. Also, random factors can influence the fate of the script (that have nothing to do with the quality of the writing). An actor may pull out of the project and the film won’t be made, or on the other hand, it might only be looked at because a star has taken an interest in it. You don’t own the copyright on your material so once its sold, management can completely change your idea without your permission. It’s not easy!
Habit #18: Getting Input as often as Possible
Adding to the habit (#4) regarding observing what goes on around you, writers need all kinds of information to write their stories. They read (fiction or non-fiction it doesn’t matter), they keep up-to-date with current events around the world, they research and interact, and they gather all the information they can so that it can be used as locations, events, characters or themes in their writing. Learn as much as you can, about everything!
Habit #38: Writing through your Fears
One thing that I found interesting was that even the most successful screenwriters experience self-doubt. They question whether their material is good enough, whether people will connect with it the way they do and whether they have enough talent. They worry about most of the same things aspiring writers battle with! But how do they deal with it? They keep going. They acknowledge the fear and keep writing. Sometimes the insecurities are just what a writer needs to make progress.
Habit #53: Being Open to Outside Criticism
Once you’ve finished creating and editing, and you are comfortable with your work, you should show it to other people. Feedback is a good thing. It can be hard to take sometimes, but if the people you ask are highlighting specific problems within the text (and not offering suggestions), it can be worth considering. As a rule, if one person criticises something, you can choose to ignore it, but if two or more people are mentioning the same thing, pay attention!
Habit #58: Discriminating between Good and Bad Writing
Good writing moves its audience. This could be due to the numerous twists and turns that keep them guessing, the authentic characters that they can relate to, or the way the story gets the audience involved. It shouldn’t be boring or cliché like most of the amateur scripts they receive.
According to them, most first-timers don’t study screenwriting enough. They are not formatting their script properly. They include too many camera directions, and the dialogue is lengthy or unnecessary. There are long paragraphs of unnecessary scene description. The characters are not interesting. The story is not original (because they didn’t take the time to find out what is already out there). On top of that, their script don’t evoke emotion amongst its readers. If you don’t make them care, then why should they?
Habit #78: Getting the Right Agent the Old-Fashioned Way
This was an extremely helpful tip. Agents can be very, very helpful to writers. They can provide their clients with opportunities and they have enough contacts to get their clients seen by important people. While there are some who are only interested in profiting from your sold writing, the good ones can be extremely valuable.
Some people think that sending query letters (no one ever answers those) to agents or approaching them with your script is the way to get their attention, its not. Good writing attracts agents. When a script is really good, news travels and they will be looking for you because good scripts are in short supply! Throughout the book, the author and the other writers suggest entering screenwriting competitions. The winners are often approached with job offers or opportunities and they receive mentoring from the professional judges. If not, a referral is also a good way to get an agent. The fact is, you need an agent to be viewed as a professional and an agent will only be interested in you if you show promise (and produce work that has the possibility of being sold).
Habit #90: Not Burning Bridges When Fired
The other thing that I didn’t know before reading this book is that being fired is quite common amongst screenwriters. It even happens to the most successful ones! Sometimes, once you’ve sold your material, executives don’t believe that you are making the project better and they’ll fire you…only to eventually hire you again because the person they hired after you was not helping the project either. It happens to everyone and it shouldn’t be taken personally. You should “break-up” amicably because you never know when they’ll want you back!
Habit #91: Adapting to the Hollywood System
It is a very, very slow process. Things never get done in the time you’d expect them to. Scripts can sometimes take years to get through production. Take Forrest Gump for example. It took over 10 years to be made and I (along with many others) would consider to be a brilliant film! Don’t take it personally if things don’t happen for you right away. Instead of dwelling on it, write more. Put your efforts onto new projects and don’t let it bring you down.
Habit #92: Handling Rejection
There is a quote in this section that I thought was incredibly powerful. It was from Barbara Kingsolver. It reads:
“Don’t consider your projects rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘To the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address. “
Just because your work is rejected doesn’t mean it is not good. Preserve, and keep writing. You’re not failing if you are going what you love.
For full list of habits, read The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters: Insider Secrets from Hollywood’s Top Writers by Karl Iglesias.