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7 Common Screenwriting Myths Debunked

Rules and guidelines are a large portion of the screenwriting world, particularly related to what you can and can’t do. If you’re a cinema fan, most professionals will tell you that much of what’s known in the industry is a myth–something widely believed but inaccurate.


Fortunately, plenty of resources discuss what’s wrong with these points and why you don’t need to follow them. Nevertheless, in this article, let’s discuss seven common writing myths and why they’re wrong, why people believe them, and what you can do as a writer related to each topic.


Photo credit: Chapman University


What Are Screenwriting Myths?


Countless individuals have contemplated "making it" as a screenwriters, envisioning the thrill of seeing their work on the big screen. However, only a select few have achieved this feat, with their screenplays earning recognition and acclaim.


Plenty of people get discouraged from the screenwriting world due to the influx of screenwriting myths in the industry. If you were to take the definition—a commonly accepted yet erroneous belief or notion—you still might not know what this means with screenwriting. Thus, as discussed below, we will feature a few common ones to highlight and explain why they’re wrong.


Myth 1: Screenwriting Will Make You Rich


Occasionally, Hollywood pays substantial sums for screenplays, but these high-profile cases tend to garner attention. However, the perspective shifts when you factor in the considerable time investment required to craft an exceptional script and acknowledge that initial scripts rarely yield significant financial returns.


The pursuit of screenwriting shouldn’t be motivated by monetary gain; it should be driven solely by a passion for cinema and a desire to contribute. If you're drawn to the craft of writing and are committed to the art form, then pursuing a career as a screenwriter is a natural fit.


Myth 2: Write a Script to Appeal to a Broad Demographic


Craft a film that resonates with your passion rather than catering solely to perceived market demands. Avoid incorporating unnecessary elements or additional characters to widen the movie's appeal; this approach risks alienating the intended audience.


Instead, prioritize the inclusion of re-watchable moments–scenes that captivate the target demographic to the extent that they revisit the film repeatedly, even in genres typically criticized for their narrow appeal, such as straightforward action movies.


Also, remember that your film must first impress producers and agents. However, refrain from fixating on guessing their individual preferences since it’s almost impossible to predict what someone is interested in.


Myth 3: Formatting is Most Important


Like many aspects of the industry, correct formatting filters out submissions. Employ proper spelling and punctuation and adhere to script guidelines to increase the chances of your script being read. Make sure to include scene headings, action descriptions, character names, and dialogue. Aim to keep a feature script within the range of 90 to 100 adequately formatted pages.


That being said, formatting isn’t the most crucial aspect of a script. The story, dialogue, characters, and effectiveness are far more essential. If you have the basics down, no professional will turn down a great story with a few minor formatting mistakes.


Myth 4: You Must Have Connections


Movie producers are keen on discovering fresh talent, and even newcomers have the potential to achieve significant box-office success. Consider the impressive critical and public acclaim received by writer Alvin McCraney’s debut film, "Moonlight," as a prime example.


Making the film yourself is a common way to get started in the movie world nowadays. It provides invaluable experience in the filmmaking journey and enhances your writing abilities. If you possess any inclination or talent for directing or producing, it's a skill worth nurturing as it complements screenwriting seamlessly.


Myth 5: Write What You Know


Creating a screenplay based on what you're familiar with or can thoroughly research results in a believable storyline. However, if every writer strictly adhered to this principle, there would be an overabundance of movies depicting struggling artists. Imagination is essential for crafting fantastical and extraordinary films.


This principle would confine us to retreading familiar ground if strictly adhered to. Taken to its literal extent, we'd be confined to writing nonfiction, memoirs, and autobiographical fiction, leaving no room for speculative genres like fantasy and sci-fi. True creativity flourishes when we venture beyond our comfort zones and embrace risks.


Myth 6: A Writer Should Have Complete Control


Both the writer and director shouldn't wield absolute control. Film production is collaborative, requiring writers to be receptive to script modifications. However, a film production company cannot ethically request changes to a screenplay from a Writers Guild member without compensation.


Relying on subtext to tell a compelling story on the writing side relinquishes some control over your readers' interpretation of your narrative. Readers play a role in shaping the story they derive from your text. However, this dynamic isn't inherently negative.


Myth 7: It Doesn’t Require A Lot Of Writing


Despite their brevity, screenplays, typically 90 to 100 pages long, pose a greater challenge than longer novels that may be three times their length. Writing concisely and knowing what to omit can prove to be daunting tasks.


While storytelling is universally enjoyed, not everyone can craft a compelling narrative. Many claim to be writers but dedicate little time to the craft, while others aspire to write but struggle to find the time. An incredibly frustrating scenario arises when someone approaches you with an idea, expecting you to execute it and share the profits, believing the idea to be the most difficult aspect.


Nevertheless, writers are compelled to write–it's ingrained in their nature, irrespective of the outcome. Therefore, the fundamental step towards becoming a screenwriter is simply to start writing.


Furthermore, screenwriters encounter rejection, often in abundance. It's an inherent part of the journey, regardless of the quality of your writing. Even the most talented writers experience setbacks, and exceptional scripts may be overlooked in favor of others.


Success as a screenwriter demands exceptional writing skills, resilience, and persistence. It's crucial to stand by your work and continue advocating for it, believing in its value as a compelling story despite receiving numerous rejection letters.

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