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The Art of Screenwriting: Callie Khouri

Learning from the best is imperative to learning how to develop a great script. One of the best to learn from is Callie Khouri, who’s best known for writing 'Thelma & Louise' –a film that received the Academy Award for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen and a Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay. It has since become a timeless classic and was added to the prestigious Library of Congress National Film Registry in December 2016.


In addition to her work on 'Thelma & Louise', Khouri has contributed to other notable films such as 'Mad Money' in 2008 and the biopic 'Respect' in 2021. Furthermore, she is the creative mind behind the successful series 'Nashville', which premiered on ABC in 2012, garnering high praise and running for a total of six seasons.


With that resume alone, it’s safe to say Khouri is one of the best, and there’s a lot to learn from her writing. In this Art of Screenwriting, we’ll discuss Khouri’s talent as a writer, related to how she tells a story, not to overthink it, and the importance of scene descriptions. Let’s take a look!

Photo credit: Variety


Telling Your Story


According to The Script Lab, before delving into her successful career as a screenwriter, Khouri immersed herself in the dynamic world of the 1980s music video industry, taking on various roles. This exposure proved valuable since it provided her with a deep understanding of story structure and a crucial insight that would shape her approach to screenwriting.


During this time, Khouri realized the significance of capturing the essence of a story within the confines of a single frame, when the camera's shutter is open. This realization became crystal clear to her–the only tools at one's disposal to convey a narrative in this visual medium are those brief moments captured on film.


Such limitations required a heightened focus on crafting a compelling story that can be effectively portrayed through the lens. Much of that relates back to the writing process and telling your story.


Unlike the creative freedom found on the pages of short stories or novels, screenwriting demands strict adherence to the camera's frame. Every written word must fit seamlessly into the visual canvas, leaving no room for extraneous details.


Khouri recognized this constraint and embraced it as a challenge, channeling her storytelling prowess into crafting narratives that thrive within the visual boundaries of the cinematic medium.


Don’t Overthink It


A lot has been said and written about the challenges of writing a screenplay. It demands a firm grasp of structure, an understanding of your chosen genre, and the ability to create engaging characters. What most writers aren't told is that, surprisingly, it can also be effortless.


The truth is, overthinking and analyzing every technical aspect of storytelling can lead to the dreaded writer's block. The constant worry about getting everything just right can stifle the natural flow of the story that's waiting to burst forth from your imagination. Your insecurities and over-analytical thoughts become barriers, hindering the organic creation of the narrative.


Sometimes, the most exceptional stories emerge when we allow ourselves to let go of excessive self-criticism and simply let the tale unfold with ease. Trusting your creative instincts and embracing a more fluid approach can often yield remarkable results, unburdened by the paralysis of analysis.


Think About Scene Descriptions


When discussing what contributes to creating suspense in a scene, Khouri emphasized the significance of scene description in an interview I read. According to her, "economy" plays a crucial role. Each sentence must be carefully chosen, and she believes that the description is just as vital as the dialogue itself.


When she writes, she visualizes the entire scene without any dialogue initially. This approach ensures that the dialogue and description she eventually includes are only what is absolutely essential to convey the story. Khouri strives for utmost efficiency, withholding information until the precise moment it's required and avoiding any unnecessary details.


Best Callie Khouri Scripts


Thelma & Louise - Two best friends set out on an adventure, but it soon turns around to a terrifying escape from being hunted by the police, as these two girls escape for the crimes they committed.


Thelma and Louise is an intricate tapestry of themes that unfolds, infusing the film with depth and resonance. The movie deftly explores the profound concepts of friendship, women and femininity, criminality, and the interplay between freedom and confinement.


At its heart, the film is a captivating portrayal of the bond between two remarkable characters. Their unexpected road trip becomes a transformative journey of self-discovery, where each woman plays a pivotal role in empowering the other, unearthing their hidden worth and resilience.


Nashville - Follows the lives and tragedies of rising and fading country music stars in Nashville, Tennessee.


Any show that lasts more than three seasons is worth analyzing from a writing perspective. The show enthralls its audience with its infectious pop-western melodies, skillfully appealing to both fans and non-fans of the genre. The show's sharp and engaging atmosphere, combined with its compelling narratives, captivates viewers and keeps them hooked throughout.

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