The Art of Screenwriting: Nancy Meyers
Writing a script can be daunting for any writer who aspires to pursue this career. Developing a captivating storyline with a low chance of succeeding requires significant time, effort, and energy. As a result, many people are hesitant to become a screenwriter. Luckily, plenty of established screenwriters can serve as inspiration, and Nancy Meyers is one of the most prominent names in the industry.
Meyers has written, produced, and directed many critically and commercially successful films, including Private Benjamin (1980), Irreconcilable Differences (1984), Baby Boom (1987), Father of the Bride (1991), Father of the Bride Part II (1995), The Parent Trap (1998), What Women Want (2000), Something's Gotta Give (2003), The Holiday (2006), It's Complicated (2009), and The Intern (2015). So, what can we learn from Meyers? Let’s take a look!
Photo credit: Entertainment Weekly
Writing What You Know
Nancy Meyers is recognized for weaving her personal experiences into her writing, often exploring themes and issues she has encountered. For instance, in the film The Holiday, the character Iris (Kate Winslet) is a thriving newspaper columnist struggling to move on from a failed relationship, which was inspired by Meyers' own experience of coping with divorce and learning to be comfortable with being alone.
Similarly, Meyers' encounters with dating an older man motivated the film Something's Gotta Give. The central relationship in the film between a successful middle-aged playwright (played by Diane Keaton) and a wealthy older bachelor (played by Jack Nicholson) was partially based on Meyers' relationship with the father of her children, who was fourteen years her senior.
By delving into her own experiences and emotions, Meyers can create stories and characters that feel genuine and relatable. This can be a valuable lesson for writers, as it encourages them to extract inspiration from their own lives and to write from a place of personal experience.
However, it's important to note that "writing what you know" doesn't imply that writers should only write about their own lives. Instead, it means that writers should employ their own experiences and emotions to create stories that feel genuine and true to life. This can involve research, observation, imagination, and personal experience.
Humor and Emotion Balance
Nancy Meyers is renowned for her ability to combine humor and emotion in her writing, resulting in films that are both funny and touching. Her approach uses witty dialogue and character interactions to bring humor to the story while exploring complex emotional themes such as love, loss, and personal growth.
One of the keys to Meyers' success is her ability to create flawed and relatable characters who face real emotional challenges. By doing so, she can connect with audiences on a deeper level and evoke empathy and understanding.
As writers, we can learn from Meyers' approach by balancing humor and emotion. This might involve using humor to lighten the mood during emotional scenes or exploring complex themes through relatable and flawed characters.
By finding the right balance between humor and emotion, we can create entertaining stories that resonate with audiences on a deeper level, leaving a lasting impact.
Creating Compelling Characters
Meyers is celebrated for her talent in crafting characters that come across as authentic and relatable. She achieves this by intentionally giving her characters flaws, weaknesses, and internal conflicts. By allowing her characters to make mistakes and face challenges, Meyers creates opportunities for growth and development throughout her stories.
The ability to create relatable characters is a vital aspect of crafting compelling stories. Meyers' characters often tackle themes like love, loss, and personal growth, which resonate with audiences. Through exploring such issues, Meyers builds empathy and connection between her characters and the viewers, making for a more impactful and engaging narrative.
Use Dialogue Effectively
It's no secret that effective dialogue is crucial in screenwriting. Meyers is a master at crafting authentic, character-driven dialogue that feels true to life. Her characters speak in a way that reflects their individual personalities, backgrounds, and experiences.
An example can include incorporating pauses, stutters, and interruptions into the dialogue, making it more lifelike and organic. This attention to detail helps bring the characters to life and makes their interactions more natural. Try to develop it the best you can without it feeling odd.
It's essential for writers to remember that dialogue should be driven by the characters and their unique traits. By creating authentic dialogue that reflects the character's voice, writers can make their stories more engaging and compelling.
Pay Attention to Setting and Detail
Meyers is renowned for her meticulous attention to detail and ability to use the setting to elevate her stories. Often taking place in iconic locations such as New York City, London, and Los Angeles, Meyers skillfully establishes the tone and atmosphere of her films by leveraging the setting. Familiarity with the location can also help the audience connect more deeply with the story.
Moreover, Meyers' characters inhabit exquisitely designed homes that reflect their personalities and lifestyles. Her dedication to set design allows for creating environments that add depth and complexity to her characters, helping to bring them to life on screen.
By paying close attention to even the smallest details, Meyers enhances the cinematic experience and creates a world that feels authentic and aspirational.