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The Art of Screenwriting: Paul Haggis

Whenever someone finds themselves interested in the field of screenwriting, they typically take a look at some of the icons in the area. Like anything else, countless people try to become professional screenwriters, but only a few succeed. In another sense, only a handful of the ones that succeed then become regarded as pioneers and innovators in the realm.


No matter how you look at it, screenwriting is a difficult journey for most people to accomplish. Nonetheless, the notable scriptwriters have a particular art to their writing that separates them from others. Although each case's specifics are difficult to pinpoint and compare, it's interesting to look at one screenwriter and what separates them from everyone else.


With this in mind, Paul Haggis is an immaculate screenwriter who is primarily known for Crash, Million Dollar Baby, In The Valley of Elah, and much more. Haggis is a remarkable writer for his unique take on the subject and pushing a story forward. No matter the level a screenwriter might find themselves at, Haggis is a must to check out.


We're going to discuss the art of screenwriting behind Paul Haggis. We'll go over what separates him for others, how he approaches a script, and aspects to find in a Haggis script. By the end of it, you'll know a great deal of information about Haggis that you can utilize for inspiration to write. Let's get started!

Photo credit: The Playlist


Ask Questions for the Plot


Like many other notable screenwriters, Haggis takes the approach of asking questions for a particular plot. This seems like a straightforward task to do, but it's essential in the grand scheme of screenwriting. Asking a question can be as simple as wondering what a character wants to how a plotline will move along.


Whenever someone watches a film or television series, they’re always wondering what’s going to happen next. This notion is a representation of questioning the plot. Haggis knows the importance of this and thinks of it while writing.


This style is best done at the beginning of the plot to plan out the rest of the story. For example, in Finding Nemo, the question can be: "How does Marlin find Nemo?". This is such a simple question, but noting it down and answering it early can set-up the rest of the story.


Whether your story involves a character going from point A to point B or is about a particular task, asking the obvious question and answering is what Haggis suggests. Since audiences don’t want to be left confused while watching a film, it doesn’t make any sense for them to wonder what’s going on.


Generate Ideas as Often as You Can


Although this is directly correlated with Haggis and his writing style, it’s still a massive part of why he’s as great of a writer as he is. Generally speaking, the best writers try to think of ideas as often as they can. Even if the ideas don’t go anywhere, it’s a part of generating the thoughts in a specific manner forward.


Haggis has spoken numerous times about the importance of generating ideas as often as you can. Whether it's at night or in the morning, jotting down every idea you have related to writing can do wonders for your script. Since every script needs enough ideas for it to finish properly, it makes sense why Haggis utilizes his thinking space for ideas so often.


Leave Scenes Wanting More


Haggis's writing style serves a primary function of having each scene cause the audience to want more. Since the audience is always in a viewing manner, looking for what's the come, having them want more will cause them to be more interested in the story. Stories need to be interesting, especially ones involved in scripts.


Style Only Serves the Story


Besides creating scenes that make the audience want more, Haggis feels more strongly about the story itself than style. Although particular writers have a style to them that's unthinkable, Haggis thinks it should only complement it and not dictate it. As good as a script's style can be, it's nothing unless the story is good. Thus, another reason why Haggis is such a prominent figure in the screenwriting world.


Best Films:

● Crash (2004)

● Million Dollar Baby (2004)

● In The Valley of Elah (2007)

● The Next Three Days (2010)

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