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The Art of Screenwriting: Quentin Tarantino

If you were to go up to the average movie fan and ask them who their favorite director is, Tarantino is a name that’d come up more than not. I’ve been a fan of Tarantino’s work since I first fell in love with movies as a kid, and am looking forward to his upcoming film, The Movie Critic.


As a writer, as you’d expect, there’s a lot to learn from Tarantino and why he’s such a successful filmmaker. This article will discuss the art of screenwriting and Tarantino, highlighting the importance of characters, Tarantino dialogue, writing what you want, and telling classic stories in a new way.

Photo credit: GamesRadar


The Importance of Characters


Tarantino firmly believes in prioritizing character development over creating a detailed plot outline. For him, the characters themselves become the driving force of the story once he understands their essence. He devotes considerable effort to crafting extensive backstories for his main characters, even though he may not necessarily use all of that information in the final film.


While some writers might be unsettled by the lack of a rigid plot blueprint, Tarantino holds the belief that as the narrative progresses, the characters will naturally determine its course. He sees little point in planning too far ahead because, by the time the story reaches its midpoint, it often takes unexpected turns.


Furthermore, it’s an opportunity to leverage the deep understanding of the characters and let them guide the story forward. Embracing this creative process and having faith is about trusting the process and not letting external or internal factors ruin it for you.


Tarantino Dialogue


Though there’s a lot you can analyze from Tarantino, his dialogue is what many consider his best feat. In many of Tarantino's movies, we often find the characters engaged in conversations about mundane matters or immersed in discussions about pop culture.


At first glance, one might wonder how these seemingly unrelated dialogues contribute to the overall story. However, Tarantino's approach is, in fact, purposeful. He sets up specific situations and allows the characters to engage in these dialogues, which ultimately reveal their personalities and backgrounds.


As we observe these scenes unfold, we gradually gain deeper insights into the characters' motivations and traits. Then, as the movie progresses towards its pivotal moments, everything falls into place, and the relevance of these seemingly tangential conversations becomes evident. In this way, Tarantino skillfully weaves character development into the narrative, making the story richer and more meaningful.


The dialogue is imperative, so much so that Tarantino believes in letting the story unfold organically. Once the audience has confidence in the storyteller's abilities, they are willing to invest time in understanding the context of the narrative.


To achieve this, Tarantino employs a three-act structure for his stories:


● Act I: In this initial phase, the characters are well aware of their backgrounds and objectives, but the audience is left in the dark about their true motives.


● Act II: As the story progresses, the audience gradually catches up and gains a deeper understanding of the characters and their intentions.


● Act III: By the time the story reaches its climax, the audience has acquired more knowledge about the characters than the characters themselves possess, leading to heightened dramatic tension and intrigue.


By skillfully employing this structure, Tarantino manages to engage the audience's curiosity and keeps them invested in the unfolding events, creating a captivating and immersive storytelling experience.


Writing What You Want


Tarantino adopts a spontaneous approach to writing, preferring to start with longhand without extensive planning and writing what he wants–as any writer should. His reason is to allow the characters themselves to dictate the course of the story. Initially, he might outline a rough sequence of events, just to get a sense of the starting point and a general idea of where he intends to head.


However, his ultimate goal is to reach a stage where the characters take control, guiding him through the narrative, and igniting his excitement along the way. For him, it's the characters who play the role of true authors in the process.


The idea of over-planning doesn't resonate with Tarantino because he believes that the story undergoes significant transformations while he writes. By the time he reaches the midpoint of the tale, it has metamorphosed into something entirely distinct from what he originally envisioned.


As he progresses, certain elements may naturally fade away, while new ideas emerge and fade in their place, culminating in a wholly different and unexpected outcome. Tarantino acknowledges that writing is a dynamic and fluid process, and the real magic occurs when he lets the story evolve freely as he puts pen to paper.


Telling Classic Stories in a New Way


Tarantino is the best at taking classic, genre-typical stories and infusing them with the complexities of real life. The simplest everyday occurrences, like leaving a watch on a nightstand or the need to use the bathroom, become pivotal plot elements that twist and shape the story, adding both authenticity and breathtaking moments.


On a larger narrative scale, Tarantino takes straightforward plots and injects them with unexpected complications. Utilizing an unexpected turn in this way leads to intense and brilliant sequences that captivate audiences.


At times, Tarantino's innovation lies not in the stories themselves but in how he combines them. In this way, the harsh and brutal realities of life find expression in his characters and their journeys. By unleashing the destructive power of life onto familiar narratives, he reinvigorates them, making the stories vibrant and utterly alive once again.

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