Writing On Spec

An award caliber procrastinator discovers a new and dangerous pursuit to keep him from actually writing another script. Why another Blog? I love to talk screenwriting. I love to talk story. I live in Richmond, VA. It's almost easier to get produced than find another screenwriter here. We are the anti-LA.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Writing On Spec

While I'm sure everybody knows what writing on spec means, maybe there are some folks out there who don't.

It's when you scribble you little guts out for free in the hopes that when you send it out, it's received with accolades and purchased (hopefully at a high price). The odds of this are so small, it's just like playing the lottery. It's a lot of hard work and plenty of time. If you think screenwriting is a get rich quick scheme, give it up now. Maybe a child of somebody off the A list gets a free look, but even they don't get a free lunch when it comes to purchasing. You have to show some talent. Unfortunately, for the majority of us outside of LA, screenwriting isn't everywhere. Instead of 95% of the people you bump into being frustrated screenwriters, 95% of the people you bump into don't even know what a screenwriter is, let alone who the hell your idols are (William Goldman, Richard Curtis, Richard Price, David Koepp, etc.).

If you're going to make a living screenwriting, you have to treat it like any other job. You won't get hired to do anything without proving that you have experience doing the job or some sort of degree to show that you've researched the work and have some idea about what the hell to do. Being able to write screenplays (or any other sort of professional writing) just because you know how to write in your chosen language is no more of a certification than being able to carve a turkey makes you qualified to be a surgeon. There is so much more to writing a screenplay than what's on the surface.

If you go down the list of professional writing, screenwriting is somewhere between short stories and novels. It's longer than a novella, shorter than a novel and, like a poem, is full of restrictions on form and content. You have to hit certain beats in certain places - not because "that's the formula" but because if you're telling a story in 90-120 minutes, that's what has to happen in a story of that length. Sure, some folks love to be rebels and say the rules don't apply to them. They'll quote Tarantino and other mavericks; however, if you're writing a romantic comedy, there are rules that you have to follow. If you don't, you don't have a romantic comedy. Let's face it, you can add 14 more wheels to a car, but you don't have a car any longer - you have an "18 wheeler" or truck.

These rules where not made up by Hollywood, they were merely discovered through repetition. If you read the books on mythology - most notably Joseph Campbell's works, you'll see that we have many things in common. One of which is a specific format in our stories.

As long as I'm using the lottery analogy, I might as well add that the lottery has dipped in it's payoff over the years as well. Not only are studios less willing to pay the high figures for spec scripts, they're not as apt to spring for as many purchases as they once did. The heyday of spec scripts appears to be mostly "the good ol' days" rather than the status quo for today. I don't doubt that folks are getting some good deals, but they're most probably reserved for folks who already have some street cred on their side.

So remember, as I see from some of the other writer's blogs, make sure your work is up to snuff before you send it out. I've seen several reasonable offers from folks (<$100) to provide feedback. If you can find a writer's group, that's optimal. If not, take one of these folks up on their offers and get some good feedback before telling the world that you're a pro.


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