What Is A Scriptwriting Style?
It’s your unique voice as a creative.
Your scriptwriting style might come from breaking certain rules in structure (although you should always proceed with caution when it comes to screenwriting structure).
It might be the way you write dialogue, such as Tarantino’s fast, witty monologues or Sorkin’s long sequences of dialogue that are always fast-paced on screen, hence why producers let him turn in scripts that are 170 pages long.
Your unique scriptwriting style might be the way you describe characters or the way you tell a story.
Your scriptwriting style is what makes you, you.
And having this special unique voice is crucial today in Hollywood.
How Do You Develop A Unique Scriptwriting Style?
You look at your own life experience by starting within.
Look, I never believed in the “write what you know” because not everyone had to save their ex-wife from dangerous criminals at a Christmas Party (Die Hard) or take revenge on a criminal organization that disrupted their wedding ceremony (Kill Bill Vol. 1).
So how do you include your own life experience in your post-apocalyptic sci-fi with super smart aliens befriending a human and using that human as a puppet to control the world?
That story might not have happened to you, but you certainly feel passionate about it and what to write it.
You can do so by thinking about broader themes. And after the broader themes, you can start paying attention to details with the little things you can incorporate into the story that will make it unique and with the broader themes you are incorporating into your story.
Let’s look at some examples of screenwriters/directors who have a unique scriptwriting style:
In “The Sugarland Express,” a jailed dad escapes prison with the help of his wife, and they unite strength to get their son, who was taken by the state, back.
In “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” the protagonist leaves behind his wife and children to join the aliens on a UFO without caring that his choice breaks his family up.
In “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” the two children live with their mom since they have an absent father. It’s the theme of a broken family again.
Even the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” shows a complicated relationship between the protagonist and his mostly absent father.
So while all of these movies are completely different in the storylines and protagonists, the theme of a broken family is always a big part of the movie. It’s the broader theme. It’s what resonated with Spielberg. That is part of Spielberg’s unique voice as an artist and creative.
He feeds off his own experience with having divorced parents and growing up in a broken family, and he himself went through a divorce later in his life as an adult.
He uses this feeling of pain and questioning to elevate his stories and make them relatable to so many out there. And this shows his unique voice because, deep down, this theme is personal to him.
Let’s look at another strong writer with a unique voice: Diablo Cody.
Diablo Cody became famous after writing the book “Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper” based on her short career as a stripper and the weird scenarios she encountered during that time.
Ultimately, her screenplays and movies show difficult situations with imperfect women at the center. Women that are real and go through difficult times. Her protagonists are not always likable, but she always grants them empathy in her writing.
Her dialogue is witty and feels real because it’s often inspired by what she heard herself.
If you look at her movies, they all have female protagonists dealing with either unwanted pregnancies at a young age (Juno), a postpartum breakdown (Tully), or forbidden desires in High School (Jennifer’s Body).
All of her movies have big moral (often even political) issues. She isn’t afraid to tackle subjects many people are afraid to discuss.
That’s her broader theme. Now, I mentioned earlier attention to details, Cody did that as well in Juno. The phone Juno uses in this scene is a similar phone to the one Cody had herself while in High School.
So… yes, you can be unique even in very small details, such as a hamburger phone you had as a teenager.
Another filmmaker with a unique voice is Martin Scorsese.
Scorsese’s unique voice comes from his lifelong questioning of religion and his search for God.
His movie “The Last Temptation of Christ” features Jesus on the cross being given a chance to live another day and how, when he seemingly got the perfect life offered to him, he once again struggles with temptation and looks for God in all the “wrong ways,” as he says it himself. He ultimately finds out that he might have been set up or had dreamt what happened to him all along.
“Kundun” follows the story of a child in Tibet that is suddenly recognized as the 14th reincarnation of the Buddha and needs to learn to lead his people in faith.
“Silence” deals with religion and colonialism.
The reason why most of Scorsese’s movies deal with religion one way or another and with the questions that come with being religious makes sense since he once considered becoming a priest before he became a filmmaker.
He takes from his own life experience and the questions he has to make the most iconic movies.
When you want to write something with your unique voice, think about what makes you unique as a person.
What have you gone through?
What themes are recurrent in your life (divorce, fear of failure, lack of purpose, etc.)
What are your passions?
What are your deepest fears?
What do you care about the most?
Those are ways to understand what makes you, you. It’s in the question:
What drives you every day?
There’s a reason you’re writing screenplays, and that’s not to get rich or famous (I hope).
You write because you have something you need to say.
What is that something? What is that common theme in your life that can feed your writing and make you unique?
That’s what you want to find. That’s where your unique voice is.
Write For Yourself First
It’s always astonishing to me to realize that often a first draft has much more of our unique voice than a rewrite does. A rewrite is often crafted after we receive notes, and, in some ways, it becomes the version for the audience.
Very often, when you write scenes without overthinking them, without thinking about the market or the industry, you are actually writing from your heart.
You are writing using your unique voice and writing from your unique perspective on life.
When I wrote my first TV pilot, the very first couple of scenes I wrote before I even started writing the script were scenes that I just felt like I needed to write for myself.
My writing process at that moment was to write a few scenes that were uniquely created for me to know my characters. They were two scenes (one for each of the main protagonists) that showed me who they truly are at their core.
I realized later on that both scenes had to do with feeling like you’re not enough and had to do with broken trust, and they both had to do with a male family member who disappointed the female protagonists.
I didn’t intend this to happen when I wrote the script, but I suddenly realized that the two protagonists, although completely different in their character, their choices, and their personalities shared that common theme of trying hard for people who will not do the same for them and feeling like whatever they do, they won’t ever be enough.
These scenes, although I wrote them before I wrote the script, both ended up in the pilot script, and still to this day, they’re powerful scenes that readers love because those two scenes feel so real and relatable for most people.
And these are the scenes I wrote simply to learn about my characters before I started writing the screenplay.
So I suggest you write scenes before even starting your script. When crafting and creating your characters, write a couple of scenes that tell you exactly who they are or what they’ve been through. Those scenes don’t have to be in the script at all, but they will help you see who your characters are. By writing those scenes, you will create a deeper connection with your characters.
What do you characters need to tell you? Who are they?
When you’re done with these scenes, watch carefully because you will see parts of yourself on the page: your dreams, your fear, your hopes, your wounds… it will be in these scenes because, ultimately, there’s a little part of ourselves in every character we ever write.
Feeling weird about writing scenes without having a script outline just yet?
Look at this article and see how Quentin Tarantino wrote scenes for many of his movies, such as Django Unchained, before he even knew what the movie would be.
There’s power in writing scenes and telling yourself the story first. That’s when and where your unique voice as a creative can truly shine.
Can You Write Different Genres in Hollywood?
Look, I hear it all the time. “I want to write in different genres, but the industry seems to tell me that once I’m successful in one genre, I’ll get stuck in it.”
I don’t believe in that; thankfully, my representation doesn’t either. In fact, that was one of the main questions I had for my reps before we shook hands. Will you be okay with me writing totally different genres and for different mediums?
The way to write different genres successfully is through common themes.
You need to think of yourself as a brand. You are not just your scripts. You, as a writer, represent a brand.
What makes your writing brand unique? Your unique voice and your themes.
Chances are your thriller and your romcom both deal with a similar theme. Maybe it’s growing up with divorced parents. Maybe it’s the fear of loving someone and possibly losing them. Maybe it’s a lack of confidence in yourself.
At the end of the day, you are one person writing all of these screenplays. And even though your protagonists might be different and will react differently to similar situations, there will always be a part of yourself in everything you write.
Find what that common denominator is and make it your brand.
Once you have a clear brand that becomes your unique voice as a writer, then you can write in any genre and for any medium you’d like because ultimately, there will always be a connection between every single thing you write, and that is your unique scriptwriting style.