The Sacred, Despicable “Rules”

There’s a ton of debate out there about whether there are any “rules” to screenwriting, and if so, what they are. Here’s my two cents:


If you need a little help understanding how structure works, and you want to read one of the books that uses the word “rules”, (and you understand that they’re wrong to call them “rules”, they’re guidelines, “rules of thumb” at best) then do it, and ignore the people who tell you that’s a bad idea.

If you need a little help seeing how it works for yourself, apply the “rules” to one of your scripts, and ignore the people who tell you that’s a bad idea.

If you want to bang something out in a short amount of time, and the story fits the “rules” well and you think the template method will help you be speedy, bang it out using the “rules”, and ignore the people who tell you that’s a bad idea.

If you want to experiment, now that you understand how the “rules” work and why someone would call them “rules”, like a home cook who’s gained enough confidence following recipes to wing it one evening, wing away, and ignore the people who tell you that’s a bad idea.

If you have a story that doesn’t fit any of the well-known “rule systems”, but kinda fits two of them, and you want to mesh them together into a hybrid structure of your own design because you think it would fit your story better, do it, and ignore the people who tell you that’s a bad idea.

If you want to have fun breaking a “rule” on purpose, just for kicks, just because you think it would create something interesting to follow all the “rules” but one, go ahead, and ignore the people who tell you that’s a bad idea.

And if you want to understand structure by reading a ton of scripts and picking it up by osmosis because that’s what suits you, and you never ever want to pick up a single screenwriting book ever, do it, and ignore the people who tell you that’s a bad idea.

Do you see a theme here? If you’re a woman, you’ll understand this immediately: no matter what you decide, you will have no trouble finding someone who thinks it’s a bad idea. They’ll probably come find you. That goes for anything you think, feel, or simply ARE as well. But like my BFF Tammy said, about her Mary Kay overlord, the only power they have over you is that you still care what they think. They berate you and in response, you feel bad. You can stop that. I’m not saying it’s easy, but you can. (I am speaking only of regular day random people, if you have a seriously difficult or abusive relationship, please find help and don’t think you failed or that you should have solved it already by sheer force of will, and I love you).

When Tammy simply stopped returning MKO’s calls, simply walked away when MKO started belittling her, MKO eventually got the message that there was nothing she could say that would magically make Tammy act the way she wanted Tammy to act. All her power was gone. All her nasty words just floated out into the ether and made her look like an idiot.

Some people don’t know how to act other than to hurt. Some people think the way that works for them is the only way that could work. Some people just want to feel superior to someone and you’re the one standing there. Whatever their problem is, you’ll find that the better you get at blowing right past them, the better you’ll feel. To quote Barbara Streisand, “if someone takes a spill it’s me and not you!” You’ll be there when you succeed, you’ll be there when you figure out how to fix a mistake you made, you’ll be there when you succeed again. They’ll be wherever they are, still seeing the world like it’s two inches wide and not understanding why they’re not happy. DO YOU, BOO!

As for practical tips: automate your responses to such negativity. Have a pithy or scathing or whatever-you-want-it-to-be phrase that you can spit out as fast as you follow “how are you” with “fine”. Think of all those times you thought of juuuuuuust the right thing to say, two days AFTER someone was nasty. Start there. For example: I told a coworker I wanted to be a screenwriter. He laughed in my face. What I’ll say next time: “HAHAHAH AHAAAAH AHAHAAAA!!!!” really loud and sarcastic until he gives me a weird look and walks away. Not the most mature thing, but at least I won’t spend a single second wondering what to say. (I’m sure you’ll come up with something better! :-D)

The point is, I won’t wonder what to say OR how to feel. Someone has decided to be a jerk, that’s on them, I’ll give them my evil cackle response and go see what’s happening elsewhere. Hum dee dum, nothing to see here, just a basic person being basic and I yell-laughed them away, la dee dah.

Carry on, my lovelies!

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