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January, 2008

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Your Screenplay And Why It Didn't Sell
It's simple: movies are driven by action
By  Christina Hamlett

I can't think of anyone who enjoys a barrage of Greek chorus explanations.

You've dotted your "i's," crossed your "t's," and read every book on how to pitch your script in person, by mail, and via the Internet. Yet it continues to sit. Unsold. Unwanted.

Maybe the problem isn't that it's an unsaleable story. Maybe it's that you've incorporated elements in it that would be better served in a different medium. In my capacity as a script coverage consultant, over half the plots I read are encumbered by the writers' lack of distinction between what makes a good film and what could make a better book or stage play. Here's why.

* * *

TEST: Go through a random page of your script with a pen and circle every adjective and adverb you've used. If you come up with more than 10 per page, you'd be more successful writing a novel or short stories.

The tendency of novice screenwriters to spell everything out that the audience should be looking at does far more to jinx a first read than to encourage it. Why? Because it implies that directors don't know how to direct, actors don't know how to say lines, and cinematographers are clueless when it comes to pointing a camera. Skip the detail and eloquent narrative.

You're not writing a plot that's meant to be read. You're writing a story that's meant to be seen.

TEST: How many historical references have you plunked into your master scenes? Delete them. How manytimes have your characters referred to past events as a device to explain the present plot's context to the audience rather than credibly convey information to each other? Delete any that are contrived and/or don't advance the story.

A recent project I evaluated involved the seamy side of 1840's London. Apparently to justify all the gritty factoids she had soaked up, the author felt compelled to interject most of them into her storyline via dialogue. Those which were not conveyed by conversation were embedded in each master scene as a device to indoctrinate the director on the significance of this period of time.

As rewarding as it can be to subliminally educate an audience, I can't think of anyone on the planet who appreciates a barrage of Greek chorus explanations that would better suit a high school filmstrip. No one likes to feel stupid, especially the person who holds the power to say "yes" to your script. Don't teach us. Entertain us.

TEST: How many locations does your script utilize? Identify how many are necessary as a backdrop forthe conversation(s) that take place there. For instance, if a scene could take place just as easily in a kitchen as it could in a café, decide which one is the more important of the two.

For those scenes which have to transpire in a specific place, identify what you would have to do to recreate that scene on a stage (i.e., a full set vs. a spotlighted or platform vignette). For those scripts containing extensive special effects, go through a spare copy of your script and X-out each one. Now read the script again. If you still have a compelling plot and characters without those glitzy extras, you've probably written a strong film.

If, however, it's dependent on the glitz in order to work, it may not be as strong as you think. That's not to rule out a novel or short story, of course, which are both more economical to produce than movies or theater because everything that happens only takes place on paper.

Movies are driven by action.IN Icon

Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is an award-winning author and script coverage consultant for the independent film industry. Her credits to date include 21 books, 115 plays and musicals, four optioned films, and columns that appear throughout the world. Her latest book Could It Be A Movie, is available through For more information on her work or to request a professional critique, visit her website at

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IN This Issue
The Write Group
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Part II: Have Ideas, Will Travel
Part I: Have Ideas, Will Travel
Part II: Early Elementary Picture Books
Part I: Early Elementary Picture Books
Part II: Are These Mistakes Costing You Money?
Part I: Are These Mistakes Costing You Money?
Journey Within Your Mind

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Writer’s Block
The path to inspiration starts
Upon the trails we’ve known;
Each writer’s block is not a rock,
But just a stepping stone.

Poetry Is Not
Penned to the page
Waiting for us to admire.
It is only a lonely thought
Caught by tears on fire.

Silent Echoes
A quiet rhyme upon a page
Is what a poet gives;
Some gentle words whispered in trust
To see if memory lives.

Bard From Deadlines
What makes a poem finally work
Is not the time it takes;
It’s how the poet used the muse
To prophet from mistakes.

Be Mused
The art and craft of poetry
Are not so far apart;
The craft comes from the cunning,
The rest comes from the heart.

Fine Vintage
Don’t plant your poem on the page
As though you’re hanging drapes;
It’s shape and flow should come and grow
Like wild summer grapes.

Getting It Write
Writers write what they know best,
Their passions, fears, and dreams;
Writers rarely write about
What other call their “themes.”

Double Vision
A writer’s life is paradox,
It’s more than what it seems;
We write of our reality,
The one inside our dreams.

The echo of a promise,
The thunder of a sigh,
The music of a memory,
A child asking why.

Letter Perfect
Twenty six symbols arranged on a page
Can send a soul to heaven or torment it with rage,
Can free a fragile world or hold it in its net--
The power and the magic of the mighty alphabet.

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The jump from writing just for fun
To getting paid for it
Begins when you first realize
You know you’ll never quit.

It is not the magic of his wings
That sets us free from our bond.
It is the muse within ourselves
That lets our words lift us beyond.

Photo Poet
Consider your mind the darkroom,
Consider your life the lens,
Consider your eye the camera
On whose focus the poem depends.

Rising Moon
A poem is a rising moon
Shining on the sea,
An afterglow of all we know,
Of all we hope to be.

Star Light
Writing a poem,
Reaching a star,
In making good art
We find who we are.

Spider Web
A poem is a spider web
Spun with words of wonder,
Woven lace held in place
By whispers made of thunder.

The final draft upon the screen,
At last my poem’s through;
A verse of only four short lines--
I rewrote twenty-two!

Read All Of Charles Ghigna's Poetry at

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