So what's this all about, then?
Well, I've often thought about and, especially, as of late, have become increasingly interested in writing style.
As I pore through the many screenplays that I currently have – organizing, reading, and reading, and reading, etc. – it's hard not to realize the effect a writer's style can have on a screenplay and the film overall. I know some of you are uttering the words duh! at this very moment, but honestly, how many people, especially we burgeoning lot, are actually aware of this fact?
The more I read the more I begin to realize that some writers have an indisputable style that is all their own. A style so eccentric, so different, that without ever seeing a cover page, you can instinctively and intrinsically just know who wrote it. Just take a look at action lines by Wes Anderson or dialogue by John Sayles or the dark undertones of Paul Schrader or the balls out craziness of Tim Talbott or the fourth-wall-breaking of Shane Black or the heartfelt absurd themes of Charlie Kaufman.
If any one thing is quickly apparent when studying the craft of screenwriting, it's that good screenwriters do, indeed, have their own style. They may tackle myriad genres or a host of varying stories, but one thing is always overtly certain: it is their story.
And it makes sense: if directors can be known for their visual style, well, then, why not writers for their written style? Sure, most of the writers I mentioned earlier also wields a director credit or two, but that's the point: at some point their voice became so uniquely their own that no one else could tell their story the way they could. And as an aspiring writer/director myself, this is a lesson I've taken immense pleasure in discovering and learning.
It's exactly like that lesson you've read in every screenwriting how-to book currently gathering dust on your bookshelf: give me the same thing, only different. But here's the bit that I think has been routinely left out: give me the same thing, only different, and make it your own. The goal isn't simply to parrot what's come before and modernize it and/or give it a different twist. The goal is to tell me the story in your voice.
I can't tell you the number of screenplays that I've read that are absolutely, atrociously, make-me-wanna-take-hot-spoons-to-my-eyeballs boring. Why? Most aspiring screenwriters can grasp structure fairly quickly; to connect A to B to C isn't that difficult to comprehend, but what they seem to overlook is that they're supposed to be telling me a story.
No, I mean you are supposed to be telling me a story.
Still not getting it?
If I were to walk into the room that you're currently in, take a seat with my cup of coffee, and say, "Okay, tell me your story." How long could you hold my attention?
It's no different on the page. When you write, I want you to tell me the story. What I don't want is the same cookie-cutter b******t everyone else is throwing at me.
No, g*******t, I want you to rip your f*****g larynx out of your throat and staple that f****r to the page and sign the byline in blood.
Because I want YOU to tell me the story. I want to hear your voice when I read it. I want the story to be so uniquely your own, and I want it to command my attention so ragingly, that it makes me weep when I have to read the words FADE OUT.
So, as a good introduction to Writer's Style, I suggest you download The Robotard 8000′s Balls Out and, for better or worse, I dare you to argue that – from the very first line of the script – it's not uniquely their own.
And while you're reading that, I'll be working on a write-up of the writer whose style I've been wanting to spotlight for quite a while now: that of Walter Hill.