By this point, if you’ve been reading for a while, you know that here at The Professional Pen, we always encourage you to read more screenplays. But why exactly, and what should you be looking for as you read? In this article, we will be covering the importance of reading screenplays as a screenwriter and highlighting three elements to look for when you read.
READ READ READ
Full disclosure, if you are not reading screenplays, you should be. No need to fret. TPP has got you covered with our Screenplay Vault. Sure, reading screenplays can be fun, but it can also be educational. You can pick up on things like formatting, but also, the more screenplays you read, the more you will be able to compare and contrast how each writer builds in story elements. Below are three elements to look out for the next time you read your favorite screenplay.
3 ELEMENTS TO LOOK FOR WHEN READING SCREENPLAYS
1. Dialogue. Not having compelling dialogue is the quickest way to drag down the pace and have your reader lose interest. When reading a screenplay, study how the dialogue is structured. Pay attention to things like the usage of foreshadowing and how the dialogue moves the story forward. Here is an excerpt below from our article 3 Easy Tips To Write Better Dialogue in Your Screenplay.
If you want to study the dialogue between characters who are slick and cool that slowly build tension through their vigorous bouts of verbal sparring, then study Pulp Fiction. In this scene, Jules and Vincent have come to confront a group of college-aged boys after they fail to pay their debts, but they keep things light as a way to toy with their victims before things become more sinister. Notice how the dialogue feels natural, and each character has their own distinct voice. Take note of how Tarantino keeps the dialogue light and fun, even given the dire stakes of the situation.
2. Character. If the characters are trash, then the story will suffer. When reading screenplays, be sure to analyze the characters. Are the goals clear? What does this character really want (goals), and what’s stopping them from getting it (obstacles)? How does this show up on the page? Check out the below excerpt from our article How To Write Characters We Fall in Love With.
Whether you love him or hate him, you can not help but feel some type of way about Jody from BABY BOY. Jody is an adult male who still lives with his mother and overall lacks independence. He cheats on his girlfriend and still has a lot of growing up to do. What makes the character three-dimensional is that although he has flaws, he is actively working to improve his circumstances. In the scene below, after realizing the value of life and moving out of his mother’s home, Jody reconnects with his mother and shows his first signs of maturity. This is a full-circle moment for Jody, and we see his character arc fulfilled.
3. Worldbuilding. Whether we are on the slick city streets of New York or in a dystopian future, the world needs to feel rich and well thought out. Holes in the world, particularly when it comes to logic, can be distracting to a reader. When you read screenplays, pay attention to how the writer crafts the world. How do they let us know that this is not the New York City that we know but a reimagined one?
Let’s take a look at the scene below from SORRY TO BOTHER YOU. In the below scene, the screenwriter Boots Riley, sets up that the protagonist, Cassius, and his girlfriend, Detroit, are laid up in a small studio apartment.
A few beats later, Riley disrupts where we are spatially when we learn that the quaint studio apartment is actually a converted garage.
This subtle switch-up lets us know as the reader that in this world, things are not always as they seem. When you read screenplays, pay attention to the subtle details that the writer weaves in and how they create nuance in both dialogue and in the action line.
TPP IS HERE TO HELP
The best way to “read like a writer” is to simply read! The mind is a muscle, and so is screenwriting. The more you use it, the stronger and more dynamic it gets. Have a draft of a screenplay that you want a second pair of eyes on? Our Story Experts are trained and ready to help you make sure your screenplay hits all of the story beats. Ready to receive feedback? Check out our Development Notes today!