I was at the laundromat and noticed something that I thought was an interesting parallel to screenplays these days.
The preponderance of boring shirts.
Oh there were blue striped ones, blue plaid ones, and of course various shades of good old blue, but as I scanned the racks it really struck me just how many variations of the same plain shirt people were having cleaned. Of course there were also beige and white shirts, gray and black coats, but near everyone, it seems, has “safe” blue shirts. What also stood out was that as the electric conveyer rack spun by, once in a while a shirt with color would pass, catching the eye and standing out. With so many trying to play safe & by the rules, the different one was easy to pick out. With thousands of screenplays written every year, the parallel is clear. Make yours the one that catches the eye.
Screenwriters often follow templates and guidelines when crafting their works, which is fine, but in a world where seemingly 99% are following the Save the Cat or similar formula (a bit too strictly for many), those who can work with structure yet offer something different, something that makes a reader pause and say, “wait, that’s unique” are the ones who stand out from the pack. Sometimes it’s a bright red shirt, but sometimes it’s just a thread of color that turns an otherwise plain piece of cloth into a fascinating design. Strive for fascinating, keep readers entertained.
Now obviously this doesn’t mean go write a script with charcoal and crayon on the hides of animals you killed with nothing but a fountain pen. That’s different alright (and pretty awesome if you actually used only a pen), but not what we’re talking about. The thing is to create a story that fits in the basic rules yet doesn’t plod along predictably from a-z. Everyone will have a different way to do this, but when reviewing your draft, look at it as though you were a reader tasked with slogging through 200 scripts a year. Are you more or less writing what everyone else is (within your own story naturally) or are you writing outside the box? What makes yours stand out? Ask yourself that question on a regular basis and you may just find yourself rising above the cookie-cutter mire of uninspiring scripts.