Reading Screenplays, Inside AND Out

Inside OutAs an English professor, I LOVE analyzing literature. And I especially love analyzing a novel with a class full of freshmen who really have no idea how to tackle a novel: mapping plots, evaluating characters, determining the role of setting, deconstructing the language, discerning themes. But I have not worked with my classes on reading scripts (except Shakespearean plays, of course!).

Since I am fairly unfamiliar with screenwriting, I have been downloading and reading as many screenplays as I can find in my genre. Then someone gave me a flyer about a group that reads and discusses screenplays, Screenplay Development Group. When I saw this month’s choice was Inside Out, I knew I had to sign up! Not only is this movie in my genre, but I saw it with my 19-year-old daughter, and we both absolutely loved it. For $35, they mailed me a copy of the screenplay, and I joined about 40 people to discuss the writing.

Fast forward: reading this script did not turn out as I expected. And this is the problem I seem to always have reading screenplays. I have trouble visualizing the scenes from the movie based on what is written on the page. It’s so frustrating. Of course, because I actually saw this movie, I was able to run the film in my head as I read. But I kept thinking that without having seen the movie, I would have no idea what this was about. Even lines that I know were funny at the theater, lay flat on the page for me.

It actually reminded me of the first time I read Shakespeare’s Henry IV. I couldn’t follow it to save my life (yes, the language itself was a huge obstacle). But what I distinctly remember is deciding to watch a film of the play while reading the text and realizing that Falstaff was funny! Who knew? I did not come close to seeing that on the page!

I felt the same way reading this. I even said to my daughter that I might be in trouble here. If I cannot manage to see the movie in my mind or see the possibilities while reading a script, how am I going to have the ability to read my own script with any sense of objectivity?? How will I know when I have done a good job??

But I learned some important things last night.

  1. Trust myself. I am a writer. I have been writing for years. I actually have some good instincts! In fact, as it turned out, anyone who had not seen the movie had trouble visualizing not only the movie but even the characters. Ok, good. It wasn’t just me.
  2. I know a thing or two about storytelling. Even if I have never written a screenplay before, I study literature, which is STORY!
  3.  I am very good at picking apart a story and analyzing the different elements. What I need to work on is then taking the next step and evaluating those elements. I am not in the habit of evaluating Hemingway or Twain or Bronte. I usually just discuss what they DID accomplish, not how they could have done better. In my study of screenplays, I need to note what is done well and what can be done better so that I can imitate the good and avoid the bad in my own writing. After all, that is exactly what I do with my students in composition classes with academic writing. We look at essays and articles and evaluate what works and what doesn’t work.
  4. And even a great premise and a successful movie can have weak spots in a script. Interesting.

If anyone has any other tips on how to become a better evaluator of your own screenplays, let me know. In the meantime, looks like I need to go back next month and polish my analytical skills so that I can do a better job with my own screenplay.

5 thoughts on “Reading Screenplays, Inside AND Out

    1. Vickie

      Save the Cat was the first book I bought. And it is well-worn: marked up and dogeared. I always go back to it to make sure I am on track. But I have not read Story. Thanks for the suggestion. I will look for that. Are you currently writing a screenplay?? If so, where are you at with it?


      1. Paul

        I am writing a script, but it’s not an original story, but an adaptation of a story in the public domain. That gives me at least some advantage in having characters and story, but there are still plenty of problems to solve, which is the fun part. Also it is not at this point a screenplay but more of a mini series…probably. I have toyed with trying to pare it down to a simpler shorter story, but for me the appeal of it is its grand sweep of multiple stories intertwined with each other. Sort of like Winds of War or Rich Man Poor Man or Masterpiece Theater.
        So I am working on episode 1 only with outlines of future parts. I know it is far from the ideal Hollywood script. So much screenwriting advice is about 1) crafting a simple, inexpensive film to sell fast and easy and 2) having a portfolio to show off your skills to land a regular writing gig. I could not care less about either. I look at this as more a fun exercise to create something I would want to see. If I somehow actually sell it that would be great. If it gets made, that would be better. But I know my goal has to be simply to get it to where I like it. I still need to fix things. I do write every day. I have about 60 pages. I read anything I can, and I take advantage of free stuff. Next week I am going to check out this free screenwriting course.


      2. Vickie

        That’s great Paul! I am with you. The entire exercise is so much fun – most people would not understand that! haha! I am also doing my best to learn and enjoying the process. Stay in touch. And if there is anything I can do to support you, let me know. I would be happy to read anything or brainstorm ideas.


      3. Paul

        I will send you a logline for starters…and I would be happy to read anything of yours if you want feedback, AND I WILL READ AND GIVE PROMPT FEEDBACK!
        I get it.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s