Five Screenwriting Rules to Improve Your Writing

"The Anatomy of a Story" by John Truby is quickly becoming my favourite 'go-to' writing reference.

I’m currently enrolled in a fiction screenwriting course through Ryerson University’s Chang School of Continuing Education. Part professional development, part exercise in creativity, practicing the art of screenwriting is helping me to hone my communication skills, and is pushing me to think about writing in new ways. I’m also building a transferrable skill set that I can apply to my work with a variety of clients.

Here are five things I’ve learned from screenwriting that can assist any communicator improve their writing:

1. Start with a premise

You should be able to sum up any writing endeavour in one or two sentences. Use this premise (or logline) as a vision statement for your work. Refer back to it when you feel you’re moving off-course. You can also use it to ‘pitch’ your work to the client, or to your boss.

2. Format matters

In screenwriting, format is king. Your script will get tossed in the trash if the formatting isn’t correct. Not all communication plans are created equally (I’ve seen many templates used successfully in my career), but style does matter. Be consistent, be clean and focus on streamlined design (no Comic Sans, strange Capitalized Words or clip art).

3. Be succinct

Flowery prose are great if you’re writing a novel, but when writing a screenplay you have to imagine action – quick dialogue and lots of visual cues. When communications planning, you might not be working with big screen effects, but you aren’t doing a major character study either. Keep your descriptions sharp and focused on meeting your vision.

4. Use white space

Whether you’re writing a newsletter, a blog or a magazine article remember that short paragraphs (three to four sentences) are not only acceptable, but preferred. White space helps the eye to focus, and allows the reader to scan the page more readily. Headings, and bulleted or numbered lists, assist with reading and flow as well.

5. Develop a plan

Use your premise to create an outline of your work before you get into the details. For example, the premise for this article might be:

A blog post that will assist communications professionals improve their writing using the rules of screenwriting.

Next, outline the steps that you will use to reach your goal. For this post, I listed all of the concepts that I’ve learned in the course (so far) that I thought would help other communications professionals to build on their writing skills. Then I refined the list, and began to fill in the blanks.

You can start by listing your audience, the goals you want your communications plan or piece to meet, and the headings that will organize your work.

These tips sounds simple and intuitive, but it’s surprising how often we lose our focus when writing for ourselves or our clients. The rules of screenwriting can help us to visualize how our plans might be realized, how our audiences will relate to our stories, and how to write in user-friendly, highly readable formats.

For further information, I suggest you read The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier and The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby.

Bryna Jones is the Director of  Communications at Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited, and a member of theInternational Association of Business Communicators. Bryna’s  project experience includes communications and marketing planning, advocacy campaign development, social media strategy, government relations, and project management. She also has considerable experience in copy writing and public speaking.

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About Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited

Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited (HSAL) is a multidisciplinary strategic planning and public affairs consultancy, focused on environmental and land use planning, stakeholder relations (including communications, facilitation, public consultation and engagement), socio-economic impact assessment, communications, engineering and related services. We have the expertise to predict and decipher technical and public policy issues, and significant experience mitigating them, building consensus and attaining even the most complex approvals. For more information, visit www.hardystevenson.com
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5 Responses to Five Screenwriting Rules to Improve Your Writing

  1. Great article, Bryna. I can definitely see the transferrable skill set in each of your five points for social media and presentations.

  2. Thanks, Andrew. I’m glad that you found it valuable.

  3. PM Hut says:

    Hi Bryna,

    It’s interesting that the 5 screenwriting rules that you’re mentioning are very compatible with project management…

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. You’re very welcome, PM Hut! Thanks for taking the time to comment. It’s great how these rules cross the boundaries of many professions.

  5. Pingback: The Ultimate List of Screenwriting Rules, Tips, Laws, Principles, Guidelines & More | The Screenwriting Spark

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