The most important question you need answered in your career is “how to write an original film”. Why is this important? Because film is one of the only mediums were a copy doesn’t cut it. If your script is the same as another film that exists it will not get made.
I am not talking about genre.
Genre is a way of grouping stories that have a similar theme, topic and style. Genre is a way for an audience to get an understanding of what they are about to see. It is like saying a restaurant is a French restaurant, you know you are going to be served French cuisine. What I am talking about is being predictable.
How to avoid being predictable.
I believe (you are free to believe whatever you like) that sticking to the accepted formulas is a quick track to predictability. If you, as a reader, know that there must be a particular event on page 75 because book Blah Blah says so, there can be no surprise. The formula guarantees nothing new to see or feel. But if you write a story based on events, people, characters and themes, and you let them happen as the story dictates you will be unique and unpredictable.
Harry Potter as an example.
I really like the Harry Potter films, Steve Kloves is a great writer and did wonderful things with the source material. However, the first movie that wasn’t based on a book felt like a movie. I was watching “fabulous beasts and where to find them” and felt myself thinking, we are near the end, it looks like he has won, the baddies need to make a comeback. Sure enough right on queue Colin Farrell appears attacking for all he is worth. Why did it happen in that movie? Because they had a built-in audience and falling back on a formula is a safe bet. I know I am more sensitive to this as I am a writer and I can see this stuff coming, but so can producers. Unless you already have a built-in audience in the millions you can’t play it safe and rely on formula.
So how to be original when everyone says no.
People are herd animals and get safety from being part of a group. Therefore, writing rules are popular. I have written about this before. You must find your own voice and form. You may find that it ends up looking like a formula. But you will have gained all the knowledge from the journey reaching your style, which cannot be found blindly following a book.
Let’s play a little game.
We have a farm boy that is waiting to revenge his father’s murder. His mother is dying, so while he is caring for his mother he takes that as an opportunity to learn more about the people that caused his father’s death. I would write this by having his mum try and convince him not to go and have him lie to her. If we follow a formula, he would want to go and get revenge, then decide not to go (Refusing the call), then something would happen and he would then go on his mission to revenge. Why have this refusal? Some people would say because it gives depth and flaw. But I have known people that are single minded. They would just go.
There are some truths that never change. Your story will have a start, middle and an end. Once you have established the world and the people in it and even what the story will be about, you don’t have to go back. That is the start. This will be short. Then you have the middle. This is the bulk of your story. Then the end. How the story concludes and perhaps the aftermath, this is another short bit. People will tell you that the start (first act) is 25% of your work, the story (second act) is 50% of your work and the conclusion (third act) is the remaining 25%. Yep roughly true. But just because they have that right they will try and convince you of all these other rules, laws and myths. Don’t fall for it.
I haven’t given you a magic formula or even a checklist to follow. What I have given (I hope) is insight into what will make you a great writer, you. You must write in your voice, with your rhythm and style. There are story structures and concepts that will guide you. But no formulas. If someone mentions a page number or something like “likeable protagonist” or “needed B story” go to your happy place and the pain will pass.
If you want to learn great writing copy the great writers. Learn from them. Then metabolise what they do and make it part of you. Then go into the world and write.