This is one of the more common exclamations bantered about on screenwriting boards every day, and those usually spouting this one are the writers who like to consider themselves “rebels”, “different”, and above the norm. I think they actually BELIEVE this platitude, and how could they not, after a lifetime of winning tenth place participatory trophies in junior soccer or bell-curved C’s when scoring a 69 on a mid-term. I don’t blame them, but I do just want to open their eyes, and their minds, a little wider to be more accepting of the truth.
You’re NOT different. You’re NOT above the rules. You’re NOT the exception to these rules.
And yes, there are rules.
What other profession are you aware of that attracts so many potential members across the globe, lives by a set of standards and practices, yet denies the existence of these standards and practices to such a degree that most of the “members” swear that no standards of practice exist? Why the secrecy? Why do writers, gurus, and many consultants go to great lengths to tell you that, to be successful, you need to stand out and break convention, but then refuse you entry into their “club”, largely based on the fact that you defied convention?
Because there ARE rules, and those in Hollywood — especially writers — would prefer to think of themselves as “Rebels with a Clause”. Unfortunately, you can’t go online and download a PDF of these “rules”, nor can you order the rulebook on Amazon, like you can for the International Rules on Competitive Wife Carrying.
Most of these screenwriting rules are picked up along the way, although we here at The Script Mentor try hard to share these rules with fellow screenwriters, in hope of enlightening a few along the way.
Many of these foolhardy souls believe that ancient platitude “Great writing trumps all”. You might have the next “Chinatown” on your desk right now, but if you’re writing on spec, and ignoring the accepted standards and practices of writing a spec screenplay, who on earth is going to read it? No one with any significant pull or power in community is going to sit down and waste valuable time to read through a draft overstuffed with wordweight, boring characters, poorly formatted sluglines, and an unstructured story. It is just not happening. That pile of crap on your desk may contain the greatest lines in the history of cinema, but no one will ever know.
So, do yourselves a favor before you start typing your new “Star Wars” concept: learn the rules, of which there are many. Learn what a marketable concept entails; learn which genres sell faster and easier, and why; learn the art of a great opening, character development, structure, formatting, and dozens of more.
If you are writing on spec, to get read, to get noticed and to be appreciated and respected, you need to know the basic rules of the game.
Only then, will great writing trump all.