Pictures rule. — Show don’t tell. If you can’t tell your story without lots of dialogue, you’re writing for the wrong medium. Consider a career in theatre or radio.
Drama is conflict. — No conflict, no story. No story, no script. No script, no career.
WHO WANTS WHAT?
• Make your WHO vivid, engaging and empathic. Don’t model your protagonist on yourself unless you’re Princess Leia or Gandalf or Hannibal Lecter.
• How much do they WANT it? If your protagonist doesn’t it badly enough, why should we care if they get it or not? (We won’t.)
• What do they WANT? It doesn’t have to be a cure for cancer or world peace but it’s got to mean a lot to your protagonist. Otherwise — again — why should we care?
Character is action. — Your character’s decision to pursue the goal, their demonstrated need to achieve the goal tells us a lot about them. Characters are revealed by action.
Action is character. — The things your character does in pursuit of the goal and their reaction to the setbacks along the way shows us who they are. Action reveals character.
Characters should be active not reactive. — No-one likes a passive protagonist. They may not start out as the driver of the story but sooner or later they’d better step-up and take charge of their destiny. Otherwise, if they’re not invested in their fate, why should we be?
The audience knows more than you do. — They’ll get it. They’ve been watching films forever. Don’t talk down to them. And make sure you deliver the tropes and genre expectations appropriate to your story. Viewers may not be able to list them but they’ll sure as hell know if they’re missing.
Get in late, get out early. — Don’t patronise viewers with excess detail or unnecessary exposition. Otherwise, you’re just getting in the way of your own story.
Write what you know, but know that you are boring. — Unless you’re Leia or Gandalf or Hannibal, viewers aren’t interested in the aimless stumblings of your exterior life. But your interior life – your emotional world – is the equal of anybody’s. Use the full gamut of your loves, hates, hopes, fears, jealousies to create compelling characters in intrinsically interesting situations.
Backstory is unnecessary. — As Mamet says, ‘Backstory is bullshit’. Stories are about the here and now. What does the character want and what gets in their way? (If the backstory is so damn interesting, why not make that your story?)