Your screenwriting voice — one of the most important aspects of your creative identity that you need to develop.
That elusive “screenwriting voice.” It’s the thing that executives and representatives say is what sets a writer apart from their competition, leaving up-and-coming screenwriters scrambling to find theirs. But what is it? And, better yet, how do you find it?
What is a Writer’s Voice
Voice is the very unique and specific style that a writer uses through a mix of their word choice, tone, point-of-view, sentence structure, the flow, the kinds of stories they tell, the themes their interested in, etc. The best way to understand the voice of a writer is to read their scripts.
Quentin Tarantino and Shane Black are infamous for having writing styles that are different from many writers. While they are both directors which gives them more license in their writing, Black didn’t start out as a director. Instead, Shane Black’s career blew up during the 1990s and his very meta and self-aware style of writing was copied by many young writers, but none saw this same success.
So when you’re reading scripts as a reference, ask yourself: is the writing style very traditional? If so, and it’s a good script, what elements make it stand out? If it is a unique style, what makes it unique?
Voice vs. Brand
When we’re discussing voice, we have to also discuss “brand,” and the difference between the two.
Brand is something writers are expected to know about themselves when they’re looking to break in and it largely concerns the genre and format of the scripts you write. For example, do you write supernatural television? Big commercial action films? Do you write film and television but always premise-driven comedies? When companies are putting together “writer lists” of people who they think would be good for a particular project, they look for writers who have written in that project’s genre and format already.
Your voice does come into play with your brand in that it can play a role in how you market yourself on social media. It also comes in when those producers and writer lists are narrowing down who they want for a particular project, and the more niche elements like your strengths and writing style come into play.
What Elements Do You Consistently Include?
Now that we know what a writer’s voice is, how do you determine yours? If you’re just starting out and you haven’t finished a script yet, don’t worry about your voice just yet. Instead, focus on getting the basics of screenwriting down. But once you have a few scripts under your belt, take a look at:
- What themes repeat in your scripts?
- Do you always have a certain type of protagonist?
- Do you always write in a specific subgenre? (For example, if you like science fiction and supernatural television, are you writing more horror, deep supernatural, light and creepy supernatural, deep science fiction, or grounded science fiction?)
- When people read your scripts, what do they respond positively to?
- Is your writing style more poetic? More static?
- Do you include jokes in your prose?
- Are your scripts more dialogue or action-heavy?
Look through and see what is true across your scripts and what are the things that people respond to most positively when they read your scripts because those are your strengths and you need to embrace them.
Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment
Especially if you’re just starting out and reading scripts as a reference, play around with your writing style! Experiment with density and brevity, word choice, references, etc. Find the scripts and the writers that you respond to as an audience member, and see what they’re doing and if it’s similar or different from your own.
You’ll know that you’ve found your voice when the things you are most confident in aligns with the things that people who read your work respond with excitement to. And once you have that, run with it.