Ghost in the Script: Keeping Your Spirit Alive Within a Rigid Screenplay Format

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Summary: Screenwriting is a delicate balance between technical proficiency and creative genius.

Last week, DreamWorks announced its plans to make a live-action, feature length adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell. The plot of this post-cyberpunk manga revolves around machines (*spoiler alert*) that have come to acquire a soul.*

*Based on Gilbert Ryle’s philosophical concept, “The Ghost in the Machine.”

This plot of the manga- and movie (should it in fact be made)- is intriguing and holds particular weight when it comes to screenwriting. Allow me to explain:

1. Start the Machine

In previous blogs, I have discussed in depth the importance of nailing the fundamentals of screenwriting.

Unlike many other forms of literature, screenwriting is a very exacting art. You are given only so many pages (~120 max). The language is concise and exacting. Often free of superfluous adjectives, thought bubbles, and tangents.

It is easy to see these restrictions as hampering your creative spirit. However, rather than thinking them as a cage, consider them instead the blueprints of a high-functioning machine. Once you get the machine running, you will find you can do marvelous things with it.

2. Awaken the Soul

I just finished reading James Cameron’s Aliens script. Screenwriter, John August, calls it his favorite script of all time. One good read of the script will tell you why.

The technical brilliance Cameron was able to pull off here is amazing. I often watch movies and wonder, “how would I write that down?” Cameron pulls it off. Every second of spine-tinging action is meticulously recorded.

Not only that but he manages to keep his voice intact. Tarantino has a similar ability. You will be reading their scripts, and they’ll be just plugging along, as if they were technical writers forming a manual, and then, out of the blue, they will come up with an off-the-wall analogy that makes the scene so visual and so real that you not only connect with the scene but with the writer who jotted it all down.

That is what I’m talking about when I talk about keeping your spirit alive.

Never be afraid to add a unique detail that connects directly to our five senses. Remember: scriptwriting is a visual medium, and if we cannot see it, we cannot shoot it. So feel free to mess around with wordplay. Pat yourself on the back for being brilliant and keep on going. Often these little, ingenious phrases will happen entirely by accident, as you and your story become one.  After all, you want your audience engaged, and the first audience your screenplay has is you.

So have fun, be creative, and never stop growing!

Final Note: There are a great number of brilliant screenwriters that have come before you, so don’t hesitate in reading their works to see how they pulled it off. Learn well.

Blessings to you in Christ,


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