Film Writing for Beginners: A Workshop

by Lois Kok Yu Qin, Victoria Junior College

“Film Writing for Beginners” by Ng Swee San was a very informative workshop.

Firstly, participants were given insights on how to make a narrative more engaging to “hook” readers, such as starting with a ridiculous premise, introducing conflict, for character and plot development, as well as creating characters that are flawed, but fully fleshed out. She reminded us that our characters should also be active rather than passive: they should work towards their goal instead of letting the plot happen to them. Participants were then given time to create our own original characters (OCs). The first few minutes were spent with students were still in food comas, staring at their papers blankly. After that, however, people starting talking to each other in hushed tones, asking for one another’s opinions on their OCs.  It seemed as though many found the task slightly challenging.

There were some very interesting results: one participant had created an OC who was a secret agent with narcolepsy, and another provided a character profile for a sentient wheelbarrow with molysomophobia. The experience taught us that it could be quite challenging to create characters with their own compelling quirks and shortcomings, especially given a limited amount of time.

Another aspect of the workshop taught us the format of writing a script for film. Notably, we were also shown that although a good script provides information about the setting and characters in the film, the script should not become overladen with descriptive language, and dialogue should be included only when absolutely necessary. She would illustrate the point with excerpts of scripts, or short snippets, from celebrated films such as Ratatouille and Gone Girl.  We were taught that script writing is actually very different from narrative writing, as both types of writing have very different aims. While narrative writing needs to be more descriptive to invoke readers’ imaginations, scripts are written for a visual medium, film, and hence should “show, not tell.”

We ended off with a short Q&A session, where she shared that some of her favourite films that she felt had good storytelling were “The Incredibles, Moana, The Chaser… and some Korean dramas as well”, a pronouncement that was received with much applause and cheers from the participants of the workshop.   

She would conclude her session with some tips for aspiring script writers:

1. Keep an open mind: don’t be quick to shoot down seemingly ridiculous ideas or premises, as they may turn out to be the most creative narratives.

2. Watch all genres of film- even those you may not like to watch, such as horror or thrill, as you can better observe how the filmmakers set the scene for different scenes. 

3. Stay curious and adventurous: The more you experience, the better you can write! 

In all, we feel that this was a very worthwhile experience and that we were able to learn a lot about writing for the screen!