10 Story Techniques That Sell Screenplays

The key question that all screenwriters should ask themselves is: how do I write a script that Hollywood wants to buy? Most writers mistakenly think that success is all about connections and star power. Not so. The real trick to writing a script that will sell is to know and use Hollywood’s central marketing strategy. And that can be summed up in one word: genres.

Former Universal Pictures chairman Marc Shmuger recently said, “There’s no doubt the star system is in transformation. Arguably the two biggest stars in the first half of 2009 were Kevin James (Paul Blart: Mall Cop) and Liam Neeson (Taken). That’s a significant shift in the meaning of star power and a shift to the premium that is being put on concept and genre.”

Shmuger is telling any screenwriter smart enough to listen the first rule of the entertainment business worldwide: it buys and sells genres. Genres are story forms and each has from 8-15 special story beats (story events) that make up the form. The reason Hollywood marketing is based on genre is that executives are selling to a worldwide audience. And people the world over love particular types of stories that speak to their deepest desires.

I’d like to tell you 10 story techniques that must be in your script if you want the best chance of selling it in a genre-dominated business.

1. Know the 10 most popular genres

Step 1 in writing a script Hollywood wants to buy is knowing the 10 most popular story forms. If you write a script that is not based on one or more of these genres, your chance of a sale plummets. They are Action, Comedy, Crime, Detective, Horror, Fantasy, Love, Myth, Science Fiction and Thriller.

  2. Combine 2 or 3 genres

In the genre-focused entertainment business, the most important story strategy today is to mix genres. 99% of films made, not just in Hollywood but worldwide, are some combination of the ten most popular genres. Why? It all goes back to that old rule of selling: give the customer 2 or 3 for the price of 1. This, in a nutshell, is how Hollywood works.

Let me give you some examples. The super-popular Bourne films are Action + Thriller. Knocked Up is Comedy + Love. Little Miss Sunshine is Myth + Comedy. Titanic, the most popular movie of all time, is Love + Disaster Film + Myth. The Dark Knight is Crime + Myth + Fantasy. The Harry Potter stories, the most popular books of all time, are Fantasy + Myth + Horror + Coming-of-Age Drama. The Pirates of the Caribbean movies are Fantasy + Action + Horror + Myth…

Check out the rest of 10 Story Techniques That Sell Screenplays, originally found on the Raindance site.