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9 ways Screenwriting Is Exactly Like Chess

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

All the movies that you watch on the big screen, what do you think? The storyline is just as it is or is there some sort of strategy applied to it? Well in this article we are going to discuss the following. Screenwriting is just as chess here’s why!

1. Every move or decision must be calculated

In chess, it’s a move! In screenwriting it’s a decision. In screenwriting when you are marketing your screenplays, you should be deciding whom you market your script based on a number of elements. Those are: The budget • Genre• Theme • Character types.

Match that with the companies those are making similar projects. If you are looking for representation, you should gather information about the manager and agent that you are considering and make sure they are a good fit for your writing.

2. Some people play chess others are chess masters

Just like lots of people play chess some of the players exactly aren’t cut out to be players. In screenwriting, some people write screenplays (pretty much everyone in Hollywood), and others are great screenwriters. And those great screenwriters comprise just a small fraction of all who are trying to break through in this business. They are the ones studying the craft and honing their own skills.

3. Learn to spot the patterns

In chess, there are specific patterns that chess players follow to win the game. And to become a better chess player, you have to be able to spot those familiar patterns. Screenwriting is no different. If you look at the most heralded or successful movies each year, there are clear patterns to telling an engaging and cathartic story in every genre. This isn’t about fill in the blank formulas and copy-cat archetypes. It’s about the DNA of storytelling is in our blood as a human race — and the proof of that DNA is found in the movies released every year.

Themes, structures, and conflicts are universal, and they live on through each generation. The originality comes in the context screenwriters apply them and the worlds and characters that they choose to inhabit them.

4. Patterns Are Great, but Creativity and Risk Are Necessary to Prevail

Chess players can’t rely solely on familiar strategic patterns. The best players turn the tables by doing the inspired and unexpected. In screenwriting, you have to master that balance of familiar and original. It’s a tightrope to walk, but a necessary one. Hollywood loves familiar only because audiences do as well. It takes a lot of commitment in the eyes of the audience to go see a movie. You have to get dressed, venture to the theater, wait in line, spend money on the tickets, spend money on the drinks and snacks, deal with that person in front of their phone or the people talking during the movie, etc.

5. If you only take on easy opponents, you’ll never improve.

In chess, they’re called patzers. In screenwriting, they’re those easy scripts that anyone can write. That typical action flick with a good guy versus some bad guys. That cliché romantic comedy where the girl meets the guy falls in love, loses the guy, and then gets the guy back. That obvious ghost in the house flick. Those types of screenplays aren’t going to get the notice that you need to break through. And they are not going to help you evolve as a screenwriter. It’s okay to have those conventional — but well written — staples that Hollywood may want to see, as long as you follow the fourth directive above. But you need to challenge yourself from time to time.

6. Sacrifice is necessary

In chess, sometimes you need to sacrifice those key pieces. It hurts, but it’s necessary. In screenwriting, sometimes you have to kill those darlings.

Mastering the art of craft of screenwriting requires it — and the business of screenwriting demands it. You will create a character you love, only to discover that they’re not right for the narrative. You will conjure a moment you cherish, only to realize that it’s redundant. You will design a sequence so thrilling, only to later understand that it has nothing to do with the story. These types of sacrifices will be with you for the rest of your screenwriting career, no matter how many Oscars you’ve won or how many millions your movies have made.

7. Don’t waste your time chasing lowly pawns

Small victories build confidence in chess, but if you’re only chasing pawns, you’re missing out on the big picture. Screenwriters often get stuck in the trap of small victories. They will enter small contests that nobody has heard of, or they will market their scripts to representation, companies, or talent that nobody in Hollywood deals with.

8. Connect your pieces wisely

You can’t win in chess with a single piece. All of them are connected. And whatever pieces you have throughout the game need to be used wisely, and in unison with one another. In your screenwriting career, if you’re doing things right, you’re slowly building a network of industry contacts and collaborators. These are your pieces. You never want to sacrifice a piece without reason. You never want to move a piece too soon or too late. If you’ve met some industry insiders at a writers conference or film festival, don’t bombard them with scripts that following Monday. Build a relationship with them and keep them in play until you need or are ready to make that move.

9. If you lose, do so graciously!

Make calculated decisions in your screenwriting. Strive to be a great screenwriter, not just someone who writes scripts. Do your homework and pay attention to the patterns in great cinematic stories. Know when to take creative risks within those patterns. Challenge yourself to better yourself as a screenwriter. Know that you have to kill your darlings. Don’t chase small confidence builders, chase the big dogs that can make your career. Use your networks and contacts wisely. And finally, when you’re rejected, take it graciously and learn from it.


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