The Un-Rules of Screenwriting: Kirsten Smith’s List

(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a new series of articles here at LA Screenwriter. Let us know what you think!)

E.B. White wrote that there are “no inflexible rules by which the young writer may steer his course. He will often find himself steering by stars that are disturbingly in motion.”

We at LA Screenwriter have found that novice screenwriters often struggle with the problem of “the rules,” erring either on the side of formula or of complete disregard for structure. With that in mind, we’ve asked working writers what rules–either flexible or inflexible–guide their writing.

Our first list of “un-rules” comes from Kirsten Smith, screenwriter (along with her writing partner, Karen McCullah) of The Ugly Truth, Legally Blonde, and 10 Things I Hate About You, to name a few.

In no particular order, Kirsten’s rules are:


  1. Conflict, conflict, conflict between characters.  Although we try to avoid it in life, it’s essential to embrace it in screenplays.

  2. Don’t let characters fall in love (or like) too quickly. Sparring makes for good chemistry (witness THE HEAT).

  3. Don’t be afraid to extensively outline.  Get examples of outlines where you can.  Outline your favorite movies and favorite screenplays to teach yourself about structure.

  4. End scenes on a joke when and where you can.

  5. Embrace rejection and realize that “no”s are no big deal.

  6. Read lots of scripts. Be familiar with your form.  Watch lots of movies.  Read Deadline.


Kirsten also recommends that writers read Lynda Obst’s new book, Sleepless in Hollywood. In the book, Obst provides a realistic view on what is happening in the current marketplace, how it all changed, and how you can survive and thrive in it.

Kirsten has her own new book on the shelves, as well: a young adult novel called Trinkets. Fans of The Breakfast Club as well as Kirsten’s films 10 Things I Hate About You and She’s the Man will love the read. There are signed copies available at Book Soup for those LA writers who want to #buylocal.

3 thoughts on “The Un-Rules of Screenwriting: Kirsten Smith’s List

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  1. Thanks for this. Will check out Linda Obst book as soon as it comes out on Kindle.
    I’d like to read a post (or get a book recommendation) on developing a plot if you have a theme to begin with. How do you create characters, and a story arc… Anything on this would be useful… Thanks.

    1. The book is on Kindle now, actually. I’m reading it on my Kindle, and it’s very insightful (and also a bit depressing). I’ll see what I can find about developing a plot around a theme. Thanks for the input!

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