5 Story Lessons from Top Women Writers

by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)

In 2015, women made up only 9% of all directors on the top 250 films, according to San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. That number dropped in 2016 to only 7%. Despite lots of discussion in Hollywood circles, the number of women directors remains abysmally low.

Even less attention is given to the number of films and television shows written by women. Solid statistics on this topic are rarely tracked. It could be argued that this role is of even greater importance, as the worldview and perspective of a story is found more profoundly in the script than in the directing. Here are five story lessons we can take from some of the top women writers in the industry.

NICOLE PERLMAN – humor works across genres

Nicole Perlman penned the original Guardians of the Galaxy script, as well as the upcoming Sherlock Holmes 3 and Captain Marvel films. Guardians jumped to mass success partly because it didn’t take itself too seriously. Even in dangerous and violent landscapes, audiences enjoy seeing characters relieve the tension by making a few jokes. Regardless of the genre you are working in, there should be light moments that humanize the characters and remind us that they are people with multi-faceted personalities. Providing a little humor here and there can be a perfect way to do that.

AMANDA SILVER – build a world for your story

Amanda Silver launched her career in the horror genre with The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. She later moved into action adventure with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Jurassic World. She recently completed the upcoming live-action Mulan project as well as Avatar 3.

Silver has remained one of the top writers in the industry through her ability to construct a world on screen. Though most of the franchises she has written for have been established in books or previous films, Silver has demonstrated an ability to bring the vision of a world to the screen through a unique lens. The worlds she has built make room for layered characters, loads of conflict, and line after line of interesting dialogue.

JANE GOLDMAN – don’t be afraid to go big

Jane Goldman has proven to be a woman that knows how to write material that many assumed must be written by men – coming of age stories for male geek culture. She is responsible for Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and the upcoming Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Goldman writes big stories, preferring large ensembles with intricate inner workings to small, simple stories. While there certainly is a place for both, many writers are afraid to ever go big in the way that Goldman has. While her risks have been great, so have been her rewards.

GINA PRINCE-BYTHEWOOD – develop a story ecosystem

Gina Prince-Bythewood burst onto the scene with South Central, Love and Basketball, and later The Secret Life of Bees. More recently, she is responsible for creating and writing the acclaimed television show, Shots Fired. While she has expanded the stories that she tells, Prince-Bythewood has continued to work in the same ecosystem of narratives that involve young African Americans (and often women) struggling to overcome the racially-charged environments around them for a more meaningful and happier life. Continuing to work within this ecosystem has allowed her to deepen the stories she tells and perfect her craft to a level most still aspire to.

DIABLO CODY – don’t play nice

Diablo Cody won Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Juno in 2008. Since that time, she has continued to create fascinating characters and stories for both film and television. She is responsible for The United States of Tara, One Mississippi, Young Adult, and Ricki and the Flash. She is presently re-teaming with Juno director, Jason Reitman, for the upcoming Tully, as well as a film based on the Barbie franchise.

Cody forged her way into the industry be refusing to create the stereotypical female characters that many audiences had become accustomed to. Instead she writes fleshed out real women who sometimes refuse to play nice. Great characters and stories reflect the reality of the human experience, which isn’t always pretty. Sacrificing expectations for authenticity in screenwriting rarely goes unnoticed.

~

John Bucher is a writer, speaker, and story consultant based out of Los Angeles. He is the author of several books including The Inside Out Story and Master of the Cinematic Universe: The Secret Code to Writing in the New World of Media. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to U.S.  Ambassadors. He teaches at The LA Film Studies Center and has conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his site, tellingabetterstory.com.

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