What Makes A Great Screenwriter? by Shannan E. Johnson

Film Courage: What makes a great storyteller?

Writer/Instructor and Script Consultant Shannan E. Johnson (The Professional Pen): I think what makes a great storyteller is someone who is open to the collaborative process. Open to knowing that (as we’re taught when we’re little) two heads are better than one. But for whatever reason we become adults and we want to do everything by ourselves.

I think great storytellers understand their part of the process. They understand that other people can bring stuff to the process. They are open to utilizing what is happening in the world around them.

For example I traveled for a decade as a touring artist. I was always in different places so that means I met different kinds of people, I saw different kinds of places and we never really pay attention to the fact that because I was in that area or around those people, I probably picked up on some new information. We are always told to write what we know and that automatically becomes so narrow to us when we think about How can that be what I know?

But it’s like if you consider the places that you’ve been, the people that you’ve met, what your spouse may do for a living, what your parents may have done for a living, what your friends may be doing, what they may be going through in their personal lives. If you were a child and you watched how mom and dad did X, Y & Z, all of these things are things that you know and therefore things that you can write about. You just have to be open. Storytellers have to be open to notes. I think we all know as artists you have to be open to criticism but criticism is different from notes. A lot of the times writers aren’t able to tell the difference. They are thinking the executives are coming in here to steal my joy and to rain on my parade and really they are coming in with a totally different part of the process. They are coming in from a totally different spectrum to look at your script and nine times out of ten if they have a note, all that means is that there is a problem here.

You can decide to fix it in any creative way sometimes they (Watch the video interview on Youtube here).









About Shannan:

After grad school I became a junior creative executive at NBCUniversal at the Syfy Channel. I was there for the rebrand. Remember Sci Fi? Yeah, not really. Anywho, it was my job to help writers and producers take their ideas from pitch to production. I co-exec’d on Alphas, Being Human, Haven, Sanctuary, Warehouse 13, and more Syfy dramedies. This is how I honed my skill in all stages of the screenwriting process…(read more here).

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