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Notes from a Screenreader: Bonsai for Beginners

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Photo via Go Into the Story.

It looks like it grew naturally, its boughs and crown pleasingly asymmetrical in the way wild things grow, but you can hold it in your hands.

Bonsai looks entirely wrought by nature and time, but it’s a painstaking process of complete artifice. Constant bending, pruning, grafting, wiring and clamping are responsible for its perfection.

  • Know the shape you want. Allow only elements into your script that create that shape.
  • Disguise your work. Your clamps and wires can’t show. The mechanics of the story can’t be in front, in dialogue. Tuck them away with misdirection.
  • Perfection is in what you take away. There are plenty of little sprouts that turn up in your story that feel like they belong, but they don’t. A good screenplay is about your own ruthlessness. Prune, destroy, focus on the outcome.

Bonsai is all about discipline.

— ANNIE LABARBA

Annie is a screenwriter, story consultant, and reader for major screenplay competitions.

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nywift

nywift New York Women in Film & Television supports women calling the shots in film, television and digital media.

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