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30 Screenwriting Lessons From The Twilight Zone Creator Rod Serling

30 Screenwriting Lessons From The Twilight Zone Creator Rod Serling

First Draft

16. “You can be a hunchback and a dwarf and what-all. If you write beautifully, you can write beautifully.”

It doesn’t matter how old or how young you are, what color skin you have, if you’re rich, poor, or somewhere in between. It doesn’t matter if you live in Los Angeles, New York, Wisconsin, South America, Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia, or wherever. If you write beautifully, no one can take that away from you. And if you are creative and persistent, that work will be recognized.

17. “We think euphemistically that all writers write because they have something to say that is truthful and honest and pointed and important. I suppose I subscribe to that, too. But God knows when I look back over 30 years of professional writing, I’m hard-pressed to come up with anything that’s important. Some things are literate, some things are interesting, some things are classy, but very damn little is important.”

This is coming from one of the greatest and most revered writers in history. Be humble.

18. “When that paper is rejected, in a sense, a sizable fragment of the writer is rejected as well. It’s a piece of himself that’s being turned down.”

This is why rejection hurts so bad. It’s not just the writing being rejected. It’s our souls, too, because that’s what screenwriters giveor should giveto each and every script. A piece of them.

19. “If it sounds good as you say it, likely as not it’ll sound good when an actor’s saying it.”

Wise words when it comes to dialogue. Writers need to say those words, preferably in the manufactured mindsets of their characters. Either do it under your breath in the coffee shop or find an empty room and act it out. This process will not only change your dialogue for the better, it will change every aspect of your writing.

20. “I choose to think of TV audience as nameless, formless, faceless people who are all like me. And anything that I write, if I like it, they’ll like it.”

Set out to entertain yourself. You can’t possibly know how millions of other people are going to reactor even how a handful of Hollywood contacts reading your script will. But you can go in knowing that there are millions of people out there that like the movies you like.


21. “The most important thing about the first sale is for the very first time in your life, something written has value, and proven value because somebody has given you money for the words that you’ve written. That’s terribly important. It’s a tremendous boon to the ego, to your sense of self-reliance, to your feeling about your own talent.”

Your first paycheck is magical. There’s no feeling like it.

22. “I remember the first sale I made was a $150 for a radio script, and, as poor as I was, I didn’t cash the check for three months. I kept showing it to people.”

It’s not just about the money.

23. “I would guess that the price of the script really is secondary. The credit is much more the essence.”

Money canand willbe spent. Credits lasts forever and mean the most to those holding the keys to the kingdom.

24. “There are a lot I’m proud of, and a lot I wish the hell I’d never written.”

You will write some terrible scripts, make no mistake. It’s a guarantee. The real secret to success is learning to tell the difference between what is great and what is horrible, and everything in between.

25. “I’m an affluent screenwriter and all thatI’m a known screenwriter, but I’m not in the fraternity of the very major people. I would say a guy like Ernie Lehman, William Goldman, and a few others are quite a cut above.”

Again… be humble.

26. “There are millions of ways to not be writing.”

No excuses.

27. “Ideas come from the Earth. They come from every human experience that you’ve either witnessed or have heard about, translated into your brain in your own sense of dialogue, in your own language form. Ideas are born from what is smelled, heard, seen, experienced, felt, emotionalized. Ideas are probably in the air, like little tiny items of ozone.”

 Next time you are asked this endless question by your friends, family, peers, and acquaintances, recite this quote. Or you can now summarize by saying, “They come from The Twilight Zone.”

28. “Somehow, some way, incredibly enough, good writing ultimately gets recognized. If you’re a really good writer and deserve that honored position, then by God, you’ll write, and you’ll be read.”

A truth floating around in Hollywood todaythe cream will rise. If you’ve honed your craft, if the concepts are original, if the delivery is solid, and if you have your own voicethe cream will rise.

29. “I have never written beneath myself. I have never written anything that I didn’t want my name attached to. I have probed deeper in some scripts and I’ve been more successful in some than others. But all of them that have been on, you know, I’ll take my lick. They’re mine and that’s the way I wanted them.”

Whether it’s good, bad, or somewhere in between—own your writing.


30. “You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into… the Twilight Zone.”

When you embark on that next screenplay, you are exploring The Twilight Zone. Most people don’t understand it. Most people don’t understand how, where, and why writers get their ideas. They don’t understand how they conjure those characters. This is where we goThe Twilight Zone. We create sounds, visuals, and we affect the mind of the audience and reader. We do so by sometimes taking them into the shadows to thrill or frighten. We accompany that by injecting substance, ideas, and notions.

We’ll see you in The Twilight Zone, Mr. Serling. MM

This post originally appeared on the blog ScreenCraft. ScreenCraft is dedicated to helping screenwriters and filmmakers succeed through educational events, screenwriting competitions and the annual ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship program, connecting screenwriters with agents, managers and Hollywood producers. Follow ScreenCraft on TwitterFacebook and YouTube.

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