Freedom for a Screenwriter Say: How to Use Dramatic License in Your Scripts

As a screenwriter, you may have heard of the term “dramatic license”. But what does it mean, and how can you use it in your scripts? In this article, we will explore the concept of dramatic license, its benefits and drawbacks, and some examples of how it has been used in famous movies and TV shows.

What is Dramatic License?

Dramatic license, also known as artistic license, is the freedom that a screenwriter, or any creative writer, has to alter or embellish the facts, events, or characters of a story for the sake of enhancing the drama, humor, or artistic effect of the work. It is a common practice in fiction, especially in genres such as historical fiction, biographical fiction, fantasy, science fiction, and comedy.

Dramatic license can be used to:

  • Change the order, timing, or location of events
  • Combine, omit, or create characters
  • Add or remove dialogue, actions, or details
  • Modify the historical, cultural, or scientific accuracy of the story
  • Incorporate elements of fantasy, magic, or exaggeration

Why Use Dramatic License?

The main reason to use dramatic license is to make your story more engaging, entertaining, and memorable for your audience. By using dramatic license, you can:

  • Create more conflict, suspense, or surprise in your plot
  • Highlight the themes, messages, or emotions of your story
  • Develop more complex, relatable, or charismatic characters
  • Add more humor, irony, or satire to your tone
  • Appeal to a wider or more specific audience

What are the Risks of Using Dramatic License?

While dramatic license can be a powerful tool for a screenwriter, it also comes with some risks and challenges. Some of the potential drawbacks of using dramatic license are:

  • Losing the credibility, authenticity, or realism of your story
  • Offending or alienating your audience, especially if they are familiar with the original source or subject matter of your story
  • Facing legal or ethical issues, especially if you are dealing with real people, events, or facts that are protected by intellectual property rights or privacy laws
  • Being criticized or challenged by critics, experts, or fans who may point out the inaccuracies, inconsistencies, or flaws of your story

How to Use Dramatic License Effectively?

To use dramatic license effectively, you need to balance your creative vision with your respect for the truth and your audience. Here are some tips to help you use dramatic license wisely:

  • Know your purpose and intention. Why are you using dramatic license? What are you trying to achieve or convey with your story? How does it serve your plot, characters, or theme?
  • Know your genre and audience. What are the expectations and conventions of your genre? Who are you writing for? What are their preferences, knowledge, and values? How will they react to your use of dramatic license?
  • Know your source and facts. What are you basing your story on? How accurate or reliable is your source? What are the essential or relevant facts that you need to include or respect in your story?
  • Know your limits and boundaries. How much dramatic license can you afford to use? How far can you deviate from the truth without compromising the integrity or quality of your story? How can you avoid or minimize the negative consequences of using dramatic license?

Examples of Dramatic License in Movies and TV Shows

Here are some examples of how dramatic license has been used in some famous movies and TV shows:

  • The Social Network (2010): The biographical drama about the founding of Facebook used dramatic license to create more conflict and drama among the characters, especially Mark Zuckerberg and his friends and rivals. The movie also omitted or changed some details and events that were not essential or relevant to the story.
  • Titanic (1997): The epic romance about the sinking of the Titanic used dramatic license to create the fictional characters of Jack and Rose, who fall in love on board the doomed ship. The movie also altered some historical facts and events, such as the actions of the crew, the passengers, and the rescue boats, to enhance the emotional impact and the spectacle of the disaster.
  • Game of Thrones (2011-2019): The fantasy drama based on the novels by George R.R. Martin used dramatic license to adapt the complex and lengthy source material for the screen. The TV show changed, added, or removed some characters, events, and details, such as the ages, appearances, relationships, and fates of some of the main characters, to suit the format, budget, and audience of the show.

Conclusion

Dramatic license is the freedom that a screenwriter has to alter or embellish the facts, events, or characters of a story for the sake of enhancing the drama, humor, or artistic effect of the work. It can be a useful and effective tool for creating engaging, entertaining, and memorable stories, but it also comes with some risks and challenges. To use dramatic license wisely, a screenwriter needs to balance their creative vision with their respect for the truth and their audience.