I’m writing this because I cannot start writing. So many times I jot down a script idea - a character, a setting, an inciting incident – but nothing becomes of these. Instead, I procrastinate. Sound familiar?
Yet, somewhere in this procrastination my mind thought up some wacky ways to start writing that I think I’ll try and could be useful for you, fellow screenwriters. Some may seem incredibly obvious, but hopefully some new things will be discovered.
So sit back, relax and enjoy the strange ideas I’ve conjured up (then after reading this, immediately put them into action)
Do not just explore, get lost.
Do your research. Do your research. It is so drilled into us that one of the best ways to get writing is to visit and explore new places, see new things, research a place. Of course, this isn’t bad advice but it’s not exciting enough to make you grab your pen. So here is how we improve it: go somewhere new and get completely lost. This is inspired by a friend who recently decided to be placed somewhere completely foreign to him and he had to find his way back home by communicating to people: begging, blagging and borrowing along his journey. Yes that might be suitably reckless for a fundraiser or documentarist to get attention but how does it help you? Well, think of the possibilities as a screenwriter. Think of the different kinds of people you will meet, the relationships, the sights, the problems you would encounter. THE CONFLICT. A journey filled with spontaneous conflict, rather than a linear three act structure. Our daily routines are freight with routine – how is a routine supposed to inspire you? So go and get lost somewhere and find your way back. You’ll surprise yourself and therefore your script will be full of surprises – predictability will go out the window.
Go back in time.
Shut down your pc/mac, delete your scriptwriting software, it’s time to pick up pen and paper or invest in a typewriter. No this is not designed so that you can look like an old school writer (well, partly). The reason is... No wi-fi! A scary thought huh? But with no wi-fi you resist the temptation to look up anything and therefore remain concentrated on your ideas. It’s a simple, obvious point but so useful. That flashing word processing cursor is not going to help anyone.
Don't just come up with a character, become your character.
This is so silly, this is so daft. Just try it! Live how your character would live. Speak how they would, act like they would, dress like they would. Get someone to record your dialogue, your expressions, the way you interact with people. Well why not? You can’t act? We know you’re not Daniel Day Lewis, you’re a (very often shy) writer, but this is all about becoming creative and avoiding writer’s block and how do you do that? By trying something different! Not only will this give your writing energy, you can also figure out a character’s arc and, most importantly, write believable dialogue that would actually be said by a human being! As soon as you turn actor, you can judge what seems appropriate for your character and what is false – the audience can always tell this difference when they watch a film.
Use your senses.
Do not go to a place and scribble down what you see. Instead, close your eyes and open your ears and nose. Record some sounds, write down how a place smells at different points in a day and note the source of these sounds and smells. What does the tube smell like? Is it a different smell depending on which line you are on? Is it a general smell in the air or the person you are sitting next to? Again this probably seems stupid. We are taught that screenwriting is visual; the rule is you don’t write anything other than what you can see because otherwise, you will end up writing a novel. However, knowing these details will make you think of place and character in more depth, even subconsciously. It could also help make your writing more focused, powerful, engaging, pithy. Oh and such details could also MAKE YOUR SCRIPT STAND OUT.
Don’t just ask ‘what if’ but ask ‘so what?’
It’s commonplace to throw your characters into strange situations by asking yourself, ‘what if my character does this or that?’ But what about, ‘so what?’ Who cares about this situation? If the answer is only you, then we have a problem. Will your audience care about this character, this scene? Does it matter? Writing can become so self-indulgent that you forget to ask this fundamental question. Also, if you’re judging your character, who will identify with them?
Don’t just observe people, talk to them.
This one speaks for itself. Strike up a conversation with someone interesting, who knows where it could lead (creatively).
Adapt it or kill it off.
As soon as you start comparing your script to another film you must adapt it or kill it off. A harsh rule perhaps. But every script idea is so similar to something else nowadays that you have to strive for something fresh. I do believe that art is stealing other things - there is no such thing as complete originality - but you do have to try your best to shake up the formula. So next time someone asks you what your script is similar to, tell them how your script is different.
Time is your friend, not your enemy.
In filmmaking we are always fighting against time. With a script, you do not need to! Do not rush your scriptwriting process (on the other hand don’t take fifty years). When you read someone’s script, you can really feel it if it has been rushed to completion. Don’t let your script be one of them. Nurture it, water it occasionally and let it grow.
Don’t read scripts, write scripts.
Although it is important to know what is out there, always write down your own ideas/characters/places before reading what someone else has done. You know you can write, you know you can tell stories. We all can, we have been doing it all our lives, all day every day. You don’t need to read what someone else has done; there are no rules to scriptwriting because there are no rules in your imagination.
Want to get yourself to writing? Take our class:
And now for two of the silliest...
Writing is about confidence. If you feel confident, your writing will be confident and oh so wonderful to read.
Hit your head on a sink.
It worked for Dr Emmett Brown with the Flux Capacitor, it could work for you also.
There we go. Hopefully this has been an odd but helpful excursion.
Now close this article,
go write your script,
and celebrate appropriately.