Monday, February 19, 2007

Getting Started

Putting pen to paper is difficult whether you're writing a short story, a letter, a poem, a play or anything else. Screenwriting is no exception. In fact, screenwriting offers the writer unique opportunities for resistance and procrastination. While the short story writer can bang his head against the wall over what his character is thinking at a certain point in time, the screenwriter gets to bang her head against the wall figuring out what her character is thinking, and then again the next day figuring out how to communicate this on film. A poet determines his own formatting, and can vary it poem to poem. A screenwriter needs to communicate clearly with a ridiculous variety of professionals, from directors, to actors, to producers, to art directors, etc. The novelist produces a complete character. A screenwriter produces a great role -- a place for an actor to bring his own creativity. That seemingly subtle difference is worth nights of worry all by itself.

So how do you get started? One word: STORY.

So many of my clients get a decent idea, then jump straight into a script. And they get a great 30 pages. And then they get dug in. And then there's thirty pages of great scenes, but you aren't quite sure how to get from one to the next. And then they write another thirty pages of dialogue and exposition. And you know you shouldn't, but you'll think of something better later. And then you get depressed. Then you put it away for a few months. Then it's New Year's and you're drunk enough to resolve to finish it this year. And now it's February and you're still casting around for straws. Sound familiar? There's an easy way to avoid this problem, and it's called a synopsis.

A story that doesn't work on a single page is almost never compelling on 120. It HAS to make sense. (And it has to make sense without your characters taking breaks every 10-20 pages to tell each other and the audience what they're feeling and why.)

We'll explore synopsis over the next few posts. But just for today, ask yourself the hard question you've been avoiding:

What the hell am I trying to say?

What drives you to write this particular story? Can you put it into a few words? A single sentence? Write it down, and put it away somewhere.

Next, write your story, in just regular old words. There are no points for style here: just get it down. But there are a couple rules.

* Don't talk about themes. No "this is a story about good and evil" or "in an epic battle between the average Joe and City Hall".

* Don't generalize.

All you're going to write is WHAT THE AUDIENCE SEES ON SCREEN. What actually happens?

If you're in the middle of a script, write what you've got.

If you're trying to figure it out, just let fly. Don't censor yourself. Just get whatever comes out down onto the page.

More soon...

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