Screenwriting in the New Year

Most of us have made New Year’s resolutions in the past and many of us can barely glimpse them in the rearview mirror by March. It happens. We get comfortable in our routines, our schedules are full, and everyday life just seems to get in the way… I’ve been working on my resolutions this past year and as the end of the year approached, the more I felt like I was cramming for a final. I finally realized it wasn’t going to happen. I wasn’t going to finish my screenplay before the end of the year. Though, that was a readjusted goal originally set five months prior.

Although, I’m almost finished with my current project, I have many more ideas and outlines ready to forge into new stories. This might be part of my setback as I know that I have so many great ideas and so little time with which to develop them. I’ve come to realize that I don’t necessarily procrastinate, but I won’t write unless the quality of what I want to write flows uninhibited from my pen. Coupled with my own self-imposed deadlines, I find myself fixated on the Finished Draft.

Going into the New Year, I have made new resolutions that will help me achieve my goals. For one; I have to stop counting pages! This can be a real setback for most screenwriters. Knowing that your first act transition is somewhere around page 35 and your second act turning point is around page 85, I find that I tend to develop scenes based on how many pages I have left in a particular act. This can, and will be, one of your biggest burdens. Don’t count pages!

I find that self-imposed deadlines are a good tactic to stay on track, however; you don’t want to let your deadlines get in the way of your creative process. Don’t jeopardize quality for quantity. This goes back to the page counting… forget it.

Try a different approach.

Surprise yourself with the unexpected. Write a first draft that is chaotic and spontaneous. Set it aside for a couple of weeks and then come back to it. When you start writing, it tends to be interpreted a little differently. When you express your ideas in text, it just changes. You’re trying to find the best words or combination of words, or the right sentence and you often feel that the meaning is slipping away, something’s missing, and the text that you produce is not what “you have in your head”.

Write the entire script. The first act is almost always the easiest to write. Don’t let yourself get stuck in the second act. Many writers get stuck in the second act; give up entirely or work on their second act rewrite until hell freezes over. If you’re stuck on your second act, move on to your third act. Then go back and look for pieces that will bridge your acts together. Think out of the box; think out of the structure norm. It just may work for you.

Ask yourself questions about the story that you’re currently working on. Get inside your own head. Even if you’re not happy with your answers on the way a particular scene is written, put your draft aside. Write a different version, “change the characters names; write dramatically, write a horror and slip some comedy in there. Write what you normally wouldn’t write. Experiment with different characters and scenes. Instead of writing dialogue you’re comfortable with, break out with some slang or curse words to bring your characters alive. Create more depth in your characters. Give your scenes a rough edge that will make them stand apart from the norm. Don’t write what people expect to see in the movies. Write the unexpected.

Rewrites are part of the process. You may need to perform several rewrites before your script is even close to a final draft. Keep in mind, every rewrite will allow you the opportunity to get deeper into the characterizations, develop the scenes, and bridge your acts together more seamlessly. Revisions are hardest, though the most educational part of writing.

Broaden your creative muse. Inspiration is the key to jumpstart your creative process. Learn from all those that inspire and seek to inspire others. Look for inspiration in life’s simple and complex situations. Writing is a long process; it takes patience, practice, and a devotion that is eventually rewarded with a finished product/script. Don’t avoid your current practice; look for opportunities to expand on your current process. Give yourself the challenge of creating and not quantifying.

Whenever you write, whatever you write, never make the mistake of assuming the audience is any less intelligent than you are.
– Rod Serling

Best wishes to all screenwriters in the New Year!

–       David L. Spies

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