Let’s start with the basics

I’ve been reading for a contest these past few weeks.

It’s a safe bet to say that a lot of the writers who entered may not be as familiar with how to write a screenplay as one would expect.

This, in turn, inspired some helpful suggestions for any writer to keep in mind:

-SHOW, DON’T TELL. Convey the information in as visual a way as possible.

-GET IN LATE, GET OUT ASAP. Get to the point of your scene as quickly as you can, then move on to the next one. Don’t have the characters chitchatting back and forth for another page.

-GET THINGS MOVING. Get us into the story from the outset. Keep the momentum going.

-EVERY SCENE NEEDS CONFLICT. Two opposing forces; anything from a subtle gesture to an epic battle.

-INVEST IN SCREENWRITING SOFTWARE. It makes a huge difference to write something in Final Draft as opposed to Microsoft Word. This can also help with..

-FORMATTING IS IMPORTANT. If you’re not sure how a script should look on the page, there are tons or resources online with good examples. You can also read some other scripts to get an idea.

-DO YOUR RESEARCH. Fleshing out a story or characters with relevant info adds to the authenticity of the material. Don’t go for the information dump; use what’s important/necessary.

-SPELLCHECK IS NOT YOUR FRIEND. There’s no ‘e’ in ‘lightning’, nor should somebody ‘waist’ an opportunity, just to name two.

-THE THESAURUS IS YOUR FRIEND. Mix it up. There are 142 alternate words for “walk”.

-CHARACTER INTROS. Describe their personality, rather than just their height & appearance – unless either plays a part in the story. Also, their name in ALL CAPS only when they’re first introduced; NOT every single time after that.

-“HOW DO WE KNOW THAT?”. Action lines are for describing what we’re seeing transpire onscreen (i.e. action), not explaining why something’s happening, why somebody’s doing something, or what something really means. Find a way to get that across visually, or through dialogue.

-KEEP IT BRIEF (or WRITE AS IF INK COSTS $1000 AN OUNCE). While a book may allow for lengthy descriptions, a screenplay needs to be tight. Lots of unnecessary text will slow things down, and an important detail might get overlooked if it’s in the middle of a dense paragraph.

-IS THIS IMPORTANT TO THE STORY? While you may consider it vital to meticulously describe the decor of your protagonist’s living room, or every item of clothing they’re wearing, unless that information plays a part in the story, it’s unnecessary clutter.

-IS THIS HOW PEOPLE TALK? Do your characters talk like real people or like they’re in a movie? Helpful tip – read your dialogue out loud to see how it actually sounds.

-ACTIVE, NOT PASSIVE VERBS. “Bob runs” is more effective than “Bob is running.”

-WE SEE/WE HEAR. Personally, not a fan. If you have to use them, do so as sparingly as possible.

-CAMERA DIRECTIONS. Again, not a fan. I find them distracting. You don’t need to remind us we’re “watching” a movie

These, of course, are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, but still pretty important to keep in mind.

Getting your time to work for you

Most of this week for me has been splitting time among a few projects, with notable progress on each. Especially notable was that two of them had felt somewhat stalled, so to have broken through that wall and kept going was quite the endorphin rush.

Since I was feeling rather accomplished about this relatively minor feat, I put out on social media how nice it was to have done so. A number of writing associates offered up congrats and encouragement, as well as one person who asked “How do you find the time to do all this?”

I’ve gotten this question before.

How DO I find the time? How does any writer?

I guess the simple answer is: I make the time, whenever I can.

Some writers are able to have a designated window of when they work. Maybe they wake up a little earlier than they need to and write for an hour or two before they need to get ready for the day job.

Or they have mini writing sprints at the day job; 10 minutes here or there, during the second cup of coffee or lunch, what have you.

Or maybe they wrap up their day with writing before going to bed.

It really depends on what works best for you.

As much as I’d love to have a big block of time each day to be all about the writing, some days that just isn’t possible, so I make do. I have a little downtime during the day job, so I try to squeeze something in when possible.

But I’m also trying to get in better shape, so a certain amount of my day might involve an hour-plus at the gym or going out for a run. This in turn means I’d have less time to write, but if I don’t exercise, I’ll feel lousy mentally and physically, which in turn won’t help me be productive for the writing. If that means a slight extension of how long it takes to finish a project, I’m okay with that.

(One exception – if I’m on a deadline, all bets are off and it’s all about the writing.)

Sometimes it’s not about how much time I have to write, but how much I plan to write in that time. More than once I’ve sat down thinking “I want to write at least three pages today.” If I write three, great. A lot of the time I’ll push myself to do at least a little more, depending on how productive I’m feeling. Anything beyond the original objective is a bonus.

It’s all about setting up your own goals and expectations. Be realistic. What do you think you can accomplish each day with the time you have to work with? You know better than anybody how you operate, so plan accordingly. Write for an hour and see how far you get? Set an achievable goal (the aforementioned three pages) and see how it goes?

It’s easy to feel negative when you see other writers proclaiming things like “Woo-hoo! Another dozen pages done today!”, and all you could manage was two or three.

Don’t. Everybody runs at their own pace. Like I remind myself when I take part in a race:

It’s the distance, not the time.

It’s more important to do this – and finish – on your own terms, rather than pushing yourself too much and running yourself ragged, resulting in collapse and/or burnout. And I’m not just talking about running.

Know what you want to accomplish, and knowing how much time you have to do it, you can plan accordingly.

Repeat as long as necessary until the damned thing’s finished.

Until the next draft, where you go back and find the time to do it all over again.

(you + ideas) x plan = 2022

As we stand on the cusp of a brand spanking new year, do you know what you want to accomplish, writing-wise?

More importantly, do you have a plan on how that’s going to happen?

I’m finding that it really helps to take a realistic approach, focusing more on the things we can actually control, rather than the things we would like to happen.

Knowing your own productivity and output, how many scripts do you think you could write/rewrite?

For me, I’m looking at 1-2 new ones, and 2-3 rewrites. Might be a bit of a challenge, but still doable.

I’ve also noticed an increase across social media of writers offering to give notes to other writers, so that’s something also easily achievable. Doing that once or twice a month benefits both you and the other writer, and a lot of the time the other writer will reciprocate, so…win-win.

Lots of writers are also directors or filmmakers, so maybe making a film or a short is part of your 2022 to-do list. Count me among that number. Got a horror-comedy short I’m just itching to make, and have started the ball rolling to see that happen.

No matter what you’re hoping to accomplish this year, I hope you not only do that, but also manage to enjoy yourself along the way. You should be getting as much out of the journey as you do finishing it.

And keep in mind that while you might be flying solo on a project, you’re definitely not alone. Just about every other writer out there is going through the exact same thing. Don’t hesitate to ask for help, advice, or feedback, or to offer it.

Win-win, remember?

Here’s to a phenomenally productive 2022.

Solutions sought (and found)

The past few weeks have been all about working on developing this new script.

After a bit of a rough start, I’d come up with what seemed like a solid storyline. I had my plot points mapped out, and started filling in the blanks between them.

The ideas were coming at a decent pace, but things started to feel…odd.

I got to around the midpoint when things suddenly came to a grinding halt. Something just wasn’t clicking, and it was up to me to figure out what was wrong AND how to fix it.

My mind started racing for potential ideas. But the more I thought about it, the worse the ideas became. It was getting to the point of ridiculousness.

Being so laser-focused on this was severely messing up my creativeness. Since you can’t force inspiration, I took the easier path:

I stepped away.

Like any good writer, I’ve got more than a few projects in various stages of development, so I let this one simmer and turned my attention to something else.

Over the next couple of days, I made some progress plotting out this other project and didn’t even think about the first one.

I’ll also admit to spending some time doing some script notes and indulging in some pulp-y books featuring tales of adventures

And all of it really helped.

Feeling a bit more prepared to face my story problem, I opened the file and looked things over.

Thus did the wheels start turning…

I’d originally thought I’d have to delete a majority of what I’d already come up with, but a lot of it still worked, so I needed to figure out another way to utilize it.

Taking a closer look after a bit of a break helped to shine a spotlight on the problem as well as presenting an effective way to resolve it. Without going into too much detail, it involved expanding on what I already had for the first half of the story (along with a little rearranging of scenes), then expanding on those results, along with some relevant subplot goings-on, for the second half.

I’m sure there are many more bumps in the road ahead for this script, but it’s still great when you make this kind of headway.

Now – back to the story and filling in the rest of the blanks.

Hope your weekend is equally as productive, if not more so.

Create (and follow) your own route

As the year starts to wind down, I’ve taken part in a few writer Zoom get-togethers where the participants all discuss how their 2021 went, and what they’re hoping to accomplish next year.

(I’ll go into a little more detail regarding my own plans for 2022 in the next few weeks)

It was great to hear about the wide variety of projects that saw completion, along with the pride each writer took in talking about their work. Also nice – modesty. No pumped-up egos or “bathe in the splendor that is my wonderfulness!”

There were also those who had started something, but for some reason or other, hadn’t been able to finish it. That yielded a lot of sympathy as well as encouragement to get back on their respective horses.

The biggest underlying theme of all the conversations was “This is something I’m passionate about, and I’m going to do what I can to get it done/made.”

Doesn’t matter if it was a script, a short, a film, a webseries, or whatever. Each person had a project (or projects) that they were working on and was excited to be doing so. Results were varied, as were the timelines of progress.

Which is really what a lot of this comes down to. Each writer was working on a project and doing so in the way that worked best for them.

What was also really nice was that nobody was comparing their progress to anybody else’s, which is how it should be. It’s easy to fall into that sort of trap, and doesn’t help with bolstering your own confidence.

Everybody’s path is unique to them, and them alone. What works for you might not work for somebody else, and vice versa. Focus on what you’re doing and don’t worry about the other person.

Seeking an outside opinion? Ask someone you trust for honest and helpful feedback, and don’t feel obligated to take their word as “this is what needs to be done”. This is YOUR project, so trust your gut instincts to lead you in the right direction.

Most of all, do what you can to enjoy the journey. If you’re not enjoying it, the odds are high the material will reflect that, which means the reader/audience won’t enjoy it either. If you’re not passionate about it, why should we be?

We do this because we like/love it, right?

And it’s great seeing people be excited when talking about a project they love, because it makes us want to know more. Maybe we’ll even be invited to offer up our thoughts and comments to help them make it better.

So here’s to you being proud of what you accomplished in 2021, and for more of the same in 2022.