Monday, June 14, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 128 - Asked for Advice

After a frantic week of getting last minute notes and making revisions - finally leading to turning in the draft at 8pm LA time on Friday - I had the weekend to relax. Well, "relax" is a relative term. The company that I work for (another ally in the writer's universe - Day Job) received a TONY Honor for Excellence in Theatre this weekend, so Saturday was spent at the cocktail reception accepting the award with my coworkers. I decided, to provide a bit of a change of pace - and to spare you yet another post on how I made revisions for another consecutive week - I figured I'd share some advice I gave via email to a Screenwriters League reader.

A fellow writer emailed the League asking for some opinions on his next move. For the most part, the questions asked had to deal with choosing between two ideas (especially if one is grander, while the other seems much more typical Hollywood fodder) and how to get the drive to sit down and actually write a script. I figured that the questions were broad and general enough that they would benefit more than this one reader - I know I wondered the same things many times - so here is my paraphrased response. I hope it helps some other aspiring writers, as well.

It sounds like you have a few ideas for scripts, so at least that's a good place to start... Don't be ashamed of you ideas, and if you are, then don't write them. After you've become an established writer and are taking assignments, then you can write trash under a pseudonym to support your gold-plating habit. Until then, the rule I go by is that, if I don't want to see it or I don't find it a worthwhile idea, then why would I spend possibly two or more years working on it? So no shame...

As for where to begin... unknown writers can't break the mold until they've mastered using it, so pick up a couple intro to screenwriting books. Read them. Then read scripts. Lots of scripts. Drew's Script-O-Rama has a ton for free download. Study the movies in the same genre as yours, study the scripts, and take a close look at the pacing, story structure, and arcs.

Outline your scripts before you write them (I didn't always do this, but it's proving increasingly useful). You have ideas for scenes here and there, but those don't necessarily add up to ideas for movies. By outlining, you'll discover whether you have the foundation for a movie and all the requisite parts... You'll need to know your protagonists, antagonists, and everything about their world. You might even want to write out character histories. Study story structure and the three-act format, and think of your script in those terms. There's a formula to writing, which means that the buyers are looking for that. Learn what it is and stick to it (and then when you've mastered it, feel free to break it).

Regarding your two ideas, as I said, Hollywood wants a quick sell now. If you think one of your ideas is either too out there or too complex at this point, start simple... That's your training wheel script. Always write something you're willing to devote the time and effort to, but realize that some ideas are beyond your current scope. I'm sitting on at least three myself now, because I know I can't pull them off the way I want to yet. And when you do start writing and showing people the pages, listen to their feedback... this first script won't land you an Oscar. The first draft especially... Listen to everyone. Even if you think their notes are crap.

...If you don't yet have the drive to write, then make a routine out of it. Like going to the gym, if you sit down at the computer for an hour a day - no internet, no tv, just you and the blinking cursor - you'll start to write, if for no other reason than to pass the time. And soon enough, that hour will become part of your routine. When you miss a day, you'll regret it.

Final bit of advice - don't get ahead of yourself. First write the script. Then be patient, listen to notes, rewrite it (possibly a few times). [Everything else] comes only after all of that is done.

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