Wednesday, November 28, 2007

11 Non-Writing Things You Could Do to Improve Your Screenwriting

by Gina Vanname

The best way to improve your screenwriting is to write, but sometimes you just need a break. Here are 11 tools that you could use to enrich your writing when you're not writing.

TOOL #1 - GO TO THE MOVIES

Not just to watch a movie, but also to analyze it. See a movie that is similar to the idea you're working on. Bring a watch and time the act breaks.

Observe where the act breaks occur (i.e. first act break at 25 minutes into the movie, second act break happens at 58 minutes, etc.) After the movie ends, think about how effective the act breaks were, the overall feel of the movie, and it's pacing.

Did the movie feel slow to start? If so, did the first act break happen too late? How did you feel at the end? Satisfied? Curious? Disappointed? What worked and what didn't? At what point were you engaged? Did you forget about timing it? If so, what was happening when you forgot and when you remembered once again? How would you describe this movie -- by the plot or by the main character's journey?

Were the characters interesting and developed enough for you to guess how their life would continue after the movie ended? Was the feeling you had after the movie ended still with you by the time you got home?

Successful movies are able to stick with you for a while. Analyzing these things will improve your own writing.

TOOL #2 - WATCH A DVD

Not just any DVD. The DVD must have an audio commentary. There are a lot of DVDs now released or re-released with Director / Writer commentaries. This is a special tool that is invaluable to any filmmaker or writer.

Believe me, you will learn an abundance of information that will help you write. If the writer is the director all the better.

Watch the movie first so that you understand what they're talking about. Some DVD commentaries I recommend are: American Beauty, Pi, Boogie Nights, Usual Suspects, The Matrix, Unbound, and Contact.

TOOL #3 - READ A SCREENPLAY

This is perhaps one of the best tools for new and experienced writers. If you're going to be a screenwriter you must read other writers' work.
There is just no way around it.

When you read a screenplay of a movie you have seen you get all sorts of useful information to use for your own writing. Study how the writer wrote the action on the page.

Does he write anything internal (not visual) and if so, what and why? How much did he describe in the scene or about the location? What is his style? If you can, read both the writer's final draft (the draft that the
studio bought) and the studio's final draft (final shooting script) to compare the changes.

TOOL #4 - EAVESDROP

(Warning: Do this at your own risk. There's a chance that you could get yourself into trouble). A local coffee shop will do or some place where
people sit and talk. Usually, two people sitting together have better conversations than if more than two. If they talk loud enough, I'm under the impression that they "want" others to listen. So listen.

Bring a notepad with you and do this alone. Jot down whatever you hear. Take notice of their speech patterns, what they say between the lines, and how their friend reacts. Examine their relationship... who dominates
their conversation... what is the motivation of the speaker... do they cut each off... are they talking about the same thing... or different things between the lines?

You can gather a lot of information about personalities and relationships, more than people know about themselves. This tool helps enhance your characterizations, especially your dialogue and subtext. Just remember that people's speech is mostly banter, whereas movie dialogue is a
prudent version of real conversation.

TOOL #5 - WATCH TV WITH SUBTITLES

If you don't have a TV that has a subtitle option, some DVD have subtitles. This tool helps with your dialogue. Watch the entire movie with the subtitles turned on. It helps to read the words the characters' are speaking, so you get to see how an actor executes this dialogue and how it would be written on the page.

TOOL #6 - GO TO A SPEAKER ENGAGEMENT

If you live in Los Angeles there are tons of places to hear screenwriters speak about screenwriting. If you don't live in Los Angeles, check with a large bookstore like Barnes & Noble or Borders to get a schedule of their speakers, readings, etc. Even hearing a novelist talk about his or her writing process is helpful to screenwriters.

TOOL #7 - PEOPLE WATCH

I used to do this with mirrored or dark glasses so nobody was aware. If they became aware... the game was over, because their actions became self-conscious or motivated.

This exercise helps writers with characterization. Studying people is a great tool for writers. One time, I saw a woman with a stroller. She was talking to and fussy over the baby inside. She left the train and I got a glimpse of the baby... it was a plastic doll. Jeez, there's a story in that!

How would you succinctly describe a person's physical characteristics? How would you describe their actions? Also, take note about their dress... are they wearing things that flashes a hint at their personality? A pink hat, green-horned glasses, or a religious icon.

Ask yourself, "How would this person react to a death, a winning lottery ticket, a solicitation, a threat, to making love? You can invent entire histories for strangers.

TOOL #8 - GO TO SEMINARS

Check with colleges and schools in your area for weekend or one-day screenwriting seminars. Listening to what others have to say about screenwriting techniques always brings new perspectives.

TOOL #9 - READ A BOOK

Pick a classic or contemporary fiction. While reading, take note of how the author describes the characters. What words and adjectives do they use? How does he or she write characters' actions? What verbs do they use?

Does the author successfully describe the scene or location in one sentence? How do they construct their sentences?

Keep in mind the main differences between a novel and a screenplay; novels could use internalization, whereas, descriptions in a screenplay should be visual and should never state a character's thoughts; and the novel's dialogue is usually weak, but in a screenplay it needs to be crisp and definitive.

TOOL #10 - VISUALIZATION

This is a form of meditation that can help writers. Get yourself comfortable, either lying down or sitting, breath deeply for a while, relax, and clear your head.

This only works if you quiet your mind. Gently push away any thoughts that come into your head. Once clear, begin to visualize yourself in the place where you usually write (your desk computer, your laptop). And visualize yourself typing fast without any breaks in keypunching. Visual yourself finishing a screenplay. Visualize the finished screenplay with your name on it.

Keep visualizing this every day. This exercise works if you do it diligently. Soon, you'll visualization will be manifested and you'll have finished your draft. This exercise is good for any stage of writing; visualize yourself selling it to a producer, getting an agent, getting the big check, getting it made, and getting an award.

TOOL #11 - READ A SCREENWRITING BOOK

Reading one screenwriting book will help you with at least one new writing technique. Even if you've read it before, you will pick up something new or remember some method that you could use.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Whether you're between scripts, experiencing writer's block, or just want to kill time, using any one of these tools repeatedly will definitely improve your screenwriting.

Other benefits of these tools are they inspire, generate new ideas, and even eliminate any guilty feelings you may experience when you're not actually writing.

DON'T GIVE UP!!!

©ScriptFLY 2001-2004

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