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17 Writing Tricks to Help Get You Through Your Screenplay

07.6.12 @ 3:26PM Tags : , , ,

Scott Myers and the Go Into The Story blog is a tremendous resource for screenwriters, regardless of whether you’re an amateur or a professional. Over the past few years Scott has been writing about simple tricks that can help get you unstuck when you’re writing your screenplay. Most of them are straightforward, but a few are a little unorthodox. There’s a good chance you’ve heard some of them before, but I’ve compiled a list of 17 tips that Scott has shared on his site.

For detailed descriptions of each, go to the Go Into The Story blog at The Blacklist:

  1. Say all of your dialogue aloud to make sure it works and each character is distinguishable.
  2. If you’re stuck on a scene, close your eyes, open a completely new document, and begin free associating without thinking about the words you are typing.
  3. Start writing and reward yourself with snacks after a set period of time.
  4. Set a deadline.
  5. Create an argument between characters if a scene feels flat and contains a lot of exposition.
  6. Get up out of your chair and go do anything else and come back to it.
  7. Instead of watching a movie, listen to it.
  8. Transcribe a few well-written screenplays to get a feel for the writing if you are struggling. It’s a technique F. Scott Fitzgerald used with Charles Dickens novels.
  9. Write one page per day and after four months you’ve written an entire feature film.
  10. Altered states can help free your mind. If you’re the clean-living, non-alcoholic type, going for a run or meditating can produce the same effect.
  11. Unplug your internet.
  12. Do anything that makes you extremely uncomfortable, like taking your laptop into the freezing cold or writing immediately when you wake up without doing anything else.
  13. If you already know how it’s going to end, don’t finish a scene from the night before so that you can get your creativity flowing the next day and push right into the next scene.
  14. Make a collage of photos that relate to your story or resonate with you in some way.
  15. Put your script away and don’t read it for two weeks after finishing the first draft.
  16. If you’re having trouble envisioning a character, imagine a famous actor in the role and write for that person.
  17. Adopt a different writing persona by pretending you are someone else while writing. This will help you approach problems in a different way than you yourself normally would.

If you asked me to pick a favorite one, I’d probably have a difficult time, but I have one of my own to add that has always worked for me when I’m feeling stuck or uncreative. If a scene or a particular character is giving me a tough time, I go take a shower to clear my mind. At some point during that shower, my mind will come back to the script and I’ll usually have an answer for whatever was giving me trouble in the first place. This works because it’s one of the few places a person can be truly alone with their thoughts away from technology and other people. As someone who writes for a website, unplugging the internet can be a tall order, so physically putting myself in a place where I don’t have access to it helps me clear my mind. You could accomplish the same thing by going out for a swim in a pool — as water itself is both physically and psychologically cleansing.

If you’re not already reading Go Into The Story every day, you’re missing out on a lot of great screenwriting advice and inspiration. You should also follow Scott if you’re on Twitter as he is constantly giving out wonderful nuggets of information and advice.

What do you guys do when you’re having trouble with a scene or you just can’t sit down and write?

[via Go Into The Story]


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  • I think #7 is the best of these. Some of them could be outright bad advice for some people, depending on how they manage their own momentum. (Or diets)

    But stripping away the distractions and just listening to the dialogue and tempo of a film…would even be better if the music and FX were off…that will be very helpful I think in understanding the construction of good scenes.

    • If you have a 5.1 setup and the film itself has a proper 5.1 mix then it’s quite possible that 99% of the dialog in any such movie can be singled out by reconfiguring your system to only play the center channel. A few effects and such will still be there, but mostly it’ll be fx and music-free. ;)

      A similar process could maybe be done with older 2.0 mixes run through ProLogicII-decoders to get to the 4.0 matrixed tracks and then do the same to single out the center channel. I haven’t tried this one too much myself, but it’s a possibility.

  • I write the most ridiculous scene possible for my characters then move on and come back to it later. Eventually it molds into what the scene should be.

    • Joe Marine on 07.6.12 @ 7:22PM

      I really like that idea – it’s always easier to come back down from an extreme and mold/refine than to try to create something that wasn’t there in the first place.

  • john jeffreys on 07.6.12 @ 5:52PM

    #10 is the story of my life/all the movies ive made

  • Joe, thanks for compiling and posting these. One never knows when an idea, no matter how odd or offbeat, may be precisely the thing a writer needs to bust out of a funk, create a new work habit, etc.

    • Joe Marine on 07.6.12 @ 7:19PM

      Absolutely, and different things might work for different people. Thanks for writing these tips in the first place! Your blog is fantastic, and if you couldn’t tell, we’re big fans. It takes a lot of work to do what you do and you represent the very ideals that NoFilmSchool represents – so the hard work you’re doing does not go unappreciated.

  • I like #12. The chraziest things can come up if you’re still half a sleep and mostly translating your bizarre and unlogical dreams into a story.

  • What I tend to do is print the scene(s) I’m having a hard time with, and tape it to the wall. Every hour/day or so I come back and make a note or two. My friends say I look like a conspiracy theorist. I say I look like a mapmaker trying to figure out a way from A to B. …and a conspiracy theorist. Also, the MindNode app works wonders for me as far as getting unstuck… another type of mapping solution.

  • Find background music on the internet that might be in your scene. Listen to it at night through earphones while laying in bed with the lights out. The scene and dialogue will usually pop right into your head.

    • It’s a great idea to listen to music you may want to back the scene while writing as well, it helps with the pace and creating the atmosphere. Or listening to music that gives off the same emotion as the scene your trying to establish it will help you realize what you need to describe in order to get that vibe across

  • I think N°11 is the best, the first rule to start working and following the other tips.

  • Thank u so much for this article ! Great tips!!

  • Great tips. The best thing I’ve found so far for writing and literally losing track of time creatively whilst writing and completely immersing yourself is to choose one pice of music that encapsulates the mood of your script. Then loop it continuously while you write. I’ve completed 2 feature scripts, each in under 2 weeks doing this.

  • One of the best tricks I’ve used was one I think I read about from one of the Pythons in their later careers. I think they were actually joking. But locking yourself in a dark room with no distractions (internet) only you and a typewriter (wordprocessor) and no clothes (buck naked) and don’t let yourself do anything else until you’ve reached the days goal actually works surprisingly well. And if you’re already writing your script while naked, you won’t feel as silly about the script as when you where writing it.

  • Daniel Mimura on 07.13.12 @ 9:06AM

    One trick I’ve used a couple times is when a character is boring and doesn’t seem to have his or her own voice and are just sort of generic…I write about that character for an hour or so where I describe their typical day.

    Of course, for most films a typical day is totally boring, but when you write about what a character does for a typical day, it usually surprises me of how much it tells me of how they would handle the atypical day that they are probably encountering in your story. It’s one of those things I’ve found where it sort of makes the characters tell me what they would be doing, like I’m just watching this thing.

    We’re an obese nation already…etc…etc…etc…I’m not really down with the food reward. A good finished script is reward enough.

  • Idea #3 – Woof! ; )

  • Ryan Farner on 07.18.12 @ 6:05PM

    One that works really well for any kind of horror/suspense scene is to put yourself in a scared state. Then put yourself in the scene your creating and ideas come to you by the dozen.

  • When I’m stuck I go to sleep and usualy I dream about the scene and when I wake up I right it before I forget :)

  • Hi, just wanted to say that I thought these tips were really useful and I have mentioned them in my recent blog post. Thanks!

  • I like no7 better.I listen to a movie and you wont blive how effective it is in aiding my script writing and when iam stuck i go to the restroom,sit quietly and i get myself back together again.Cheer Joe.

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