8 Somewhat Unusual Screenwriting Tips That May Help Kickstart and Maintain Your Creativity
As screenwriters, it’s always so frustrating when our wellsprings of ideas and creativity dry up, leaving us with nothing more than an unfinished scene, an unrealistic character, or even worse, a blank page. There are a lot of great ideas floating around out there in books, videos, and websites — I know I’ve added listening to music, watching films, and reading my screenplays aloud to my arsenal. But, I’ve compiled my own list of methods, some pretty unconventional, that are more or less surefire ways to kickstart my creativity and avoid those dreaded screenwriting dry spells.
When you haven’t the words to write, don’t write words. Open up your writing program of choice and just start writing anything and everything that comes to mind without stopping, correcting, or deleting/erasing. It sounds dumb, because the first page or two is going to be pretty much useless (I’ve written a half of page of “j’s” before,) but eventually you will start writing some amazing things.
Need an example? Here you go:
I’m just free writing to show you guys what it’s all about. I just love writing stuff, and I’m sure you do too. It’s like a fountain of thought is just pouring out of my head — well actually that’s not completely accurate, because my hands are doing a lot of the work. Where’s the love for the hands? They work so hard to get my thoughts on the page, and my brain gets all the credit. Brains are jerks. Hands are such unsung heroes — whatever happened to Eddie Vedder — his hair in the Jeremy video was just excellent. I had that hair when I was 17 and I really truly thought I was cool. Seriously — I really did.
Get a journal and make it your own
This isn’t a new (or unusual) idea, but it’s the thing that helped me the most as a screenwriter. Since we’ve all probably kept journals at one time or another and know how to use them, I’ll just say this: just make it your own. When I first started keeping my journal for my latest script, the first 10 or so pages are complete crap. They’re full of very carefully organized notes, quotes from books, bullet points, and musings that seemed to be written for someone else other than myself.
No! Be yourself while inside your journal. After I had this realization I filled the pages with drawings, meandering thoughts about story structure, and even dedicated an entire page to explaining how pretty I think Marion Cotillard is.
Take your characters to lunch
Yes — literally. Go to a restaurant. Order food. Pull out your journal. Have a conversation with your character. Pretend that you’re meeting them there for lunch like you would a friend of yours. Ask them questions like, “What are you going to have?” and “Is it just me, or are those people talking way too loud?” Your characters’ responses may surprise you and open up new doors to their personalities. I only started doing this about 3 years ago, but I do have to say, my characters have become much more dimensional and unique since I started.
Talk to yourself
And I’m not just talking about reciting lines of dialog from your story. No, no. I mean full-on talking to yourself. This might sound really strange, but it works. If you’re new to this, try doing a monologue you want to include your screenplay. Don’t write it out, just say it. I cannot count how many times I’ve stumbled upon a great piece of dialog by doing this. Does trying this make you a weirdo? Yes. Should that stop you? Heck nope. Also — do accents. That’s how I came up with a villainous frenchman once, so try it.
Do bizarre things that make you embarrassed of yourself
This is probably one of my favorite things to do to help my creativity — and it’s simple. The title says it all. If you’re stuck on a scene — it’s not flowing well and the dialog feels contrived, then I suggest sitting in your bathtub for a while. Perhaps you should wear wigs and costumes when you’re stumped. I do interpretive dance (ironically,) practice my draw with toy revolvers, sing songs from HMS Pinafore and The Mikado (do I love comic operas or what?) — anything that jump starts my brain creatively is alright by me — even becoming El Espadachín while I write in my office (as demonstrated below.)
What all of these silly things do, at least for me, is cut any ties I have to my ego, pride, or shred of coolness I might’ve onee had, and allows me to approach my writing without the added pressure of writing “a great screenplay.” Plus, it’s fun.
Become a voyeur
This isn’t just about watching people when they don’t know you’re doing it. Finding your creativity shouldn’t result in a felony. It’s more about learning from other people’s interactions. The cliché situations that come to mind are the middle-aged couple in a coffee shop that don’t speak or look at each other, or the lonely guy at a bar. However, if you look around a bit more, you might find something new. And when you do, write about it. Whenever I see someone interesting, I write their story. Two women meeting outside a cafe turned into 6 pages of drama in my journal, so keep your eyes and ears open and your pen ready.
Be your characters
If you’re unable to imagine who your characters are in your head, perhaps you need to know what it’s like to be them. If my script has a scene where my hypothetical outcast goth character goes to a fluorescent grocery store, you better believe I’m getting a trench coat and going shopping. One of my screenplays called for my severely conflicted and hopeless protagonist to give up on her internal and external goals, so I took advantage of a particularly rainy day and sat outside in my yard until I felt what I thought she’d be feeling. You don’t need to be an actor to assume a role, you just need to have a certain degree of empathy for your characters.
Take time to just marinate
I’m a huge fan of being still and just — thinking. Set apart some time for yourself to simply think about your screenplay — better yet, wonder about it. Try not to hash out the details of your story — just let it be a relaxing time for you to kick your feet up and let your thoughts meander.
During the summer, I like to do this on my porch with a smee and a coffee in the morning. In the colder months, I like to sit at bars, put on my headphones, have a couple of drinks, and kick random story ideas around in my head. Find a place and time where you can let your mind wander. I’m always pleasantly surprised by the ideas that suddenly pop into my head once I’ve stopped stressing about structure, pacing, and creating conflict.
There are so many great ways to get your creative juices flowing — many of which you’ll find on your own, but I think it’s important to be open to new, sometimes unconventional methods. All of the things I’ve mentioned have paid incredible dividends to my screenplays, even if, at times, they did cost me a little pride.
What about you? How do you kickstart your creativity? Let us know in the comments.
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- Kirby Ferguson on Creativity: Nothing is Original, Everything is a Remix. But Does it Really Matter?