What you should know before you write

Man Reading Book and Sitting on Bookshelf in Library

So, considering I recently completed another screenplay, brainstorming and first-drafting a few others,  I thought that it would be interesting to discuss some details particularly pertinent to my current situation, starting with the most important one in my opinion: preparing to write your story.

The reason ? First of all, in the early days when I was still learning how to write, I never used to spend much time on this – I loved the organic feel of stories, typing and letting my imagination and mind guide me to the next scene or the next character.

Ok, fine. I am lying – not about how I never used to bother spending time prepping (that’s true). You know how as a writer when you first come up with an idea and you think, ‘Oh my gosh! That’s cool! I should write it!’ The biggest reason I never bothered with prep was: I was just DYING to write. Why spend all that time in prep, writing about characters and planning things when you could just write it in one go? Why not? Another script! And another after that! One step closer to my goals as a screenwriter!

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The only problem was that ultimately whether it was page 25 or 60, I would still find myself stuck. Like an ant looking for a hole, I would try..and try again. Get blocked – like writer’s block (yes I absolutely believe in it! It’s NOT a myth! Another post, another time!). A weariness that almost made me just quit at one point (I can’t believe I am saying that now by the way, because of how much ‘not writing’ now equates to ‘not breathing’)

But then again, over the years and after writing all sorts of things, I have come to the decision – and it’s not a rule for everyone because I am sure there are people out there who are better than me, that to move forward sooner, you have to spend the initial time sorting out what your story is about. It’s that important!

Case-in-point, the screenplay I just completed, a historic fantasy, went through umpteen drafts – like 15 full drafts, about a hundred other partial drafts if you could call it drafts. And then I have other stories that I have written in one or two go’s that didn’t have as much, but which have also ultimately ended up in dusty shelves and hard drives so I can look at them 10 years later and go: ‘haha!! look at how silly my writing was, back then!’

The reason why the first screenplay, in question, went through all that is because that’s how long it took for me to discover exactly what my story was and who my characters were, especially my protagonist.  Sure, I had some parts figured out – like this great opening and that great ending but the infamous difficulties lie in the second Act, the long one (which, honestly, I find is still a pain-in-the-ass!).  This is where I had problems then and still have problems now (speaking of problems, I am prepping a sci-fi right now and running into the same issue) – but what that really means is – digging your story – until you find it. Even if it takes all day, which it did for me yesterday or all week…

The point is, though, you WILL find your story, but you have to put in the work to get there.

There are individuals who would disagree and say you could get it right away by just writing (which is true if you know your story and characters back-to-back) – but ultimately, my own experience is: if you are looking at writing a hollywood project that you want millions to see, that’s going to cost millions to make, that you want producers to believe 100% in… you just have to go through the process. Whatever it takes to get there.

There are several ways to do this, what I like to call stages that I will post details on, starting next week. These are mine:

• Logline

• Brainstorming (beg-mid-end)

• Research

• Biographies

• Treatments.

• Index cards/beatsheets

You could do a few or all of the above.

Also, at the risk of being repetitious, I will say this again: writing is hard work. That being said, I guarantee, it will get much less a pain-in-the-ass when you know atleast a little bit about what’s coming next. Some might argue, ‘Well, what fun can you have, if you are planning everything?’

To clarify: I can only say that planning for me has enriched, not degraded the experience of actually writing. Planning for me has helped my  actual writing process, made it better, and  I will guarantee this: ultimately when you get into the actual writing, you will be amazed how much richer each subsequent draft gets and how much easier the revisions are. When, even if you don’t know your entire story through-and-through, you know enough to get inspired, write better and avoid as many blocks as you can until you are finished.  The frustration of writing something good is just…less. Period.

Plus, then you will be spending less time overall writing your screenplay and have it finished and you can do other things in-between like go to the movies, reread a good book…or eat chocolate (which you can do anyway).

More posts coming this week. Next week: loglines!

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