I will be the first to admit that in the past, in my own excitement to rush into writing the script (and imagining my own Hollywood dream before it happens), I did very little in the way of prep and thus, often found it would take me ages to get to the finish line, thanks to all the ‘sorting-out-as-I-go’ hurdles along the way – otherwise known as ‘writing on the fly’, or as a friend recently very eloquently put it, ‘writing by the seat of your pants’ (If you are one of these, drop me a line and let me know how it’s going!).
It didn’t take me long to realize that this approach only works part of the time – because after gathering up all the steam, somewhere along the way, a bomb would drop – and I would be plunged in ‘writer’s block’ (Ha! I can say I have gone through that enough times to count myself an expert!), There were several things I would do at this point – scream, weep, go back and rewrite the first 30 pages all over again. On a lucky day, I would eventually manage to squeak maybe a few more pages, but it wouldn’t last very long because I would end up back at square one – aka. ambitious writer with an incomplete screenplay.
Therefore, in my opinion, the most important predominant factor to determine before typing FADE IN on a first draft is this:
Know where you are going BEFORE YOU START.
After my own years of experimenting and failing, this is the approach that has worked best for me to get to the finish line as soon as possible. That being said (and yes I have repeated this enough times in previous posts): there is no one way to go about things. However, this just happens to be my particular way, which I am sharing and hopefully for anyone who has been stuck like me in the past, they will find this series helpful. So, without further delays, in the first post, we discussed loglines (see link here) so now heading on into step 2: research and brainstorming! Here’s how I go about it:
1) First – inspiration! Find an idea that excites you, motivates you. Through the logline, generally, I will have some idea of what my story is about due to the three elements mentioned in the previous post: hero, nemesis and the goal. Even if I have one of these elements, it’s enough to at least get the ball rolling.
2) Now that we have that – the next step is brainstorming – actually thinking about it. A lot. Something I do while driving (hoping no cop catches me speeding, don’t recommend this), while dribbling PB over my kids’ lunchboxes, while waiting at the longest line at the grocery store, but the point is: let the idea roast. It’s funny how doing nothing physically here can actually be beneficial. Let your mind venture naturally on its own, unguided, into the places you need it to. Imagine the movie trailer, the characters, whatever excites you the most about your idea.
3) Alongside ‘thinking’, also research everything you can about it. History, places, people, professions, whatever the case according to your genre. In my case, it includes reading a lot of books about my subject/genre as well as watching similar types of movies so I can escape into the story mindset. Being someone with an art background, sometimes I will also draw the characters and post it on my walls to inspire me (or if I am too lazy, I simply google related images and paste it it on my walls to inspire me). Basically, whatever it takes to get into it.
4) While letting the idea sink in, I also start writing a few things down. It’s not an organized thought process here. Just thoughts. Images. Dialogue. Sometimes I write this in longhand, sometimes I type it. I have also heard several screenwriters use index cards (I use them too but at a different stage in the process). Somewhere in these notes will be glimpses of my story: beginning, middle, end, so eventually even if I don’t have all the details, I will ultimately get a general picture of my plot and where I want it to go.
5) After all said and done, I will gather enough information to form the basis of my plot. Starting with the beginning, middle and end. Sometimes this takes me a week, sometimes more depending on the story (note: you can take the pretext of research and go for ages, actually, but I wouldn’t recommend that!)
Speaking of which, I invite other experienced writers out there to provide some thoughts on your own process if you are so inclined and if any of this rings a bell! Next week’s post in this series: The Treatment. Have a great weekend!