A shower of ideas!

bathroom-shower-tiles-ideas

As writers, one of the things we need to do that’s an essential part of being one is brainstorming concepts and what I keep hearing through the grapevine is: if you want to stay a writer, brainstorm a plethora of ideas. Constantly. 

As I have said in past posts, ages back, my quaint idea machine started with a single one but has since (thankfully) expanded. Our brains need mental workouts sometimes – in my case, honing certain habits, being DISCIPLINED (to an occasionally robotic extent that it extends to 3 AM in the morning where if I have an idea I am excited about, I can’t sleep)

Anyway, the point of this post is this: writing can happen at any place any time. For me, a lot of the time it happens when I hit the showers or I am driving – and I have gotten into the habit of writing down anything that inspires me. Even if it’s extremely random. Which is how I got this new concept last night… a new concept which was actually an old log line that I just wrote because I felt I had to write an idea down.. seemed like a dumb idea I was going to trash ten months ago but then I thought what the heck, keep it! It’s not adding anything to my hard drive space and then inspiration hit me today… like VOILA! And I revisited that old idea.

The same thing happened with another story. While we may never know how far success is in the cards for any of these, mind you, the point is – it turned into a good story I liked to write… and has cast a temporary smug satisfaction that comes with feeling good about something, even if it’s temporary.

So my somewhat profound or maybe-not-so-profound revelation : no idea is a bad idea without exploration. Of course there’s the oft chance it can turn into a bad one, but the point is ideas are ideas! Good or bad, they can come in handy.

The more you exercise your brain, the better you get… and the more you write and make it your life, the better you will feel doing it! So whatever fears, insecurities, doubts, harbingers, banshees affect your creativity, the best advice I ever got from someone is to put it aside and keep going – because you never know just how far it can take you and at the end of the day – your fantasies may just turn to reality… something I wish not only for myself but for all of you.

Completing a First Draft!!!! Why we celebrate!

ImageHey everyone,

I know this is a bit premature considering all the posts on writing first draft I have been putting up in the last couple of months, but, after five weeks, I just completed a FIRST DRAFT of a PROJECT yesterday! Not a final screenplay, that’s certain – knowing how this process works with previous projects on my end at least, it’s probably going to go through at least a dozen or more drafts before I can say it’s even close to a spec script I would be willing any other human beings to see – but a FIRST DRAFT. After all that dreaming and prep: outlines, beat-sheets, biographies, I wouldn’t be the first person to say it’s the nicest feeling in the world to complete something! A beginning to an end and so on and so forth!

Here is why I am celebrating:

1) I have actually written something from start-to-finish – PAGE 1 – 100 (or sometimes in cases past, pages 1 – 250)!! Even if it’s not finished after this and I die before it is, someone in my family will find my will and have something to work with and finish it for me! (ok who am I kidding?  I plan to finish it!)

2) I have a story!!! Even if there are locations called ‘INT. PUBLIC PLATE – NOTE TO MYSELF: THINK OF A BETTER LOCATION.’, characters called BLAH BLAH BEN (talkative guy) and incomplete sentences like ‘”They made out ‘somewhere’ – must be somewhere good, have to figure out where”*’

3) I have CHARACTERS – people, situations and other likeable nonsense and gags that is probably not going to make it past first draft, but who cares? No one can argue that it’s all on paper!

4) It doesn’t matter if I have already done this once, ten times or a hundred! It still rocks!

5) It doesn’t matter that I literally almost never looked back while I wrote it, because when I do in a few weeks, I will know despite my elation, it’s crappy, but not completely and I can fix it!

Speaking of which, the best part of all my weeks of PREP actually CAME to something, so writing the first draft, which in the past (due to thankless procrastination) would take me months now took me just about four weeks, so for anyone out there who has had the same struggles to complete something, KNOW IT CAN BE DONE.

To conclude, I don’t have a complete screenplay of this particular project….yet! But I DO HAVE A FIRST DRAFT.

It’s a start!

P.S. For anyone else who wants to celebrate, here’s something to tantalize your taste buds!

Dialogue – 10 Tips and Tricks that Work

So, I recently received a reader question from Joshua asking about my thoughts on dialogue. Let me be honest first and say that dialogue doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s something that I have to work quite hard at  – mainly because I spend too much time over-thinking every line. That being said, after working my writing muscles on a regular basis, there are a few things I have learnt that might be helpful.

First off,  many screenwriters and experts would agree that dialogue has three main purposes, among others : move the story forward, reveal character, and convey emotion.

Here’s a famous example below:

JAMIE (in English): It’s my favorite time of day, driving you.

AURELIA (in Portuguese): It’s the saddest part of my day, leaving you.

‘Love Actually’, Written by Richard Curtis

Specifically the thing I have to keep reminding myself about as I write,  is ‘moving the story forward’ and that’s where we writers, have to make decisions. For my first ‘vomit’ draft, I usually start with letting it all out and not editing too much. Then, after putting it away for rewrites, I read it out loud in its entirety and sort out what flows and what doesn’t and keep repeating the process, inserting words here and there – taking out words. Depending on what type of story I am working on, I also spend a lot of time on the side reading similar types of story material so I can get a feel for things.

If you are a screenwriter and use Final Draft, for example, there’s a great feature that enables you to print out a character’s specific sides of dialogue (character reports).  But even if you aren’t a screenwriter, the goal is to convey your story and characters in the best possible way and also most importantly, reveal something about the story/characters to readers. Anyway, enough words on my end.

Without much ado, here are some quick tips:

  1. Read and watch screenplays and movies. The more familiar you get with the banter, the better you will write it.
  2. Keep it in simple words and phrases – less is more.  (because rarely, unless it’s a stodgy old professor or a period piece do characters speak in long, perfect sentences).
  3. Keep it unpredictable. I can’t emphasize this enough because it’s made a huge difference for me. Subtext! Anticipate what a reader is going to expect and surprise them by doing something different/opposite.
  4. Avoid pointless dialogue – if it has to be pointless, make it meaningful somehow. Give it double meaning (see example above – love actually has some of the best dialogue I have ever read)
  5. Write dialogue that is active – that  stays vivid in a reader’s imagination and elicits some level of emotion.
  6. Speaking of #4, avoid dull, unnecessary expository/on-the-nose dialogue,  ‘I am going to the mall. Have you seen the clown who is actually a woman in high heels after her boyfriend’s mistress with a tattoo on her left butt and a cigarette in her hair?’ Well, actually that’s not so dull…but you get the message.
  7. Keep it short. If you have long speeches, use them for the best moments…especially in a screenplay, the more you show the better place you are in.
  8. Speaking of which, write dialogue that shows/reveals something about a character rather than tells.
  9. If you are going for specific characters and what they ought to say, two guiding principles: what a character ‘wants’ and what a character ‘needs’. This will help you figure out where to go with their specific sides of dialogue.
  10. Finally, a great resource I found recently on the subject: ”Writing for Emotional Impact’ By Karl Iglesias has a lot of great stuff on dialogue you guys might want to read.

I am sure there are probably a ton more things I could say, but gotta jet back to work! Any other tricks anyone’s tried they want to share or if you want to know about anything specific, post it in comments!

Distractions: Benefits and Pitfalls

distractions_designers

  1. The Bachelor/Bachelorette (my personal tv fix)
  2. Phone call
  3. Email
  4. Modern Family
  5. Google
  6. youtube – aww, cute barfing alien baby!
  7. Music
  8. Snack
  9. Books/Magazines
  10. Video games
  11. Go to mall
  12. Blog – cookies, yum! Not that I can make any
  13. Walk
  14. Email
  15. Blog – this one! (but hey, this shouldn’t count – right?)
  16. Jello
  17. Pee…

The list could keep going. After all, we are all warriors fighting a great war against everything  – TV, the internet, friends, family, you name it.

Like I said, the list is never ending….especially for a writer wannabe (who works from home – the ultimate distraction!)

Now, here’s some good news about distractions: they are actually a good thing if you plan them right. For several of us writers, there might be days when you feel robotically inclined to do nothing but work. Me? I do have those days but there does come a point when all that creative energy starts to flush down the toilet a bit…the point that is otherwise known as ‘writer’s block’. A burnout. And yes, Writing is SUPPOSED TO BE CREATIVE! More on writer’s block in another post.

ModernDistractionsCOMIC

I know, I know…I did say this was a post on how to ‘avoid’ distractions. But for now, here are some things that are currently working for me and some that several working screenwriters also use. I will be posting more details about some of these points in future posts. I would love to hear feedback from you guys on anything that did/didn’t work:

Wake up early (I am not a late night worker unless I am pressed for deadlines, but this has literally saved my life!)

Set a routine/ schedule (Helped me immensely – even if you are not a ‘schedule-my-life-not-that-robotic’ kind of person)

Give yourself rewards/motivations. If you are going to get distracted, try distractions which help you write better aka. reading a great screenplay/novel. You should be doing that anyway if you want to be a screenwriter.

Go workout. I am no workout junkie, but nothing better to get all that blood in your brain pumping and rearing to go before you get into it. Or better yet, take a walk. Successful screenwriters like Ron Bass, Robin Swicord, Leslie Dixon do it too!

Remember it’s a job – and you are a writer. The beautiful thing about writing is once you get into it, it really is the ultimate distraction if you are passionate about it.

Set goals and deadlines. Time yourself. Be judicious with it. One thing that works for me is I intentionally rush through things. Sometimes you just can’t rush art – but the thing about writing is that you can always rewrite. That’s the point. (btw, this doesn’t mean I always get things done on time…but tricking your brain does help in getting things moving).

Be a two-timer. Work on another project. Seriously. Here’s a case in point: I slaved on one project, one  for YEARS and then going nowhere, finally put it away, and took a break from writing (another post on that another time).  Then I restarted it and also started working on a second project and voila –

Internet, your frenenemy? I use a mac. Self-timing apps like ‘freedom’ and ‘selfcontrol’ work great or you can do the simple thing and turn off your network, but I didn’t trust myself enough so I went for the apps instead. Low-cost or free.

Go take a nap. I am a napless zombie, but especially if you are stuck, this might help rather than hurt. Sometimes you need to just hit your brain’s off-switch so it resets.

Ideas – where do they come from and where to get them?

Diabolical_plan
It was the year 2009, and I had just barely managed to regain my confidence to write again. ‘Regained’, considering an incredibly long eight-year hiatus from film school – a hiatus mostly spent, trying to figure out what I wanted to do, now that I was free as a bird (any intelligent person reading this is probably thinking ‘Duh! Something in film obviously!’) To put things more in perspective, unlike all the Stephen Kings and David Koepps out there (you know who you are), I had always considered myself a ‘one great idea’ kind of schmuck. There were several interchangeable reasons I felt this at the time, good reasons:

A. I had no talent and no other good ideas whatsoever.
B. I had so many brilliant ideas that it was simply impossible to be decisive and weed anything decent out of the bunch.
C. I had better things to do…like bawl my eyes out and watch ‘The Bachelor’ romantically propose to the girl of his dreams on TV.

Case in point: writing, I have come to discover, is both an organic and technical process. And ultimately, the thing that ended up working best for me was perseverence – talent or no talent..and cheesy as it might sound to some, sometimes we just have to sit in the driving seat and try different things until the ignition of our brains roar to life. Here are some things that helps me brainstorm ideas and loglines (in no particular order):

• Writing down a list of things that interest, titillate, excite you the most (for example, if it’s movies, books…you can go deeper into specifically what sort – fantasy? Anime? romance novels?)

•  Newspapers.

•  longform.org – a great site featuring stories each day.

•  Stories from your grandmother and loved ones.  Ask around – everyone has a story, you will be surprised what you will find. One of the great things about discovering character, good dialogue is observing, daily people interactions.

• Everyday activities – things you see when you take a walk or drive, people, places, paying attention to them.

• Reading books, comics, magazines and screenplays. It has really helped me in my understanding of how to build my characters, also different ways to craft dialogue and story pace and rhythm.

• Movies/TV – all the emotional highs and lows, a good movie or tv show can put your imagination on overdrive. Read somewhere that ‘Hunger Games’ was inspired partially by reality shows, for example.

•  Using Word Clouds.  Here’s one I discovered recently, but basically you can use preexisting wordclouds or create your own and use some of the words to form your ideas/loglines. Wordle.net is a great one.

And one last thing…whether you are a screenwriter or any other writer, I encourage you to also write down an idea a day – just one! And see how far that takes you. The more ideas you generate, the better you get. Let me know how you do – and if anyone has any other tips they want to add, post it in comments!