As a writer, I often forget something——writing creates more writing. If I write, the act of writing inspires new ideas and places for my characters to go, turns I did not imagine for my story at all. Writing is so much stronger an act of development than thinking about an idea. Writing a moment for a character, a choice they make, the dialogue they share with another character, and the very truth in each of these moments—–all these actions fare better than talking about an idea, outlining or mapping a beat sheet. You are only living within the story if you’re writing it.
What are the ways to get started on this path of writing a new script?
Alarm Clocks and Sunrises
As the long-time judge of a screenplay competition, I can tell you for a fact that there are so many screenplays that begin with a description of the sun or someone waking up in bed, due to an alarm clock going off. Today, it’s often their iPhone. Over and over and over. Many of you reading this right now probably have scripts that open with the sun or waking up in bed. Ask yourself how you might start your screenplay without waking up, even if it is from a dream, which happens all the time as well. Can you avoid a description of the sky?
I have found that consciously avoiding the sky and alarm clocks forces me to consider a more creative opening image.
The Banished Format
Open your screenplay with no format. Ignore the slugline, the EXT., and the DAY or NIGHT, etc.
Let it go. Show the opening of your story like you would to someone who has never read a screenplay. Later you might go back and change this. Later you will go back and change everything. You don’t know what’s going to happen to what you’re writing.
The Beginning and the Middle
Instead of insisting on outlining a story down to the very last roll of the eyes, consider how you might get started writing by simply vaguely knowing the beginning and the middle of your story. You have an idea for a character and something that happens which throws them in a problem, a question or a conflict. And you believe an audience might feel emotionally invested in witnessing its resolution. And let’s say you have an idea of some things that might happen to that character, which you could characterize as the middle of your story.
You don’t need anything more than this to begin. You absolutely do not need to know the ending of your story. Even if you do know the ending of your story, trust me, you don’t know the ending of your story if you haven’t started writing.
What if you don’t have a beginning and a middle?
Writing the Scene You Have
If you don’t have a vague idea of the story and where it might take you, is there a moment that captured your interest when you first thought of the idea? What might happen in a movie inspired by your idea? You might come up with an idea for a scene and not be completely sure if it will never happen in the movie. Go ahead and write it. We hesitate to write a scene when we don’t feel like it will be used in the script. It will be a waste of time. But it’s never a waste of time because writing is the highest form of development. And scenes you believe will definitely be in the movie will eventually be cut by you.
You don’t know what’s going to happen. Write the moment.
Maybe you can’t think of a scene right now. No beginning or middle. Open up a document. Start talking to yourself about your idea, typing your thoughts. How many words? Ok, you just wrote 17 words. Let’s see if you can brainstorm to 50. Keep going. Think of some more crazy things. What could happen? What comes to your mind? Own your imagination. How many words now? Set goals to write a certain amount of words and you’ll soon have scene ideas.
And later you’ll find more than that. The act of writing begets everything you ever wanted to do.
For writers, it’s always New Year’s Day, and always time to begin.
By: Gordy Hoffman
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Thank you for waking me from my New Year’s funk. This is terrific advice. I will act (write?) on it today!
This is great advice. Sometimes we forget the most basic tenants of our craft- writing begets writing is one of them and a gentle reminder that writing isn’t a waste of time, even if everything you wrote in a day doesn’t make it into any of your final pieces, it will at the very least, help to shape it
Great article! Resonated deeply and reminds me of when I first began writing.
It’s always tough starting a new project. Having the log line at least is a must to start.
Once I have a log line in my head I can write the thing pretty fast.
Great idea, Eric!
Thanks for the inspiration!
This is a great kick-in-the-pants. Thanks for the inspiration.
Your article came at the perfect time.
While writing my previous scripts, I noticed I had far more ideas ‘during’ the process than when I was preparing. THANK YOU for confirming and freeing me up a little.
Thank you, Randy!!
Great article, thanks for the inspiration. Starting to write is the hardest, but once I started, it comes easily.
Thank you for reminding me that I won’t have all the answers in the beginning- that’s inspiration will come from fleshing the idea out to a full screenplay.
I write from far away, meaning I don’t feel like I am qualified to be a writer because of my lack of qualifications. When I read your posts I always understand and identify my own process. Your posts have a profound way of explaining away my doubt which strengthens my determination and reinforces the fact that I am a writer. I may never achieve professional status but that never takes away from the pleasure I get from writing.
Thanks for that Gordy.
Thanks so much, Steve, what a nice comment!
I want to start writing, I’ve wanted to do so since I was 18 and I am 51 now! Ideas have come and gone over the years. I have somehow never made the space in my busy life to pursue this, and I desperately want to do it now! I have a notebook by my bed where onoccasion I’ve woken up and written an ideas down…..
Start today, Maria! Start writing.
I usually start out with an exciting scene that flashes inside of my head —-Then I expand ahead of it and (what lead to it) and behind it—what comes after. Good ideas can go on and on in both directions. Where some ideas/scenes are dead ends. I warn new writers not to get caught in “the good scene TRAP”—–If it goes nowhere, then DROP IT. I know a writer who was so obsessed–he and a friend started a production company—even had a studio and two cameras—but he was stuck on a short series of movie scene, that went nowhere—I told him early on forget the idea and move on. Eventually their studio went nowhere also and they got out of the business.
Hi, I’ve many fiction stories written down, i published but how many words can i write for the short film or the screenplay? I can see alot of work for me breaking the stories down. Thankyou from Leanne
Really good article. Very helpful, down-to-earth, practical and encouraging.
I desperately need to share my work, learn from others and discuss my ideas within a likeminded writers group. I have completely lost my ability to judge the quality of my own work but I can read and critique others’ works objectively. What do you suggest? Where can I find such an online group?
Please join the BlueCat Facebook group:
A terrific, simple and quick read. It’s so helpful to come across such good tips especially when one is feeling stuck and pressed for time. Thank you!
Ha! So good, so practical, so actionable. I was reading along (this and the How Not To Start post) thinking no didn’t do that or that or that… Then, oh shit I do have my lead waking from a nightmare on the second page of my first completed screenplay. Fixing it!
Outlining and being stuck on having the right formula has been killing my writing. Great advice and here’s to a much more productive 2021!
Great advice, thank you! I’ve realised, that writing down my first ideas on plot and character on paper helps me rid myself of the often paralysing feeling that I have to get it „right“, so I’m all up for the banished format!