Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tuesday Talkback: How do you get started?

A process question on this Tuesday: When you're working on a new script, how do you get started?

What comes first for you? The plot, the characters or the concept?

Do you write out a full beat sheet or treatment? Do you just dive in and write pages to get a handle on the characters?

Do you write long biographies of your characters?

Tell me about your writing process.


  1. I usually get an idea for a main plot, sometimes the flavour of a setting, and the first two characters. It all starts out stereotyped and clichéd.

    Then I write a one or two-page outline, freehand semi-bulleted notes about what's roughly going to happen over the script.

    Next stop is the Beat Sheet, for which I use the BS2 for feature-length, and I secure the important points.

    I then use Text Box Writer to plan out ~40 scenes/beats.

    And finally, I put fingers to keys and get tapping.

    Of course, if I think I'm on a really tight deadline, I'll secure the major beats and then just go with it. Fiddling with scene decisions can get tiresome when you have no time.

  2. For me, it depends.

    I take a lot of notes on a constant basis, sometimes for the current project, other times just random ideas. I actually find it frustrating at times to work on one thing, and be hit with another idea altogether that I'd love to run with instantly. But, in truth, notes are where it starts.

    I find notes so important, I used to text them to my email (before having a smartphone). I also keep a notebook. Now, I mostly use a notes app on my phone.

    To a degree, these notes eventually come together to form a plot, a synopsis, etc. Most of the time, a scene comes to mind and I flesh it out from there.

    Sometimes, I can work it in with other notes and more scenes come together. If not, I string it along backward and forward for the complete idea.

    I think a synopsis helps. Notes are essential for me, my memory sucks. If it's free flowing, I can bang out the first 10-20, regardless of quality just to get it going.

    If I struggle slightly, I attempt to map out the plot points, twists, get them in the right spot to move forward so everything comes together smoothly.

  3. I go plot first. I used to sit down and jot out a loose outline then do index cards, but on this last project I wrote a full treatment and it has made writing a lot easier and faster. I'm going to do this from now on.

  4. For me, the concept comes first, then the characters, then the plot.

    Once I have the concept and the main characters, then the hard work begins: hammering out the plot. I do this with a simple open Word document where I write down plot points as they come to me -- different scenes, bits of dialogue, etc. I also keep a notebook in my living room in case I get ideas while watching TV.

    This Word document eventually becomes an outline with all the major scenes and once I'm confident in that, I'll start the script. Sometimes the outline isn't 100%. There may be a few gaps which I assure myself I'll figure out when I get there. I always do ... eventually. But the tighter my outline is, the easier it is to script.

  5. @Rosie and @fracturedsynapse just stole everything I was going to write.

    To review:
    I start with the plot, a few characters and sometimes the location/time. I usually write copious notes in a notebook or in my iPhone, but I don't limit myself to the one idea when inspiration hits. Then I set up an outline in Word and beat it out (that sounds dirtier than it is).

    Most of the time I abandon all that and just start writing. When there's enough info in the outline for me to remember what I wanted when I came up with the idea, I just do it (also sounds dirtier than it is).

    Outlines and Beat Sheets are great for me in theory, but I inevitably end up moving on to the writing. Out of all my scripts, I think I've completed one outline but ended up changing the whole thing anyway. Don't get me wrong, I think they're a valuable tool, I just don't think you should tie yourself down when the moment strikes.

  6. Mostly it's the overall concept and an idea of the plot, then it's the characters that would make the story work. I don't do a huge amount of character work just broad strokes.

    I usually plot the major action for each act down to the sequence level by which time I'm itching to write.

    So I do. I'll do a first draft, usually to plan but it may well change. This gives me a far better feel for the characters and I'll go back to the planning stage.

    Rewrite, wash and repeat.

    I find it hard to outline because the scenes develop fully formed complete with dialogue. I just write down the action and dialogue as it plays out in my imagination.

  7. 人生中最好的禮物就是屬於自己的一部份..................................................

  8. I use PowerPoint quite a bit at my day job, so I naturally use this for initiating a writing project. I've found that it's very easy to use slides like electronic index cards; easy to manipulate and reorder. Doesn't matter what order the ideas come to me. I can write slides for characters, settings, themes, scenes/sequences, bits of dialogue, and other details specific to the story that I can use for reference. Once I've arranged the Scene slides into sequences and acts, I'm ready to start tapping it out in Final Draft.

  9. When I start writing, I don't know whether I'm working on a screenplay, short story, or novel. A line of description or dialogue falls off my fingers into the keyboard, and answering the questions inherent in those few words propels me into completely uncharted waters that somehow reveal a coastline and a few outlying islands where I can eventually make landfall and figure where the hell I am.

    I don't recommend it as a process, but it's the only one that for me produces a vibrant, lively story.

  10. Concept, turn concept into metaphor relating to my life, research, outline, 1st draft.

  11. Concept, plot, and characters all sort of happen together for me. I let it happen in my mind and evolve organically. There's no real process. When I'm ready to hit the word processor, then I do, and not before. If the idea is a television show, it might hit the keyboard phase early or late, depending on the complexity of the idea. Once the basics are down, I move to the story arc and outline phase.