Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tuesday Talkback: How do I get started?

 Wes writes in with a question that I imagine a lot of new writers struggle with:

I am not a writer!  Never formally trained in the art of crafting a story or grabbing a reader (audience) and letting them journey to a place or thought or mood I want them to go.

I have an idea for a story.  I feel it’s a good one.  The problem is I know how I want my story to end.  It is a vivid image that I have actually pre-visualized from final twist to end credits in my mind.   I know the meaning I want the reader to explore.  What I am having problems with is getting there and getting there in a format that will attract, engross, and satisfy a “gate keeper”.

I have been watching TV episodics more closely.  I have become critical of easy and convenient exposition.  I have read a few working scripts and screenplays to familiarize myself with the format and cues of dialog and scene.

What more should I do to get me from a critical viewer to a critical crafter?

I am possessed by the daemon of the blank page with ideas running frenzied in my head and nothing fish-boned or outlined.  I need something more than sit down, shut up, and write! 

"Sit down and write" probably would have been the start of my advice.  There are amateur mistakes that every writer is going to make when they get started, so I'm a big believer in buckling down and getting them out of the way.  No matter how much you prepare, odds are that the first draft of your first script will be ridden with mistakes. 

If you've gotten to the point where you can critically study someone else's work and learn from it, you're probably ready to apply that to your own work.  So crank out a first draft and then go to town on it.

What advice do all of you have for Wes?


  1. Sit down, shut up, and write.

    We can all watch movies and television shows and analyze and read screenwriting books and so forth, but at some point everybody just has to plunge in. You're waiting for somebody to tell you the secret that will make the process painless and comfortable. There isn't one. So you may as well start now.

    But if you absolutely must have a recommendation, I'd say THE COFFEE BREAK SCREENWRITER is the best book about the process I've read. Pilar Alessandra is very smart about the process of screenwriting and how to break it down so it's not as intimidating. And she has a nice soothing voice on her podcasts.

  2. Dive right in there and get it written down. Doesn't matter what a mess you end up with. Enjoy this draft - it's debatably the most fun part of the process. BUT bear in mind that there'll be a whole lot of work shaping and revising afterwards - I always underestimate how much...

  3. Bullet point the scenes or sequences that you know you will need, and then either develop/outline those, or jump right into scripting those scenes. Trust me, ideas for connector or other scenes will present themselves.

  4. It's okay to suck. You will most likely suck for a very long time, and then you will suck less, and then less than that, and then one day you'll realize you only barely suck at all.

  5. Look, I'm one of those people who is apparently a "natural" writer (according to other people). I have a storybook that I made at the age of 7, and it's actually pretty good.

    And yet I'm still learning that it's OK to suck. That's the hardest part, in my opinion. The part where you type garbage out into Final Draft and you hit the SAVE button and it's fine and you don't throw your computer out the window.

    Just keep sucking. Fail for as long as you need to until, hopefully, it starts to suck less. Maybe someday it will even approach greatness. But for now, your goal is to sit there and type and suck.

  6. Slightly different question -

    How can I get started as a script reader?

  7. Write a draft. What could it hurt? If it's so bad that you give up, you weren't meant to be a writer.

    If it sucks (it will) you can learn from it.

    Try to meet with people that have read scripts before and will give you honest feedback.

    If you write, you're a writer.