Screenwriting for fun and not profit.
June 5, 2012 10:18 PM   Subscribe

I have no aspirations of being a screenwriter; I'd just like to write a screenplay. I've been jotting down and scrawling ideas, on and off, for the longest time. How do I connect 1 to 2a to 2b to 3?

Everyone's got at least one good idea for a story, and I'd really like to get mine on paper. The extent of my writing history has been in comic strips, and short satirical fanfic. I feel like once I just got something down, I'd do much better at the revision part of things.

I've read a handful of books, including "Save the Cat," the similar but less grating "My Story Can Beat Up Your Story," "20 Master Plots," Syd Field, and McKee's dense but informative "Story." And I can read more screenplays (and keep watching more movies), but that feels akin to being asked to coach and train a sports team after just being a spectator.

I have a very broad sequence of events in mind, and a somewhat more defined set of characters and backstories. There's a list of favorite movies whose "feel" I'd like to capture (Hitchcock in particular, like Lady Vanishes and North by Northwest).

Where do I go from here to connect the dots and put meat on the bones just to get the basic outline part done? Whenever I try to take some serious steps into this, it gets a bit overwhelming.

I think one part of the problem is finding a story path and sticking with it, rather than constantly considering each and every alternative (eg, who lives/dies, who meets whom when). Another is figuring out the logistics of the world the movie takes place in ("What exactly would a cop do in this situation?")

What's worked for you if this isn't something you devoted your whole life to doing? And if it is, what's a good simple approach to make some serious progress?
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
If you haven't already seen it, this comment from a similar thread is a nuts-and-bolts approach and one of the better pieces of writing advice that I've ever seen on AskMe. I think it answers your basic question ("Where do I go from here to connect the dots and put meat on the bones just to get the basic outline part done?") dead-on.
posted by cribcage at 10:26 PM on June 5, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for that link. I'd looked back at previous screenwriting threads here, but neglected to look for stuff on novels and short stories (I'm not too concerned about formatting, etc at this point). I'll read more of that one in particular for starters.

I wanted to add that one thing I love most about Hitchcock is when his endings seem to be perfect payoffs for the setup of the journey, whereas a lot of movies seem to have an interesting setup, but the climax just feels tacked on with a shrug. I want to avoid that. So that's sort of where the dilemma of the choice of story path comes in... How to find the ideal path.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 10:55 PM on June 5, 2012

I recently read Oliver Postgate's autobiography "Seeing Things". He describes his creative process in a very interesting way - rather than build structures and plots then add meat to the bones, he would start by thinking up the characters, and then let them out into their world and watch what they got up to. Nice way of looking at it, I think. (In case you're not familiar with his work: It's. Completely. Awesome.)
posted by ZipRibbons at 1:31 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I read this interview with George Saunders last night. Not specifically about screenwriting, but in the first part he makes some fascinating points on "finding the path of the story" so I thought you'd like it.
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 3:33 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

You say that it would be easier to revise once you've gotten the story down, but that it's hard to get the story down. Welcome to the world of writing. What you're struggling with is what every writer struggles with. The only answer is to sit down and write. Whether that means longhand on a pad for ten minutes, or at your computer for an hour, or on scraps you find at the bottom of your purse - whatever. WRITE. Then see if you like what you wrote. Then WRITE SOME MORE. Keep what works. Discard the rest.

Welcome to the wonderful, terrible world of writing.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:46 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Looks like it ended recently, but perhaps take a look at NaNoWriMo's sister site Script Frenzy for links and resources for people new to script writing.
posted by bookdragoness at 8:59 AM on June 6, 2012

One of the most useful bits of advice I've ever received, which was in the context of novels but applies just as well to every other kind of fiction, is this: make sure that every scene in your story is accomplishing at least two different things, and that both of those things have are important to the story as a whole. If it isn't, you need to get rid of the scene entirely or combine it with another.

Fortunately, "character development" counts as an accomplishment, but that isn't enough on its own. Is the scene giving us a key piece of information? Does something plot-relevant happen? Do we gain familiarity with the setting that sets us up to understand something else later?

I've found that putting each potential scene to this test has helped me make quicker, better decisions about how to move forward with my story, and also reduces the amount of time I waste on scenes that will ultimately end up being heavily revised or cut out entirely. It also keeps my manuscripts from ballooning out into unmanageably long and meandering labyrinths that are dull to read and difficult to revise.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:11 AM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

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