Lesson #1:  SCRIPTWRITING

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d) CREATING YOUR STORY 

Handle Every Story Idea

Like a Dog Would

If You Can't Eat It Or Play With It 

Just Pee On It And Walk Away

CREATING YOUR STORY

     1)  The Givens

     2)  Location!  Location! 

     3)  Finding Inspiration For Your Characters

     4)  Developing Character Profiles

     5)  Genre, Theme, (3) Act Story Structure

     6)  Creating Your Story 

     7)  Help Developing Your Writing Discipline

         

 'CREATING YOUR STORY'

       IS DIVIDED INTO (7) SECTIONS

             EACH WITH EXERCISES  

             FOR YOU TO COMPLETE 

It's fine to glance over all the sections first.  But you won't understand the lesson if you don't take time to do the exercises!  Recommended:  Do just one section / exercise per study session and really think about it.                    

        THIS IS NORMALLY A SEMESTER LONG CLASS! 

Before you go on, did you do: 

                       a) FILMMAKING BASICS 

                       b) SCRIPTWRITING BASICS

                       c) WRITING TEAM CHALLENGE

YOU DON'T START LEARNING

BY LOOKING FOR A WIN!

So if you've got a Big Idea for a film, 

put it aside (for now)!

'Cause we're going Early Hollywood! 

 

 1.   THE GIVENS 

YOU SWEAR TO:

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  • Keep Your Script To No More       Than (2-5) Pages   Your first drafts can be longer, but the finished script must be tightened to 5 pages or less

  • Have Only (2) Characters!      NO Background Extras!     Your Characters can text or use the   phone during the scene,  indicating   they are  in  touch  with  unseen  person​

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  • Keep Story To One 'Scene'   Scripts are written in units called a  'Scene'.           

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 "A SCENE HAPPENS IN ONE   

 LOCATION IN CONTINUOUS TIME!" 

 (Repeat this aloud 2x!) 

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  • You Will Shape Your Story Around Resources That You Have Free Or Low Cost Access To  (i.e. location, wardrobe, props,  set decor, etc.) ​

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  • Work At Your Own Pace!

        Skip over Parts of the Lesson if you

        want!  Set doable goals.  Only you know

        how to work the Lesson into your mind,

        life, and schedule: 

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       1.  Set weekly goal for how long and when              you want to work on the Lesson 

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       2.  It you can't do it when you plan,    

            schedule a next time to work on it as

            soon as possible.  If you have to re-

            schedule again, that's OK.  Just always

            keep putting the Lesson back on your

            calendar.

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       3.   An uncrowded subway with a long ride

             can be a place to study.  Keep the

             Lesson with you.  Studying can ease

             worries and frustrations.

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        4.  It's OK to skip and find the assign-                     ments that immediately excite you. 

             Just remember:  You Have To Go Back               To Do Skipped Assignments! (Keep

             track of skips!)  

 

TIP 

  To Be Get Good At New Stuff, 

1st You Need To Learn About

   Things That Don't Interest You!  

  .

You Become Good

When You Learn

How To Be Interested!   

 

Last, but not least

YOUR SCRIPT

MUST BE WRITTEN IN   PROPER SCRIPT FORMAT

 

There is a proper format for         writing a Script (or Screenplay): 

           1.  Scene Heading

           2.  Narration (or Action)

           3.  Dialogue 

It sounds complicated, but it's not.  There is free software you can use to do the formatting.  (You'll learn about it in Writing Your Script

 

 WHY IS THERE ONE FORMAT?

Because a Script is a Blueprint for those who make the film.   The technical formatting gives information to the Producer, Director, Actors, and Crew to help them plan the film.  Plus a properly formatted Script page equals approximately (1) minute of film time, which you need to know to do scheduling and budget. 

(NOTE:  If you are shooting your own film, you of course do not have to use Script Format.  But then you'll be shooting from a written Story, not from a Script.)  

 READ A SCRIPT 

 ASSIGNMENT (20 min) 

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Read and study this (2) page Student Script "MY FAMILIA' (pdf) for  an example of how a very short  script  can have engaging Characters and an intense and believable Story.

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(FYI: To come up with his final script, it took Chris, the Writer, five drafts, after listening to lots of class critiques and suggestions, and watching other students do improvs of his  Characters.  Chris was 16 yrs old, in a mixed class of teens and adults!)

 2. CHOOSE A LOCATION 

WHY START BY FINDING

A LOCATION TO SET

YOUR STORY?  

(Even if you don't think you're

going to actually shoot a film)

  • You are doing this class on your  own, not in an actual classroom.  You don't get the energy boost    that comes from being in a setting  not your home, one that is about learning with others.  Choosing a location will help get you beyond what's in your head and ground you with a sense of a physical reality.   

  • Choosing a location will get you thinking about visuals (not just dialogue) and reinforce before you start writing that a crucial element  of creating your Story will be to  imagine a 'real' World your Actors and the audience can believe in.  A Script is meant to be realized off the page, in a space with physical dimensions and limitations.  

  • The location itself might already have a look or function that inspires your Story idea. 

 

  • If you choose a location that you have easy access to walk around in, you'll be surprised how it gets your creative juices flowing.  You can imagine how Characters might move in it, and simple changes you can do to it to create an interesting Set for their World.

   

 

"Choosing location is integral to the film: in essence, another character." - Ridley Scott, Director

CREATING A WORLD

In a class I taught at a community center we did a workshop shoot of the 'MY FAMILIA' Script.  In the picture above in  the upper right corner is the BEFORE photo of the area of a large classroom space that we transformed into the set in the AFTER picture.   We covered the walls with donated wallpaper, hung and taped, not glued.  (You can also use contact paper which sticks easily. comes off easily,  and can be found at $1 stores. But you'll need lots of rolls.)   To make it seem like a small apartment size room we set up in the corner and created a phony wall with a supported flat of sheet rock also covered with wallpaper (not seen in picture).   

ASSIGNMENT  (90 min)

              Read (4) Articles: 

1)   Creating A Set On Small Budget

2)   Importance of Set Design

3)   How To Build A Set In A Garage

4)   (3) Single Location Short Films           (And watch the (3) films!)

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This will help you remember to create a Visual World when you start writing your Story.

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If you know already that you want to Shoot your Script,  read this Article on Scouting A Location. There are practical things to think about for a Film Shoot:

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  • Is there space close by for all of your back-of-the-house set-up (i.e.holding area  for actors,  equipment,  food, etc.)

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  • Will you have enough guaranteed hours of quiet to shoot?

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  • Is there a bathroom nearby!

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(NOTE: You are to find a Location to help inspire your Script. But when time comes to Shoot, it's OK if you use a different Location!)  ​

LOCATION!  LOCATION!

Assignment

(As Long As It Takes)

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If you've reviewed everything on this page, it's time for you to look around your immediate world and find a Location to imagine setting your  Script!

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Simplest of course would be to use your own apartment or that of a friend.   It's fine if you mostly use the existing decor and furniture -- but challenge yourself and imagine changes that will make it more your Character's World!

 3. FIND INSPIRATION FOR YOUR CHARACTERS

 

It would be great if you can base at least (1) of your (2) Characters on a person you know who wants to act.  He/she is apt to put time into helping you develop the Script.  And after you

write it, if you don’t want to make it

into a short film, maybe he/she will want to take over and get it made.    

If you find (2) people you know who want to act, have them brainstorm

with you possible relationships (i.e. friends? family? co-workers? neighbors?  strangers? etc.) and

then let  them  improv different situations.   Watch the chemistry between the two and let it help inspire you when coming up with your own Story idea.  You can also do improvs yourself with another person

             WHAT IS IMPROV?                    Act of saying or playing out 

             something without 

           previous preparation. 

        Fun ideas for situations  

            to improv below! 

If you don't have someone to improv with, think of someone you know who inspires a  Character in your imagination.  Watch them and take notes on what they say and do.

CAUTION: Do not try and make a Character exactly like an actual person  (that gets  too  complicated  and  personal). Rather take vivid bits of what the person does or says and let it be the springboard for ideas for an invented Character.  Be free in distorting, twisting, and changing!

FIND INSPIRATION 

FOR YOU!

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Impatient-with-yourself-to-get-it- right-so-everyone-will-see-you-are-worth-something?!

End-Up-Done-In-By-

Not-Doing-It-At-All-Ness?!!!

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HOW DO YOU

GET INTO A PLAYFUL

 RELAXED HEAD ?

 

Do something silly, something unexpected!  It  doesn't have to be a big something.   It doesn't have to cost anything.  You don't have to do out of your house / room.

   

 THIS IS FOR YOU! 

 ASSIGNMENT 

 (5 min - 2hrs)  You decide!  

 

           Need help being  silly?              Doing the unexpected? 

 

(32) FUN & EASY EXERCISES   drawing, cooking, writing,

singing, walking and more!

And here's more!

(23) FUN & EASY EXERCISES

 

There Are Activities To Do  Alone          Or With Friends and Family!              

Do it for even (5) minutes! It counts! That's (5) minutes with yourself in a new way.

 

Read through all (32) and (23) activities.   You don't have to like or get all of them.   Just find one you want to try and do it! 

Your-Happy-Becomes:

"LOOK-AT-WHAT-I'M-TRYING"!!!

 EXPLORE

STORY IDEAS   WITH IMPROVISATION 

 ASSIGNMENT (60 min) 

 

Here are lots of situations for you to improv:

 

1) Improv Starters 

2) Improv Opening Lines 

3) Use Awkward Photos   As Improv Starters

Come up with your own ideas for improvs!   

  4.  BUILDING A   CHARACTER PROFILE 

  • How old is she?   Born where? 

  • How does he talk?  His Motto?

  • How does she dress?  Key Props?

  • What sets him off?  

  • Her favorite thing to do?

  • What are his/her relationships like?

  • CHECK OUT 100?s TO ASK!!!   .

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A Writer does similar thinking to an Actor when building a Character Profile.

Actors want to believe their Characters exist beyond the Script page, so they  ask themselves lots of non-script related questions about their Characters. 

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When an Actor (or Director or Production Designer) comes up with answers that conflict with how the Writer (you) describe the Character in the Script,  it leads to discussions

and sometimes rewrites.   Characters might be born on your page, but it

will take a team of people to make 

them come alive on the screen!

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If you already have a lot of ideas about a Character, go ahead and write it all down!  If you have a conflict you want to explore between your (2) Characters,  write it down.   If you're flowing, flow.

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But afterwards, put what you write aside. Go back, read all the Articles.  Do all the Assignments.  Then review everything again.   You'll understand it differently after you've written your first draft!   You will imagine new layers to add to your Characters, and gain insight on how to sharpen and edit what you've written.  

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If you don't have ideas yet, read the Articles linked to on this page (any underlined words), and see how other people create interesting Characters. 

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  CHECK OUT SOME OF THE MOST        MEMORABLE CHARACTERS

IN  TV AND FILM

SHAPING THE OUTSIDE

OF YOUR CHARACTERS

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1)   NAME YOUR CHARACTERS

Makes them more human to you.  It's OK if you come up with better names later. 

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2)   CHECK OUT THE THREADS!

Wardrobe is a fun way to define them!

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3)  WHAT THEY HANDLE 

Props can outwardly give away what's going on inside the Character!

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4)   THE PERFECT RIVALRY!    

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  • Choose (1) Character to be your Protagonist / Hero

  • Choose (1) Character to be your Antagonist / Villian

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This doesn’t mean the Protagonist is an actual 'hero'.  Rather she/he is who the audience roots for, or at the least follows her point-of-view as the main Character.   

.  ...

The Antagonist is someone who actively opposes or disagrees with the Protagonist,  and can simply be a rival (or a  parent!). 

..

Make sure as you create their  Profiles,  you show major differences between the (2) Characters.   You want outer ways they conflict, but  you also want to know the inner ways they are different.

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You need to figure out each Character's Motivations (the reasons behind his behavior) and Goals (what he says he wants and acts upon).

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 MY FAMILIA 

 CHARACTER PROFILES 

 

Read the student script MY FAMILIA again.   I've started Profiles below for the (3) Characters  (yes, one more than you're allowed!).     What can you add? How do you describe their relation- ships? Who is the unseen fourth Character? 

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MAMA 

Mother,  60s, cooks meals

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NIQUA   

10 yrs old, respectful of Mama,     forcefully expresses herself

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JERRY   

30s, lazy and messy

 THIS PAGE HAS 

 ASSIGNMENTS GALORE! 

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 (2 - 10  hrs)  You decide! 

Take notes on Character ideas as you look at any of the  (9) Articles linked to throughout this page!   Plus here's more:

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10)    How To Create An

Interesting Character 

11)    Pick  From (8) 'Types' of Character 

3)  VIDEO:  Is There A Formula for Creating A Great Character?

  5.  GENRE,  THEME, 

 & STRUCTURE OF   STORYTELLING  

THERE IS NO CORRECT WAY TO START CREATING YOUR STORY!

   .

 You can start with:

  • Idea for a Character

  • Outline of a Situation

  • Location, Wardrobe, or Prop          .

 Or you can start by:

  • Deciding on the 'Genre' (type) of Story you want to write

  • Picking a 'Theme' (message) you want to show in a Story​

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Whatever gets you started, before you're finished with your Script you'll need to know the Genre and Theme of your Story, as well as that it satisfies basic Story Structure. ​

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                                               GENRE 

Start to give a framework to your story by deciding on your  “Genre” (pronounced: ZHänrə).  Films in a Genre often share common elements in Plot, Character, and Setting.   After you choose a Genre,  study other films or series in that Genre!

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Do you want to write Comedy, Drama, or Suspense (or a mix of two)?  You can write Syfy, but remember you are writing a low/no budget script and you have to be able to create a realistic set, even if it’s a fantasy set.  (Your script is not to have physical fights or stunts, so Action is out.)

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                    THEME

After you've gotten excited about your Characters and written lots of pages, can you stand back and tell someone what your story is about - What does it all mean?! (not just all the details of what happens).  It's easy to get lost in your writing, even for professional writers.

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Having a Theme helps bring you back to the heart of the Story.  It is a guiding light to help evaluate if something is needed or not.  Here are 15 Common Themes in Film, and a long, long  List of Themes!

THREE ACT STRUCTURE

 

Since human Storytelling started, orally around campfires and with paintings in caves, it has had basic (3) Act Structure!

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1. THE BEGINNING  The Character is shown in his ordinary world (that can be a palace or prison).  Then something happens to disrupt the Ordinary World. The Protagonist doesn't want to (or know how to) deal with the problem.

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2.  THE MIDDLE   The problem won't go away and it threatens the ordinary world. The Protagonist is forced to figure out how to deal with it.  He stumbles over obstacles and is forced to seek help or develop new skills, as the problem threatens to overwhelm him and end life as he knows it.

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3.  THE END    There is a resolution to the problem (good or bad), and the Protagonist is somehow changed, even if he returns to the Ordinary World.

Even if you tell a Story out of order -- like open with something that happens at the end of the Story.   You the Writer (and Director) still need to know the Beginning -Middle-End order before rearranging it.

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Short films are often too short to show the Protagonist in his Ordinary World before the problem, and might open in the Middle when the Protagonist is already dealing with the problem.  The Writer (and Director) must still know what the Protagonist was like before the problem to know how the Protagonist will deal with and be effected by the problem.

 

There are major differences between what you can do in a Short Film vs a Feature Film.   Short Films can end without the clear endings of most Feature Films (i.e. the Protagonist wins, loses, turns over a new leaf).    A short film might end with:

 

  • A quiet gesture by the Protagonist  shows the audience she has changed   

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  • After trying, he hasn’t changed! 

  • Something has changed in the Protagonist’s World (even if she    hasn’t noticed it yet!) 

  • We experience an intense slice of life that leaves the audience wondering --- What happens next?!

..

Most important is that the audience is interested in and believes the Characters!  Here other Filmmakers  talk about what is Key to Writing a Good Short Film Script.

 THIS PAGE HAS 

 ASSIGNMENTS GALORE! 

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 (2 - 6  hrs)  You decide! 

Take notes as you look at any of the (8) Articles linked to on this page. Plus check out Videos by my YouTube favorite - D4Darious:

 

The theme of the film 'BLACK PANTHER'  is ‘Am I my Brother’s keeper?’ Each character  answers that question differently, but only one changes his answer --  T'Challa (the Black Panther) -- he evolves!

       6.  CREATING   

         YOUR  STORY 

When you are ready to start, write your Story like a short story with dialogue.   Don't be concerned with what is proper for Script Format.  Find your Story first.

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If you've been going through the Lesson taking notes and jotting down ideas,  you might have lots of ideas.  Write out the ones you keep thinking about -- and then leave them for a couple of days!

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Incubation is important to creativity!

If we want to get into the psychology of it: 

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"Incubation is defined as a

process  of unconscious recombination of thought elements that were stimulated through conscious work  at one point in time, resulting in novel ideas   

at some later point in time".

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In other words, if you put a thought into your head -- writing it down helps that -- then leave it, and come back to it, the thought will have grown, changed! 

  Writing is like planting a seed.   

Keep watering it, even when you don't yet see proof it's growing.

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People who are not use to doing creative projects don't realize how much patience and persistence you have to have, and how boring it can be during the times you don't feel inspired, but you keep working (or you'll give up).  

WHOSE STORY IS IT?

(Endings Can Be Tricky!)

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Let's look at the Student Script MY FAMILIA again.   There are (3) Characters:  MAMA, NIQUA, and JERRY.  Whose Story is it?   The Protagonist is usually the Character who has a noticeable change by the end of the Script.  Which Character is changed by the end of MY FAMILIA? 

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STOP!   SPOILER ALERT! 

COME UP WITH YOUR OWN   ANSWER BEFORE READING ON!

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It's not unusual for even the experienced Writer (and Director) to not be certain about how to end a Script / Film.  This can be especially true with Short Scripts.   What mood, message, or image  do you want to leave the Audience with ?   Often in Film (even big budget features) the ending of a Film can keep changing all the way into the final Edit.  

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                      MY FAMILIA

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        At the end of MY FAMILIA                which Character changes?          MOMA?  NIQUA?  JERRY?

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                    ANSWER:                    None Of The Characters Change By The End Of The Script!

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1.  THE SET-UP:
Each  Character's  personality  is revealed.  We  learn  about  their     relationships and everyday arguments.   

               2.  THE CONFLICT:         

 Jerry's behavior conflicts with the   values of the other two Characters, and influences the fourth unseen Character. 

   

            3.  INCITING INCIDENT

Alarming information is learned about

the fourth unseen Character, escalating tension and accusations  between   

the three Characters. 

...

             4. REALITY CHANGES:

At the end all three Characters become quiet and focused out of fear that something has happened to the 

 unseen Character.  

 ADVANCED WRITING AIDS

The Writer's Emergency Pack is a pack of cards that makes a game out of coming up with Script ideas.   The  Pack costs $19, but money from your purchase  goes to education in classrooms!  Here's a Video on How To Use The Pack.  

The Screenwriter's Bible (get it used for $5) is the book I recommend for Beginners who have enjoyed reading the Lesson and Articles (and any Writer who knows the basics, but gets stuck and confused).   If you're a  Beginner who hates books, listen to a review by someone like you

   7.  DEVELOPING YOUR   

    WRITING DISCIPLINE 

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Commit At Least (2) Hours

A Week To Writing!

If You Sit And Get Stuck   

Then Play!

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Look over your notes or read again part of the Lesson before you do something playful or adventurous, which will allow your thoughts to  incubate.   

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Too tense and full of worries to play or study?    Try relaxing with a  short online mediation: 

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  • Get in a comfortable position, close your eyes and breath deeply as you listen

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  • The person leading the mediation will speak slowly and quietly.  As you listen, your thoughts will start to slow down to their pace

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  • After the mediation write down any thoughts that come to you as a result of the mediation (doesn't have to be about your Script)

(3 minute) Power Hypnosis

For Confidence

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Build Belief in Yourself

(20 minutes)

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Letting Go Of Fear You Won't  Succeed   (40 minutes)

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If still no Story idea comes to you that you like --

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Go Ahead And

Write Something Awful!

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Have fun!  Write something bizarre or silly.  Do a take-off of a Film or Series you've seen.  Then put it away and at your next session look at it.  If there is one thing you like -- a Character or a line of Dialogue or an Action, use it to start a new Story idea. 

JUST KEEP STUDYING!

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One benefit of the studying is that you will start watching Films and Series with new insight.  Analyzing them will in itself become a  creative act!

Remember, people take to things at different paces!  For weeks you don't think you have any ideas, but you keep studying and taking notes. Then all of a sudden (two months later) you have a Story  idea that you can't stop thinking about!

If you have not been doing any creative projects before this, you'll need to recognize that this is not just about writing a Script.  This is about introducing a life change -- making creative activity a regular part of your life!    

Maybe you will discover that instead of telling a Story through words -- you love telling a Story through Wardrobe or Props or as an Actor, and you want to learn more by helping other people with their low/no budget films.  That's OK too. 

If you are not use to doing lessons or research online, doing the Assignments in the Lesson will show you how much great informa- tion is  available for  free  online.  That's not just for film, that's for anything you are interested in.  

 

MORE FILM RESOURCES 

TO CHECK OUT

Writing The Script For A Short Film   (Includes colorful slides)

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What Makes A Good Story?

(D4Darious Video)

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How Should Characters Talk: Dialogue in Film   (Video)

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Purpose of Dialogue (Video)

 

More about Dialogue in

WRITING YOUR SCRIPT

  BOUNCE OFF  

 OTHER PEOPLE ! 

If you haven't yet formed a Writing Team, start reaching out to people who you think you'd enjoy working with.   At first just ask them to do one half hour session with you brainstorming ideas.  If they give you more time than that, it's possible they will help you again -- and then it's possible they will keep helping you and become part of your team. 

Remember to  compliment the person for how he is helping you:  "I love how you speak, and I'd like to shape a Character who speaks like you." Or "I like your ideas about how to use the location".