…from the GITS community. Updated with some recent additions. Offered to every writer, but especially those just starting out on their creative journey.
We spend our lives searching within ourselves for something majestic, something big enough for people to take notice. If only for a moment. That’s what writing is really all about – the trying, the journey. Most of us never get there. But in traveling that inner road and attempting to get it on paper, we discover things about ourselves that elevate us higher, no matter how small the leap up. Good luck.
INT. STUDIO APT – DAY/NIGHT
A SCREENWRITER stares into his laptop screen. Strewn about the room are reference books and empty coffee cups. He turns away from the computer and starts to leaf through one of the books. A VOICE emits from the screen, startling our writer.
Inside or outside?
Huh? Uhh, outside?
Then cap it EXT and start.
The writer starts tapping away and soon is lost in the moment.
Love your story, be moved by it, and write fearlessly, because the joy, emotion, and audacity you bring to the page will translate to the world.
You’re about to embark on a thrilling and exciting journey. Focus on the ride itself and not so much the destination. There is nothing else like the joy from the process of writing — it’s yours, you own it. Do the best you can and let the rest of the world fade away. Best of luck.
Welcome to the world of writing.
Wherever you came from, and whoever you are, this story you write will be you and yours. You are the hero on this journey, and you are the hero you write on the page. The uniqueness and power is yours no matter how big or small. But until you write it, you won’t know what you really have. So good luck to you, it will be exciting and trying.
…And for daily inspiration check http://www.gointothestory.com.
Writing is something worth suffering for. Believe in yourself, and love yourself–and never doubt why you began. If there’s any limitation–you put it there. But I know that’s not the case… I can promise you this: upon finishing you will experience a feeling that won’t EVER go away! You have your goal–stick to it! It’s no big, complicated secret. And when you feel like giving up–Act Two probably–remember why you held on for so long in the first place: that an exceptional storyteller exists. I leave you to your journey. Tweet me when done… #screenwriter
Focus on getting your script done, no matter how imperfect it is. Once you finish it you’ll be able to call yourself a screenwriter—even if it’s a weak script—because you’ve done a difficult thing. That is you believed that you can slowly craft a bad first draft into a great final product. Most people never reach that milestone, and the only reason is they fear being bad. We’re always bad at the start, but the job is everything that’s next.
I know you’re sitting there scared out of your mind. You think you’re alone to conquer a perilous blank page.
That’s so far from the truth.
A vast community of screenwriters share your struggle. And we want to help.
Look no further than this site, shepherded by the steadfast Scott Meyers. Or professional screenwriters like John August and Craig Mazin who offer their experiences and insight every week. Industry vets like Franklin
Leonard continually bulldoze walls between you and Hollywood.
We all want you to succeed because we all want great stories. Hopefully the next great story is you.
There’s not some inherent talent that exists. Be brave. Make them think you’ve written something that only you could have written. Write what you want to watch and be true to the story and the characters. You cannot fail if you don’t give up. And with that I want to use the rest of my words to say; write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write write!
Write your screenplay.
Not because it is your dream.
Not because it will make you rich, famous, or powerful.
Not because there is a lack of (fill in the blank) genre stories.
Write your screenplay because you are YOU.
Write your screenplay because of what YOU bring to the table.
Write your screenplay because ONLY YOU can write it.
Everyone has a story only they can write and it would be a crime against humanity for you not to.
Write your screenplay.
That burning feeling you have inside of you is your amazing story waiting to be told. Set it free and change the world with your words.
Since screenwriting is about “less is more”…
And because it’s also about rewriting, I’ll add:
Try to tell the story that, if you could only tell one story to the world before you died, make it this one. It adds an urgency and personal connection that you might not get any other way. Good luck.
(Frankly, I needed this pep talk as much as you did.)
Writing your first script is like sculpting your first work of art. You won’t know your full potential unless you complete what you have started. You are the creator of your own universe. In the process of writing your script, you bring your characters to life. Never let the fear of filling the blank pages hold you back. Let the excitement of sharing your story take you to the finish line. Your moment to shine is in this lifetime!
The moment you contemplated the task, you were commissioned to corral the world around you, interpret it and share it back with us, punching all of our emotional, intellectual, and adrenaline buttons along the way. We care not where and how this comes about, but a world without your ideas and stories is one less light on the runway. Fear not the skeptics, critics, and those who think exclusively, but rather motivate yourself to fear a voice unheard and unfilled. We’re your parachute, safety net, and medics standing by. This is your running start. Jump!
Honestly, there’s nothing to fear. Tell your story within the format, and you will find yourself suspended within it, like a fly on the wall, but you control the movement. Define your protagonist, and make them want something more than anything in the world. Before you begin, know your story, and the people who populate it. Your own excitement will compel you to see it through to the end. It’s a great feeling. Then be sure you read it over and over, making sure there are no mistakes. Never give a reader a reason to put your script down.
The key to finishing a screenplay, whether it is your first or thirty-first, is a deadline. Writing for a competition is an ideal way to start imposing that deadline because it also gives you a worthy goal to work towards. Make a firm schedule, keep at it, and factor in enough time for that final polish. Good luck!
My advice is, before you write FADE IN, to learn as much as you can about the rules of story structure. Write extensive notes, map out your story beats, make sure that you have a way to navigate through your story as it is very easy to get lost and hit a dead end. There are many amazing schools of thought on story structure – absorb as many as you can
While you don’t want the writing process to be a sterile join-the-dots affair, the mapped out structure and beat sheet will make the writing of your screenplay a hundred times easier and infinitely more pleasurable.
Also, when you hit those inevitable moments of doubt, keep pushing through. Get that first draft done. Then put it away and don’t read it again for at least a week. You’ll be amazed at what you see coming back to it with fresh eyes.
The journey to escort your characters through a plot and deliver them to the other side – the written, tangible side – is a journey that is unique to you, your ideas, your process, and your environment. Revel in your role as a guide to the imaginary people that seek your assistance and work diligently to create a map for them, one that you can take pride in and hang up on the wall. “Here went Sally. She began unformed but now she is here for all to see.”
Screenwriting is a lot like riding a wild roller coaster. You strap yourself in, anticipating a new journey ahead – or blank page if you will. The first climb is the preparation designed to build the momentum of upcoming moments. Don’t be frightened; it is this initial stage that usually takes the longest on the ride. Once you go, it’s a thrilling adrenaline rush full of colossal waves. It reaches to a point where you have no control – where your words flow freely. As you approach the denouement, you will slowly come back to reality… looking forward to go again!
What do Diablo Cody, Callie Khouri, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck have in common? They all won Academy Awards for the very first screenplay they each wrote.
I’m not saying you’re going to win an Oscar, but I can guarantee you know how to tell a goddam story. You’ve seen enough movies, read enough books, and watched enough tv shows.
The only thing between fade in and fade out is yourself.
Don’t stop until you’ve surprised yourself how great a storyteller you can be.
And maybe I’ll see you at the Oscars.
Just getting started huh?
Got a great idea that has finally burst through your consciousness and demands to be put on a page?
All of these posts are worthwhile things to take into consideration and finding a way to keep them for future reference would be a good idea. After a script or two they will make more sense.
But don’t worry. Your first script will suck. No getting around it but you gotta do it. Sit down and actually spend the time banging it out. Looking back in a few years will make you smile about it. The only guarantee about this is that if you keep it up you’ll get better. And then, with luck, that really good one will get noticed.
I like to think that we all write because we have stories that we can no longer keep inside, they are “like a fire in our bones, we cannot keep them in.”
The act of screenwriting, especially at the outset, can be very much like becoming a new parent. Your ideas might wake you in the night, demanding your attention. Your words become your little darlings; that delight you and hopefully even surprise you… but they can also drive you mad.
You may find yourself increasingly distracted in everyday conversation, with thoughts like, “that’s good, I need to write that down.” Or, “You are exactly like one of my characters… only less real.”
It’s fun, it’s demanding, it’s torture and it’s triumph. It’s solitary, but it also helps you connect with humanity in a very intimate way.
You’re going to love it!
Dear new screenwriter,
Write about things you know. Don’t know much? Create a whole new world where you can alter just about anything you want with no questions asked. Research is key. Do your homework!Good luck
Fall in love with the process or it’s going to feel like work. You’re screenplay-ing, emphasis on “playing.” Have fun…because it’s supposed to be fun. I mean, you’re writing a film for Christ’s sake. How cool is that? So if it feels like a slog or a grind, then stop and switch things up…write in bars, libraries, coffee shops, parks, on beaches, in traffic, in bed, on the couch, at a desk, with music, without music, get comfortable, or uncomfortable…but find a way to fall in love with the blank page. Oh, and finish the damn thing.
I want you to think of three of your favorite writers. Doesn’t matter if they’re alive, dead, or fictional.
As you begin your writing quest, picture these three writing giants standing behind you. Picture them as they encourage, push, and guide you along the way. They’re not going to take your crap excuse for why you can’t write that day. They won’t accept any weak character development, frivolous plot points, or your blatant overuse of camera direction. But best of all, they know you can do it.
Now go make your fellow giants proud.
Go for it. Don’t hesitate. If you declare your story publicly, ignore the haters but not the helpful. Consider your need, more than your want, to pour your mind, heart and soul into voice. Be free but respect and remember it’s a serious craft. It can be playful yet possibly as valuable as any art or architecture, or even brain or heart surgery to some. So lock down, fight the good fight and learn something, teach something or maybe just share a good time as you leave words behind that will tell those, who may care, about you.
Now is not the time to be timid, humble, or self-conscious. This story is your creation. You are a god, so act like one. Don’t be afraid to bring down wrath upon beloved characters. Don’t feel ashamed to show mercy to the undeserving. Annoy the reader. Confuse the reader. Infuriate the reader. Just don’t bore the reader. If a scene makes you uncomfortable- good! Leave it in. If there’s a line of dialogue you wouldn’t want your mother to read- great! Definitely leave it in. You have no reputation or expectations. Take chances. Have fun. Don’t play it safe.
That thing that makes you so mad that you want to kill, or keeps you up nights, or becomes an albatross around your neck, or drives you to drink, or to love, or to talk back, or to walk down a dangerous street, or to risk your life, or to want to. If you can try to put even just a piece of it into words, then you must. Don’t deny who you are.
I believe in the following fact: no matter how well you outline or how many bios you’ve written for your characters, you are going to get lost.
You are going to ask yourself why you picked this story, with those damned characters at this god forsaken time of your life. You are going to think about starting a new story. Quitting on all those annoying people you just made up.
But don’t. Hit rock bottom with your characters. Stick with them like they were your family. Give them another draft, another shot. That’s when things start getting good.
Write. And when you’re not writing, watch movies, read screenplays and materials related to your story and themes. Then write more. On index cards or napkins or memo pads; in Word docs, Highland, Fountain, Final Draft, wherever it suits you. LET IT SUCK. It’s going to suck at first and you have to let it. Keep going. If you keep going it’ll improve. Finish a crappy draft. Enjoy re-writing. But always move forward, control what you can. You can write. So do it. Write.
You will be ecstatic. You will be afraid. You will be determined. You will be roadblocked. You will be confident. You will be uncertain. You will be, at one point or another, everything you can feel. And here’s the trick: don’t be afraid to feel all of it. Don’t be afraid to ride the ride that writing takes you on. Because telling your story, whatever it is, and whatever it makes you feel, is one of the most exhilarating experiences you can ever know. Just don’t be afraid to open yourself up to it. Don’t be afraid to feel.
It’s easy to get paralyzed in the white noise of Save the Cat and Hero’s Journey. etc. etc. So for now: Forget Theme, forget Arcs, forget all that. Answer these 5 questions:
What does this movie mean to me?
Why do I care about these characters?
Why do I want them to succeed? Or fail?
What do I want the audience to get out of it? Can I change perceptions? Play with Genre?
What scenes am I most excited about seeing on screen?
Print it out. Tape it to the wall where you’ll see it everyday. And get to work.
Utterly wonderful sentiments here. Each of you who posted inspired me! And so worthwhile thinking back on what it was like before we had written that first screenplay. Talk about the Call To Adventure!
Thanks to everyone for your comments. They constitute a massive blast of creative juju and so right back at you!