Here’s another in a series of 10 posts about how I approach writing a script. Previous posts:
Part 1: Story Concept
Part 2: Brainstorming
Part 3: Research
Part 4: Character Development
Part 5: Plotting
Part 6: Outline
Today, Part 7: SCRIPT DIARY
The last thing I do before I type FADE IN is create yet another Word file, which I call Script Diary.
I come to the diary to start every writing session. I visit it when I get stuck. I return to it when I hit on a story revelation. Day after day, I use my script diary to chronicle the writing of the story.
At the start of a writing session, I note the date and time in the script diary, then get my fingers and brain loosened up by typing up my thoughts about the scene I am about to tackle. I’ll remind myself what type of scene it is, which characters are participating in it, what each of their agendas is, who is playing what story function for that scene, how the scene relates to the overall plot, what the central point of the scene is, and so on. As I’m doing that, normally lines of dialogue pop to mind and I’ll put those down — so in essence I’m pre-drafting the scene, and can take that sketch to my script file and use it to write the actual scene.
I also use the script diary to track my emotional connection to the story. For instance, I may be worried about whether the scene I’m about to write will work or not. I may be concerned that one of the characters doesn’t feel quite right. If I’m stuck, I use the diary as a place to express my fears about the story; in fact, if I’m really stuck, I’ll ‘ask’ the characters, right there in my diary, to talk to me, show me what they want or need.
Now you may think I’m crazy — talking to my characters, asking them for help! But ever since I’ve started using a script diary, my experience of my story’s characters has become that much more… real, I suppose is the best way to describe it.
My first experience of this was when I was writing Snowbirds, where something special happened between the use of that script diary and the writing of the script: somehow a sacred space, if you will, came into being. This parallel ‘place’ sort of inside and outside my head – I mean, I would be thinking of it, so part of my experience was inside my head, but I would sense the place off to the side about a foot or two away from me. And in this ‘place,’ I would find my characters.
Abby, Rosa, Emerson, Truman, Bernice, Chuck, Irene, Ed, Sarah, and Lucky. All of them. They emerged with more and more clarity as I pressed further into the script, so that by the time I reached Act II, they were always ‘present’ in a way. They didn’t invade my thoughts, nor did I interfere with them. They weren’t doing what I was writing or imagining, rather they would more or less just kind of shuffle around, not looking at me. But whenever I was stuck – and I got stuck in Act II several critical times – I would start writing in my script diary, and I’d become aware of them, just out ‘there.’ And suddenly, one of them would turn and halfway glance at me or motion, and I’d ‘follow’ them. The two most critical story twists I could never have foreseen in the prep-writing phase occurred in this way – first, following Ed, and another time following Abby.
What I am saying is that my characters led me deeper into my story. They showed me the way. And the script diary was a crucial part of that experience because, I think, I was opening myself up to my characters, creating a ‘dialogue’ with them on those diary pages.
And there’s something else that very cool about a script diary: when you’re done with the project, you’ve got this journal of the entire writing process. You can go back to see and feel the actual moments where you found a breakthrough, where you busted through a story block, where your characters spoke to you.
Like everything else in this succession of posts, a script diary may not work for you. However, I encourage you to try it at least once. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
And now after all of that, our next post will finally get to the page-writing process, beginning naturally enough with the first draft.
[Originally posted June 12, 2008]