Do you start scripts, but not finish them?

August 11th, 2014 by

Four questions for you:

* Are you prone to starting scripts, but not finishing them?

* Do you get lost when you are writing your script, then lose faith in it – and yourself?

* Have you received feedback that your scripts have thin characters or weak plots?

* Do you have a great concept for a spec script you want to get to market as smartly and quickly as you can?

The Prep: From Concept to Outline class is designed for you.

This 6-week online workshop is unique, offering a professional approach to developing and ‘breaking’ your story. Combining lectures, weekly writing assignments, feedback, and teleconferences, it is a proven approach to take you through the prep-writing process.

Plus if you do the work, you not only end up with an outline, you also learn an approach to prep-writing you can adopt and adapt to fit your own creative needs.

Let’s take those four questions from above one by one:

* The single biggest reason why writers start but fail to finish scripts is because they don’t really know their story. In our 6-week Prep class, the focus is on precisely that: finding your story.

* The best way to avoid getting lost when you type FADE IN is to break your story in prep, like most pros do. If you do the work, at the end of the Prep workshop, you will have a thorough outline of your story, enabling you to power into the page-writing process with confidence.

* The work you do in the Prep course targets both character and plot, so you can end up with well-defined and richly drawn characters, and a solid story structure.

* Breaking your story in prep actually speeds up the scripting process, enabling you to get from concept to market faster than if you try to find your story by writing pages.

Here are some testimonials from writers who have taken the Prep: From Concept to Outline workshop:

“You gave us just the right amount of ideas, encouragement, and support to discover, develop, and design a real workable blueprint to take into the page writing.” – David Broyles

“The Prep class has given me a set of practical tools to use to take the bare glimmer of a concept to outline in six weeks.” – James Tichenor

I honestly can’t wait to get started on this script now, and to use what I’ve learned in Prep to go back and rewrite other scripts.” – Paul Labich

The approach in the Prep class works. I know this not only from working with writers in our online courses, but also through private sessions I have had with professional screenwriters, even playwrights to help them crack their stories.

The upcoming Prep workshop begins Monday, August 18.

Isn’t it time you learned to approach your screenwriting like most of the pros do — breaking their story in prep? Sign up now for the next session of Prep: From Concept to Outline by going here.

Do you know how to break a story?

September 16th, 2013 by

Writers use a lot of different words for the process of figuring out a story.

You break a story.

You crack a story.

You wrangle a story.

Those verbs give you a pretty good idea of the fundamental challenge a writer faces when writing a story. It ain’t easy. A story is a live, moving target with a will of its own, so in order to craft a story, you need to know how to break it, crack it, wrangle it.

That’s why I created “Prep: From Concept to Outline,” a unique six-week online Screenwriting Master Class course that provides participants an interactive approach to figuring out a story. Once you learn this approach, you can use it on all future writing projects.

The class consists of six lectures that I’ve written and six weekly writing exercises, creating a process that engages you with your story universe and its characters. During the six weeks, your story emerges enabling you to pull together a comprehensive outline so you can type FADE IN with confidence.

Moreover it’s a workshop environment, so you get the benefit not only of my feedback, but comments and suggestions of other writers, including weekly teleconferences.

Finally it creates a structured online environment that lights a fire under your ass, so if you have problems making progress, sticking to something, or even getting started, committing to a class like this can be just the thing you need.

My next session of the Prep class starts next Monday, September 23 and there are still a few spots open. To my knowledge, there is nothing else quite like “Prep: From Concept to Outline” anywhere else, which strikes me as crazy because every Hollywood writer knows how critically important prep is to writing a successful story.

Here is your chance to work with me on your story. For more information or to enroll, go here.

An observation from writer Rob Burke who participated in a recent Prep workshop:

Hope you don’t mind Scott – but, as someone who has taken the class, thought I’d (unsolicited) throw out there that I HIGHLY recommend this course. Especially if you can answer “YES” to this question:

I have [fill in the blank] scripts that I’ve started, but have not finished.

This class has the potential to get you past what’s likely getting you stuck in the proverbial writing mud. It did for me. And, while it is definitely not an automatic cure-all – you have to put in the work and be committed to it – I think if you’ve been searching for a better way to approach writing your script, you’d be hard pressed to find a better dogmatic approach than Scott’s. (Or is it karmic . . .)

Rob raises a key point: Perhaps the single biggest reason why writers start scripts, but don’t finish them is because they haven’t figured out the story before they type FADE IN. Anyone can write a first act. Some folks can get through the next 10-20 pages. But when they get lost midway through Act Two, that can lead to confusion, frustration and almost inevitably giving up.

The Prep workshop is designed in large part of solve that problem, steering you through and motivating you to break your story before launching into the page-writing part of the process.

Just like Rob says.

Go On Your Own Quest, Week 9: Prep

September 12th, 2013 by

The 2013 version of The Quest starts Week 9 today. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by because you can Go On Your Own Quest by following the structure of The Quest to dig into screenwriting theory [Core - 8 weeks], figure out your story [Prep - 6 weeks], and write a first draft [Pages - 10 weeks]. It’s a 24-week immersion in the screenwriting process and you can do it here – for free!

Plus you can join The Black Board, the Official Online Writing Community of the Black List and Go Into The Story, another free resource to help keep you inspired and on target at you Go On Your Own Quest from FADE IN to FADE OUT on the first draft of your original screenplay.

For the past eight weeks, we have focused on the Core content of The Quest, delving into eight aspects of the screenwriting craft: Plot, Concept, Character, Style, Dialogue, Scene, Theme, Time. Now we move into six weeks of Prep.

For those of you who plan to Go On Your Own Quest, we began our discussion about prep-writing Monday with this question: What are the key areas you focus on during the prep-writing phase? For the discussion, go here. Tuesday’s question: How many weeks do you spend prepping your story before typing FADE IN? Discussion here. Yesterday’s question: Outline: Yes or no? Discussion here. Today’s question:

* What techniques do you use to develop characters?

On October 21, you can type FADE IN, then over a ten week period write your first draft.

Why not use the structure of this 24-week workshop to Go On Your Own Quest? That was an idea that gathered energy among many members of the GITS community which I described here.

If you’d like to participate in a Prep workshop just like the members of The Quest are doing, you’re in luck. Starting September 23, I’m overseeing the next session of Prep: From Concept To Outline. It’s perhaps the single most popular course we offer through Screenwriting Master Class as it has proven to be hugely successful, enabling writers to break their story, then approach the page-writing part of the process with confidence. You can take this Prep workshop, then have 8 full weeks to write your first draft by the end of the year, more than enough time since you will have a fully fleshed-out outline.

For more information and to enroll, go here.

For more information on Go On Your Own Quest, go here.

Onward!

Go On Your Own Quest, Week 9: Prep

September 10th, 2013 by

The 2013 version of The Quest starts Week 9 today. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by because you can Go On Your Own Quest by following the structure of The Quest to dig into screenwriting theory [Core - 8 weeks], figure out your story [Prep - 6 weeks], and write a first draft [Pages - 10 weeks]. It’s a 24-week immersion in the screenwriting process and you can do it here – for free!

Plus you can join The Black Board, the Official Online Writing Community of the Black List and Go Into The Story, another free resource to help keep you inspired and on target at you Go On Your Own Quest from FADE IN to FADE OUT on the first draft of your original screenplay.

For the past eight weeks, we have focused on the Core content of The Quest, delving into eight aspects of the screenwriting craft: Plot, Concept, Character, Style, Dialogue, Scene, Theme, Time. Now we move into six weeks of Prep.

For those of you who plan to Go On Your Own Quest, we began our discussion about prep-writing yesterday with this question: What are the key areas you focus on during the prep-writing phase? For the discussion, go here. Today’s question:

* How many weeks do you spend prepping your story before typing FADE IN?

On October 21, you can type FADE IN, then over a ten week period write your first draft.

Why not use the structure of this 24-week workshop to Go On Your Own Quest? That was an idea that gathered energy among many members of the GITS community which I described here.

If you’d like to participate in a Prep workshop just like the members of The Quest are doing, you’re in luck. Starting September 23, I’m overseeing the next session of Prep: From Concept To Outline. It’s perhaps the single most popular course we offer through Screenwriting Master Class as it has proven to be hugely successful, enabling writers to break their story, then approach the page-writing part of the process with confidence. You can take this Prep workshop, then have 8 full weeks to write your first draft by the end of the year, more than enough time since you will have a fully fleshed-out outline.

For more information and to enroll, go here.

For more information on Go On Your Own Quest, go here.

Onward!

Go On Your Own Quest — Week 9: Prep

September 9th, 2013 by

The 2013 version of The Quest starts Week 9 today. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by because you can Go On Your Own Quest by following the structure of The Quest to dig into screenwriting theory [Core - 8 weeks], figure out your story [Prep - 6 weeks], and write a first draft [Pages - 10 weeks]. It’s a 24-week immersion in the screenwriting process and you can do it here – for free!

Plus you can join The Black Board, the Official Online Writing Community of the Black List and Go Into The Story, another free resource to help keep you inspired and on target at you Go On Your Own Quest from FADE IN to FADE OUT on the first draft of your original screenplay.

Today we officially enter the Prep phase. I like to think of the drafting of a screenplay as having two parts: Prep-Writing and Page-Writing. While most aspiring writers like to jump into the latter, almost all professional writers know the time to figure out the story is in prep.

For those of you who plan to Go On Your Own Quest, let’s begin our conversation with this question:

* What are the key areas you focus on during the prep-writing phase?

For the past eight weeks, we have focused on the Core content of The Quest, delving into eight aspects of the screenwriting craft: Plot, Concept, Character, Style, Dialogue, Scene, Theme, Time.

Today we begin six weeks of Prep.

On October 21, you can type FADE IN, then over a ten week period write your first draft.

Why not use the structure of this 24-week workshop to Go On Your Own Quest? That was an idea that gathered energy among many members of the GITS community which I described here.

If you’d like to participate in a Prep workshop just like the members of The Quest are doing, you’re in luck. Starting September 23, I’m overseeing the next session of Prep: From Concept To Outline. It’s perhaps the single most popular course we offer through Screenwriting Master Class as it has proven to be hugely successful, enabling writers to break their story, then approach the page-writing part of the process with confidence. You can take this Prep workshop, then have 8 full weeks to write your first draft by the end of the year, more than enough time since you will have a fully fleshed-out outline.

For more information and to enroll, go here.

Meanwhile I encourage you to head to comments to discuss today’s question. And for a related discussion on The Black Board, check out these topics:

For more information on Go On Your Own Quest, go here.

Onward!

“Breaking your story”

August 5th, 2013 by

There’s a phrase professional screenwriters and TV writers use: “break the story.” Sounds like a bad thing, but in actuality it’s one of the biggest keys to being a successful writer.

Breaking the story is the part of the writing process where you figure it out, nail it down, wrangle it to the ground. I can’t swear to its derivation, but it probably has some connection to the idea of ‘breaking a horse’ wherein a trainer takes a wild horse and trains them: A writer takes a wild story [undeveloped content] and trains it [figures it out].

Some writers prefer to type FADE IN and find the story over their course of their meanderings in the page-writing process. That’s all well and good if you have endless time and no pressure to actually produce content at the end. However if you work as a writer in Hollywood or some other entertainment center, when you land a gig you have a matter of weeks to turn in a draft, therefore hoping to find your story while writing it can be problematic.

Many if not most professional screenwriters break their story before they move into writing pages. This provides them the maximum amount of confidence because they have already done the heavy lifting by the time they type FADE IN.

At Screenwriting Master Class, we offer an online workshop called “Prep: From Concept to Outline,” featuring a six-part approach to help steer writers through this critical part of the process.

Six lectures, six writing exercises, six teleconferences, six weeks to break your story. What’s more, once you learn Prep, you can use it on any future writing project.

Here are some reflections on the workshop from some recent writers who participated in the class:

‘Prep: From Concept to Outline’ is a course I wish I had known about a couple of years ago. I would recommend this wholeheartedly for anyone who is about to embark on their first script or ANY script. This lays the foundation stone to your story.

– Camilla Castree

This has been an outstanding class. I’ve taken a few from other sources and most don’t live up to their promises (they shall remain nameless). But here, I’ve learned so much and gotten way more than my money’s worth.

– Daniel O’Donahue

The next session of Prep: From Concept to Outline begins Monday, August 5 and will be led by Tom Benedek.

Learn how to break your story in prep.

If you are interested, go here.

As always, Tom and I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!

Yet another rant on the importance of prep-writing

June 13th, 2013 by

I am going to keep hammering this point because… well… it deserves hammering.

From a recent post, a comment from Cyd:

I go back and forth with prep and diving head first into the shallow end. I think that could be called prep work for the prep work :-) Whatever it is, I’ve got to get something happening in Final Draft to hear them talk and discover how they move. At some point, I do end up with what looks like prep work. It just takes some time getting there.

My response:

Cyd, per your first paragraph, I think that’s a dynamic tension for all writers. We have an itch to get into the page-writing, which is great because that can help overcome the single greatest challenge of writing: depositing one’s ass onto one’s chair to actually write.

However we have to balance that out with with finding the story.

Now some writers absolutely loathe and can’t handle any sort of prep. They simply HAVE to type FADE IN (or if a novel, crack open that file) and have a go at it. Nothing wrong with that… if it works.

Standing on the front line of aspiring screenwriter-to-pro-screenwriter as I do, having worked with literally hundreds of writers and interfaced through my blog with THOUSANDS, I can assert with some confidence that the single biggest hurdle there is not doing the prep.

First, a writer is MUCH more likely to NEVER finish a script if they haven’t figured it out before they type FADE IN. That enthusiasm to start wanes over time if they are NOT finding the story. At some point, frustration enters, then bitterness, then rejection.

Second, even if they DO manage to get to FADE OUT – and acknowledging that a first draft is always going to be rough – unless they do 10-15 drafts, I doubt they will ever find the story they could have found if they had fully immersed themselves in it in prep. Brainstorming and character development especially, giving yourself the freedom to explore, test out a wide variety of narrative options as opposed to narrowing the field of choices BEFORE finding out other possibilities.

Third, if a writer wants to have a realistic chance at SUCCEEDING as a professional writer, they have to be able to turn around stories in an efficient manner. You sign a contract on a writing assignment giving you 10 weeks to deliver, you’d better be prepared to do precisely that. Having figured out whatever sort of approach to prep you use is a big plus in that regard rather than watching the ink dry on your contract, then going, “Uh, what do I do now?”

So different strokes for different folks and all that. And yes, we all want and need to leave room for the mysteries and surprises of stories to reveal themselves. If a full outline stifles your creativity, don’t do a full outline.

However you’re going to figure out the story somehow. Why NOT do it in prep? Then you can concern yourself in page-writing with all the fun stuff of writing — scene description, character interaction, scene construction, transitions, atmospherics — rather than desperately attempting to figure out what goes where, does this work, oh my god I’m lost.

Here endeth yet another rant on the importance of prep-writing!

Okay, I swear I won’t harp on this point for another month or so. But I’ll be back on it. Oh yes, I will. Because if there is one definitive difference between aspiring screenwriters and professional screenwriters — apart from talent — it’s prep-writing. Pros embrace it. Non-pros, very spotty. Some do, many don’t. It’s apparent in the quality [or lack thereof] of their scripts.

To wit, a famous novelist [I forget who] was asked once how did he know he had done enough work preparing a story before he knew he was ready to plunge into actual page-writing. His reply: “When I know the favorite color of my characters’ socks.”

There’s a lesson there somewhere…

UPDATE: I had an exchange on Twitter with screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe (Going the Distance) and he makes a necessary point to correct my bit of hyperbole in which I said:

Because if there is one definitive difference between aspiring screenwriters and professional screenwriters — apart from talent — it’s prep-writing. Pros embrace it. Non-pros, very spotty. Some do, many don’t. It’s apparent in the quality [or lack thereof] of their scripts.

Geoff’s tweets:

Going to take issue here. But first, let me say this: I believe that MOST writers do, indeed, benefit from prepping.

HOWEVER, I believe that there are MANY writers out there who – like me – are creatively hampered by the process.

What I would argue is this: try it both ways (or one of the many in between) and see what works for YOU. I always think…

..it dangerous to push (or even nudge) writers one way or the other. it leaves some feeling there’s a way it HAS to be.

Geoff is right and I should have said “many pros embrace it,” so I’ve given my hyperbole machine a time-out.

Let me offer my own corrective, one uttered on this blog countless time: There is no right way to write. And that includes prep.

My experience is many aspiring screenwriters’ script suffer from not digging deeply enough into the story. However they do that, lots of prep, little prep, no prep, doesn’t matter as long as they do the work they need to do to find the story.

You may – and should – follow Geoff on Twitter: @DrGMLaTulippe

UDPATE: Geoff has followed up with this excellent post on this subject. If you are a prepper or a non-prepper, you should read Geoff’s post as he provides a needed perspective on the matter.

One habit all pro screenwriters share…

June 10th, 2013 by

…They do a lot of prep-writing. Brainstorm. Research. Character development. Plotting. Outline. In the trade, it’s known as breaking your story, as in breaking a wild horse, taming that beast so you can ride it from FADE IN to FADE OUT.

Consider these comments from interviews I conducted with professional screenwriters:

Julia Hart: “I tried to write something without an outline and my husband just laughed at me. I find that outlining is just so incredibly important.”

Eric Heisserer: “I outline with note cards. I have a cork wall that I use and abuse regularly. I tend to split it into two groups, sometimes three. One will start the spine of the story and will map out the main narrative engine. The other part will be the flotsam and jetsam I feel are germane to the story.”

Justin Marks: “I’m a huge proponent of outlining and note cards. I use Scrivener to pull together story structure, and annotate it, if there’s research.  Eventually, I’ll resort to hard note cards that I can post on a bulletin board. I also use a Dry Erase board to gather thoughts.”

Chris McCoy: “What I typically do is have an outline with the big plot points – the inciting event, where we’ll be at the end of the first act, some of the second act rising action beats, the impossible situation at the end of the second act and what the climax will look like.”

Justin Rhodes: “I spend a ton of time in prep-writing, but that’s mostly because that’s just the way things work these days. If you’re pretty much anything but an A-list writer (and sometimes even then), you’ll end up having to generate a detailed treatment explaining every aspect of what you’re going to do between pretty much every step of the process. You’re rarely allowed to commence anything without a detailed plan that outlines what the draft is going to look like in excruciating detail.”

There is no set approach to prep-writing, no right or wrong. The important thing is that you do it.

If you struggle with this part of the writing process…

If you’ve never tried to outline a story before typing FADE IN…

If you want to find a proven, professional approach that works…

Consider the upcoming session of Prep: From Concept to Outline, my 6-week screenwriting workshop that begins Monday, June 17.

You start with a Protagonist Character Treatment, then spend an entire week brainstorming guided by a series of prompts and writing exercises I provide for you. This part of the process is about exploring the story, getting in touch with your right-brain, rolling around in the creative dirt, and surfacing gold nuggets.

The next two weeks are devoted to wrangling the story, first the Four Primary Plotline Points, then tracing the arc of your Protagonist’s transformation.

The last two weeks are all about nailing down the story structure and eventually an outline.

One great thing about this approach is it’s not only about the events that transpire in the External World, it also pays equal attention to what’s going on in the Internal World, the psychological and emotional journeys of key characters.

Plus there’s this: A weekly set of due dates to motivate you to get the work done. Sometimes there’s nothing better than a structured environment to make some serious writing progress.

I limit enrollment to make sure I have sufficient time to provide extensive feedback for each writer, so if you’re interested, I advise you to act now rather than later.

To find out more about Prep: From Concept to Outline, go here.

You want to be a professional screenwriter. Prep-writing is one habit you need to develop to get you there.

As always I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!

Writing Madly — Then Getting Organized

April 26th, 2013 by

Some thoughts from Tom Benedek (@TomBenedek) about an upcoming Screenwriting Master Class workshop:

I decided I wanted to write a script that I could shoot myself DIY – a very low budget piece. An idea clicked in my head. Basically, one location. Except for the sequence in India which may have to go, of course. For a week, I wrote scene ideas, character notes, images. It was great. A blast of caffeine fueled creativity. A legend in my mind, at least. I have 20 pages of stuff. Three different protagonists. Four plot structures – each one-third written. Now comes the really interesting part – weaving all this into something whole and complete — that is of a piece.

I realized the best thing to do was to use Scott’s Prep: From Concept to Outline course to get a script outline done. I’m running a six-week Prep class on Monday at Screenwritingmasterclass.com. Each week there are lectures and exercises (Yes, I reread Scott’s lectures again and again.) If I follow along with the class, I should have a decent beat sheet/script outline in June.

The Prep Class weaves plot and character, internal struggles, external conflicts through an amazingly simple system. There’s no formula. It is just a set of important questions we always ought to ask ourselves before we go to script. I always find this class a gratifying experience. I am hoping to get my own positive results from this next round as well.

Why not join Tom as he preps his original story? You will not only pull together the current story you’re working on, but also learn an approach you can adapt and use for all of your future projects.

The next session starts Monday, April 29. For more information, to here.

Reader Question: Structure is character. Agree or disagree and why?

March 8th, 2013 by

Art asks:

Structure is character. Agree or disagree and why?

If by structure you mean story structure or plot, and if by character you mean the characters in a story, and if your implication is a story’s plot should arise from character, I agree 100%. However I have a bit of a different language system.

My first screenwriting principle is this:

Plot = Structure

Screenplays are unique narrative forms in that they are a blueprint to produce a movie, so naturally there is, as there ought to be, a significant focus on their structure. But more than that, as Aristotle indicated with his articulation of beginning, middle, and end, Joseph Campbell with The Hero’s Journey, and others, there are innate universal elements to story, a sense of structure all humans share, both consciously and subconsciously. So when we talk about plot – and in particular a screenplay or TV script plot – we are first and foremost talking about structure.

My second screenwriting principle is this:

Character = Function

Just as there are innate aspects of story we share as human beings, there are also universal character archetypes, five of which we see in movie after movie: Protagonist, Nemesis, Attractor, Mentor, Trickster. The reason these character types are ubiquitous is they provide necessary functions in the metamorphosis process that most Protagonists go through in movies. For in the two realms of a screenplay universe — the External World (Plotline) and Internal World (Themeline) — the Protagonist’s psychological journey is almost always one grappling with their fundamental sense of Disunity, forced to confront the many varied aspects of their psyche, these ideas articulated, of course, by Carl Jung.

The beauty of approaching the story-crafting process from this vantage point is that for the first time – at least to my knowledge – we can truly put flesh on the bones of the old adage, “Character is plot.” Starting with the Protagonist, we begin a process of discovery that reveals what lies at the heart of their Disunity, an end point (Unity), characters who engage the Protagonist in their metamorphosis journey, and a Plotline that serves as a backbone for the overall story. All of that and everything else in the story emerging from the characters.

So do I agree “structure is character?” Basically yes, although as indicated above, I have a slightly different language system.

By the way, these two principles are two of eight I teach through Screenwriting Master Class in eight Core classes. Plus I use them with writers in the Prep: From Concept to Outline, Pages I: The First Draft, and Pages II: Rewriting Your Script workshops. In combination, I think these principles and corollary ideas represent a truly unique and cutting edge approach to screenwriting, starting the process where it should begin — with characters.

[Originally posted May 18, 2011]

NOTE: My next session of Prep: From Concept to Outline begins Monday. Learn a professional approach to working out your story and use it for all your future writing projects. Plus you actually speed up your first draft process and increase your chances of finishing the script by wrangling your story in prep. Sign up here.