Due to work constraints, I’m switching Tuesday and Thursday around. That means 10 Screenwriting Tips via E.T. is moving to Thursday. Right now, I have to post one of my favorite comments of the year. It came in response to Thursday’s post about the intangibles of screenwriting. Writers come from all different backgrounds and situations. Some are trust fund babies with all the time in the world. Some are parents barely able to scrape up enough money to keep their families above water. Whatever the case, writers tend to make up reasons to procrastinate, to not write, to hold off. This comment just makes you want to write. Print it and tape it next to your workspace. It’s from Half-Robot. Enjoy (and Half-Robot, I’ll read your script when it’s finished!).
If you are finding reasons to avoid writing, maybe it’s not for you. It’s all about effort.
Megastar athletes are there because of dedication and perseverance. Not a single person wakes up one day and is amazingly talented.
You name it.
I’m sorry but you gotta churn stuff out to get better. The whole 10,000 hours thing. It’s almost as simple as math. Writing a great story, no. But getting better? Elementary.
Unless you just REALLY aren’t getting it. But that’s a whole different story…
I started writing five months ago.
Before that (and now) I just worked regular, everyday jobs. I’m currently a payroll manager for a mid-size marketing firm. I live an hour away from my job. I work 40-50 hours a week, plus another 10-15 commuting on a cramped bus reading every screenplay I can get my hands on. Plus, I’m married to someone who doesn’t really like movies. Don’t tell me you don’t have time to write.
I don’t have a fancy film degree. I haven’t watched all the classics. I just sit my ass down, forget about sleeping, and write. I leave for work at 5:30 AM, get home at 6 PM. Spend a few hours with the wifey and I’m usually writing from 9 until about 1 or 2 AM. It’s what it takes, man. It ain’t easy. No one said it was. But don’t give me a bullshit excuse that you don’t have time. Suck it up, buttercup.
Though, admittedly, when I started, I thought I would be one of the lucky ones. Sell my first script, dash away to the hills of Hollywood, hob-nob with A-listers. At first, that was my inspiration. The golden dream. Who doesn’t dream of that scenario? It still has to be a small part of your inspiration to make it as a writer. Maybe those things don’t happen to writers, but you still have to swing for the stars. Literally and metaphorically.
It obviously didn’t go that route. And months later, I’ve completely shifted my view on the art of screenwriting. I stopped caring about others “making it” and focused entirely on what I was doing. MY projects.
And you know how much I’ve written?
2 (god-awful) complete feature specs. Both rewritten a few times before I moved on to a fresh idea.
2 half-baked feature specs.
Dozens of half-baked ideas, scenes.
A million “A day in the life of” character sheets.
3 separate ideas for The Writer’s Store contest in 2 weeks.
And I’m now on my third draft (technically sixth, but some are partial rewrites) of my 3rd feature.
Five months, people. Don’t tell me it can’t be done.
Feedback is HUGE. I’ve connected with a dozen people through this site and I can’t even tell you how pleased I am to have met them.
Carson, thank you for providing a pretty relaxed atmosphere where we can discuss and connect with each other.
Contrary to popular belief, there aren’t a lot of sites like this. I’ve read a few blogs and they get MAYBE two or three comments. We’re consistently pushing 70+ on most articles. That is fucking stellar y’all.
The flip side to feedback is what to do with it. Get over yourself. You’re not god’s gift to the screenwriting world. We’re all (aspiring) story tellers. See what others think.
From the people I’ve met here, they usually have some pretty great ideas on how to improve that scene where your lead is slicing someone’s throat but in a way we’ve all seen before. You probably thought it was fucking brilliant. Guess what?
To quote the Barenaked Ladies, “It’s all been done.”
So yeah, feedback and a thick skin. WHEN (NOT IF) you sell something, you’re going to get hit with notes. Probably a lot of them. I obviously don’t know, but from what I’ve read, get ready for a lot of rewriting.
Rewriting is the fun part anyway. That’s where your script comes alive. I read an interview from here last night from E. Nicholas Mariani that talked about rewriting being the connective tissue, the “scene between the scenes.” That really resonated with me. You can only discover that stuff the second (third, fourth, fifth, sixth…) time around.
That’s why I have an issue with so many AoW scripts. They are clearly first drafts. They are not thought through. It’s basically a (way too long usually) first draft of some cool scenes you thought of. Guess what? After countless weeks of offerings, how many have really gained traction? Yeah. Exactly.
I think we are too easy on amateur writers. You sugar coat the issue, they don’t grow. Simple as that. I’ve read notes from friends that always start with “let me know if I’m being too harsh” and the really grinds my gears.
Let me have it. Make my story better. If you’re polite, I don’t see the problem. If you’re rude, we may have an issue. But I haven’t met anyone here or anywhere else that is a raging douchebag.
I have to disagree with Carson on three things, though.
Don’t read screenplay books right away. I did that. If I could go back, I wouldn’t. Yes, read a book on formatting. Don’t be that guy. BUT, don’t read Save the Cat! and go from there.
Those bad habits will stick with you. Don’t count pages. Don’t worry about 15 beats. You will hit roadblock after roadblock. Write INTERESTING CHARACTERS doing INTERESTING THINGS that makes us want to KNOW WHAT HAPPENS.
If your inciting incident doesn’t land on page 10, an executive isn’t going to jump out of a bush and murder you.
The best way to describe if something is good to me is this rule:
How many pages have I read before I check to see what page I’m on.
If it’s good, I don’t check.
If it’s bad, well, you get it.
We all do it when we read.
We’ve read stories our entire lives. We’ve watched countless movies. Telling a story isn’t rocket science. Well, it is, but not really.
Read SCREENPLAYS. A SHIT TON OF THEM. I’ve read more screenplays in five months than movies I’ve watched in my entire life. And you know what? My scripts are stronger because of it. Half the movies you watch aren’t like the screenplay anyway. READ. READ. READ.
Because you are -
WRITING. WRITING. WRITING. They are words. Go outside, feel emotions, nature. Next time you’re on a walk, mentally think how you’d describe where you are in the most interesting, brief way. Not how your favorite movie ALREADY DID IT.
Yes, you should write. Every. FUCKING. Day. No excuses. BUT, it has to be more than five minutes. I know that is metaphor for just spending at least some time on writing, but you’ll get no where.
Five minutes? Ten minutes? That’s how long it takes me to come up with a fucking tweet for christ’s sake. How many pages do you think you’ll get done in a year writing even 30 minutes a day? Maybe enough to post a new blog entry every couple of days.
Put your ass in that seat and get excited. Tell sleep to go fuck itself. Tell five minutes to go fuck itself. You’re a writer, not a stopwatch. Get to writing.
Don’t write something because it’s a “commercial idea.” It will be so obvious. Another interview I read from the fucking talent that is Brian Duffield explained how he starts his specs… A thought or emotion that he’s struggling with. That’s what you need to do.
Yeah, that’s right. YOU.
Pick something challenging. Pick a flaw in your life. Writing will become therapy and before you know it, you’ve got something good.
My current project is about relationships. Their complexity… their brutal way of making you vulnerable, exposing you to another soul. How unfair they can be. How they shape us. How in dire situations, knowing the person you are with has your back. Trust. Finding your soul mate.
The logline? A former couple must survive a road trip during the zombie apocalypse.
And it’s a fucking rom-com. It’s a dark comedy, but a rom-com nonetheless.
If you write based only on a commercial idea, that’ll get you a couple scenes. It WON’T get you a deep connection with the reader. Look, we’re all human. We all have fears, worries, problems, complications, themes, ideas, struggles, whatever. Pick one. Tackle it. Challenge yourself. Brian Koppelman bashes this idea into our heads with his six second screenwriting advice vines. They are brilliant.
Once you’ve grasped the idea you want to work on, then you can attach the story to it. I could have written a dumb comedy about two opposites stuck in car together and all the wacky, crazy things that happen to them. But I grounded it first, then added the story later. I want you to know, at the heart, WHY they are a former couple, HOW that affects the trip, WHY they are even on the trip to begin with. I want you to watch and FEEL them grow, arc, whatever word you want to use for it.
I don’t want Kevin James butt to touch David Spade’s face for a laugh.
Your Bridesmaid is a Bitch isn’t just about some guy going to his sister’s wedding where his ex-girlfriend will be. That is the story, sure. But at the core, like Brian says, is the complexity and struggles with relationships we’ve all been in. We’ve all had our hearts broken. Now, I’m sure a very small percentage of us actually have been to our sister’s wedding where our ex was. But we relate to the feeling. It’s pretty universal. No one is reinventing the wheel, here. And it doesn’t need to be, either.
In conclusion – sorry for ranting. I’m pretty fired up about this. It all comes down to you. Do you want to do this. Like, for reals. Or is it just a hobby?
Here’s a clue. In the last week, how many hours have you dedicated to a blank page? If it’s less than 15, you might need to reevaluate your goals.
As always, if anyone wants to connect, trade scripts, or engage in hilarious, off-beat emails while I’m at work, email me.
I’m also on twitter. I’ve kind of fell off the map there, but I still whip up a few quips every now and then.
When I win an Oscar, I will thank all of you in my speech. Especially you, Carson.