Writing Anything can be difficult and painful, when you don’t take steps to get it done. Just like anything else in life, you want to put together a plan and biting off more than you can chew is a sure way to choke on your ideas. There are a few simple tips to making any writing adventure an easier one and keep it Fun!
- TAKE NOTES
- Write down what you want the story to be about
- Figure out what you want your Format to be - Book, Movie, TV Show or Play
- Make a Bullet Point List of how your story Might play out - Beginning, Middle and End
- Make a list of the Characters in your story
- Find a Good Friend with a Constructive Personality to bounce ideas off of
- Start Writing - Don’t get caught up in any given scene or chapter, JUST WRITE
- Condense Later
- Write To Resolve - Authentic Dialog is Short.
- Let the characters speak for themselves
Let’s break down the importance of these tips and hopefully you’ll walk away with a good understanding of the writing process that’s worked for me over the years as well as insert some of these tips into your next creative soirée and find it to be a much easier task to tackle.
You’ve heard the first tip since the 1st grade - TAKE NOTES. They try to teach you note taking from Elementary School to University, with good reason. There’s something about writing or typing that allows your brain to really grab ahold of an idea, remember it and apply it to new ideas in the future - not to mention it gives you something to look back upon for inspiration and reference throughout your process. Not taking notes on the other hand, leaves your brain to try and fill in those gaps along the way, dropping ideas that may be bad now but could have grown into something more with some imaginative additions. You can always trash an idea later, but trying to rack your brain for something you forgot, you’re better off having a psychic write your story.
Figuring out what your story will be about is an obvious necessity but that’s not what I mean. Sit down and write out a timeline of everts you wish your story to go through - a Beginning, Middle and End. Don’t focus on building the scenes or fleshing out the characters in the beginning, just block out the basic idea of how your story will play out. Don’t try to make it long or try to keep it short, JUST WRITE. Doing this step will give you a foundation to look back upon while trying to get your characters through a scene. A great example is when a writer gets stuck (otherwise known as writer’s block). It happens to everyone. You’re on a roll, plowing through scenes or whole chapters and then you hit a road block. You come to a crossroads with your scene and you don’t know which way to go or you don’t know where to go at all to keep the story moving. Well, turn back to your outline and skip a few bullet points down in the timeline to where you can start writing from and start up again from there. Give yourself some time to go back to the scene you’re stuck on.
Your format is Hugely important. A TV Show needs to have a story told with emotional engagement in less than 30 minutes (about 25-30 pages). A Feature Length Film needs to be at the least a hour and a half (110-120 pages). A book, well, depending on if its a Book Series, a novel, etc you’re looking at Hundred of Pages if not Thousands (for the series). Knowing your format will help guide your hand as you determine how quickly you need to resolve each situation as well as the entire story. Don’t get caught up on the format in the beginning, things may and probably will change as your write. The worst thing you can do is spend more time trying to figure out how you want to present your story than you do on the story itself.
Break down the characters. Who are these people and why are they doing whatever it is that you have them doing? I like to go for a method that I learned as an actor for developing characters. There are 5 fairly simple aspects to consider that should help you understand the personality and motives of any character.
- What makes this character unique? This questions breaks down into a series of other questions like: How old, how many siblings, how many parents, what grade of school are they in or did they finish, what are their dreams and aspirations, what are their pet peeves, what makes them happier than anything in the world, what are their worst fears? All of these questions will help you know how your character will react to situations as they unfold in your story. Don’t stop with these, they’re just examples. The better you know your character, the easier it will be to write for them, authentically.
- Where is the story / scene taking place? The location of a situation determines quite a lot about how it can play out. In the sunny and warm springtime of South Florida, most people are cheerful, easy going and enjoying themselves outside, taking their sweet time. The cold, blizzard heavy, darkened skies of Alaska in the Wintertime seem to me like an ideal place for everyone to be fairly pissed and in a rush to get back inside. If the scene takes place in a foreign country, it’s important to research the customs and society of that area to better grasp reality in those parts of the world.
- How are your characters related in the story? I don’t mean, are they brother and sister. But instead, what are the degrees of separation between them? Just as Kevin Bacon can be connected to almost every other actor in the entertainment business and in fact, everyone can be connected to everyone else in about 6 Degrees of Separation, your characters have some sort of connection to one another and that connection is vital to the story telling process. Degree of Separation fills in many gaps in the creative process, from how the characters meet to why and how they would act toward one another during any given situation. You don’t talk to your teacher the same way you talk to you pals after school. You wouldn’t just find your way to the near by delinquent facility and start causing a scene with random juveniles, unless you happen to want their services for nefarious purposes upon their release (example of antagonist meeting henchmen).
- What happened before the story began? Why are your characters acting in this way and what drives them to get what they want? What was Each character’s life like on a daily basis a year ago, 5 years ago, maybe even 10 years ago? What experiences lead your protagonist on their journey and what lead your antagonist to cause a problem for your hero?
- What are your characters goals? Any bad guy can want to watch the world burn and any super hero can want the world to be a better place. But a good story helps the audience understand WHY the bad guy wants the world to burn and WHY the good guy feels obligated to help the world be a better place. What motivates the villain to amass an army of henchmen or stockpile nukes and light up the heavens with fire and brimstone? You’ve probably seen dozens of films or shows and read plenty of books that have very one dimensional baddies, antagonists that are just simply “Bad Guys”. But then you see or read a production that almost makes you sympathize with the villain. Some Really good writers can even make you want the villain to win. Same goes for the hero and everyone in between. Why are the sidekicks helping the hero?
Keep your tasks realistic. Don’t try to tackle the whole script at once. Many new writers spend too much time trying to toss the idea around in their minds until they feel they’ve got the whole story up in their noggin. Our brains are somewhat like a computer, they have a limit to their processing power as well as memory. Getting your story on paper, one piece at a time, will give your mind the room to dive deeper into each scene.
Find a writing partner or constructive friend to help you along the way. It’s important to bounce ideas around other people’s brains. You may think something is hilarious but it might not get a chirp from a cricket. Often times jokes and punch lines require a “setup”, information the audience needs to understand previous to hearing the joke in order for it to make any sense. If you tell a Lawyer a joke about how important it is for a farmer to put on his boots before heading out, its unlikely the lawyer will find you funny. But if you present the joke starting with an example of a farmer’s experience avoiding cow dung in the yard like Minefields in Vietnam, your legal friend may be more inclined to chuckle. Working with a writing partner or bouncing your ideas off a friend are invaluable to your process. Be sure to avoid the pessimistic friends, nothing kills creativity like a Negative Nancy (sorry Nancy).
Don’t get caught up trying to make any one situation work in your story. Be flexible. Sometimes, the best ideas come halfway through the process and you have to do some serious editing to work the idea in. At the end of the day, Everything Will Change. Whether you’re writing a show, movie, or book - by the time it gets to productions, I can guarantee you that most everything in the story will have changed in some way. Whether it’s a publisher who suggests your protagonist’s love interest be more mysterious or the studio executive needs to shorten it by 20 minutes, or the director needs to rewrite some scenes in order to get the product finished - Things Will Change. Knowing and Accepting that from the start will not only save you a lot of heartache when you’re told things need to change but it should also save you plenty of time along the way because you’ll be more okay moving on to the next scene and coming back later to change what you’re stuck on. What’s important is that you get your whole idea on paper and in a coherent manner. That’s the hardest part of the process. Once the idea in on paper - editing, adding or subtracting parts, and even elaborating to make it longer - it all becomes much easier.
Write to Resolve. Authentic dialog is short. One easy trap to fall into is elaboration. When you first start out the story, just get it out, stick to the basics. Once the ideas are out, then elaborate but keep in mind, less is more. You don’t want any scene to get boring. Bring the characters in, set the stage, get the audience engaged, and keep them wanting more. I’ve personally run into problems where the audience could almost see the entire story by the end of the first scene, because I wanted too much to spell out every detail. I felt it was necessary to give thee audience the whole picture so they could understand. It’s important to remember, one of the best parts of watching or reading a story, is learning about the details along the way. You wouldn’t want to go to the theatre if they showed you the whole movie in the Teaser Trailer.
My last tip - Try to let the characters write themselves. Time and time again, I read a script where almost every character in the story feels like they are the writer incognito. Humans are different; they have different wants and desires, different pet peeves, they use dissimilar language like the word “Hello” compared to “Wassup”. There are differences in the way they hold themselves, what would frighten them, how they’d reacted in any situation. When I read a good script or story, each character can feel like a real person, different from the others in unique ways. One character might run across the road without even looking while the other would have a hard time leaving their house because of a world of dangers all around them. One might be a loud mouth, barely giving the others any time to voice their opinions while the other is terrified to speak up. It’s extremely important to give life to the characters as individuals and be careful not to write their dialog and action as you would speak or act personally.
I hope these tips help you on your next writing endeavor! Do you have any tips we didn’t mention in this list? Leave a comment and let everyone know your thoughts. Have any experiences using some of these tip? Let us know so everyone can learn from your experiences too!