There's an episode of American Dad, where Roger the alien sells off his dive bar (the one he operates out of the Smith home's attic). And he eventually becomes part of the business franchise, as its pitch-man, repeating the catch-phrase "Dive on in!", in a heavy Australian accent.
I was reminded of this when I was working on one of my latest feature specs.
I had the initial inspiration - an idea, some characters, but not really any deep understanding of what the story or the plot might be.
But that didn't stop me. Certainly, each writer has their own way of working, and over the years, it's become clear to me that I won't generally wait for a fully-realized concept before getting in there and digging for some goodies. It could be an image, a line of dialogue or a skeletal character idea, and I'll take it and run with it.
Such is the case on my script "Trip". I'm already 39 pages into a first draft, and I don't quite know where it's headed. But I'm sure having fun figuring that out. Writing scenes, I'm beginning to understand the characters, their histories and trajectories. And eventually, these discoveries will lead me in the direction necessary, to formulate a plot and an all-encompassing story. Structure.
I've said this in pitch meetings and to friends. "I let the characters tell me where they're gonna go and what they're gonna do."
And yes, that sounds very "writerly" and a somewhat douchy thing to say, but I've found it to be accurate. Once you "get" your characters, things will naturally begin to materialize in your story.
So to go back to this entry's title and inspiration (thanks American Dad), I've always found it more fun to simply "dive on in" with any tiny nugget of an idea or exciting image which your imagination throws at you. I mean, if it doesn't pan out into a fully realized story or script, you were still writing, right? Chalk it up to "writing exercises". And perhaps these scratchings can be used in later projects.
And if you are more a planner, I salute you. Goodness knows my way of writing (train of thought process) makes for additional structural work down the road, since it was never mapped out properly in the beginning. But that's how I get my writing ya-yas and indeed, it's my process.
[Side note: I've done treatments for several projects, so I know that a process of "planning" is still in my wheelhouse, but those were "for hire" gigs. When working for myself, letting the fates decide is always preferable.]
I also will point out that some of my most brilliant (in my mind, of course) discoveries were found by just getting into a scene and doing it - with no idea of where it was going.
I implore you to try this type of writing if you don't already. I find it freeing to "dive on in" and see where the day, the characters and your unstructured, uninhibited imagination might take you.
Someone said something about it being a new year AND a new decade? And that this new year is 2020? Perhaps you've heard whispers of such things. Well, anyway, to celebrate those nice, round numbers, we're offering 20% off EVERYTHING SITEWIDE! Working on a feature screenplay, a short screenplay or want some help with some good ol' fashioned brainstorming to get your gears moving? Take advantage now, as the sale will only last until January 15th, 2020! (There are those numbers again, hmmm...)
"The Hollywood Standard" was an early Christmas gift from my other half. Ever since my personal script editor/story consultant (the amazing Jonna Jackson) told me she was a convert to Mr. Riley's ways (using the lessons of his books while editing my screenplays), I have coveted a copy.
So here's a review of sorts, and a few things which have now been brought to my attention. (Just an FYI, I found a few typos in the book - about proper formatting, and with a section on typos). It's a quick read, and I'm not trying to sound cocky by saying this, but I would venture a guess that I am pretty firm on about 80% of the lessons provided here. There is plenty of information on television script formatting, production script formatting, so I basically glossed over those, as they don't apply to my usual spec script writing. Obviously, should the time come for me to tackle a television program, I'll refer back to those particular chapters/sections.
I plan to go back through the book again, more slowly, highlighting sections and particular notes, putting post-its here and there, and focusing on the items which I know will be of use to me as I move into my next screenplays.
There are some things which I don't agree with -- namely the overuse of camera directions in descriptions or scene headings. I've never agreed with this, and while Mr. Riley suggests using such things infrequently, doing the director's job has never appealed to me, in my own screenwriting.
Smaller things will also not be adopted. When I move the action from an Exterior scene, directly into an Interior scene (as an example), I will put CONTINUOUS, while Mr. Riley says it should be termed CONTINUOUS ACTION. A small difference to be sure, but I'll stick w/ my usual ways.
I have been educated on many punctuation faux pas, and will certainly work to incorporate these new lessons into my writing from here on out. And there are a few other, minute formatting changes I'll make in areas outside of punctuation.
I am also going to take to heart the fact that Mr. Riley gives the "thumbs up" for having small direction/action bits within the parenthetical (between the character name and character dialogue). Something I never would have done before, may now save some space on the page.
But overall, after having read the book, it gives me a modicum of pleasure to see that as I've developed my own screenwriting tricks and traditions, that the vast majority of the lessons laid out in this book -- well, that I'm already in on those particular secrets. :)
Again, not to sound cocky, but to acknowledge that I am (and have been) on the right track as far as proper screenplay formatting -- definite relief! Can I get a "whew!"?
And this new nit-picky knowledge will also benefit you -- my potential clients!
For a limited time only! EVERYTHING on the site is 20% off! It's officially 2 months since KSC's launch, and so you'll get the anniversary gifts! Need some help on your feature or short screenplay, or wanna do some good old-fashioned brainstorming? Now's the time. HURRY! This milestone deal ends at midnight PST on August 20th, 2019! So let's get to work!
It's a weird habit I have in my own screenwriting. While I don't see it in everyone else's scripts (only occasionally) -- it's something I'll always call out to be fixed. And again -- when I see it in my own scripts, it drives me crazy bonkers!
While it still shows up every once in a while, I've broken my own habit to about the 95% mark.
And of course, there are times when it is absolutely appropriate.
Let's examine an example:
"Susan begins to walk up the street."
What's wrong w/ that, you say? Well, why can't Susan just do it? Why does she need to "begin to walk"? If indeed, there is an abrupt interruption of her walk ahead -- then "begin to" makes sense (always an exception). But what if Susan is going to walk the entire distance, unobstructed? So perhaps this would be better:
"Susan walks up the street." Nifty.
And as is always the case in my own scripts, as well as those I edit -- trimming is key. Imagine that you removed -- let's say -- FIFTEEN of these "begins to" instances in your script. That could mean the trimming of a good three lines or so of total description.
Well, that's not much! It could mean cutting the end of your script to move onto the previous page -- going from 101 pages to 100. And with all of the other trims you'll do in the course of your editing, these cuts begin to (haha!) add up, right?
Another tip (i.e. personal pet peeve) from Klugula Screenplay Consulting!
Now let's get to work!
After working through the screenwriting process for more than 15 years, and developing my own set of tricks and shortcuts and must-haves -- I've found that less is more. We're not writing a novel, so description/action sequences should be minimal. Get your point across, but don't overdo it. I once had a development exec. tell me, "Don't do the work of the other craftsmen." In other words, describe what you need to, if it's integral to the plot/character. But there's no need to talk of the intricate details in the home or surroundings of your main character (unless there's something like Tippi Hedren's aversion to the color red in Hitchcock's Marnie -- as an example). Let the production designer and artisans have their creative say.
And one of the favorites I've moved into regular rotation in my own descriptions -- as an example -- if there's a fight on-screen, simply say, "There is a struggle." Unless someone needs to break an arm, or get a bruise (important later in the script), there's no need to overdo it. The fight choreographer has to earn his/her paycheck too. "There is a struggle." And leave it at that.
And beyond all of that, smaller descriptions will keep your page count down, which is always a giant plus!
Less is more.
Thrilled to announce that my 10th feature spec script, "Mom Died" has been named an "Official Selection" for the 6th Annual FilmQuest!
Different from the initial services offered (which are still available), you can now do a "One-Take" package on your feature or short screenplays!
Take a look at these new products!
ONE TAKE Feature Consult (51-120 Pages)
ONE TAKE Short Consult (1-50 Pages)
Thank you to Jeffrey Reddick -- the creator of Final Destination -- for his kind words!
You can check out additional testimonials from other amazing folks -- right here!
"I can only speak of Michael as I know him, as a good friend and a highly-regarded colleague. I’ve always found his script notes to be invaluable, because he comes from a place where many script consultants don’t. First and foremost, he has a deep love (some would say obsession) with movies, so he knows all of the elements that go into making a strong script. And as a film critic, he looks at a script with a unique perspective, but he’s not critical for the sake of being critical. This ties into the other thing which makes Michael special: He loves to see other writers succeed. So he brings his vast knowledge and insight to every script he reads, in order to help make your script the best it can be. He truly wants your script to not only sing creatively, but he also wants to see it get made."
Writer / Director / Producer
Final Destination / The Final Wish / Good Samaritan
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