Are You in Creative Handcuffs?
- July 21, 2014
- Posted by: HalCroasmun
- Category: Articles
QUESTION: When you look at your current script, are you taking each part to its creative limit? Without going overboard, are you entertaining the reader and viewer at the highest level for this story?
If not, you probably own a pair of creative handcuffs.
The goal of every page, every scene, and every lead character is to be as creative, dramatic, and interesting as possible…within the scope of what the story is about.
Sometimes, the boundaries of a story become so set that they hamper a writer's imagination. That's when you start get a lot of "there's only one way" kind of thinking.
What's the solution?
Expand your "creative range."
The exercises below are about breaking out of your shackles. Their purpose is to free you from the boundaries you may have placed upon yourself without knowing it.
KEY STRATEGY: Take these exercises to an EXTREME.
Remember, when you are doing an exercise, your purpose is to develop yourself as a writer, NOT TO WRITE PERFECTLY.
If you write a sentence or a scene perfectly, it may not improve your screenwriting by more than 1%. But if you develop a new skill or new understanding, it might improve every script you write from now on by 10% to 100%.
So focus on development as you do these exercises.
Amateur screenplays are filled with cliche situations.
Over and over, we see the situations that have been in other movies and worse than that, they often play out just like the movie they were copied from.
Having unique and interesting situations in your script is one way to keep the reader fascinated by your story.
Here's one exercise you can do anywhere that will train your unconscious to turn any situation into a dramatic one.
Exercise: Look at minor difficulties in life and amplify them into major scenes.
Example: You know someone who leaves their keys in their car by mistake. Maybe you make up a scene where their car is stolen at night, used in a murder, and then returned before the owner wakes up in the morning. As the owner is having breakfast, the police kick the door in and arrest him. So a simple mistake has turned into a nightmare.
It doesn't matter if you come up with great scenes all the time. What matters is that you become really good at creating unique and dramatic situations.
Caution: Don't transfer this skill into your own life. You want drama in your writing, not in your life.
Great stories usually start with great characters.
Here's a simple way to practice your character creation skills.
Exercise: Every day for a week, pick someone you know well and create a character profile on them. List their core traits, their flaw, their goals and needs, etc. Then, make changes to their profile that would make them a more interesting character. Take a trait, flaw, need, etc. to an extreme or to a strange place and imagine how that would change their beh avior.
By doing this, you'll get better at creating multi-dimensional characters and also, discerning ways to change your current characters.
Caution: Don't tell your friends that you do this or they may start playing the role of the antagonist in your life.
We all know that any scene can be written in 20 – 50 different ways, but how many of us practice it? Sometimes, writing the same scene in a different way will double or triple its quality.
Exercise: Take a scene and rewrite it seven different ways. Each time, make a significant change for the major character or the situation.
I know this may seem excessive, but if you do it one time, you'll learn so much. First, you'll see exactly how good you are at creating unique scenes. If you have problems coming up with seven different ways to write the same scene, chances are that you need practice in this area. If you just breeze through it, then you've got talent in this area and can use that strength in future rewrites…to impress producers with your brilliance.
Try it and you may be surprised what you learn and how much creative freedom it gives you.
Being creative with dialogue can really make your script shine. But often, people get stuck in the "My character would never say that" mode as they clamp the creative handcuffs tighter and tighter until they've squeezed the life out of their script.
Here's my rule on dialogue: If you can't write a line 20 different ways for your character, you probably don't know your character.
Think about it. Characters talk through their traits, needs, goals, agendas, speech patterns, subtext, and emotions. So any line could be expressed a number of ways. And the more options you have, the better your script will be.
Having 20 or more ways for your characters to express themselves in any situation gives you a tremendous amount of creative freedom as a writer.
Exercise: Put your character in a dramatic situation and write 10 to 30 different lines they could say.
This isn't that difficult. If you can't think of another way to do it, just list all the possible emotions your character could have and a line or two for each. Then go through the rest of their profile and write a line for each item.
This is a place where I'd go the opposite direction from the others. In this case, you want to learn ways to deliver a powerful picture and emotion in as FEW WORDS AS POSSIBLE.
Exercise: Get a DVD and script for a movie you like. Without looking at the script, watch a scene and write it as if you were the writer. Then read the same scene in the script and see the difference between your writing and the original writer's.
This is not about copying someone's style. The purpose here is to train your unconscious to write description that works for a screenplay. As you do this, you may have a few of these discoveries:
– How to be succinct with your description.
– How to describe situations in visual terms.
– Selecting words that have impact.
– Cutting out excess details.
– Delivering emotion without telling the emotion.
Watch one scene, then write it. Check the script to learn how the original writer wrote the scene. Then do the process all over again. You'll be surprised how quickly your description improves.
Again, the purpose of these exercises is to IMPROVE THE WRITER, not a specific scene or character. Working with situations that aren't in your script give you the freedom to experiment and learn.
Any time you feel those creative handcuffs, an hour doing these kind of drills will set you and your script free. If you do one exercise a day as a warm up, your creative range will go through the roof.
Try it. You'll be surprised with the results.
And if you want to increase your range even further, I'd recommend taking our "Maximum Entertainment Class."