It can become an overwhelming task to create a new, invigorating idea. Pressure is on all the time to make the next big thing. What’s more, often director, producers, project managers, and editors tell you “new” isn’t what people want, but the same old story told another way. To be truly creative and still be competitive in the world writing can seem an insurmountable task. There is no one answer to this elusive question of originality and creativity. However, there are three major steps that I rely on to form the solution to this issue for myself.
1. Writing for you
At the end of the day, the work I make is my story. It draws from my experiences, my interests, my personal research. Yes, I may be writing for an employer, making scripts or text copy according to the parameters they provide, but I have come to accept and admit that my personal flavor of writing is why I am the only one qualified to tell it the way I do. Accepting the art as just that: my art. On my own writing journey, once I allowed myself to love my work, I found it easier to roll with the punches of writing.
With the script for the feature film, NAVIGATOR, this is exactly what I did. The team gave me a large amount of creative license on this project. I worked with Drew, the DP on shots, design, and overall style for the film, but after that I ran with it and made something I was proud of. Yes, there were edits. But that didn’t bother me at all because by that point, I had grown to love the work as it was, and accepted the fact that it was a group effort in the end. No writing project will ever be just you; if you want your work to make it to the screen, you need to know that others will have input too. So far I have written two screenplays: NAVIGATOR and Mr. Right. Neither of these projects have been produced, however, due to issues with the 2020 COVID pandemic, as well as budgeting constraints from the project managers. These setbacks do not alter the enjoyment I took in creating those screenplays. The teams I worked with, the work I completed, were wonderful opportunities for me to write, and to learn more about how to do it well. And that’s another important tip: write all the time. And read all the time, too. The more you immerse yourself in your vocation, the better equipped you become to do it well.
2. Letting your imagination run wild
When I set my imagination free from the popular concept of “adulthood,” my writing became free as well. It seems too frequently we allow ourselves to think we’ve outgrown the need for imagination. We think that being imaginative is childish or foolish. People will tell you you’re not living in the real world if you imagine. This is not true. Imagination is the life blood of existence. It is key to success in every part of life, including a well-written story.
Ursula Le Guin said of this topic,
The Shorter Oxford Dictionary says;Ursula K Le Guin, 1974. Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?
“Imagination. 1. The action of imagining, or forming a mental concept of what is not actually present to the senses; 2. The mental consideration of actions or events not yet in existence.”
Very well; I certainly can let “absolutely essential human faculty” stand. But I must narrow the definition to fit our present subject. By “imagination,” then, I personally mean the free play of the mind, both intellectual and sensory. By “play” I mean recreation, recreation, the recombination of what is known into what is new. By “free” I mean that the action is done without an immediate object of profit – spontaneously. That does not mean, however, that there may not be a purpose behind the free play of the mind, a goal; and the goal may be a very serious object indeed. Children’s imaginative play is clearly a practicing at the acts and emotions of adulthood; a child who did not play would not become mature. As for the free play of an adult mind, its result may be War and Peace, or the theory of relativity.
To be free, after all, is not to be undisciplined. I should say that the discipline of the imagination may in fact be the essential method or technique of both art and science. It is our Puritanism, insisting that discipline means repression or punishment, which confuses the subject. To discipline something, in the proper sense of the word, does not mean to repress it, but to train it – to encourage it to grow, and act, and be fruitful, whether it is a peach tree or a human mind.
I think that a great many American men have been taught just the opposite. They have learned to repress their imagination, to reject it as something childish or effeminate, unprofitable, and probably sinful. They have learned to fear it. But they have never learned to discipline it at all.
To discipline your imagination is active work. It requires unleashing yourself from the social moors which tell you that imagination is wrong, or unprofitable. Without imagination, those who say it is sin would have no platforms from which to spew their ideas; no social media, no television or radio, no written word, no poetic and metaphorical forms for them to recite and weave with their statements. Imagination is the gateway to real truth, and it must be practiced and strengthened as any other skill or muscle if it is to reach its potential for good.
Storytelling is a great aspect of imagination. Perhaps the greatest, because it carries with it the ability to describe truths in such distilled forms of metaphor that they can influence even the most obstinate of observers. Accessing this level of storytelling via imagination can often require the writer to let go of their ego. This means, as well, that, when the story starts moving forward, I have to allow it to go the direction the work wants me to go. Once I’ve conceptualized the story in its infant form, it begins to take on life of its own. If I allow my expectation of the stories outcome to control my writing, I have learned that it won’t feel authentic when the work is done.
This happens all the time in writing novels and scripts. If you plan out every aspect of the story beforehand, you’ll often paint myself into a corner. It’s better to have the general idea of where to begin, and where it’s going; then the story will take on its own life as it goes and become what it’s meant to be.
3. Allowing yourself to make mistakes
Mistakes are how we learn. Ever heard the old adage: “Edison didn’t find one way to make a light bulb, he found a thousand ways not to?” Well, Edison didn’t invent the lightbulb anyway (#TeslaRules) but you get the point. Our mistakes show us what worked and what didn’t and provide us with the steps we need to create our best output. I have learned to allow myself to take the idea I have, run with it, and if in the end it isn’t what I or my employer was looking for, I take their advice and guidance, adjust, and make it work.
Ridley Scott’s Alien went through several reworks in the script, costumes, and art direction before it was settled. Every great story takes lots of love, imagination, and change from everyone involved. As I mentioned before, NAVIGATOR had to go through many edits and changes of direction before the final product was decided on. It helps to be patient with yourself through the process.
I struggled with getting myself into a place where I feel comfortable with my work. The real secret to making a great story for me has been to start doing it for me, letting my imagination free, and being willing to make mistakes. Struggles often make us stronger. But what’s more important to me, is that the struggles have created the environment necessary for me to tell better stories. The world needs stories. They are how we learn in our infancy, how we discover new truths as we age, and how we truly see the world and all its metaphors in our adulthoods. Anything else is arbitrary.
2 thoughts on “3 Tips for Screen Writing”
Letting my imagination run wild is something I should do more, because I do feel as though I’m picking very ‘safe’ options when it comes to my stories’ progression. And you’re right about struggles. Nothing good ever comes from comfort. Thanks for this post!
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Glad you liked it! For myself, one of the best places I’ve found for stretching my imagination is improv comedy groups. Most cities have at least one, so it’s always fun to look them up and give it a go! It’ll get you out of that comfort zone crazy fast, and jump start your imagination while you’re at it!
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