Non-Writing Things You Could Do to Improve Your
by Gina Vanname
The best way to improve your screenwriting is
to write, but sometimes you just need a break.
Here are 11 tools that you could use to enrich
your writing when you're not writing.
TOOL #1 - GO TO THE MOVIES
Not just to watch a movie, but also to analyze
it. See a movie that is similar to the idea you're
working on. Bring a watch and time the act breaks.
Observe where the act breaks occur (i.e. first
act break at 25 minutes into the movie, second
act break happens at 58 minutes, etc.) After the
movie ends, think about how effective the act
breaks were, the overall feel of the movie, and
Did the movie feel slow to start? If so, did the
first act break happen too late? How did you feel
at the end? Satisfied? Curious? Disappointed?
What worked and what didn't? At what point were
you engaged? Did you forget about timing it? If
so, what was happening when you forgot and when
you remembered once again? How would you describe
this movie -- by the plot or by the main character's
Were the characters interesting and developed
enough for you to guess how their life would continue
after the movie ended? Was the feeling you had
after the movie ended still with you by the time
you got home?
Successful movies are able to stick with you for
a while. Analyzing these things will improve your
#2 - WATCH A DVD
Not just any DVD. The DVD must have an audio commentary.
There are a lot of DVDs now released or re-released
with Director / Writer commentaries. This is a
special tool that is invaluable to any filmmaker
Believe me, you will learn an abundance of information
that will help you write. If the writer is the
director all the better.
Watch the movie first so that you understand what
they're talking about. Some DVD commentaries I
recommend are: American Beauty, Pi, Boogie Nights,
Usual Suspects, The Matrix, Unbound, and Contact.
TOOL #3 - READ A SCREENPLAY
This is perhaps one of the best tools for new
and experienced writers. If you're going to be
a screenwriter you must read other writers' work.
There is just no way around it.
When you read a screenplay of a movie you have
seen you get all sorts of useful information to
use for your own writing. Study how the writer
wrote the action on the page.
Does he write anything internal (not visual) and
if so, what and why? How much did he describe
in the scene or about the location? What is his
style? If you can, read both the writer's final
draft (the draft that the
studio bought) and the studio's final draft (final
shooting script) to compare the changes.
TOOL #4 - EAVESDROP
(Warning: Do this at your own risk. There's a
chance that you could get yourself into trouble).
A local coffee shop will do or some place where
people sit and talk. Usually, two people sitting
together have better conversations than if more
than two. If they talk loud enough, I'm under
the impression that they "want" others
to listen. So listen.
Bring a notepad with you and do this alone. Jot
down whatever you hear. Take notice of their speech
patterns, what they say between the lines, and
how their friend reacts. Examine their relationship...
their conversation... what is the motivation of
the speaker... do they cut each off... are they
talking about the same thing... or different things
between the lines?
You can gather a lot of information about personalities
and relationships, more than people know about
themselves. This tool helps enhance your characterizations,
especially your dialogue and subtext. Just remember
that people's speech is mostly banter, whereas
movie dialogue is a
prudent version of real conversation.
#5 - WATCH TV WITH SUBTITLES
If you don't have a TV that has a subtitle option,
some DVD have subtitles. This tool helps with
your dialogue. Watch the entire movie with the
subtitles turned on. It helps to read the words
the characters' are speaking, so you get to see
how an actor executes this dialogue and how it
would be written on the page.
#6 - GO TO A SPEAKER ENGAGEMENT
If you live in Los Angeles there are tons of places
to hear screenwriters speak about screenwriting.
If you don't live in Los Angeles, check with a
large bookstore like Barnes & Noble or Borders
to get a schedule of their speakers, readings,
etc. Even hearing a novelist talk about his or
her writing process is helpful to screenwriters.
TOOL #7 - PEOPLE WATCH
I used to do this with mirrored or dark glasses
so nobody was aware. If they became aware... the
game was over, because their actions became self-conscious
exercise helps writers with characterization.
Studying people is a great tool for writers. One
time, I saw a woman with a stroller. She was talking
to and fussy over the baby inside. She left the
train and I got a glimpse of the baby... it was
a plastic doll. Jeez, there's a story in that!
How would you succinctly describe a person's physical
characteristics? How would you describe their
actions? Also, take note about their dress...
are they wearing things that flashes a hint at
their personality? A pink hat, green-horned glasses,
or a religious icon.
Ask yourself, "How would this person react
to a death, a winning lottery ticket, a solicitation,
a threat, to making love? You can invent entire
histories for strangers.
#8 - GO TO SEMINARS
Check with colleges and schools in your area for
weekend or one-day screenwriting seminars. Listening
to what others have to say about screenwriting
techniques always brings new perspectives.
TOOL #9 - READ A BOOK
Pick a classic or contemporary fiction. While
reading, take note of how the author describes
the characters. What words and adjectives do they
use? How does he or she write characters' actions?
What verbs do they use?
Does the author successfully describe the scene
or location in one sentence? How do they construct
Keep in mind the main differences between a novel
and a screenplay; novels could use internalization,
whereas, descriptions in a screenplay should be
visual and should never state a character's thoughts;
and the novel's dialogue is usually weak, but
in a screenplay it needs to be crisp and definitive.
TOOL #10 - VISUALIZATION
This is a form of meditation that can help writers.
Get yourself comfortable, either lying down or
sitting, breath deeply for a while, relax, and
clear your head.
This only works if you quiet your mind. Gently
push away any thoughts that come into your head.
Once clear, begin to visualize yourself in the
place where you usually write (your desk computer,
your laptop). And visualize yourself typing fast
without any breaks in keypunching. Visual yourself
finishing a screenplay. Visualize the finished
screenplay with your name on it.
Keep visualizing this every day. This exercise
works if you do it diligently. Soon, you'll visualization
will be manifested and you'll have finished your
draft. This exercise is good for any stage of
writing; visualize yourself selling it to a producer,
getting an agent, getting the big check, getting
it made, and getting an award.
TOOL #11 - READ A SCREENWRITING BOOK
Reading one screenwriting book will help you with
at least one new writing technique. Even if you've
read it before, you will pick up something new
or remember some method that you could use.
Whether you're between scripts, experiencing writer's
block, or just want to kill time, using any one
of these tools repeatedly will definitely improve
Other benefits of these tools are they inspire,
generate new ideas, and even eliminate any guilty
feelings you may experience when you're not actually
DON'T GIVE UP!!!
Back to Articles
Script Fly 2011