The Screen Writing Process for someone who isn't a Natural Writer
What is a “Natural Writer”?
Chasing the next big idea and then actually sitting down and writing it is a pain in the arse, especially if you don’t consider yourself a natural writer. How I define “natural writers,” are those who write and love to write all the time, whether or not that piece of writing ever sees the light of day. They write for other people to direct or produce and write scripts to sell. That is not me. Anytime I write, it is for the sole intention of directing it. I am not formally trained and in fact my writing may or may not be riddled with technical errors (since I’ve been completely self-taught) and my scripts are written as if I am the only one who has to read them.
Where do the Ideas come from?
Ideas come and go at the most random times. I am inspired by the environment and events around me. Sometimes a single visual in my mind or scenario can help to build the seed of a script idea. Sometimes I’ll wake up from a weird dream and write some general descriptions about it and revisit these notes at a later time. Sometimes people will tell a story I find interesting or say a piece of dialogue in a compelling way. Many times, it’ll be a cool mini documentary that I watch on YouTube or Facebook or some topic I know nothing about that I want to research about. Though most of these ideas will probably never be revisited again, sometimes there will be something that just sticks and I cannot stop thinking about.
When do I like to write?
I like writing when I have a large block of absolutely nothing going on. I’m not in prep for any projects, I am not in post-production for anything, I literally have nothing to do. Usually, this is when I have just come off of a large project or am traveling between locations. Fun fact, I don’t like listening to the radio because I live in my head while I drive. For me, writing is a lot of quiet and relaxed time in my head. I cannot have a lot of other responsibilities floating around distracting me. The less distracted I am, the more I am able to coerce the writing to come out. I like forcing myself to be in places that are away from my room or from any imminent chores and access to other “better things I could be doing.” I like going to coffee shops or co-work with a friend or go to an entirely new city. When I am deep in the writing process, I find myself rarely at home.
This can be a strange period as well because there is a lingering sense of pressure, from myself to “one up” my previous works or even pressure from the outside world who wants to know what the next project is going to be. The right amount of pressure can help me to jump start the writing process, but just a bit too much will often be debilitating.
Stages of scriptwriting
Word Vomit Stage
The first draft for a short film usually gets done in a matter of days, especially if the idea for the script has been on my mind for a while. I word vomit onto the page, dialogue, and action takes place very naturally. This stage is the most enjoyable because I often am not worrying about pacing or put too much constraint on structure and just let my mind wonder and my fingers type. This is the most creative part of the process. The possibilities are endless.
Fitting It Into A Box Stage
After I have free flowed and let the words come on the page and have a general beginning, middle, and end… the next stage is to analyze and make sure all the elements are there and that it paces properly. This is when I really delve into key emotional spots, make sure the script hits large story plot points, trim useless dialogue lines, and try to break up the script as much as possible with action. This can take many weeks or months, depending on how busy I am or how inspired I am. This is usually when I also start analyzing from a producer standpoint whether my ideas are doable and within my economic abilities and whether I can scale back things such as: number of characters or locations.
When the tweaking has finished and I feel like I have no more ideas left to change to the story, I usually like to bring in fresh eyes. I like to send the script to other writers or directors I trust. This period is nerve-wracking. There is a lot of fear that I have just written a complete utter piece of garbage and my peers and friends who read it are going to wonder why I wasted my time. This is usually the period of time when I have a tendency to tell people, if you cannot read my script very soon (like right now) then to just let me know and hold off on critiquing it because if I don’t get feedback right away, I just jump to the worst case scenario. I assume whoever is reading the script hates it so much that he/she is stalling and trying to come up with as gentle way to break the news.
It’s So Close, But Yet So Far Stage
This is the worst stage. This is when I know the script is almost there but something still does not feel right, but the clock is ticking. I am usually already trying to produce and find locations, telling people who I want to audition for different roles to start reading ,and thinking about shooting days. Yet, something still feels wrong about the script, but I can’t figure it out. It is so annoying that I become completely useless. I cannot think about anything else but the script and become borderline obsessive on finding the answer. The best way I can compare the feeling is how I feel when I am binge watching a great series and I know I should probably go to bed or maybe not spend the entire weekend inside my house, but I just cannot let myself do anything else. That is me. I have projects on the back burner, laundry to do, and life to live, but even when I try to do something else I am half doing it because my mind is fixated on solving what is wrong in my script.
It's Done – Kinda Stage
The script is done! It feels right! People have been casted, but…. I can still tweak one word in the script. I am on the way to the shoot, but…. I think I can tell my actor to say this line differently. But for the most part, everything is locked… except it started raining so I am just going to write in that the scene takes place while it rains… all the last minute changes and nuisances, but the structure and scenes are pretty much the same and any change I make… well… probably only I will notice.
And that completes the cycle of my writing process. Then I finish the film and the cycle repeats itself again.