A lot of artists I’ve known throughout the years suffer from the same form of creative guilt as I do. This guilt is that little voice inside of you that says:
“Daniel, you haven’t done any writing today or yesterday! You’ve been working on the same story for a month now! You gotta do something big and monumentous! You have to prove to everyone that you can do it! You gotta drop everything and write for 4 weeks straight, never stopping and not talking to anybody! Everyone is going to think you’re some sort of hack if you don’t deliver some sort of product, and FAST!”
As great as these intentions are, this usually leads to something I like to call “breaking the dam.” It’s a creative act that seeks to do something REALLY BIG, and ALL AT ONCE, like some sort of creative hiroshima massacre.
Sure you got everyone’s attention with your huge explosion of creativity, but this doesn’t give you a good foundation to build on. Instead it gives all artists a false sense of accomplishment.
Please learn from my mistakes, and know that leaps of absurd ambition do not equal productivity… or product. Haven’t you ever heard anybody say, “quality, not quantity?”
I know there is a lot to be said about setting high goals for yourself, and I’m all-for people trying to pursue their dreams. I also understand that there are some artists who can’t help but get a flush of inspiration. This is an enviable aspect of the craft. Yet it is an aspect that is strengthened by a routine, rather than a stand alone occurrence. But if you ‘break the dam’ on your craft… yes you will be doing something big with your life, but at the end of the day you’re left with a broken dam. You’ll be drowning in your own flood waters, and you won’t have any energy left to pick up the pieces.
Try to build a foundation for yourself – brick by brick; a great cement dam that holds back the demons of guilt and doubt. You need to be prepared for failures. I’m sure everyone has heard the bedtime story of the Tortoise and the Hare. Slow and steady wins this race. Don’t tucker yourself out and feel depleted every year. If you do that you won’t get anything done.
Famed director Stephen Spielberg made several made-for-TV movies, and TV-Specials before he even attempted an ambitious project like JAWS. Learn from my mistakes. Please. Small ‘doable’ actions have gotten me further than I ever thought possible.
Practice some self discipline, and map out a plan of action for yourself before making any drastic decisions. Then put your plan into action, and by all means PACE yourself.
Just try to be a doer, and NOT a doer-all-at-once.
- Daniel J. Pike
To anyone who celebrates this marvellous feast of good will toward men, may God bless you all with a very, merry Christmas. Remember that taking time away from your craft to spend time with your family, and friends is perfectly fine during the holidays!
As my Christmas gift to you, I present to you some inspiration via TED.com by one of Pixar’s leading men, Andrew Stanton.
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in screenwriting, I’ve compiled a short list of the most common mistakes I’ve observed in my years of editing people’s screenplays:
5) BAD SLUG LINES
You’d be surprised to know how many people make this mistake.
Slug-Lines are supposed to be read as a short transition into your action. You don’t have to describe the location in the slug-line. You should be as concise as possible, eliminating anything that isn’t necessary. Some screenwriters might tell you it’s alright to get creative with times of of the day, but I say: NOOOO!
Unless you’re writing a scene where Luke Skywalker looks off to a binary sunset, or Jordi LaForge is gazing upon a sunrise with his real eyes for the first time, very seldom are DUSK and DAWN acceptable. Use INT and EXT, instead of INTERIOR, EXTERIOR, INSIDE, or OUTSIDE. Stick to DAY or NIGHT shots. AFTERNOONS, MORNINGS, EVENINGS, and LATE EVENINGS are all unnecessary. Your transition of time should be evident in the way you tell your story. There is no physical way of showing how ‘night time’ can be ‘midnight’ on screen. The sky is dark. The shot requires that you shoot at night time. Therefore, you should just use “NIGHT”.
INTERIOR - DOWN THE UPSTAIRS HALLWAY NEAR THE BATHROOM - MIDNIGHT
INT. UPSTAIRS HALLWAY - NIGHT
4) LENGTHY SETTING/SCENE/CHARACTER DESCRIPTION
This one isn’t as easy. A lot of the time, I find myself cutting out entire pages of action. If your description does nothing to reveal something about the character, or advance the plot, it isn’t necessary.
Think about it.
You only have 120 pages (on average) to work with. Why would you put in anything that isn’t important? Ever notice when books are made into movies, sometimes fans get upset that things are cut from the book? Well obviously! Otherwise a movie would be way too long, and as much as I loved Harry Potter, I don’t feel like sitting through a 22 hour movie.
(However I have a “19 hour+ Harry Potter Movie Marathon” coming up that I am GREATLY looking forward too…).
Here is an example of how you can clean up a scene of description:
DALE, a man aged 33, sits on a plush leather couch in the middle of a fancily decorated living room, wearing dark khaki pants, a dress shirt, and a tie. He fidgets on the leather couch. Across the room, an ornately carved red door, made of mahogany opens. GEEVES the butler, dressed in a full tuxedo with a tailed suit jacket, walks toward Dale across the red and black pattered carpet. Dale looks up at Geeves and bits his lip. Geeves motions with his gloved hand toward the door. Dale gulps, stands up, and walks toward the open mahogany door.
DALE, a man in his early 30s, sits on a leather couch in a fancy living room. He adjusts his necktie. Across the room, a large mahogany door opens. GEEVES the old butler, enters the room and approaches Dale.
Dale bites his lip.
Geeves stands up straight and motions his hand toward the open door.
Dale gulps and stands.
The two of them exit the room.
Notice how I edited the piece so that Dale’s nervous actions are on their own lines? I did this to give the scene a bit more tension. I also broke up the paragraph to make it easier to read. I also eliminated almost every piece of description. Your job isn’t to furnish rooms, dress actors, or decide what brand of eyeliner Norma Desmond wears.
In novel writing, it might be argued that can you use description until the cows come home, (Just ask J.R.R. Tolkien) but in the cutthroat business of screenwriting, you are to give just enough description to give the reader a visual. Use your best judgement. I usually like to give a bit of detail to help set the scene, but anything else is just fluff around the edges.
It should be noted that integral props, or complicated settings can use a bit more description. If it is going to play a crucial role in your story, you want your reader to be able to visualize it immediately.
3) DON’T DO THE WORK OF THE FILM CREW
If your screenplay is littered with PAN UPS, TILT DOWNS, dramatic musical cues, or excessive descriptions, you should pursue a considerable rewrite. If you believe what you’ve written will be dictating the work of the cameraman, the actor, or the film crew in anyway, you need to eliminate it. As I said before, your job isn’t to dress your actors, act for them, or decide what kind of lighting is appropriate for a scene. Film is a COLLABORATIVE MEDIUM.
Here are some common mistakes:
No! YOU stop it!
Using (whispering) is acceptable if required, as is (out of breath) or (laughing), but they really aren’t necessary. The actors job is to interpret the dialogue as it is needed for the scene. Don’t do their job for them.
No! You stop it!
See how much simpler and to the point this is? If the actors don’t know there is anger, or maybe some shouting in this scene, then they are stupid and shouldn’t be acting anyway.
Here is another mistake:
INTERIOR - INSIDE UPSTAIRS HALLWAY NEAR THE BATHROOM - MIDNIGHT
TILT UP to Sarah standing at the end of the hallway. PAN OVER to Brent holding a knife. Dramatic music is playing, as Brent rushes over to Sarah.
INT. UPSTAIRS HALLWAY -- NIGHT
Sarah stands at the end of the hallway. Brent is across from her, clutching a KNIFE. Brent lunges toward her.
See how much cleaner this action is without the camera angels and shot descriptions? The way a film is shot is for the director and the cinematographer to decide in their production script. If you’re an independent filmmaker who will be writing AND directing, for the benefit of your actors and crew, just write a regular screenplay. When you litter your story with PAN-UPs, CLOSE-UPs, and what-have-yous, it takes the reader out of the story. You want your reader to get sucked into the world of your script, and never put it down until it’s finished.
2) WRITING IN THE PRESENT TENSE
Very few realize the importance of screenwriting in the present tense. It should be how every screenplay it written. Writing in past tense is wonderful for fiction, or other literary forms, but if you want your reader to follow through your script as if it is happening precisely in that moment, you gotta write in present tense. Here are some examples:
EXTERIOR - PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL - AFTERNOON
Billy was standing on a large rock in the middle of the courtyard at the back of the school. Students walked towards him. Billy looked at them, and grinned. He grabbed the toilet paper from his side, and began wrapping himself with it.
The students laughed at this.
EXT. - PUBLIC HIGHSCHOOL - DAY
Billy stands on a large rock in the middle of the courtyard at the back of the school. Students strut toward him. Billy looks at them and grins. He grabs the toilet paper from his side, and wraps himself with it.
The students giggle.
I contest that there are no right or wrong answers at times, and one can argue that it’s not a big deal if you submit a screenplay written in the past tense. However, it is the general consensus of Hollywood producers and working screenwriters, that the present tense is not only important, but a requirement.
1) DISREGARDING YOUR AUDIENCE’S NEEDS
I can’t express the utmost importance in writing for your audience. If you aren’t writing to tell a good story, then why the hell are you writing? Let me remind you, that I’ve read many screenplays where the author feels the need to use the craft as a means of personal flattery or self therapy. This is not to be confused with self-expression.
Self-expression is important in ANY art form. You need to draw on things in your life so that you can create an original story. As far as I know, no one else is me. Therefore, I have something original to tell. However, if you feel the need to symbolize your life and use sub-par metaphors for your first world problems, you should reconsider your intentions. Why are you telling this story?
The difference, is that you should not be writing so your friends and family can see how you struggled with a relationship, but to write a story that anyone can relate to.
Do you think audiences pack into theatres so they can see how you broke up with your partner in a coffee shop?
Audiences pack into theatres, because they want to be entertained! They want to laugh and cry! They want to be scared! They want to live vicariously through characters that perservereer, or witness the horrible downfalls of a tragic lifestyle!
Your first thought should be: “How is my story going to affect my audience?” If your first thought is how you can ‘cleverly symbolize’ how you deal with things, you’re not thinking about your audience. Unless you want to pay for your own movie tickets, and see your problems on the big screen, get over yourself. Stop being so egotistical, and start TRYING TO TELL A GOOD STORY.
Finally, it should be noted that you cannot as a screenwriter show anything that you cannot see on screen. Internal thoughts or feelings should be left for the novel. You cannot say “Jake is happy when he see’s Betty.” You can however, say “Jake smiles at Betty” or “Jake spots Betty and smiles.” Just be mindful of what you’re writing. As always, writing is rewriting, so if you make mistakes, don’t worry. Keep plugging away at your craft and soon these rules will seem like nothing.
Take 15-30 minutes today to write yourself a letter. Ask yourself these 5 questions:
1) Do I need to work on my screenplay format?
2) Can I eliminate unnecessary elements that aren't important to my characters or story?
3) Am I writing for myself, or for my audience?
4) What do I want to say with this story?
5) How do I want my audience to feel at the end of my story?
I went and saw The Campaign last night, and let me tell you, it was a lil slice of heaven.
Just a lil’ kick in the pants to get all ya’ll writin’ today. Just take a few minutes and reflect on what it is you want to write on all ya’ll’s blank pages.
It’s a sad truth that many of us have yet to experience ‘financial’ success when it comes to our craft. If you have, then pat yourself on the back for a job well done, but this post may not be for you.
There’s a trend going around the writer’s circle. This trend is the mindset that all is lost, and there is no hope for any one of us to succeed in our craft.
So what! Many times we attribute ‘success’ as a big beefy paycheck for a job well done. If we don’t receive this immediate gratification, suddenly we are met with despair. It’s a fact of life that nothing good comes easy. That may be a big cliché, but it is truth incarnate. We should be searching for personal successes, and achieving small personal goals.
No one person was an overnight success. Perhaps one in a billion, but everyone had to start as a novice. Everyone had to learn how to do whatever it is that made them successful.
Just as many of the protagonists we enjoy writing about, WE have to face the challenges that meet us.
Take a look at the character Peter Banning, in Spielberg’s 1991 classic Hook. When we are challenged, we cannot simply whimper in the corner. As writers, we need to be the change we want to see. You may wish to sit around and complain that you haven’t ‘made it’ yet, and there are no jobs for writers around. But how can you know that if you don’t go job hunting? If you don’t consider the reality of having to move to another city or across the country? How will you know if you “can’t make it” if you never submit to any writing competitions?
We are called to act.
We must write.
We must at all costs.
Peter Banning had to work his ass off for 3 days in order to be the Pan he once was. Despite the seemingly impossible odds stacked against him, Peter manages to pull through. He had to! His children were in danger! Consider your craft your child. What would you do save your kid? The answer is: anything.
Find a crappy “McJob” if you have to. Flip burgers. Pay your bills. Do whatever it is you need to do, to sustain yourself, and assist your craft.
We need to be the Pan. We need to take flight, and leave our worries on the ground. Blow caution to the wind, and soar wherever it takes us. As writers, we must face the challenges that stand in front of us.
So many of us can help our own situations, if we take the moment to step into action. I’m not talking jumping off a high building. You have to take one step at a time, keeping our ultimate goal or destination in our hearts. There will be people who deter you, and you might use the excuse that you cannot write because you don’t have the time, or energy, or blah blah blah. Whatever it is that’s bothering you about your craft, you have take a step. You can’t sit on your butt, throw caution to the wind, and expect opportunity to soar through your window in need of a shadow.
We have to fly.
We have to fight.
We have to crow.
As writers, we are called to action.
Be the change you want to see in your life.
Think happy thoughts.
Set your goals to the second star to the right, until you find your “Neverland”.
Forgive me if this is a lengthy post, but I believe it’s a lesson every inexperienced screenwriter misses. If you’re thinking of picking up a book on screenwriting, one lesson that should be highlighted entirely in bold is that in writing CHOICE. It’s our choices that define us as human beings. Do we choose to face that all-important pile of laundry, or forego that task in favour of watching the latest episode of Jersey Whores?
In nearly every screenplay that I read, screenwriters more often fail to present their characters with CHOICES. Call these plot devices, plot points, action, or whatever. You can have a well written character outline, but it will crumble if you never give your character anything to do. You need to place your characters in situations where your character MUST make a choice.
Does your character choose to succumb to adultery, because he can’t keep it in his pants? Does your character choose to run into a burning building, despite the immense dangers placed in front of them? Does your character choose to enter the dark cave, when all the other characters are too afraid to? Coke or Pepsi? Turn back, or keep going? Keep going, or turn back?
How will your character problem solve? Is your character absolutely perfect and never makes mistakes? Hopefully not. I’ve read too many idealistic plots, where everything goes as planned, and nothing really interesting ever happens. Moreover, if your character never makes a choice, the movie is HORRENDOUSLY boring. Who wants to watch a movie where the characters never do anything? zzzzz.
I know I’ve written on this similarly before, and I hate to sound like a broken record, but judging by a few of the writing pieces I’ve read recently, I somehow doubt this has sunk in yet.
The following is an extensive list of examples of characters presented with choices. These choices define the characters, and move the plot foreward.
Star Trek (2009)
Young Kirk is a rebel ‘without a cause’. Can you imagine how boring the movie would have been if Captain Pike never came to Kirk, and presented him with a choice?
“Now, your father was captain of a Starship for 12 minutes. He saved 800 lives, including your mother’s and yours. I dare you to do better.” – Captain Pike
Now we’re getting somewhere. Kirk has a choice to make. The audience WANTS him to choose starfleet, because that means cool spaceships, lazers, and aliens.
YES! Now I’ll keep watching.
The Hunger Games (2012)
“Primrose Everdeen” says Effie Trinket.
“I VOLUNTEER!” screams Katness.
Can you imagine what this movie would be like if Katness chose not to volunteer? Well, that would be an entirely different story, and also make her a huge bitch. It’s the choice that defines her as being the hero. In that single choice, she showed the audience she is noble, and stout of heart. Write a sitation in which all your characters worst nightmares come true. What does your character choose to do?
“When will my life begin?” sings Repunzel. Well, if she stayed in her tower, that would be pretty boring wouldn’t it?
I know what I’m preaching may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many writers miss this all important step. Characters can be TORN when faced with a choice. It may seem so simple, for Repunzel to leave her tower, but it isn’t. Will she risk betraying Mother? Will she risk the dangers her mother has warned about? She is safe in her tower, but will she pursue her dreams? If she chooses to do nothing, what does that say about her character?
When Neytiri meets Jake Sully for the first time, she has no quarrels with sending an arrow through his heart. But something stops her: a choice.
The seed of the sacred tree seemingly pops out of nowhere. Should Neytiri kill Jake? Or stand up for what she believes in?
The Matrix (1999)
Alright Neo, you want the blue pill or the red pill?
We ALL want Neo to take the red pill. If he didn’t then there wouldn’t be a story!!! … but maybe you’re the kind of writer who thinks he can be clever or ironic forcing your character to take the blue pill instead. If you make it work then, sure, whatever. However, if you do the opposite of what the audience expects all the time, then you’re either a film school art snob, or kind of an idiot. But that’s ok. If you think it’s working for you, then by all means ignore this post.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Now here is a movie about choice.Writer and director Chris Nolan really know’s what he’s doing. Using the fantastic characters in batman canon, Nolan gives us with a story all about choice. This, I believe, is what makes it so good.
You’re presented with 3 characters that offer a trio of conflict. Batman, who chooses to do the right thing at all costs, will never favour his own feelings if it means dismissing his vows of morality. This is why Batman goes after Harvey Dent instead of his love Rachel. For Gotham City cannot lose it’s ‘white knight’.
In doing so, Harvey Dent is presented with his own choices. After losing his love, and the very thing he was fighting for, he chooses to let ‘chance’ define his choices with his quarter.
This is an interesting dynamic, because Harvey’s choices can vary from anything. He isn’t nessesarily a villain, but a character torn by emotion.
Then there is the Joker. Heath Ledger’s oscar winning performance aside, this is a character who is truly wicked. With a torn past never fully explained, the Joker isn’t driven by money, or power. He simply delights in forcing good people into making choices. He tests the limits of morality.
He sets up various schemes like forcing Batman to choose between Rachel and Harvey. Forcing the citizens of Gotham to kill someone or he’ll blow up a hospital, then blows up the hospital anyway. Forcing the citizens of Gotham to choose whether or not to kill a boat full of prisoners, or let the prisoners blow them up.
The audience delights in watching the Joker at work, because we chew our nails trying to figure out what the characters will choose.
Overall, choice is behind any plot. It’s choice that can keep the audience guessing. It’s choice that restores the audience’s faith in humanity. Show your characters actively choose the right thing at all costs. They’re called heros. In contrast to this, if we watch a tragedy, we delight in knowing we can be better than the characters we watch, or feel not so alone in sharing a characters pain. We like to believe there is good left in the world, and is the reason why we keep buying movie tickets.
Don’t be afraid of asking the bigger questions in life, and having your character’s answer them.
All in all, give your characters a reason to live. Give your characters reasons to do what they do. If you don’t, your script will be one fry short of a happy meal.
“Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” – Albus Dumbledore
Exercise: Watch ANY movie on your shelf, and write down all the things that force your character to make a choice. What does the character choose? What is the other option they could have taken? How will that have defined the story? Is there a choice in this movie that your character could make? how would your character react?
Show – Don’t Tell. This should be every writer’s rule. To showcase this, I’ve made a visual breakdown of the scene from “The Shining” where Danny Torrence meets those scary dead twins.
No talking head syndrome.
No over the top action.
Simple, visual cues.
Every writer should be telling a story with pictures. Not telling a story with special effects, dialogue, crappy voice-over narration, etc.
Exercise: Try storyboarding a short film or short story where there is no dialogue, and simple action. You’d be surprised how this can improve your writing.
A lot of real fucking pricks will tell you what THEY think you should be writing, but I’m here to tell you not to listen to them. Only trusted friends or colleagues, and I mean VERY TRUSTED friends should give you feedback when you’ve finished a peice of work. They’ll be the only people who understand what you’re trying to say in your story. HOWEVER … there are those who think they know absolutely everything about writing, without ever having picked up a pen.
How many times have you heard this little gem?
“There’s already way too many movies about dolphins like yours. I think you should write about zombies instead!”
I don’t WANT to write about zombies! I want to write about freaking DOLPHINS you idiot!
WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE. Don’t let other people tell you what to do with your life. As long as you’re telling a story from your own heart, and you’re being true to yourself, that’s all that matters. In a way, everything has been done. But I don’t like to believe there is no originality left in the world. There’d be no point in writing anything new if that was the case.
I once gave someone a short script I worked on, and instead of getting feedback, I got a lesson on what to do with my life. Know what I have to say to that? EFF YOU!
Speak from your own experiences. If you find that all you can think about is how much you love baige paper – write about baige paper. If you find that all you can think about are magic spells, and humans with special powers – write about that.
Don’t let someone else’s dreams dictate how you should be living your own life. There are friends who just want to take a piece out of you to feel better about themselves.
Don’t let them.
Honest critisism and feedback is hard to come by these days. Very rarely are people honest with how they feel. If you find someone who can honestly tell you what IS working in your script or what ISN’T – you’ve found a treasure.
If you find that arrogant prick who enjoys filling your head with his own ideas, RUN. RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN! These people really suck, and will destroy your confidence. They’re too lazy to amount to anything themselves, and feel by suggesting the things THEY think are awesome, they’ll somehow help you.
On the flipside, beware of those people who think the sun shines out of your ass. They’re probably either sucking up to you, or have such low self-esteem that they are too afraid to be honest with how they feel for fear of rejection.
You want a fine balance. Find someone who knows when you’ve gotten something RIGHT. Seek confidants that AFFIRM your talents and work to lift you up. Seek friends that give you tools to improve your craft. Not to augment your writing, or undermine it. Don’t let people with low self esteem place your work on a pedestal if it’s a peice of crap.
So what’s the bottom line?
People who are honest with themeselves, will be honest with your craft.
Given the current spooky atmosphere, I thought it prudent to share with you my outline to an effective horror screenplay. I’ve come to understand these things over a great deal of time, and I hope they prove useful for you.
1) Suspense is a must:
Take a look at every classical horror movie that has lasted the test of time. You have psychological thrillers like The Shining (1980) or Psycho (1960). The audience is continuously left to guess the intentions of the killer or monster. Leaving things to the imagination, the audience is left baffled why Danny Torrence keeps saying “REDRUM”, or when the central protagonist is suddenly murdered halfway through the movie.
Keep the audience guessing. Keep the action moving. When everything is revealed in the final act, this acts as a reward for your audience having sat through the entirety of the movie.
The best example of this is through Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense (1999). For those who haven’t seen it, I’m not about to spoil the end for you. Just know, that for those who know what I’m talking about, Dr. Malcolm’s discovery is not only horrifying, it creates a further sense of disbelief causing the audience to want to go back and watch it again.
Keeping things a secret in your script is NOT a bad thing. Save the best MINDF*@# for last!
2) Have a memorable monster:
The Blair Witch, Norman Bates/Mother, Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Overlook Hotel, Room # 1408, Jason, Freddy Kruger, Hellraiser, Aliens, Ghosts, Zombies, Demonic Possession, Those we do not speak of… All these monsters have carved their way into cult-classic history.
Monsters like “Jigsaw” from the recent Saw saga, are memorable enough that even if your movie isn’t particularly well done, people go JUST to see the monster/villain at work.
The best monsters are creatures that can tell an ongoing tale, and have quite a great deal of mystery behind them. We doubt their intentions, and don’t fully understand their powers.
3) Creating characters the audience cares about:
Horror movies about characters that I absolutely can’t stand are never scary for me. Horror movies about characters that I grow to love or understand are 10x scarier, because I care what happens to the character. Take Katie and Micah from Paranormal Activity (2007) for example, or the Freeling family in Poltergeist (1982).
The first act, and parts of the second act, are set up in a way that you grow to care for the characters. We care as an audience when poor little Carol-Anne is sucked into her closet, and cries out helplessly to her family. “Moooommy? Mommy where are you? I can’t see you?”.
We become emotionally attached to the characters. Therefore, when scary things happen to them, we feel their pain and terror.
4) Writing the unexpected:
This is sooo important. How many horror movies have you seen that the characters do the most OBVIOUS things? “I better go into this room without turning on the lights” … “I wonder what that strange noise was on the back porch?”
One recent horror movie that excels in the unexpected is Insideous (2010). This is probably one of the scariest horror movies I’ve seen in a while, as a great deal of the action varies from being very subtle, to in your face shocking.
The movie keeps you guessing what may happen next, and just when you THINK you know what will happen, the opposite occurs. People jump when things pop out at them, but the audience will scream when you truly surprise them.
5) A good story is far better than a cheap scare:
Horror movies that withstand the test of time are movies with fantastic stories. Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Psycho (1960) are two old movies that have proven their worth as good stories. They are continuously watched and purchased throughout the world.
The rules of good suspense and thriller writing apply to any horror screenplay. The proper tools and quality of your craft will determine if your movie with be the next Sixth Sense or the next Troll 2 (1990).
You can write an excellent story by remembering some essentials: Have a great location and setting. Rural or Urban. Have memorable, living characters, and never forget that conflict is the key to everything. Without conflict you have no story. No one wants to watch a movie about nothing happening.
Don’t think for a second that writing a horror screenplay is an easy endeavour. It takes practice, and dedication. If you skip the tools necessary to effective storytelling you’ll be insulting to your audience, and be terribly predictable.
I hope this was of some use to all of us aspiring writers. Have a happy and safe Halloween everyone!
Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a growing hostility towards creative people that have a vision. This vision can be one to “better” a work environment. It can be a story that you know will change the world. You can have a vision of a wonderful apartment of your own, or a grand vacation to remember.
But what happens to those of us that share our visions with others? “Yeah right, what – do you think you’re gunna be the next Steve Jobs?” -My question is: why not?
I don’t understand why there is a negative stigma against people who want to go great things? Are these people jealous? Are they so steeped in their own cynical worldview that they cannot see their own potential dangling right in front of their noses?
The same goes for writers.
I have spoken with many writers over the past month or so, and whenever I give a positive suggestion as to how they can change their work habits, I’m always met with “That’s unrealistic” or “That’s not possible” … Guess what kids – you have to make it possible. You have all the tools you need to change your lives.
I know it’s not easy. I’ve been sucked into this mindset quite a few times. Some people do their best to undermine your best of moods. They suck you dry of whatever vision you may have. “I want to write a story about hero that can change the world” … “pfffft! That’s already been done dude!” – but you can’t take people like that seriously. You know why? Because they have no creativity. They have no VISION.
Having a vision is a fantastic way to change the world around you. Don’t be one of those writers that can’t see past their own cynicism. You need to trust in your vision, and see to it that you do your best to chase your dream. Don’t say “I don’t have the time” … don’t say “I can’t do this, or that”.
Find the time.
Make the time.
Make your vision a reality.
I leave you now, with one of the greatest visionaries there is:
Willy Wonka Roald Dahl. If this song doesn’t leave you scratching your heads and questioning why you aren’t doing more to make your vision become a reality, then I don’t know what will.
Willy Wonka – Pure Imagination
Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed that there are two types of writers. Honeybee Writers, and Mosquito Writers.
Honeybee writers, go from resource to resource looking for the ingredients to help them pollinate their craft. They work so that the other bees in the colony can respect them for a job well done. They labour to preserve and protect the life-force of the colony. They are hard workers that do their best to spread their craft around. The end result is one of beautiful growing stories, and that sweet delicious honey we know as success.
Mosquito writers however, go from person to person, sucking the blood out of them. (so to speak.) They drain the best out of people, and leave an annoying itch that just doesn’t seem to go away. Some Mosquito writers can achieve their short term goals, leaving enough bites that a person will reach down and itch. However, at the end of the day, nobody wants a Mosquito writer around, because they just suck.
To all Honeybee Writers out there. Don’t fret! If a Mosquito Writer comes up to suck your blood, just remember that you’ve got a stinger. No one is going to get YOUR honey.
To all Mosquito Writers. You may get their bloody fix in the short term, but you will never make delicious honey.
Don’t cut corners. Don’t be an annoying buzz in a Producer or Publisher’s ear.
Be a diligent, disciplined, hard worker.
In the end, you’ll taste the ‘sweet’ victory of success.
If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Robert McKee’s Story. This book is a storytelling ‘bible’ for screenwriters. I believe ANY writer would greatly benefit from reading this book.
Here is a great interview with McKee, featured on George Stroumboulopoulos’s show The Hour.
Sometimes, writing can be scary.
There are times in my life, when I feel paralyzed with fear when it comes to writing. I understand all too well why this sudden ‘fearful paralysis’ springs upon me like a predator waiting for a tasty meal. One factor is is my fear of failure. If I fail, this means that everyone’s opinions and expectations of me will be negative. I think people might say, “that’s the guy who tried writing, and failed. Remember him? He thought his story would be the next big thing.” … or they might say “I knew he couldn’t do it. Some people just don’t have it in them.”
What if all the advice and inspiration I hand out to people will has been in vain? How can I possibly help anybody with their craft, if I can’t even complete one ruddy thing?
This kind of doubt usually pops up when writing feels more like work than leisure. Whether you are a spiritual person or not, or believe that evil exists in this world, I believe that doubt is a weapon of the devil. He does not want you to succeed. I give you, an example of how I feel the devil acts when I’m trying to work on my craft.
This scene from The Neverending Story, fills me with dread. For those who have not seen this movie, one of the protagonists, Atreyu, has been on a quest to find out why all the wonderful things in his world have been disappearing. The antagonist called The Gmork, is sent to destroy Atreyu, and prevent him from succeeding at his quest to stop the ‘nothing’.
This scene presents both characters at a showdown, after both of their efforts have been in vain. This scene (in my opinion), is a reflection of the forces that work to stop writers from working on their craft.
The line, “people who loose all hopes are easy to control, and he who has the control has the power” terrifies me, because I feel that is the ultimate goal of the devil. If a writer looses hope in his craft, and forgets their dreams, it is far easier for them to give up, and get a job in a small cubicle for the rest of their life.
What separates me and you from those people, is our persistence. I try my hardest to remain positive about my craft. Despite countless battles both personally, and spiritually, I’ve come to a place in my life where I’m happy with my journey. But there are always those times when facing the blank page, I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. But do not fret my colleagues. If there is a great destroyer in this world, there must also be a great creator. Let your creation guide you to the end.
In the latest issue of Creative Screenwriting Magazine, in an article interviewing J.J. Abrams on his craft, he explains that he does not suffer from writer’s block, but rather ‘writer’s failure’. He confesses that he is fearful that what he is doing is wrong, or might turn out stupid. This is a risk all of us writers run. Remember that writing is about rewriting. We cannot let failure be a reason to quit.
There are countless tools to guide you to the end of your craft. Frodo Baggins is gifted with the light of Earendil, the elves’ most precious star. Atreyu is gifted with Auryn, a beacon of hope to grant any wish. When evil stands in the way of your craft, know that there will always be tools, people, friends, and family to help guide you through it. Writing can be scary, but you and I must be brave to face that fear. If it came down to it, would you want to go down being the devil’s meal, or do you want to go down fighting like the brave warrior Atreyu?
The choice is yours. I choose to write.
I always love this argument, because so many writers I know make excuses as to why they cannot write or have no time to write. The fact of the matter is, very seldom is it impossible to write.
I really love Stephen King’s autobiographical memoir on the craft of writing, appropriately titled On Writing. The last half of the book is written after Mr. King suffered a nearly fatal accident while out for a walk. A man who was drunk hit King with his car, sending King into the ditch in a twisted mess. Even through the excruciating rehab, and long days spent in pain, Stephen King kept on writing. For him, there was nothing else.
George Orwell while in his hospital deathbed, insisted on having his typewriter brought to his room, so that he might type away his dying days.
“I don’t have the time” is a terrible excuse. If you want to take yourself seriously as a writer, you have to know that writers MAKE the time. There will always be laundry, chores, socializing, jobs, and obligatory events you’ll need to attend. Single mothers find the time to write. Why can’t you?
Unfortunately, I know exactly what it feels like ‘having no time’ to write. When I first started writing, I thought it would be a walk in the park. I underestimated the process and took it for granted. I thought writers just hammered out magic, and that was it. I didn’t understand that writing is about re-writing. I didn’t understand that I’d have to fight with friends and relatives for time to write.
The biggest lesson any writer must learn, is that you must set aside time for yourself to write. I don’t have the luxury of being a millionaire with endless time and expenses at my disposal. Writing is not a ‘sometimes’ hobby for me. If you don’t think you can commit to waking up early, going to bed late, setting aside one or two days a week, or making yourself off-limits before 12:00 noon, maybe you need to reconsider what’s actually stopping you.
If you asked famed scientist Stephen Hawking what’s stopping him, victim of the paralyzing disease (ALS), he would laugh at you with his DECtalk speech-synthesizer.