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Guest Post: “Prewriting” exercises [Troy Widner]

A remarkable phenomenon is happening. Over 100 writers are participating in the Go On Your Own Quest initiative and have signed up at the GOYOQ Forum. As Shaula Evans, one of the three site moderators [along with Debbie Moon and David Joyner] wrote to me recently:

There’s a great synergy there: lots of moral support, lots of brainstorming. It’s a really fantastic group of people, and some of them have some impressive industry experience, too.

There have been some great discussions on the GOYOQ Forum, so why not some guest posts here on GITS? Absolutely!

Today: Troy Widner.

Before choosing my GOYOQ project once and for all, I’m doing prewriting exercises to try and determine which of a couple different concepts is best speaking to me. Figured this might warrant broader discussion, so I’ll expand a little on what seems to work for me on that front.

“Prewriting” is a little bit of a misnomer in this case since it does actually involve real-life writing. For me, it reflects writing that I do to help me find both the voice of my characters and the voice of the overall piece. Often times other things surface as well, such as themes and even plot points. And very occasionally I end up with a scene or sequence that actually turns out to be fully-formed.

Here are four things I’ve been known to do:

Write some key scenes. When a story idea is first forming, I usually have some thoughts in my head of key dramatic moments. I’ll often throw those scenes down in writing, knowing full well what I’m going to end up with in the final draft is likely to be miles away in execution. I think most important among the benefits: it gets those scenes rolling around in my head so that by the time I come to write the real deal, I have a much better idea of what exactly I want to convey. I also already know to a degree what might work best and what doesn’t.

Write a character monologue. I’ll sometimes write theatrical-inspired monologues for characters. You know, a chair center stage in the spotlight with just an actor facing the audience talking about experiences in their life. Yes, usually these are rambling, and yes, they’re not always the most subtle when it comes to subtext and motivation, but it definitely gets my brain revved up and thinking about the character’s perspective on things. It also gives me a chance to hone in on the rhythm of their speech.

Write character interactions. This is especially helpful when I’m first getting to know a character prior to plotting. I’ll just drop them into different situations and let them deal with whatever conflict I’ve cooked up, mundane or otherwise. Recently I wrote a scene between two characters that I thought would probably only have limited contact with one another in the actual story. I ended up liking the contrast and underlying tension so much that I found a way to give them more time together.

Force myself to like the antagonist. For the bad guys/girls specifically, I’ll often throw together a handful of scenes that — when out of context of the script — you’d read and say, “hey, this guy/gal isn’t all bad.” I actually really love liking my villains, not just for the bad things they do or say in the script itself, but because I know they’re not a villain full-time and that somewhere under that scary, tough exterior they probably just want need a hug.

I think the reason these types of exercises work so well for me is because I really dig the warm feeling that my hard prep work is going to pay off in tangible ways. I enjoy writing “the meat” more than anything else (as opposed to, say, lengthy character bios), and the product of each of the above not only helps me focus, but has an actual chance of maybe/possibly/hopefully being used at some point in the finished product. It might be just a line here or a line there, but used nonetheless. It also keeps me writing, which, you know, is always a good thing.

Does anybody else have similar tricks, and if so, care to share? If not, what works for you instead?

All solid suggestions from Troy and thanks for the post. What prep-writing tips do you have?

Join the GOYOQ Forums, a free online hub where you and other Quest participants can go to support each other and share your stories. Go here.

Who should write and direct Star Wars: Episode VII?

By now you’ve doubtless read this:

The Walt Disney Co. has acquired Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion in cash and stock and announced a new Star Wars movie to be released in 2015.

The news yesterday exploded Twitter with all sorts of fun and nonsense, bringing out a lot of folks’ inner nerd, including my own.

The question arose quickly: Who should write and direct SW: VII?

Let me start off the list of suggestions with one made by Quester Jordan Earls: Brad Bird. He proved his live-action chops on Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol and has Pixar magic in his blood.

Here is a THR article with 15 possibilities including Mr. Bird.

Who do you think should be given the reins to the Force for Episode VII? Or did Episodes I-III kill your Star Wars loyalties?

A taste of things to come?

UPDATE: Steve Zeitchik and John Horn (LAT) have this backgrounder on the Disney-Lucasfilm deal. Evidently SW:VII has been in the works for awhile with some significant screenwriters involved. Check out the article here.

“Just write the next word”

“If I could say anything… it is to keep going. Don’t go back and fix that first scene. Don’t go back and fix that dialogue. Write yourself a little note saying, ‘Put in first scene such-and-such,’ if you happen to think of something, then get a little stickum and stick that somewhere on the wall. But don’t go back, because going back is a trap. It keeps you from going forward. It keeps you from going ahead. Your first enemy, of course, is yourself. Yourself is also that little critic that sits on your shoulder that says, ‘This is terrible’… You have to wipe him off your shoulders and keep going. He’s the one who says, ‘Go back. Go back’… You must get it down on paper…. you must sit down and write with no attachment to outcome. Try to distance yourself from what’s going to happen to this… No attachment to outcome. I don’t know where I ever heard it, but I put it on a little piece of paper, and I had it framed. I have it right in front of me. When I get bogged down I say, ‘No attachment to outcome. Don’t worry about what’s going to happen to this. Just write the next word.’”

This is a quote from screenwriter Anna Hamilton Phelan whose film credits include Gorillas in the Mist and Girl, Interrupted. And yes, it is yet another bromide in this series of posts about the first draft, which is to get the damn thing done.

Why am I hammering home this point?

Because of one unalterable and unavoidable fact: More scripts end up unfinished than reach FADE OUT.

That is why when I interviewed writers who were finalists for The Quest, one of the pledges they had to make was this: They would finish a first draft of their script.

With that in mind, let’s extract some wisdom from Phelan’s quote:

* “If I could say anything… it is to keep going.” Print it. Post it at your desk.

* “Don’t go back, because going back is a trap. It keeps you from going forward. It keeps you from going ahead.” Every writer is different, so some of you will absolutely need to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite your pages as you go along. Fine. If that is part of your core essence as a writer, go with God. But most of us plebians know full well what Phelan is saying: You go back, you open up a door called miasma, a swirling, whirling shit-storm of uncertainty and indecision that can lead to… dead… stories.

* “Your first enemy, of course, is yourself. Yourself is also that little critic that sits on your shoulder that says, ‘This is terrible’… You have to wipe him off your shoulders and keep going.” Again print it. Post it at your writing station.

* “‘No attachment to outcome. Don’t worry about what’s going to happen to this. Just write the next word.’” This is just profound. While we can dream about a million dollar spec script sale as motivation, if we attach ourselves to that, that attachment can absolutely strangle creativity. Instead of thinking about the things we should be thinking about — characters, plot, themes, dialogue — those visions of the Porsche 911, Hollywood Hills home and seven figure deals can distract you from where your focus should be and worse put pressure on every… word… we… write.

When you are writing a first draft, you simply do not need that pressure.

Rather you need another way of thinking about it:

“Just write the next word.”

The Quest” has entered Week 16! And so did Go On Your Own Quest, an opportunity for anyone to follow the structure of “The Quest” to dig into screenwriting theory [Core - 8 weeks], figure out your story [Prep - 6 weeks], and write a first draft [Pages - 10 weeks]. It’s a 24-week immersion in the screenwriting process and you can do it here – for free!

Today and every Monday through Friday for 10 weeks, I’ll use this slot to post something inspirational as GOYOQ participants pound out their first drafts.

For background on “Go Into The Story: The Quest,” go here and here.

For all the previous weeks of Go On Your Own Quest posts, go here.

Join the GOYOQ Forums, a free online hub where you and other Quest participants can go to support each other and share your stories. Go here.