Screenwriting Exercises Part 1

NOW WRITE! Screenwriting

Edited by Sherry Ellis and Laurie Lamson

One of the best ways to improve your writing is to write a lot.  Produce a volume of work and, over time, that way that you write and the way that you wish that you wrote will get closer together. Ira says it better:

NOW WRITE! includes 95 exercises, divided into the following categories:

  1. Choosing Your Story
  2. Get Writing
  3. Structure
  4. Theme
  5. Crafting Scenes
  6. Character Development
  7. Verbal/Nonverbal Communication
  8. Revision
  9. Now What?

Below I noted writing exercises, questions to ask yourself, and things to think about that seemed useful or unusual.

I have another post of more exercises coming up next week.

The book gives a little autobiography of each contributor; I included their most notable accomplishment.


MARDIK MARTIN – The Last Waltz, Raging Bull

  • People don’t identify with characters, they identify with conflict
  • Write about conflict that you experience or observe
  • Antagonist is the conflict-giver, key to starting point


  • Write about your most cringe worthy memories

ALAN WATT – Author of Diamond Dogs

  • List your fears
  • Being conscious of our fears prevents them from ruling us
  • Connect the root of your fear to your hero
  • Ex: I’m afraid my script will suck = Fear of failure

BRAD RIDDELL – Teaches at USC and Spalding U

  • Separate 15 notes cards in to 3 piles of 5
  • Actors
  • Genre
  • Location
  • Pick one from each pile and develop a treatment

CHRIS SOTH – Firestorm

  • Good movies have dramatic tension
  • A good film has a satisfying resolution
  • Tension = Hope versus Fear

DAVID TROTTER – Author of The Screenwriter’s Bible

  • Make a grid so you have an overview of your characters’ actions/arc
  • Helps with pacing/plot
  • For each scene, list the characters involved and their actions

MICHAEL HAUGE – Author of Writing Screenplays That Sell

  • What is your hero’s wound? Think about how you will reveal this wound to the audience.
  • What is the unconscious belief created by the wounding experience?
  • As a result of that belief, what is my hero’s deepest emotional fear?
  • The hero’s disguise their wound by adopting a protective persona.
  • Think about the hero’s true identity, the one that they shield.  Who are they really or who do they have the potential to become?
  • What actions will the hero take to shed their false persona?
  • The love interest is the one person who can see beyond the hero’s protective identity and love them for who they are.
  • Your lovers are in conflict when the hero/both of them retreats into protective identity; they connect when act as their true selves.

KARL IGLESIAS – Author of The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters

  • Think about the emotions that you want the audience to experience
  • Ex: anticipation, tension, suspense, amusement, fear, worry, relief, empathy, enmity
  • Look at your plot points in term of emotional response.
  • Ex: Princess Leia is captured by Darth Vader – Audience feelings awe, empathy for Leia, enmity for Vader, worry

2 Fresh 2 Furious


This short film, produced by Ira Glass and written and directed by Mike Birbiglia, was part of the This American Life: LIVE SHOW. The live show will be rebroadcast in select theaters May 15th.

I always knew Terry Gross was hardcore.



The Daily Show Writers


Splitsider had a quick write-up on The Paley Center’s 2008 interviews with writers of the The Daily Show.

The advice they give in the video above is true for any dream profession: you have to go out and do things to help you get ahead, because if you don’t, other, more motivated people will and they will will leave you behind in the dust! (Ira Glass gives similar advice)


News junkies + Comedians + Witty writers = Daily Show Writers


Even though Jon Stewart is the front man, it is a team effort.


I love hearing about behind the scenes stuff and auditions and finding out who knows who (John Oliver knows Ricky Gervais).  Probably why I also love WTF with Marc Maron.



Sleepwalk With Me

As a huge fan of This American Life, I’ve heard comic Mike Birbiglia detail crazy and embarrassing stories as a guest star.  I also have his book, Sleepwalk With Me: and Other Painfully True Stories (which began as an off-Broadway show). He remembers in excruciating detail those childhood events that most of us would like to forget.  His delivery pairs fantastic timing with hilarious perspective.

Birbiglia’s storytelling on TAL has paid off.  Sleepwalk With Me is now a film that went to the Sundance Film Festival.

From Entertainment Weekly:

Sleepwalk With Me was produced by Ira Glass and based on writer-director-star Mike Birbiglia’s harrowing tale of life as a not-so-good, but-getting-better comedian. The film has been a bright spot in a Sundance lineup already brimming with comedies.

Apparently in the film, Birbiglia goes by “Matt Pandamiglio,” an equally unusual name. Here’s a preview:

Ira Glass on producing the movie.  So funny.  An honest portrayal of hard work that goes into a film.

WTF with Marc Maron

I started listening to WTF with Marc Maron when I was at work.  I was a little worried about the language, but since I sat by myself in the office, I figured it was fine. Uh oh, turns out my laughing was the problem.  The show (podcast) is fantastic.

Marc Maron, in his own words:

“I have a hard time describing what I do or what I am up there on stage. I’ve been called: neurotic, a story teller, heady, cerebral, angry, brilliant, bad, a problem, a cultural critic, a satirist, fucking funny, an important voice, etc…

So, that being said, I am first and foremost a standup comic. I have appeared on TV, in film, on the staff, in print, on the radio, but all I ever wanted to be, and what I am now, is a stand up comic. I’ve appeared on just about every show that allows standup comics.”

He interviews everyone in the industry.  From Ira Glass (love him) to Aubrey Plaza (love her) to Jason Sudekis (love him too).  Those are just some recent examples. He is a little manic, a little crazy, a little angry, very thoughtful.  He is not afraid to ask questions that are personal and he definitely talks about his own personal issues.  The podcast usually features some of Maron’s stand-up at the beginning and then becomes an interview.  It is not like hahaha the whole time, sometimes it is somewhat serious too.

Yesterday I read on HuffPo that Todd Glass came out on Maron’s show.

Episode 245 – Todd Glass

Todd Glass is a great comic (similarly manic and angry like Marc Maron) who I came across on Last Comic Standing.

Listening to the podcast, I was struck by how honest, powerful, and brave it was.  I’m so glad that more and more people are taking a stand against the hate that GLBTQ teens/people face. It amazes me that our country acts like prohibiting people from getting married/having equal rights is a legitimate option.  Bullshit.

The episode focuses a lot about on what it means to be honest, with yourself and with others..  Whether people knew or guessed or whatever, Todd Glass felt that it was important to just be honest about his life. Todd Glass said he was motivated by the recent suicides of teens across the county. Anyway, it is just sooooo honest and real.

Favorite quote from this episode:

“Be a bully for the right cause.”


Update: Just found an article on GOOD about making podcasts that references WTF with Marc Maron