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.

PART 1

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

HAL ACKERMAN – UCLA Faculty

  • 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

And Here’s the Kicker

Eventually comedy fandom evolves from mere appreciation into the search for every behind the scenes detail, including what is inside the minds of the writers.

And Here’s the Kicker is a compilation of 21 interviews with comedy writers.  The interviews were conducted and edited by Mike Sacks.

Here is what I learned from my favorite interviewees:

Stephen Merchant: Ricky Gervais and he wrote the dialogue by improvising into a tape recording and then editing it down to be typed; M*A*S*H was shown without a laugh track in England; “…there’s always the danger that we as comedy fans are writing comedy for other comedy fans [as opposed to writing for an audience]; [on the differences between American and British humor] “American humor—they’re not ashamed to use slang and vernacular…Whereas in England, there’s a need to display one’s intelligence”

Larry Wilmore: decided to devote his life to comedy after his family’s roof caved in, “I already had nothing—it’s not like I could achieve that twice;” he does a “writer’s stand-up act” (meaning it isn’t personality-driven, jokes are somewhat disconnected); worked on a canceled pilot for Fox about a white writer who joins the writing staff of a black sitcom (it was canceled because the lead wasn’t attractive enough—the actor? Paul Giamatti); “There should be no racial loyalty so much as comedy loyalty”

Bob Odenkirk: reputation as a perfectionist; considers the Mr. Show sketches “Clumsy Waiter” and “Philouza” to be the worst; “honesty is everything;” was unhappy with SNL’s writing process (if something didn’t go over well at the pitch meeting it was permanently rejected)

Paul Feig: “I’m very much a purist about memories and the truth in stories…I can think of a lot of funnier endings for everything that’s ever happened to me in my life, but that’s not the point;” while working as a script reader he realized that 99.9% of script are terrible; “the cruel side of me likes creating situations where people get buried deeper and deeper [thus raising the stakes for humiliation]

Mitch Hurwitz: earned theology and English degrees from Georgetown; [on being reluctant to encourage people to go into entertainment] “It can make a lot of people very, very unhappy;” “In retrospect, perhaps a majority of people didn’t want to see such a detailed show [Arrested Dev] and didn’t want complexity with their humor;” writers need to have compassion for their characters/stories; there was a hug in almost every episode of Arrested Dev

David Sedaris: if you want to be a good writer, you need to read; rejects exaggerating in his earlier stories (he was ‘trying too hard’ and that embellishing made it hard for audiences to believe him); edits his pieces while reading to an audience; “My main concern is to not be too corny;” he gets out of bed at 10:26 am every morning

Each interview is 10-15 pages, and covers what the writers think of their previous work, how they write, what motivates them, and their advice for aspiring comedy writers.

There’s also advice about getting hired as a sitcom or late-night writer or acquiring a literary or screenplay agent and a list of recommended reading.