Scriptwriting redux

Redux 012/365 by ☆   Tabrel

This is an interesting phase in terms of writing for me. Probably the most productive phase I have ever been through. I mean in a strict output-time efficiency sense. There have been periods where I spent more time per day on writing. But it was more in a ‘savour the process and the page count be damned’ mode. Really what it amounted to was more obsessive detailing mostly an hindrance and distraction to the stories that I was trying to write. Now I can tolerate more the imperfections of what I have put down on page. I am much more ruthless in pulling the plug when a project does not appear viable from a practical sense.

So what has changed? Probably what helped are some deadlines looming over the horizon. Planned meetings, scheduled narrations, other commitments heading my way. Until this point, these meetings were a abstract possibility far far away.

My eyes were opened because despite all these years of writing, I am still not in a perfect situation where I am all prepared for a meeting. So I guess, I will have to learn on the fly and move on.

Photo by ☆ Tabrel


Deadlines and scriptwriting

scissors by danielgrenell
photo by danielgrenell

The question is- should one really self impose deadlines in creative writing? Can it harm the quality of the writing?

Often great ideas come when you are least expecting it. If you are mechanical about the various stages (‘After 10 hours of outlining, I am just going to write it’), you may often miss on some great breakthroughs. Writing in itself is a process that cannot be fitted into boxes and flowcharts. Often the associations you make are bizarre and counterintuitive.

But the issue that adds counterweight is the problem of productivity. Writing is not the kind of job where at the end of the day, you can count the number of words and decide whether you have worked well or not. And when it is compounded by writers’ eternal problem of procrastination, it becomes very difficult not to fool yourself. I can just daydream for months lying on the sofa and pretend to myself that ‘I am outlining.’ And if that ‘brilliant idea that burst out of nowhere’ is the criteria of good work, it may also turn out to be damp squib the next day.

So is it a good idea to restrict the time you use for outlining or writing a treatment? Probably not. But what if your outlining goes on for months? How do you know for sure that just because you have spent 2 months for developing something, it is going to be better than spending 2 weeks on initial development and then taking more time on rewriting?

Advantage of spending more time on outlining is that you save a lot of time while actually writing the script. Also most of my unfinished scripts happened because I didn’t outline. On the flip side, often you realise what you really want with the story after you write a complete draft. If you have spent too much time on outlining initially, you lose some of the mental flexibility to revamp the theme and plot of your first draft if it is required. Anyway I have decided to try out the second option- jump into the first drafts after a fixed amount of time in outlining. I need to try all methods to see which one really works.

Writing screenplay treatments


This is for all those guys out there who have been asking to write something about treatments-
If the whole scriptwriting business is a game of chess, treatments are your foot soldiers. Most of the (meaningful) interactions which you do in the film industry will be with the help of treatments. Well, earlier you swallow this bitter pill, the better for you- No one has the time or inclination to read a 120 page screenplay to find out whether you have got it. Basically no one here is into reading anything except their own twitters.
So, what is a treatment? One doesn’t have to be dogmatic about what it is or what it should be. But basically for me, it includes the basic story of the whole movie. The premise, important beats, twists and turns. What treatment tries to do is to impart the experience of what it would be like reading your script or hearing your story- with much less time and effort. I don’t use dialogue usually, but at certain places it helps. My treatments doesn’t cover all the scenes, but all sequences will be there. Usually my treatments are around 3-5 pages long. Continue reading

Scripting emotional scenes


Désirée wrote a post regarding emotion in scripts. It kept me thinking- whether we can use logic in writing emotion in our scenes. I think we can use logic in writing better emotional scenes. But it is an area where our intuition overrides our conscious planning.

Still I think there are some general rules that we can follow.

Don’t try too hard

If I think about all those scenes that have really worked for me, one thing about all of them is that they are subtle. I didn’t feel that writer/ character was actively trying to grab my empathy. Consider the scene in Forrest Gump where he reacts to the knowledge that the boy who is watching TV in front of him is actually his son. He almost weeps with joy and asks, ‘Is he smart?’ Never before in the movie has Gump expressed any emotion regarding he being a little dull. But when he asks that question we realise that this has been the thing that has defined his thoughts through out his life and that knowledge somehow touches us.

Hit when the iron is hot

 It takes some intuition to get the timing right. For me the emotional peak of Titanic was not when Jack died. It is after the end of the flashbacks, when the old Ross lies to sleep (or die?) and gradually drifts off to the intact Titanic and the waiting Jack. It gives us a longing to go back in time when the tragedy was yet to happen. Continue reading

Developing a concept



 Sometime back Dev asked me the process by which I develop a script. From where do I start and how do I proceed.

Obviously there wont be a particular fixed way by which one go about it in making up different stories but still it made me think. The question is whether there is some general pattern in which my scripts develop. When I retrospect, there is no single common point of origin for the concepts that I am working on. Some of them have started off from some real incidents, some from a contemplation about the tone a particular story should be having, some from a particular character and some out of the blue.

For example the heist script I am working on started from a discussion between friends regarding scripts that helped for break throughs for the current writers in the industry. Continue reading

Internet- the enemy of ‘actual’ scriptwriting?

Does internet really harm the productivity of a writer rather than improve it? It’s a question with which I have been struggling for more than a year. Definitely it’s a time sucker- rather a time drinker. It takes away valuable time that can be used for writing. But the real question is whether for the writer the advantages of net are more than the disadvantages.

So what are the perceived advantages of the internet for the writer?

Inspiration and resources or  swimming on sand
But how much inspiration do you require? To write script for 1 hour do you need to read script articles for 3 hours? Some times search for inspiration is a ploy to procrastinate. Searching for resources is sometimes a bigger trap.

Writers especially scriptwriters have the tendency to become highly specialised swimmers who have never touched water. There is a whole lot of literature available out there. But when should one stop? When do we become knowledge-able enough to write the script? I think it should be when you have read one scriptwriting book completely. Your education need not end there. But your writing should definitely start there. After that, reading something scriptrelated in the net in the name of ‘education’ should be at least in the ratio of 1:20 in favour of writing. Because the greatest education is writing scripts. And believe me, there is no site or book or article that is going to give you the perfect key to write good screenplays.

Trap of immediate gratification
Writing a script takes around 3-6 months. That too there is no guarantee that some one relevant enough would even read your script. Naturally writing a blog or commenting on random posts is better. You get immediate feedback. Feedback, even negative feedback gives a feeling of fulfillment. A fulfillment of being paid attention to. That too without much effort. In that sense writers are delusional. They sit writing something sacrificing their Saturday nights, losing precious time to be with family, friends and jeopardising their work. All this, believing in something that could turn out to be utter crap. You never know what is going to come out. Continue reading

Tips to keep writing every day

I got some mails after my post on the first draft. People keep asking for tips to write everyday. To find time. To keep enthusiasm from waning. To finish off the task.

The problem with writing scripts (for that matter anything long) is that you have to hammer at it for months. Writers are notorious for their low self confidence. And assessment of one’s work is very objective. Some times you love it. Some times you hate it. So how to keep going?

These are some of the things that have helped me.

There is no ‘not enough time’
You have 15 minutes free? You should be writing. Never wait to get that major chunk of time to start writing. You will only be able to write a line of dialogue? Do that 10 times a day for two days and you almost have a scene. People become philosophical and talks about the need to get into the mood to write. But sometimes you may be just rationalising your procrastination. Getting into the zone fast is an habit that you can learn.

Writing does not need fingers
Writing does not mean that you should be in front of a laptop or a legal pad. One gets many breaks in plotting and character bits while travelling or walking or just sitting through a boring lecture. Actually I have done most of my outlining for the heist script while travelling to my workplace. Continue reading