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Just curious about how some of you start off a new writing project. Features -- do you outline, scene by scene, note cards. The whole bit. Do you interview your characters or do you discover them as you go? What's your process and...
Is it the same process as when you're writing shorts?
This is probably one of my favourite topics to discuss with other writers. I find it absolutely fascinating hearing how other people create what it is they create.
Personally, I start with some kind of general set-up/premise which I feel I could build an interesting plot around. From this, I then create the character whose story this will be -- namely trying to identify the character's goals, then subsequent ways in which the character's personality will hinder them from achieving their goal (normally the character's flaw, which allows me to create some kind of arc). From this, I then further develop both the premise and supporting characters which will further fuel the conflict fire and drive the narrative of the script. I then identify my two act breaks, as well as the midpoint and the end, and any other important scenes/plot pieces. I roughly outline (not individual scenes, more like a few paragraphs of text) what happens in each act, and then I start writing. I don't plan every scene out at the state. However, before I start writing each scene, I make sure I know four things: 1) Whose scene is it? 2) What are they trying to achieve? 3) What is stopping them from achieving this? 4) What happens if I decide against including this scene, i.e., is the scene necessary? I feel this helps me ensure that the scenes I am writing actually warrant being included.
Whilst I have some kind of structure planned before I start writing, I am not a slave to this. Things always change as I get to know my characters. What I have planned as the second act break becomes the midpoint, the end completely changes once I identify the theme of the story, etc.
For example, the idea I started with in the latest script I have finished was simply "A father's world falls apart during his daughter's wedding." From this, I created a story about a former policeman (so a Protestant) in Belfast, Northern Ireland being threatened by an anonymous wedding guest on the day of his daughter's wedding. The threat specifies that he needs to "Accept his sins." So I made the protag this prideful motherfucker, who refuses to accept the past. Therefore, he's not going to do what the threat specifies. I further complicated things by having the protag's daughter be marrying the nephew of a former IRA commander. That way, a large number of the wedding guests could be potential suspects, further complicating things for our protag. Then, instead of accepting his sins, like the threat demands, he goes on this warpath, illegally detaining and interrogating the suspects himself...much like the police did back in the 1970s/80s.
I write a rough log line first. Not the concise brief one - more of one if I was pitching myself - "hey - this is the story you should write". For example - before writing "The Object o My Infection" - I had the rough log line of - What if a female CDC research assistance used her access to bio medical hazards to gain revenge on an abusive boyfriend..." The subsequent log line and script were a bit different - but the point is I had to write a pitch to myself that was a compelling enough reason to write.
Second - I rough draft the character (or in some cases - caricature). I have a tough time writing plot points and scenes until I have a sense of who I am writing them for. Now - I do not do the detail write ups that some gurus recommend - instead I cheat. I just pick the most similar character to a celebrity or an actor in a particular movie. e.g., this character is like Kevin Spacey in Swimming With Sharks, this character is like Richard Gere in Officer and a Gentleman, this character is like Donald Trump, etc. I will add or subtract traits from that initial portrait of course - but starting out with a character I can see helps.
Third - I outline the very high points of the story. Where am I opening? What will be the first challenge? Who is going to lose what and win what? etc.
Then I just start writing - no detailed outline - and try to quickly smash out as many pages as possible - not paying attention to much of anything.
After first draft - I do a very detailed outline of what I have written right down to the day and hour things took place - the page they took place on - etc. That helps me re-organiize the story in a logical fashion and helps me see holes and pacing issues.
Anyway - don't know if the above violates any sacred rules - but that is my approach.
I write all my ideas down and keep them in Evenote so I can access them from any device.
For Shorts, I just start and see where they take me, no planning and the characters are organic. If the go off track I leave them for a while and go back when the muse has resolved the issue for me.
For Features, I've not got a system I stick to... my first I used index cards, then went completely off piste, second I used cards and stuck to them, 3rd, 4th and 5th have all been done with just a vague plan in my head.
Characters, I start with a view of how the are going to be and what their key traits and motivations are... the rest eveloves as I write the script. I do have some character development software but I've never got round to using it
My method seems to be okay for me, but each to their own.
I started last March. I've written 7 features since. One is not fully done.
I usually sit down and just go. But I take notes 1-2 days in a physical notepad before I do. Short sentences. But they tell me what I was thinking at the moment. Usually when I get an idea, more the half the movie comes pouring in. For some reason I always get stuck a bit at around the 3/4 of the story. But I sit down and write it out rough, then I refine.
An idea forms in my head and I go from there. No prior planning. I come up with characters during the writing phase, if I need a cop to investigate all of a sudden, cue Detective What's His/Her Face.
If it's getting boring, I throw something into it that's random. A car chase. A fight, etc.
I let my imagination run wild... for the first draft. Leave it for a few months. Then I pick the script apart piece by piece, bin a whole bunch of useless crap, like exposition and useless characters, then rework the frame until it's sturdy, add more weight to it and pad it out.
I repeat the process over and over again until everything works and I have a solid script.
Hell, I just uploaded a script that's the 14th draft of a story I came up with nearly a decade ago, and it's still not there. It's about 70% complete in its current form and it'll probably take me another 4-5 drafts to get it to where it needs to be.
That's how I write. The only thing in my scripts that is a constant is "FADE IN:".
My first feature, written before I knew I even needed some sort of process, came from a single scene. I had a basic outline in my head, and just kinda made it up as I went. You know what? Didn't turn out too bad. My second feature I used notecards and outlined just about every scene, so I had a blueprint to work with. Was one of the easiest scripts I wrote and didn't take long at all really. That was a couple years ago.
A new one I started on I planned out as well, but the notes I used were stored in my software. This one's been more difficult to get a handle on. I basically mapped out beats, using one sentence notes about where the story should go. This doesn't seem to be working right now.
Shorts are never really mapped out. I usually get the idea, let it simmer until the story starts to play out in my head, beginning to end. Then I write. Though I suggest you have an ending before you write. It makes filling in the rest that much easier. Nothing is worse than a story that doesn't know where it wants to go.
My system is Do&Redo - I don't write outlines or character sheets, I have a vague idea and start writing. With the characters' profiles in mind I think about how they would react to the situations I throw them into as I go. The first draft is mostly lousy that way, but once it is done, it's much easier to refine and edit it until it works.
Funny how we all have such different approaches, but what works for one, doesn't always work for another.
I plan things out in my head long before I write a single word. That includes characters, sets, scenes, action...pretty much everything except dialogue.
Then, I write, and I edit as I go, so my first draft, is really pretty much the completed script, although I do have 1 early script that has gone through several drafts, but those changes were mostly due to my not really knowing what I was doing the first time.
But, as others have mentioned, sometimes things change, based on what has taken place, and that can actually be the ending I had planned. Sometimes, things get added, including characters, other times, things get deleted, like whole scenes that just don't prove to be necessary.
I've recently been writing with another writer and that is an entirely different process, but equally, if not more satisfying, as 2 brains are usually better than 1, and my pee brain ain't all that big to began with.
Happy New year to you all. Have fun, but be safe.
To ski or not to ski...that's not even a question.
No, but I'm gonna start doing that. To be honest, I've never heard of that technique at all and it's probably used often by others. Better late than never I guess. Great suggestion!
I came across the interview thing online, I think. It actually gives you a whole list of questions to ask -- fav color, occupation, etc. I suppose you can add others that you may find relevant. Tried it once myself but I think I scrapped it. I found that doing that kind of locked me in as to exactly who this person is instead of letting the character develop in a more organic way. But I think it does help in regards to things like a talent or skill this character might have that may come into play at some point in the script.