How I Write Screenplays

I know I’ve written in the past about how I write novels (and novellas), but the process of writing a screenplay is quite a bit different, for me at least. I’ll try to break this down as simply as possible, but please ask questions in the comments if you want clarification on anything!

I’m currently working on a supernatural road trip screenplay that’s tentatively titled Not Like This. That title may change later. It’s a big departure from what I normally write, as there is no current love story in it. I’m not sure if that’s a reflection of where I’m at in life or not, but it’s definitely a challenge to write something like this.

But enough about what I’m working on right now. On to my process!

In September of 2013 I attended the inaugural Stowe Story Labs, which did a LOT for my screenwriting technique (admission for the 2014 Labs is still open). One of the most useful things from strictly a screenwriting perspective was Chris Millis’s outlining/planning process (Chris was on the Labs faculty last year and will be again this year). While I’m still not great at sticking to it exactly during the rough draft process, it does give me a solid foundation on which to actually write.

So, after I had a rough idea of what the premise was, I wrote out an outline based on Chris’s outline guide. That took me a couple days. Some of it is pretty vague, but it give me certain beats I need to hit along the way.

On previous projects, I’ve gone back and forth between Celtx and Adobe Story, but in the rough draft stage, I’m not really crazy about either. This is partially because neither is great on mobile. Celtx is expensive for an  iOS app (around $10 I think), and the Adobe Story iOS app doesn’t include editing capabilities. Plus, the formatting always seems wonky to me.

I like to write on my phone when I’m out and about (or in bed at night without my laptop). If I suddenly get inspiration for a scene, I will totally write out a few hundred words on my iPhone. But I hate to keep multiple running documents for a project.

So this time, I’m trying something different. I’m using the Fountain markup language and Google Docs. Fountain makes it super simple to format my screenplay regardless of the device I’m using, while Google Docs lets me access my file from anywhere.

One nice bonus is that Adobe Story will recognize very basic Fountain formatting without any real issues. If you use any of the advanced Fountain formatting options, it won’t. But the basics are all there straight from the plain text file. This is useful for checking page counts as I go in Story. That’s the one big downside to Docs: it doesn’t seem to be very accurate when it comes to font sizes and page counts. I’m using Courier New 10pt rather than the standard Courier 12pt to get my page count roughly the same as it comes out in Story.

Now, after I finish the rough draft (I’m right around 35 pages at the moment, and expect it will end up around 90-100 pages in the end), I’ll use an actual Fountain converter to create a file compatible with Adobe Story so it will recognize the few advanced formatting options I’ve included (mostly forced scene headings so far).

After everything is in Story, I can check things like pacing using Story’s advanced tools, and generate other reports. At this point I’ll print out the entire screenplay so I can do a round of edits on paper. Then, I’ll start a new Story document and retype everything in and make additional edits along the way.

And that’s basically it. With this particular script, my plan is to go straight from draft two into pre-production. The script will be locked until we actually get actors involved, at which point changes may be made to fit the characters better. Changes may also need to be made based on our budget and locations available during the actual filming.

One thing I’ve done on previous screenplays, but have avoided doing with this one is to pre-cast the script. In other words, I find actors/actresses I’d like to play the various characters, in an effort to better picture them as I write. But I haven’t done that with this one, as I want to remain open-minded when I actually cast the film.

If you have any questions about my process, ask away in the comments!

Music as Inspiration (and Some News)

Music has always been an integral part of my creative process. I’ve gotten more than a few story ideas from song lyrics. And whenever I start on a new project, I come up with a playlist of sorts that I use to get me in the mood to write. Usually, these are the songs I listen to while I’m in the shower (’cause that’s also where I get my best ideas). I’ll listen to the same eight to ten songs for the entire writing and revising process. Continue reading

NaNoWriMo Countdown: The Temptation to Wing It

So here we are, with less than 72 hours to go before the start of NaNoWriMo 2010. And I’m still not sure what I’m going to write about.

There’s the rewrite of the story from NaNoWriMo 2008. That’s what I planned on doing all along. But now I’m wondering if the only reason I wanted to write that one was because it won in 2008, so I feel like it has a better shot at winning this year.

The second option is a story that’s sort of semi-autobiographical, but set on a generation starship traveling millions of light years from earth. I came up with the idea for this one over the summer, and have been sort of half-thinking about it ever since.

And then there’s this other one that’s been nagging me, about four friends on a road trip together before (or maybe right after) their last year of college.

There are pros and cons to each of the above. I wonder if the first one shouldn’t be done in a more methodical manner, since it’s fully outlined and I’ve technically written it before. It kind of feels like that would be a good idea. Part of the fun of NaNoWriMo is getting crazy with your story. The first one leaves little room for getting crazy.

The second one has a ton of potential to get crazy, but it’s also more of a hard sci-fi story. I’ve never written hard sci-fi. It’s kind of intimidating. And generation ships present so many potential technological pitfalls and impossibilities that it’s pretty intimidating. But maybe I can just gloss over those parts and come back to them and make sure everything works in the editing phase.

The third one is one that I’m still very unsure about. That could work in my favor or not. I have a general idea of the story, but I’m not sure where it would fit, genre-wise (maybe YA if I changed the ages and made them a bit younger, maybe lit fic, maybe something else). I’m also afraid this one might turn out to be more of a novella, and if the point of NaNo this year is to write 50k words, that could be a problem. Then again, I could always finish the novella (if that’s what it turns out to be) and then start something else to meet the 50k goal.

Honestly, I’ll probably make up my mind Sunday night or first thing Monday morning and then just go with it. Or I’ll have a complete meltdown.

Who else out there still isn’t sure what they’re going to write for NaNo and is thinking about just winging it? Anyone?


NaNoWriMo Countdown: Crisis of Confidence

This happens to me every year. I get close to the start of NaNoWriMo and start to doubt my idea. Despite the fact I’ve done loads of planning and have my idea all sketched out, I start to wonder if it’s the right idea for NaNo. What if I lose momentum on it? What if it bores me? What if it sucks?

Okay, that last one doesn’t usually bother me. There are two reasons for this: I’ve been writing for a long time and while not everything I write is good, I’ve gotten better about not writing stuff that sucks. The other reason is that it’s NaNoWriMo; it’s completely okay if it sucks. Continue reading

Visual Writing Prompt #102

Visual stimulation can be a great way to get your creative gears turning. That’s one reason I love looking through photos when I’m brainstorming new story ideas. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday I’ll be posting an image to help inspire other writers.

If you’d like to share what the image below inspires you to write, please do so in the comments! Continue reading

Visual Writing Propmt #101

Visual stimulation can be a great way to get your creative gears turning. That’s one reason I love looking through photos when I’m brainstorming new story ideas. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday I’ll be posting an image to help inspire other writers.

If you’d like to share what the image below inspires you to write, please do so in the comments!

Continue reading