Sign up for the
and get $50 off Final Draft 12
By David Young · March 23, 2022
You can be sure that if you choose to write a script, you’ll meet a bump or two in the process. Everyone experiences writer’s block. Tackling that kind of obstacle is important, but it’s not always easy doing conventional writing.
That’s why there are writing exercises you can use to get you past those hurdles. Read on to get an idea of what helps people get to the finish line!
Sometimes people get bogged down in the details of their actions and let dialogue become an afterthought. Therefore, it starts to feel stilted and uninteresting. In other cases, writers don’t think enough about what actions are happening during a scene. By doing a dialogue-only exercise, you can start to address either of these issues.
Write with the intent of keeping dialogue natural, but keep in mind what the characters are doing the whole time. Maybe the dialogue shifts to mention the action in a natural way, but you won’t write action directly. Focus on the conversation doing all the work, and see if it makes sense afterward. When reading it, can you see that all necessary details were conveyed?
In the same way that some people can write dialogue-only scenes to stop letting their dialogue or action suffer, you can do that with action-only scenes as well.
Pick a scene that you planned to write with dialogue. Then, instead, omit all dialogue and try conveying the right ideas with only action from all characters involved. What’s missing? In most cases, nonverbal communication between your characters can reveal a lot. So, if something feels like it’s missing from your writing, maybe you just need to focus on how the action sends your message. By the time you use this as a real scene with dialogue, your action will be well-suited to the scene’s needs.
A time-tested approach that industry writers swear by is the beat board. By writing each scene on an index card and placing them in sequential columns for the beginning, middle, and end of your story, you can see at a glance what your story has in each act. Better than that, this helps you to make sure that each scene has an emotional dynamic.
Boarding a story includes writing down what happens in each scene, who’s in the scene, and which direction the scene moves emotionally. Namely, do things get better or worse in this scene? By keeping track of this emotional dynamic (represented by a plus or minus sign), you can make sure your story really grips the audience when you want it to.
Write about your characters! Everyone has done this in grade school once or twice, but now you need to do it for your own characters.
Write a paragraph about each character’s needs, wants, and the things they love and hate. If you have backstory elements to include, share them in a few sentences. Make your profiles easy to read and detailed — but don’t spend too much time on one character if you have many. If your story has a wide cast of major characters, you’ll want to make sure each one has motivations, backstories, and important relationships recorded on paper.
This exercise helps writers who are struggling to bridge the gap between story action and the reasons for it.
Start with a sentence describing each act of the story. One sentence with a key action per act will ideally get you 3 or 5 sentences to start with. Then, break that major sentence down — if the last sentence of your outline is, “The crew pulls off a bank heist,” you can break it down into individual scenes. First off, the crew would arrive at the bank. Another scene would be about when they almost get caught. However many scenes there may be, each one gets a full sentence. As you expand each act, the story’s direction will become clearer to you — as will your next steps.
Every story has the opportunity to build more than one throughline. In fact, it’s better if you have subplots. Without that element, your story becomes a bare-bones narrative, and those typically don’t keep an audience’s interest. When including subplots, you have to know how each one develops. That’s where you can use a process flow chart to map them out.
Start with the main narrative, then begin to show each event that happens within the main plot from beginning to end. Then, consider what happens to create each subplot. Write those as process flow charts on timelines parallel to the main one. By following this, you can start to map out each cause-and-effect relationship in the story.
Where do you see your story ending? If you don’t know, maybe you should start there first. Writing out the ending helps to ensure that you understand where your story will go.
By starting with the ending then going back to start the script on Page 1, you already have a framework that leads you through the most important elements of your plot. Now, you can start to connect the dots with events between the beginning and end.
Write a one-sentence version of your story, otherwise known as a logline. When you’ve done that, you should start pitching it to people. As you tell your friends, family, colleagues, or even strangers what your story will be about, they might have questions.
Take note of those questions, and figure out if you need to still think of the answers. If you weren’t able to think of those answers when you were pitching, focus on how you can write these things into your story. People’s questions will reveal how much of your story you actually know — and where you might need to place some extra time thinking.
This isn’t a writing exercise per se, but it helps immensely. When thinking about an important scene in your screenplay, you might consider drawing it out. You don’t need to be a great artist.
If you have the visuals drawn in a way where you can tell what’s happening (and how it’s supposed to happen on screen), you might get a better idea of how to write out this scene. If you’re frustrated with action writing and description, especially of a really involved scene, this is a great way to loosen up and shake off the cobwebs of your mind.
Free-writing can provide a lot of interesting results. When you free-write, you just write without thinking — putting words down rather than strategizing as you write. Try this with one scene you have in mind. Start free-writing, leaving no room for thinking or feedback.
Once you’ve written the scene, go ahead and do so again, from scratch. Whether you do it twice or five times, you’ll eventually have some very different versions of the scene written out. Now, feel free to edit and combine your favorite features of each version to create something you’re happy to use. Your brain will do what it wants to with your scene subconsciously, but because you’re simply writing without really looking at or thinking about the results, free-writing helps when you are unsure which direction to take a scene.
It’s not always easy to overcome obstacles in writing, but you can do it with the help of tools like the above. Whether it’s an outline, a flow chart, or even a drawing, you’re using techniques to get the creative juices flowing. And honestly, that’s the best way to get more out of your creative process!