Writers often contact me to ask if I have solutions to the problem of so-called Writer’s Block – that supposed condition where you *can’t* write. I’ve always been of the opinion that it’s not that you can’t, it’s that you FEEL you can’t, so addressing whatever problem is in the way of your creativity is your first stop. However I’m a script reader, not a psychologist, so I can’t very well write back and say, “Do you have a problem with your childhood/parents/siblings/some bizarre phobia??” Instead I usually recommend they take time AWAY from writing, stop obsessing on it, stop worrying. I’ve never felt blocked as long as I’ve allowed myself balance, after all. Yeah, useful. Not.
Yet Gordy Hoffman has a great way of unlocking your ideas that he details in his Bluecat workshop – and it’s so bonecrunchingly simple one wonders why no one has done it before. I’m going to detail the exercises one by one now. Hope they help.
We all have ideas that are kernels in the back of our minds – the ones we mean to do, but never get round to. Afford yourself five minutes now to think of one of those ideas – write down ANYTHING. It doesn’t matter if it’s crap or if it’s confused, it’s not fully formed yet.
Now verbalise it: take the words from the page and say them aloud. Being British we won’t like this, but do it anyway – because explaining the concept in our voices, out loud, will begin to expose its flaws and also present ideas or solutions to solve them.
Now find someone to tell your idea to. Pitch it to them *as if* it was a movie you’ve seen. See what questions they ask about its logic, its characters, its arena. Get into a conversation with them, start a dialogue about it. Glean from this the information you need to take your story to the next level in “fleshing it out”.
Now we’re addressing those problems our pitch revealed. What was it? A plot hole, a logistical issue? A character’s believability? Meet it face on, don’t skirt around it. What are the fuzzy or grey areas of your story – don’t just say “I’ll think of it later”: think of it NOW. We’re not merely thinking about it either, we’re writing the solution down on paper. This doesn’t mean it can’t change later, but we can only find better solutions if we have a solution in the first place!
Write for five minutes minimum about the solution to your problem/s.
Now it’s time to focus on the most difficult or challenging moment for your MAIN character – this means you need to know, definitively, who your characters are and what they want. This exercise does not necessarily need to be your protagonist, but if you are drawn to a particular character who is NOT your protagonist yet you feel is more interesting, have you put the wrong person as your lead? Think here who is leading the action, who is the obstacle. Think why this moment is difficult for them – is it emotional? Physical? Both? What stands between them and their goal? What is it they need to do? If they fail in their mission, how do we still achieve dramatic satisfaction?
Write for five minutes about that difficult moment.
Our characters are like real people to us, so just like real people have an action or way of doing something that defines them, so should our characters. Our characters’ real selves should be reflected in what they DO, not what they say – this does not mean everything has to be literal. You can use subtext to create the impression of one thing and mean another; a character can contradict themselves and still remain logical, because we recognise this as truthful: in reality people contradict themselves all the time (just never contradict the STORY).
Write for five minutes a scene that includes the character and their defining feature.
Now we need to find our character’s voice: too many specs have characters that sound the same. Find the essence of your character, give them a way of speaking that makes them stand out and the audience interested. Write a monologue that encapsulates that character’s point of view, their beliefs, their problem. Make us believe that character is talking and then you will believe your character can carry (or contribute to) your story.
Write this monologue for five minutes, get lost in the character.
So there you have it: in less than an hour, you can generate a wealth of material that can help you form the basis of a draft. What I particularly like about this approach is not only its simplicity, but the fact that it places character at the heart of screenwriting whilst still impressing the importance of plot which can sometimes be forgotten. After all, protagonists should DRIVE stories, not just have stuff happen *to* them without logic. Nothing more dull for a script reader than ploughing through a draft in which a protagonist meanders from event to event, because no matter how great the protagonist is, if we don’t know why they’re doing stuff, we’re just not going to be engaged.
Enjoy your ideas!