To the casual observer, writing can appear to be a low-energy, even passive activity. But we as writers know that this is not the case. While our fingers may be the only thing moving externally, our minds are alive and active with ideas, thoughts, dialogue, and description that help bring our story to life on paper.
But sometimes, even in that state of inner active creativity, we can get a little stuck. Maybe a sequence isn’t coming together as effectively on the page as you want, or there’s an element missing from the dialogue or action.
When this happens, get out of that chair and work through the scene. As a writer, you are the creator, director, actor, and stunt coordinator of everything in your story. It is your job to do whatever you can to get the story right. And if you have to workshop it in your living room like a play, that’s 100% acceptable.
Here are some ways to do it.
Get On Your Feet and Move
As Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball) demonstrates in this clip from I Love Lucy, working through the emotion, the conflict, and the drama of a scene as you write can help you create more realistic dialogue and scenes.
Reading your dialogue aloud can also be a great benefit to ensure that the characters speak like human beings and not as literary characters on a page (unless that’s the style you are aiming for).
If you have someone to assist you, you can improvise a scene you’re having issues with and work out what problems you may be having. Often as writers, we internalize too often. Getting your story’s words and situations into an external space can help you see them from a better perspective and make more substantial story choices.
Make a Model
Perhaps your story has a big fight sequence or chase that involves several characters and would be complicated to stage at home. Legos, action figures, water bottles, or even cups can be used to create a mock version of your characters (I suggest labeling the characters so they don’t get mixed up while your working). You can use boxes or other objects to create the setting, then position your characters accordingly during the sequence.
In doing so, you can now visually see how things would work, where the character would be positioned throughout the sequence, and how best to end the sequence given your parameters.
Seeing clear visuals can also help you see any problems, so you fix them before writing out the entire sequence.
Hollywood does this all the time with big sequences using animatics. While their aim is to save money on costly reshoots, your aim is to save time on headache-inducing rewrites.
Use Name Cards and Drawings
Another method can be used for even bigger sequences like a giant battle or even a murder mystery with a dinner party. In this exercise, you write the names of all the characters on separate index cards, then use poster board or another large piece of paper to map out what the room or battlefield will look like. Then you can move the “characters” around and see where they are in relation to other characters and locations.
In doing so, you can see if there is logic in who is conversing with who, helping who, and fighting who depending on where they are in the diagram.
This exercise was done by the writers of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End for the final battle involving three pirate ships, three crews of pirates, and the main cast. As they were writing, they used the diagrams to see where characters started when the sequence began and how to effectively move them from ship to ship throughout the battle.
As you can see from the movement of characters in the clip below, this would have been very useful in the writer’s room!
With all three, I recommend filming and talking through each exercise so you don’t forget any details that may change or pop into your head while you’re working. Once it’s done, and on the page, you can delete the footage, and no one has to know what great lengths you went through to make that big sequence work.
Happy Acting, and Happy Writing!