Writing Exercise of the Week: Pick a Favorite Movie

Last time, we played around with movie visuals, working to see if we could figure out what was happening in a movie without sound or dialogue.  In that exercise, you picked a movie you’d never seen.

This time, pick one of your favorite movies.  Old or new.  Any genre.  Doesn’t matter.  Once you have one or a few in mind, you’ll be ready for this exercise.

Let’s get started.

Watch the Movie

You love and enjoy it, so watching it again shouldn’t be a big deal.  But this time, as you watch, make notes about why you like this particular film.  Is it the story?  The characters?  The dialogue?  The visuals?  The film score?  What draws you into the film and holds your interest time and time again?

Are there specific scenes that are memorable to you?  Why?  What makes those scenes or sequences stand out in your mind above the others?

Read the Script

Find the script online and read through it.  Does the script give you similar emotions or feelings to the film?  Are there any changes you notice between the text of the screenplay and the completed film?  If so, why do you think these changes were made?

Watch the Movie Again with a Critical Eye

I’m not asking you to change your opinion or enjoyment of the movie you’ve chosen.  Watch the film in this exercise and analyze what works and doesn’t.  What are the strong points of the story, characters, etc.?  What are some of the weaker moments in the film?  

Would the film still work without them, or are they needed to move the story forward?

Re-read the script.  Were these scenes in there, or were they added later?

Why Am I Doing This?

By digging deeper and analyzing your favorite films, you can learn how these screenwriters crafted a narrative and how the filmmakers interpreted the words into a completed film.  Your task as a screenwriter is to create a compelling world on the page that can be elevated by other creative talents to become something still representative of what’s written.  

Final Thoughts

A screenplay is a blueprint for a massive construction project that becomes a beehive of creativity populated by actors, production designers, directors, costume designers, digital artists, composures, and hundreds – if not thousands – more.  

Taking the time to dig deeper into the initial creative process and the text that was turned into the film, learning from in its original form, can help you understand the screenwriting process and the work needed to bring those words to life.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Exercise of the Week: A Visual Exercise

This week’s posts have been about the craft of screenwriting.  Screenwriting is primarily a visual medium; its main goal is to translate the text into visuals for the screen.  This means that technically, a person should be able to watch a film without sound and have a general idea about what’s taking place.

The Exercise – Part One

Find a movie you’ve never seen – thousands are on all the streaming services, and YouTube has movies free with ads – and watch the first 30 minutes of the movie WITHOUT SOUND.  That’s right.  Mute that TV or device.  You’re just watching the visuals presented on the screen.

Write down what you see and what you think the story is.

Who are the characters?  Can you tell what their relationships are based on their body language and performances?  

What’s the location of the story (if you’re given a graphic that tells you where the setting is, what visual cues make it clear that that’s where the film is set?)?

Can you figure out what the basic premise of the story is after the first 30 minutes?  What’s happened in that time?  What has changed for the main character or characters?  Was it clear based on the visuals?

Based on what you’ve seen in silence, do the visuals make you want to keep watching?

Part Two

Now, watch again with the sound on.  How accurate were your notes?  Were the film’s visuals effective and strong enough to convey the story, setting, and characters without the audio elements?

Part Three

Watch the rest of the movie – hopefully you picked a shorter film and not an epic – muted, taking notes and working to see if you can discern how the rest of the story unfolds through the visuals only.

Then, watch the film with the sound and see how accurate your notes were.

Final Thoughts

We watch movies for the visual experience, so it’s important as a screenwriter to understand the impact that quality visual description can have on the final produced product.  By writing and crafting a strong visual narrative, you can then use dialogue to enhance the story rather than carry it completely.  

Remember: You want to show the audience the story, not tell them about it.

Happy viewing, and I’ll see you next time!   

Writing Tip of the Week:  Writing Your First (Short) Script

Big-budget blockbusters have a lot of moving parts.    From huge ensemble casts, overpowering visual effects, big set pieces, and crazy action sequences, watching can often be an immersive and overwhelming experience. 

Now, imagine the process of writing it.

We all have a story on the same scale as an AvengersAvatar, or Pirates of the Caribbean movie.    And while jotting down notes and ideas is a good idea, when writing your first script, you want to think smaller.    Much smaller.

How much smaller? Let’s talk about it.

Back to Basics

Your first journey into screenwriting should be something less than a 140-page epic.    Think short film.    Three to five pages.    One setting.    Two characters.    Character A has a goal or plan, but character B opposes them.    Now there’s conflict in your story.    These two people are at odds in one location.  

But before you sit in front of your laptop and write, you’ll want to plan and outline your story from start to finish.    What are the story beats?    How does the conflict progress?    Who are these people?    Where are they located?  

Give yourself the creative freedom to play around with multiple ideas before deciding on one to take to the next step of becoming a short film script.

K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Screenwriter)

Once you’ve nailed down your story, setting, and character, you can begin the script’s drafting phase.

This allows you to practice writing descriptions, character intros, and dialogue on a basic scale in the screenplay format. You’ll notice how fast a page can fly by as you write due to the formatting.    When you rewrite, how can you trim things down to keep the script between three and five pages and still have a coherent story?

Show, Don’t Tell

Film, as you know, is a visual medium, and the audience is meant to be shown things that help inform the story.    The last thing you want to do is tell your audience something you could show them instead.

If your script has a married couple, how can you convey that through visuals?    If they are a parent and an adult child, how can you clarify their relationship before someone says “Mom” or “Son”?

Fun with Dialogue

Once you’ve written your dialogue for both characters, read it out loud.    Can you revise it to make it sound more natural?    Can you cut it down and make the pacing faster without losing the context of what’s being said?  

Remember, real people speak in fragments.    They often trail off or even change subjects halfway through an answer.    Unlike dialogue in a novel, script dialogue is intended to be performed by an actor, so it should be easy to speak. 

Final Thoughts

The best advice I can give you is: Have Fun.    Create.    Experiment.    Outline.    Write.    Rewrite.    Play around and enjoy the process.    As you get used to the basics, you can move on, writing another scene that adds to the story, adds to the conflict, and keeps things moving.

Happy Screenwriting, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Tip of the Week: So, You Want to Write a Movie?

We’ve all told ourselves or a group of friends at once in our lives, “I could write something better than that!” And, while that may be true, few people ever act on that proposition in a way that proves they can craft a compelling 110-page story for the big -or, in today’s world, streaming – screen.

If you are curious about how to get started, let’s talk about ways to familiarize yourself with screenplays and scriptwriting.

READ Screenplays

Much like a novelist should read books, an aspiring screenwriter should take the time to read many screenplays from different genres and decades.  Screenplays for movies you’ve seen and ones for movies you haven’t seen.  

By doing this, you’ll notice how screenplay formatting has evolved over the years.  Camera angles were typed into screenplays for decades, but now they are added sparingly, if at all.  You’ll see how different writers in various decades incorporate flashbacks or dream sequences and how they introduce a character or setting.  

A screenplay is an amazing piece of art, acting as a blueprint for a larger entity – a film – but also delivering a compelling and complete story in a limited number of pages and page space.  There’s no room to elaborate or explain; get in, deliver the info, and get out.

And despite these limitations, screenwriters can keep you turning the page as fast as any novel can. 

There are many, many websites available that offer up .pdf versions of screenplays.  One of them is www.thescriptlab.com which constantly adds scripts to its library.


Once you’ve read several scripts, find a few for current movies – preferably the SHOOTING SCRIPT – and watch the film as you follow along with the screenplay.  How did the creative team, the director, and the actors bring the words on the page to life?  If you haven’t seen the film before, is what you envisioned when you first read the script what ended up in the film?

Learn the Structure

How is a screen story told?  How is it different than a novel?  Many books are available that break down screenplay structure, along with websites that present methodologies that can help you take your story and craft it into a screenplay.  From Robert McKee’s Story to Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, and Eric Edson’s The Story Solution, find what works best for you and try it out.  

Learn the Formatting

The basics of screenplay formatting have remained fairly constant over the past few decades.  However, minor changes have been made that can mean the difference between your script looking amateur and like a pro’s.  

I recommend reading the Best Screenplay nominated scripts from a previous couple of years to see what these writers did regarding formatting.  It’s also important to seek out produced screenplays that give examples of how to format text messaging or social media-related items in a script if you plan to use them in your story.  

Do I Need Special Software?

You can find free screenwriting software online if you’re dabbling in the screenwriting playground.  If you want to take it seriously, software like Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter is available and is considered the industry standard.  Both can be a bit pricey, so if you want to try writing a script for fun, find a free program first.

Final Thoughts

I love screenwriting.  I love reading scripts.  I love the process of developing and writing a screenplay.  It’s a fun, creative experience.  Learning from the masters, exploring how stories are crafted, and comparing the script to the finished film are great ways to get excited and energized about the process.  

Happy Screenwriting, and I’ll see you next time!

Book Review Tuesday – Alone in a Room: Secrets of Successful Screenwriters by John Scott Lewinski

No matter what you write, what genre you write, or your writing methods, I feel it’s always good to read about how others in the writing world approach their craft. If you are a novelist, you can still learn from screenwriters. Screenwriters can learn from playwrights. Playwrights from poets. We all have the goals to engage, entertain, and inspire, so exploring how others write in other forms is always a good idea.

Alone in a Room‘s concepts and honesty can be applied to all writers, not just screenwriters. Below is my review of the book:

It took me a while to get around to reading Alone in a Room (I’ve had it since 2004), but the other night I was thinking about the book and decided to crack it open. I wish I had done so a long time ago. John Scott Lewinski’s insights and writer interviews are filled with valuable information for both the novice and pro writer.

While the focus is on screenwriting, any writer can glean plenty of tips and tools to use in their work. Topics include dealing with deadlines, working with a partner, or working on multiple projects at once.

Lewinski finds a nice balance between giving you the hard and ugly truth about being a writer in Hollywood while keeping up the positive encouragement for you to keep on writing. 

I enjoyed this book and am surprised he hasn’t updated it to reflect the current trends in streaming, gaming, podcasts, and other avenues a writer can take. 

Despite the lack of updated material, the book still provides valuable insights and tools that any writer can use.

I recommend Alone in a Room.

What books about writing have you read and recommend? Leave a comment and let me know!

Enhancing Your Creativity

As creative people, we sometimes allow ourselves to get trapped in a particular box.  I’m a writer.  I’m an actor.  I’m a painter.  And while it’s always good to have a clear idea of what your primary creative skill and talent is, I also think it’s important to tackle other creative pursuits that can help enhance and influence what you already love to do.

If you are a screenwriter or playwright, consider taking an acting class to see how actors interpret and interact with the words on the page.  This can help you as a writer see how to make your writing clearer and subject to the interpretation you intended.  It also will help you gain a new perspective on the collaborative process that goes into filmmaking or producing a play.

I would also recommend taking a class about directing to see how a director reads and interprets a script. This can also help you as you refine your script to make sure what is being communicated is what you intend.

If you’re a novelist, you could take an improv class and develop skills that help you connect ideas and concepts quickly that can help you when writing a rough or first draft.  This can definitely help when your characters take the wheel when your writing.  One of the basic concepts of improv is the never saying no to concept that’s introduced; it’s always “Yes, and then what” instead of negating any ideas presented.  

I highly recommend the series Whose Line is it, Anyway?to see pro improv performers in action.  With practice, you can get to that level, too and enhance your writing along the way.

These are just a few examples, but it never hurts to explore an alternate skill-set that is related, or even unrelated to what you love to do creatively.  Maybe a class on cooking, or wine making, or music could give you the inspiration you need to give your primary creative pursuit an injection of excitement and energy.

I have taken acting classes, improv, and directing classes and they have definitely helped me gain greater insight into the writing process when it comes to the collaborative process.  And they’re also a lot of fun!

What types of classes or activities have you done to help enhance your primary creative interests?  Leave a comment and let me know!