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A Writers Process

I believe another disclaimer in front of this entry is needed. Even with the twenty years of story, comedy, and screenwriting experience on my resume, I am not the definitive expert on the subject, nor ever will be. This post will be a direct reference to just my creative writing journey, how I prep a new story, and the tips and tricks I use to keep the juices flowing.

People often ask me where I get my ideas from… The simple answer is there is no simple answer. My inspiration comes from many places, such as other books, movies, news articles, dreams, friends, and family. Artists, writers, and filmmakers, myself included, are just standing on the shoulders of those who came before them.

For the sake of clarity moving forward, instead of using a story or script I’ve already written, I will now make up a brand new and ridiculous character and plot so we can dissect it.

In the year 1342, a skilled and honourable Samurai named KENZO (30) is betrayed by his best friend JON (35) for an assault on his master’s daughter and is subsequently exiled. Now drunk, Ken wanders the countryside as a Ronin, seeking grand adventures and gets paid for his badass services until the time can come where he can confront his past.

Sound familiar? Yeah, because it probably is. I can think of a few Akira Kurosawa movies that have similar plots. The 47 Ronin movies, both the original and the remake with Keanu Reeves, samesies. There’s even a Jack Reacher book that has similar details. Now is my story any less original because it borrows small notes from other material? Not at all, I’m inspired by those who came before me. I wouldn’t do a scene for a scene rewrite of Yojimbo (1961) because you’d have to obtain the proper rights and nobody really wants to see remakes, let’s get real. So, I’m not going to do that. You need to have your own original take on it.

So, now we have a quick synopsis or story online. We have a Protagonist (good guy) and an Antagonist (bad guy), and we have a goal for our hero. There’s lots to play with in the subtext also. Subtext is an underlying and distinct theme in a piece of writing or conversation. E.g., Ken lost his honour and probably wants it back. What’s going on with the master’s daughter? Is there a love triangle? Does she have the hots for Ken and Jon got jealous? Why did Jon set up and betray his friend?

I came up with this story in fifteen minutes just this morning. Sounds interesting and fun, probably a movie I would like to see one day… So what now? Where do I start? How do I determine the story and character arcs?

Well, I personally start at the end. No one is going to be talking about your script or film if your ending sucks. You want to write a story. If you do that, people will remember it and discuss it among themselves, which is the ultimate goal. Make a film that evokes emotions in people. Happiness, sadness, thrills, excitement, terror. If you do that, people will remember it and discuss it amongst themselves.

I saw the 1997 David Fincher movie “Seven” at a sleepover when I was 15 and it royally fucked me up. Probably the most affected I have ever been by a film in my life. Now what a 15-year-old is doing watching that movie is a whole round of questions for my therapist to unpack, but I remember absolutely hating the movie and what it did to my still developing brain. However, when I re-watched it ten years later, after I could comprehend the multiple layers, writing, subtext, tone, acting, twists, I absolutely loved the film. It’s one of the most incredible films and memorable final acts that still holds up today.

I can’t speak to that writer’s process or how they put that screenplay together, but I assume they had the ending, or a variation of that ending in mind from the jump. It’s absolutely jaw dropping, and there is a high level of brilliance in that.

So, I always put together my ending first and work backwards. It doesn’t have to be a twist or something ground-breaking. Hero-gets-girl happy endings are still, and will always be, very popular in cinema. But you have to plan it, so it makes sense.

Most producers are only going to read the first five to ten pages of your script, so I would suggest grabbing them in the first few pages. Make your story stand out with great characters and descriptions. Put the reader into the audience. In the past, this has been a weak point for me because I want to shoot all my own written work and I have the character envisioned in my head. But it’s a bad habit to get into, and I’m working on doing better. Even a writer director must be accountable to the other members of his team. The actors, producer, camera person, wardrobe, hair, and make-up initially will all go off the writer’s description of the character. In the end, it’s just about making your life easier and getting your script read.

I wrote my first script when I was seventeen and had zero idea what I was doing. Just typing away with an idea and a passion to write for the movies. Over the years, I have garnered more of a formal education through books, schooling, trial, and error. Some of the neatest tricks I have picked up over the years are:

1. Listen to people talk. See how different people converse. Watch their mannerisms. My best characters are often a combination of four or five real people I’ve met in real life.

2. Watch other movies with subtitles. See how the pros are writing dialog.

3. Have multiple projects of different genres on the go. If you hit a wall writing your drama, maybe the comedy words will come. Having options gives you the freedom to write whatever you want on any given day. Even if it’s just short stories or journaling.

4. Read when you’re uninspired. Use a different part of your brain. Let someone else do the work for a few chapters.

5. Develop your characters. A good idea with strong characters will carry the story during the duller moments. The writing gets easier the more you know all the ins and outs of the story you’re telling.

I thought I was going to struggle with this week’s topic. Writing about writing sounds so redundant and stupid. It’s my hope each week, for you, the reader, to hopefully get a little something from the posts, whether it’s a tidbit of knowledge or a morsel of information that may help you to continue making forward progress in your film or writing career.

Remember, we’re all in this together and no one is getting out alive. Grim way to wrap it up, but that’s my David Fincher ending.

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