After being in a fiction phase for a while, I’ve started writing a new screenplay. I like to switch it up to keep myself challenged. Learning screenplay format was a nightmare, but it turned out to be worth the effort when I discovered I love writing them. There’s a new screenplay format afoot in at least some industry sectors, so I’m experimenting with what I hope will become my leanest script yet.

In the meantime I’m discovering some things about the way I write, as I write. “They” say the more you write, the more you learn. Here are some ways I’m finding that to be true.

1. Formatting software is my friend.

–I’ve written here before about the trouble I’ve had trying to format scripts with my beloved, though fatally obscure Word Pro, possibly the best, but least known word processor on the planet. Though it feels like cheating on said beloved, I am writing my new script with screenwriting software. I downloaded the free software, Trelby, and have never looked back. It’s intuitive, easy to pick up, and best of all it frees up the part of my brain that was struggling to constantly be conscious of formatting. I really needed that freedom long before I realized it. Win!

2. My instincts are to be trusted.

I just had to rearrange the way a scene started, because I suddenly realized I had been right all along. It originally opened at Point A. I overthought it, scrapped that, and reopened at Point B. It didn’t feel right. I went on writing, but it kept nagging at some little unoccupied corner of my brain. I switched back to point A, and it was like picking up a dropped ball, hefting it a few times for a feel of its true weight, then tossing it clear to the moon! We think about trusting our gut for business, but it’s true of the actual writing too.

3. I can finally edit in my head.

I’ve come to think this is a crucial part of my screenwriting process. Thinking and doing are two different things. Oh, I’ve been able to do it before…on the gazillionth draft. So early yesterday morning that it was still the middle of the night, I started a scene that worked. It was good writing. I felt good about it. It. Was. Unnecessary. Maybe it was because I was distracted by waiting until daylight so I could call the air conditioner repair man that I took that step back mentally, even as I wrote. I don’t know. I do know that I recognized it before it was completely out of my head. This is progress that I hope is not a one time thing. First draft mental editing on the fly, if it sticks, is like suddenly developing a super power. To the time saver! Away!

4. Imaginary logistics are crucial.

It’s easy sometimes to think of a tiny plot point for half a script away, and not give it much more thought until I’m about to write it. Panic sets in. How to write it becomes the question that screeches everythng to a halt. The burning question becomes: Is that simple little action even possible? Can it be done? How? Other times I’ve spent way too much should-be-writing time trying to solve confounding problems I’ve caused for myself, in the moment, while a holding pattern sets in that makes the skies over LAX seem deserted. This one that hit me like a brick between the eyes soon after I’d allowed myself to fall in love with its particular imagery…this one I recognized as something I needed to figure out before that character took one more step. I thought about it until I was absolutely sure it can be done and now I don’t have to ramp up the panic mode pages away.

5. There’s thinking and there’s overthinking. Don’t do the second.

If I get characters started right, and stay out of their way, magic can happen. They come to life in my head, move on to the screen of my laptop, and tell their stories there. I don’t use the word magic lightly. When it all comes together right…all the plotting, the character names and relationships, locations, personalities…it’s as if a spell is cast.
During the first draft the spell lasts until Fade Out is typed. The movie I want to see most in the world plays out in my head. Thinking too much can kill that. Then it becomes a chore to write instead of a joy. Joy in creating something new is always the initial goal.

So there you have some things I’ve learned from writing several spec scripts that have done well in competitions. These hard won lessons are really clicking into place as I work on my new one, but here’s a big question mark I’m still working on. When characters take on a life of their own, they can take the story and thus the writer into uncharted seas. I’ve created myself a peripheral character who does not understand the word peripheral. So, in spite of my lessons learned, I am now grappling with a decision.

Let him continue down his chosen path or stifle a cool and fun creative adventure.

Yes, of course I’ll stop overthinking and write with bated breath, waiting to see what happens next. Far be it from me to get in the way of a character determined to turn my serial killer crime drama into a serial killer romantic comedy! That would fly in the face of what I’ve learned from writing screenplays…now wouldn’t it?

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