Writing through the block

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untitled-screenplay
The infamous blank page

Part of a series of posts about adventures in screenwriting.

These are some lessons that I’ve picked up in my four years of screenwriting. They might not help you at all, but here they are nonetheless.

Writing is essentially making a series of choices. I choose where my characters are. I choose what they say. I choose what they do. I choose what happens to them. Writer’s Block happens when I can no longer make a choice.

Now, why I can’t make a choice will determine how I handle my writer’s block. Is that I am mentally unprepared to make that choice? Or is there some detail of the story I can’t quite figure out?

Let’s deal with the second case first. Since the problem arises from the material of the story, we’ll call this case material writer’s block. Here are some ways to get through it.

  1. Start writing. I know, you’re thinking, “But I don’t know what to write.” I don’t care, the most important thing is to not get stuck. Writer’s block is habit forming. The longer you have it, the harder it is to break because the more you think about it, the harder it becomes to make that next choice. So treat it like quicksand and choose anything. Have your characters say anything. It can suck. That doesn’t matter. You can always rewrite it later once you’ve figured out where you’re going. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always work, so here’s number 2.
  2. Make a list of every possible outcome for your scene. List everything anyone can do in that scene. Then choose the most interesting thing and write it.
  3. Figure out where you want the story to go. What do you want to happen next? Where do your characters need to go? What needs to be said? What does your story need to happen? Then write the scene to take you to that moment.
  4. Draw. Draw a picture of where your characters are in relation to each other. Draw a map of how you want the scene to progress through time. Draw the sequence of actions that you want to happen. Then line them up in the most dramatic order and write that scene.
  5. Rewrite. Sometimes, you can figure out where you want the scene to go, but you can’t figure out how to get there from where you are. Save a new copy of your screenplay, so you’re not worried about throwing anything away and never getting it back and start the scene over again. Rewrite it from the beginning with any new insights you have gained from the previous steps. You don’t have to have the whole thing mapped out. You don’t have to know exactly where you’re going. In fact, the most interesting writing happens when you only have a vague idea where your going. If you know your characters, they’ll tell you how to get there. Plus, you’ll be surprised how many new ideas come to you as you get your fingers moving again.

The trick to this last step is that you can work in the new directions you want the story to take into early moments in the story and it’s easy to get moving again because you’re not writing new material. When you get to where you were stuck before, you’ll have those new plot beats to get you past it.

Okay, that’s it for today. If I wasn’t clear on anything or if you have any questions, comment below and I’ll respond. Next time, I’ll talk about psychological writer’s block and how to get into a good mental state for writing.


Author

James Granger
Member, FWD:labs
Screenwriting site
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