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Feeling Blue? Top 10 Writing Exercises To Cheer You Up!

Nobody knows better than us crazy writers that the lows are just as necessary as the highs, but that doesn’t mean we like these darker, more tumultuous times any better. So what do we do about it? We write, duh!

Or we sit around smoking cigarettes and talking shit about other people until we feel better.

Bottom line, it’s now time to take out your old-fashioned pen and paper, or open up your newfangled Word document, and git on down to it!

10. You are like Luke Skywalker. Write three different opening paragraphs to your autobiography, trying out very different styles.

9. Write the lyrics of a catchy jingle for a plumbing service.

8. You are a superhero. What are your powers, and how do you use them?

7. Write an X-rated Disney scenario.

6. Drink a beer. Write about the taste.

5. Write a bathroom wall limerick.

4. Create an imaginary friend (human or not).

3. Write about your life among the pirates.

2. Write a poem about a tomato.

1. Go ahead. Write about that time you peed your pants.

Happy writing, and happier times ahead!


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Automatic Writing Exercise

Sometimes the best way to get the creative juices flowing is to write about things you haven’t thought about in a long time, but that are bound to have left some kind of impression on you. The way this works is I give you a prompt, you read it, and after, say, 10 seconds you start writing. Try not to think to hard about what you’re going to write, and definitely don’t delete/edit as you go. What you do want to do is zero your focus in on the little details of these moments. The tastes, the touch, the sounds, smells, and whatever other odd bit of information your subconscious has stored away for the long haul. Ready? Okay, here we go!

(p.s. try not to look ahead to the next prompt, and just focus on one at a time.)

1. Your first kiss.

"Bitch, watchu doin' with my man?"

2. The first time you went swimming.

Rut roh.

3. Where you sat in elementary or high school.

I wish my classroom had looked that cool.

4. Where you were likely to be on a Saturday morning when you were a kid.

I was watching these guys.

5. What you did this past Thursday.

Yup.

6. Write about the person you have the most baggage around right now.

If only all my baggage was this pristine.

7. Write a dialogue between two people: A wants B to do something that B doesn’t want to do.

I dare you to try to get me to cut my hair.

And now you’re on a roll!

When I did this writing exercise it resulted in this cool, existential story about people choosing how they’re going to die before they’re even born. So, you know, that was pretty rad. Hope you come up with some equally surprising and satisfying results!

Happy writing!

Holly


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How to Watch a Movie & Write at the Same Time!

I’ve often been caught sitting in my pj’s in the middle of the day, eating a ball of port wine cheddar (sans crackers) while in the midst of a movie marathon.

That's me in my pj's watching TV. ...Riiiiight.

No, it doesn’t look like I’m doing much, but I’m actually writing. How can that be, you ask? Well, every time I watch a film I am actively watching it, analyzing it, critiquing it, figuring out what works, what doesn’t work, and how and why certain screenwriting and cinematic storytelling techniques should succeed or fail. As I do this in regards to what’s on the screen, I am also actively thinking about how my work stands up to these questions. Usually there are holes in what I know about a project I’m working on, as most stories do not come to the writer fully fleshed out and in 100% perfect condition. It is the writer’s job to sit and think about their stories! This should be common sense, but I often find new writers skipping over this fundamental part of the writing process. This might be because they don’t yet know what questions they should be asking about their work. I suggest watching and analyzing tons of the great films that there are out there, and for every one of them, ask yourselves these questions. Once you get into the swing of analyzing and critiquing the work of others, you’ll have the tools necessary to broach your writing projects with a finely tuned “kino” eye.

*Kino eye is a reference to Russian film making, meaning literally, the camera eye (kino – camera).

The Ins & Outs of Screenplay Analysis

Screenplay analysis is like those confusing social dances of the Victorian era; it may take you a while to learn the steps but once you do you'll get a husband. Er...

  • What is the point of story acquisition? This is when you have your first sense of the story, i.e. we have enough information on setting, character and universe to understand what we believe this movie is “about.” Some call this the “hook” or “inciting incident.” It is the moment when all of the elements have first come together in a real story form, and reach a state of critical mass that jump starts the main drama. It usually happens in the first ten to twenty minutes/pages of a feature film/screenplay, and within the first minute of a ten minute/page short/screenplay. This is not formulaic: if an audience cannot grasp a sense of story within the first ten or twenty minutes, they’ll leave the theater and demand they’re money back. Just think how long you’d listen to someone telling a story with no apparent point. You wouldn’t sit still for long of that. Likewise, you can imagine the point of story acquisition as being the thesis statement of a film. It lets us know what we’re in for. So remember, the point of story acquisition is when you first engaged by the elements coming together as a graspable story that gets you hooked.
  •  What are the central conflicts the character(s) face throughout the film? The protagonist in particular? How are these conflicts related to the point of story acquisition? They should all be encompassed in that action/event.
  •  What are the ways the characters and their circumstances are articulated by the filmmakers?
  • What are the main tensions? Tension is the question raised in the mind of the audience, the thing that keeps them in their seats waiting to learn the answer. In this way, every story has the element of suspense.
  •  What is the Major Dramatic Question (MDQ)?
  •  When is the first act turn? This is the point when Act I, the beginning, gives way, and we enter Act II, the middle? These are usually highlighted by a major “sign post” or “turning point,” a noticeable shit in the story. Usually part of the major dramatic question has been answered, and new questions arise out of that. This is akin to first paragraph in the body of an academic essay.
  • When do you get a sense that the major tension is first answered? How is this related to tracking the characters’ wants & needs.
  • What are the major questions/tensions raised at the midpoint of the movie that the film them pursues for the duration. Can you identify what those questions are? Where do you sense the shift from tracking the protagonist’s want to tracking his or her need? Remember, the want of the character is related to his or her goal or objective. It is something tangible that the character both aware of and is actively pursuing. The characters need is more of a psychological or subconscious state that they need to overcome in order to change or have an arc. All characters in the film should have a want and a need, though the one we’re most concerned with is the protagonist’s because these are the points that the story revolves around.
  • How is the Act II tension resolved? How does that propel us into Act III?
  • Can you identify the turning from Act II to Act III, the end; the point in the story where we jump into overdrive on our way to the climax and resolution?
  • What are the Act III conflicts and tensions? Remember that conflict arises when a character’s need/wants/circumstances are unacceptable to the character, who then aims to change his or her situation. Tension is the question as to whether or not the character will be successful in this aim, and achieve his goal. Conflict is the collision of the character on a mission met with resistance, obstacles, and/or complications. Tension is the question of the outcome.
  • Overall, where do you feel a distinct story structure, be it Acts or sequences? Sequences, as opposed to Acts are a series of scenes strung together in a what’s called a scene sequence. In features, they tend to consist of around 9-11 scenes, and around 10 minutes long (therefore you find roughly 9 -12 sequences in a film that’s 90-120 minutes long) that tell a solid chunk of the story. Usually in feature, they interweave the A Story, B Story, C Story and so on. This is terminology mostly used when discussing television writing, but is applicable to screenplays too. However, in film, we usually refer to these other stories within the large whole as subplots.
  • What is the overall effect of the weaving together of the above dramatic elements in terms of the story, and audience understanding/enjoyment of the film?
  • Identify elements of artistry and entertainment within and throughout the story.

Suggested Films to Watch:

ANY MOVIE EVER MADE.


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Writing on a Deadline

We all know deadlines are arbitrary things to get our lazy butts in gear to produce something that other people can judge our worth by. That’s just the way life works. But that doesn’t mean we have to like it. In fact, most of the time when you should be doing this…

Studying dilligently...

…all you really want to be doing is this…

This is a real photograph of me procrastinating.

This begs the question, how does one find the motivation and stick-to-it-iveness to sit down and crank out pages? Here are some helpful tips to keep you one the right track.

Professor Meow says you need glasses to stay focused, but I don't beleive him.

First things first. Wake your ass up, and sit your ass down in front of the computer screen. Sounds like common sense, I know, but often I find under-the-gun writers doing anything but sitting down and writing. It’s no small wonder, and I’ll tell you why. Usually when you’re coming up on your deadline, your self critic steps in and tells you everything you’re writing, or thinking, or thinking about writing is shit. That’s when things start to look like this:

Not a good look.

So just tell your self critic to shut the F up, and remember that you’re a tremendous writer who can do anything once you set your mind to it. All you need is a little focus.

Next tip: Focus. Here’s what it doesn’t look like.

Don't be like this guy. Lolling about in a dreamy daze is also not a good look to be wearing when someone comes in and says, like, "Don't you have a shit ton of work due in a few hours?"

So how do we focus? Anne Lamont suggests taking things “bird by bird” and I agree with her. Just imagine that whatever you’re working on is broken up into tiny segments that we shall now call “birds.” Oh, right, you don’t have to imagine it because screenplays are broken up into neat and tidy little sections called scenes. These scenes or “birds” are all you have to focus on. One. At. A. Time.

“I’m gonna git you birds!”

Do you see what’s wrong here? This kitten is trying to go after two birds at once. At look at him, he’s totally confused and incapacitated by his indecisiveness. He doesn’t know which bird to go after first. The obvious answer is the one closest to him. For you, a writer, that means picking up the idea that is the most fleshed out in your mind; the one that will require the least amount of thought to get down on the page. Picture that scene or “bird” in your mind, sit down at your computer, and start swatting at it. Start at the beginning and don’t stop writing until you’re at the end.

Now you're on a roll.

Awesome! Once that scene is done, go straight into the next one. Don’t even think about what you’re going to write. Just do it! You’ve probably got files on this scene stored in the dark recesses of your mind that will come to the fore once you clear out all your cluttered thoughts and let your unconscious do the work.

That’s it. Two tips. That’s all you need to get yourself going. Once the ball is rolling you just need to remember to stay calm, stay awake, and stay focused on catching that bird. And once you get all of them, I highly suggest that you do this:

That's right. Rock the fuck out.

Happy writing!

Holly


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4 Act & Mythogolical Structures Deconstructed

If you click on this button –> 4 ACT and MYTH <– you will be taken to magical pdf document that will show you how all films break down in a very general sense. When trying to hit your plot points remember to divide your act breaks by the length (pages) of your screenplay. So, if you’re writing a feature, the inciting incident could be anywhere from pg 8-17, but when writing a short (say 10 pages) it should occur within the first page, possibly before.