Brain stretches

Just a quickie…

Just like the rest of your body the brain needs to limber up before doing its thing.  Free writing is a great way to get the juices flowing and it’s dead easy and pretty fun.

step 1. Grab a pen and paper/laptop.

step 2. Have some method of recording time at hand. Set a timer/alarm for 10 minutes.

step 3. Write, and don’t stop until the time is up. Simple.

This is a stream of consciousness exercise with the intention being to not filter yourself in anyway. That means no stopping for grammar or spelling errors and as little hesitation as possible. At first this might seem odd and tricky and if nothing is coming out just write squiggles until something does. What comes from your fingers is not supposed to be good or even comprehensible but I guarantee by the end you willl have little nuggets of ideas that will get the ball rolling. At least, if nothing else, you no longer have a blank page.

Tip: Sometimes I like to free write with a current project in mind so as to pull in the reigns a little. Especially with those projects were the ideas are running a little dry, you’d be surprised what a little mental improv can come up with.

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 Character Creation – An alternative perspective.

Whilst at university studying scriptwriting I opted for an exchange student program at Ryerson university, Toronto. My time there felt all but script writing related bar one class I took with a professor who looked alarmingly like Greg Kinnear. What he taught us about character completely changed my perspective and I’ve tried to incorporate his message into my work ever since.

Although it was quite some time ago here’s a break down of his principle ideas.

Disclaimer: This isn’t necessarily the right way to do things. There is never a right way in creating stories just approaches and techniques that work for some people. Do what’s best for you!

No more personality traits.            

Johnny keeps eating his flat mates burritos from the fridge but never buys any himself. Is Johnny acting selfishly? It would seem that way. Is Johnny a selfish person? Perhaps not.

Humans are judgemental, it’s what we do and that’s ok. Life would be extremely difficult if we didn’t have a way of emotionally compartmentalising all of our interactions. However, when we examine the people close to us one would be hard pressed to describe them accurately with a list of arbitrary adjectives beyond their appearance.  Under examination the human mind is far more complex and seemingly contradictary. Both simultaneously selfish and selfless, arrogant and modest, depending on the myriad of changing circumstances and contexts that enter our lives. It stands to reason then, ascribing basic personality adjectives to someone generalises that person, and bounds them by broad semantic connotations that do not do that individual any true justice.

Now, if we are in the business of creating characters, creating a personification of humanity we wish to be as plausible as possible, why should we use a list of ‘judgement words’ to shape their personality? Why is this always the starting block for character creation? How can we expect our characters to be anything more than these two dimensional terms? It’s a dangerously constrictive game to play.

How do we get around this?

Show don’t tell.

Luckily for us, a fundamental rule of scriptwriting has been coercing you to break this habit every time you go to write your next scene. In the scriptwriting game we have two senses we are allowed to tell our story with: sight and sound. If the audience can use no other senses then neither should the writer, otherwise the translation from script to screen would not work. What this means is that character can only be portrayed in what we see them do or say.

Try and adopt the two senses rule from the very beginning. If you have the seed of a character idea but do not know how to develop them, simply start writing like you would a script. As an excersise write scenes with other characters you have or are working on in which they discuss a subject or want to acquire something from the other. You will be surprised how your character will grow and reveal themselves if you have no preconcieved notions of who they are. In doing this you allow the character to become more autonomous and real. They are not bound by constrictive personality traits but are instead are a complete stranger that you have to discover.

Of course, when your understanding of a character grows you may wish to simply sit down and write about them in detail, figure out all the nooks and crannies of their life, and that’s great. You want to be in a position where you can fill them with colour and detail. This idea of allowing characters to move and behave before you understand them is an excerise in creative freedom. It helps you move past that first stage when you desperately want to figure everything out but it’s just not working. As wonderfully liberating and poetical adjectives can be, they are also heavily burdened with meaning and connotation. Attaching them to someone you barely know is similar to labelling or even stereotyping. People are far greater than this. Observe them, study them and they might just show you something you may never have considered.


Writing with restrictions

Write a feature film. Okay, about what? Anything. Ah, I see.

Infinite possibilities. Writing’s biggest put off. And so, too many great scripts may never be realised because that first blank page is so brutally unforgiving. I’ve been there, it hurts. For some of you out there however, this might not be the biggest cookie to crack, after all, its rare we find ourselves staring at the page without some vague notion of what it is we want to say. Nevertheless, every possible corner turned or word uttered can manifest another million possibilities for out characters and plot. What I want to discuss then is the power of deliberately restraining your scope in favour of exploring the real focus and pull of your story. Now, this is not only an experiment in creative discipline but for the emerging scriptwriter the benefits are business savvy too. Let me divulge a little.

1. The cooking analogy (I just made this up so bear with me). Applying restrictions drastically reduces your possibilities, and that’s good! It breeds creativity. Imagine you are a chef and instead of a bungalow sized pantry of food to create the finest meal possible with, instead you’re handed a beetroot, four turnips, and some herbs. A very unique combination in itself but more importantly you waste no time deliberating over the what could or could not be in the dish. Furthermore, with what you have you are forced to create something magical, to combine that beetroot and turnip in a way that no one has ever seen the likes of before. How? They spend time with them, study their form and flavours to understand the best and most delicate way to balance everything when combined. The same can be said for a script. Whenever I attempt a story I consciously try to reduce who I’m working with and where they will be, even if it’s just for the meantime. This way I force myself to go through the motions of what each character would do or say in these confined spaces to fill out a more organic picture of them. Experimenting with character in this way will also assist in plot development. If you’re like me and struggle with plot and structure it is often the case you do not know your characters well enough and are forcing them to do things that they wouldn’t usually do. In setting deliberate restrictions e.g. your location being the interior of a car (Locke, 2013) or a restaurant (My dinner with Andre, 1981) one has to explore who these people really are in order to create something engaging; there’s no running away from them. One of the best examples of this is the film Nightingale (2014) written by Frederick Mensch. For roughly 84 minutes we never leave the protagonist’s house and are never introduced to any other characters except by phone or from behind a locked front door. And by gum it’s riveting. By the end of the film we are so far into this one mans psyche that very little could pull us away from the story. This can only be achieved because Mensch spent so much time with this character that his movements and actions became fluid and human and stacked with emotion.

Let’s go a little further with this cooking business. It is not unreasonable to imagine being in a state of childish giddy if handed a pantry of food and ingredients (so long as the culinary arts was your jam, so to speak). Instead of taking a step back to understand what you want to achieve one may end up getting carried away, using as much as possible only to confuse the end result and dilute the power of the each individual flavour. Again, the same can be said for scriptwriting. It is easy to get carried away when there is a lack of focus – trusting more expansive plot and characters will draw in a conclusion. It doesn’t work that way. Imposing restrictions will help temper that urge to go big when the the foundations haven’t yet been set up.

To sum, restrictions help focus the mind. They cut away the fat and force you to dig deep and study your characters. However, self imposing restrictions is not just an exercise in creative freedom:

2. Please the producers. Let’s use Nightingale as an example again. One on screen actor and one location. Although distributed by HBO it’s not hard to imagine that the big plus with producers was the low price tag of production. When I set out to write my first feature ‘Dearg’, which essentially features a man living in a boat on a Scottish lake, this thought always lingered in the back of my mind. If anything came of this, it would be dirt cheap to make and hell, if no-ones interested I could do it myself! Christopher Nolan self funded his first feature for roughly £4000 and pretty much put the wheels of his career in motion. The industry is littered with similar timelines – short films, cheap indie features  and if you so wish to, Hollywood could be on the horizon. Let’s be honest, writing a script is great but having it made is the end goal. So, for emerging talent, play the game. Every penny counts in this industry and if you want to be heard your work should be getting made, the easier you make that possible the better.

For more info on restrictions and creativity in other forms of art checkout this article, she talks sense.

https://blog.bufferapp.com/7-examples-of-how-creative-constraints-can-lead-to-amazing-work

Good luck!