I’m more than confident that over the years you all have read many fantastic screenwriting books full of beautiful, powerful, and useful ideas.
What you will get in this article is a collection of easily accessible tips, which you can keep handy whenever you feel you need some extra help.
The checklist below is what I use when I feel stuck with my scripts or stories.
1. To make the characters stop and think, you should take them out of their comfort zone.
2. Scripts often depict what happens in your life at the moment of writing. How can you use that to your advantage?
3. What is the best way to dramatise your story? Take some time to think about it.
4. What is the scene for?
- You don’t need a scene in a film to show something; you need a scene where something is being challenged that will affect the character’s actions.
- Trust that your audience is paying attention.
- Put the characters in problematic situations so the audience can see who the characters are.
- Try to avoid inactivity. Inactive characters slow down the story.
5. All movies focus on the inner struggle:
- There is a problem coming from your character’s environment that they must deal with.
- What I (the writer) want the character’s instinct to do…
- When something terrible is happening to the character, the story grows.
- In real life, we only change when we are forced to, and our characters shouldn’t be any different than people are in real life. The inner struggle causes change.
6. When you write a short script, you only have a short moment to portray your characters.
7. Allow your characters to carry the story.
8. Try to identify what the structure of your story is in one sentence. To do that you need to know what is important in your story.
9. What can you, the writer, live without in the story? All those elements you can live without you should drop.
10. Try to use your cutting eyes for your story; most likely you won’t be able to keep everything that you want in the script.
11. Don’t keep repeatedly explaining the same problem, issue, or solution. The audience doesn’t like it.
12. What is it that the character can’t have in the story?
13. What is the decision the character makes that impacts their future?
14. What is the story about?
15. How characters conceal things from the other characters? How would you do it in real life?
16. As a writer what are you going to do to test your characters?
17. What is the real problem you are trying to solve in your story?
18. Whose story are you telling? Whose story is in the heart of the script?
19. Whose POV the story is from?
20. What happens dramatically in the story? If not enough goes on, the audience will find difficult to connect with the characters. Small problems can’t take off or carry on the story. You need significant difficulties and high stakes (what is the stake in your story?) to make the story work.
21. If you are writing an emotional story, you need big emotions. To write a big emotional scene, think about the last time you argued with someone in real life. How did you behave, what did you do? Base the emotional scenes on your real-life experiences. When you argue with someone in real life, you say what you think; you don’t try to be politically correct. How can you use that in your script?
22. Do you know where is the beginning, the middle, and the end of your story?
23. When you write a synopsis, make sure you include all the three stages (the beginning, the middle, and the end).
24. The ending is where you are driving your story.
25. Test your ideas. If something doesn’t work, move on.
26. Do you have two older characters in your story, doubling up doing the same job? One older character is usually enough.
27. Never be afraid of the upbeat ending.
28. Don’t be afraid to allow your character to come through the storm to be happy at the end.
29. As a writer, do you know why the characters can’t have what they want?
30. What is the solution to the character/s’ problems?
31. Who is the bomb in your story that triggers all the events?
32. How can you focus on a character trying to achieve something in a small way?
33. What are the details of the story?
34. The story in your script happens now, so you don’t need to answer the questions of your character’s past. Unless those questions will have a direct effect on the character’s present/current journey.
35. While re-writing your script, look hard at your characters to see what their weak points are.
36. Don’t forget that things should get bad for the character before the end.
37. In real life we all take risks, and our characters should take a chance too.
38. What your character doesn’t have at the beginning that they will have at the end?
39. Take time away from your script to see your story from a different perspective.
40. Ask questions from the people who give you feedback about your characters.
41. What questions do you ask your characters? What are you as a writer,
interested in the most?
42. Write a scene, which you won’t use in the final draft but will only apply to hot seat your character (let them be drunk and honest about each other as much as possible). Don’t make it too long. It will allow you to explore and push the story a bit further.
43. You can try to write your story in the first person; it could help you to unlock certain truths about your character/s you wouldn’t have thought about before.
44. Contradictions happen when you put pressure on your characters. For instance, the character feels one way but then does something completely different. Like people usually do in life.
45. Keep your story simple. Usually, the most successful stories are straightforward.
46. As a scriptwriter, you are in charge of your story, and you need to be sure that your character is strong enough to take the audience through the journey.
47. If you aren’t clear in telling your story, people will try to put it together for you.
48. Stop working on a perfect script; perfection doesn’t exist.
49. The clearer the story becomes in your mind, the clearer the theme of the story and each scene becomes.
50. Your story is happening because of what is happening to your character.
51. Write down the essential details; it helps to get unstuck with your story if needed.
52. Tell the story, don’t fight it.
53. As a writer, stand in your character’s shoes and see where that will take you. (If I were this character what would I do, what would I feel like, what would I wish I’ done?)
54. Development is investigating what needs to work in the story/script.
55. Allow your character to use all of their senses. For example: if your character is remembering something, it is usually a sensory moment.
56. You always have a choice to create and change your characters, which means that you need to give your characters some options.
57. People can do extraordinary things so can your characters.
58. Don’t describe characters as character types. Such as an asshole, a thinker.
59. Experience is a sensitive point at a particular time in the character’s life.
60. Values can be conflicting for the character. They change over time. The family of values allows things to come out, and every decision has value through the eyes of the characters. What would bring two people/characters’ overlapping values for them to form a relationship? You need an overlap of values; otherwise, it’s not going to work out between the characters. Why not overlapping your values with the values of the character?
61. Don’t forget to dig deeper and go with your story beyond the simple good v good v bad values.