by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)
May is only a couple of weeks away, and many of us are already thinking about the glorious warmth of summer. Perhaps you’ve also been thinking about beginning a new project, and summer looks to be the perfect time to write it. Maybe you’re thinking of breathing new life into an old story that’s long been buried. You might be one of thousands of writers who began the new year with a resolution to finally get a story on the page this year, but haven’t yet found time to get started.
Knowing how to begin your writing practice, or begin it again, can be tough. Here are four ways to prepare NOW for crafting a script to kick-start your writing this summer.
1. RESEARCH A NEW CHARACTER
Stories come out of characters. Far too many writers try to begin telling a story with characters whose lives they know very little about. Researching a lifestyle, occupation, or era that you are unfamiliar with can be an invigorating experience. It can provide you with details about a person in that world that you wouldn’t be able to describe otherwise.
Researched characters feel more real. Charlie Hunnam portrays Percy Fawcett in The Lost City of Z. While the character is based on a real person found in a book by David Grann, Fawcett’s character on-screen embodies details that speak to the research that James Gray conducted to bring the character to screen. Gray was clearly familiar with the language, fashion, and customs of the period – things only discovered through good research.
There are a number of ways to research characters outside of the obvious Google-related searches anyone can perform. Conducting interviews with individuals familiar with the world of your story is a good place to start. Another often-overlooked resource is the public library. Most of us assume anything found in a library can also be found online. While this is true of many things, it’s not true of everything. Books, encyclopedias, newspapers, and a variety of other resources can be found in many libraries, but may have not piqued anyone’s interest for scanning and being made available online. Many libraries also have free access to academic databases, journal articles, and back-dated periodicals that you have to pay to access online. Libraries also offer an environment for concentrating on research and writing. Getting away from the distractions found at home and in coffee shops can be a powerful way to welcome new narratives into your story world.
2. READ A HISTORICAL BOOK
Writers often only look to books as a source of inspiration for adapting a story. However, there are multitudes that can be learned by reading books that were either written during or about the period that you are setting your story in. Sometimes beginning with a book from a historical period that you are interested in can be the catalyst for finding a great story to tell.
While your reading may lead to an idea set within the time period, many times it will spark something best set in another time period. When constructing her iconic character, Frankenstein’s Monster, Mary Shelley was vocal about having gotten the idea while reading a story set in a completely different period and world – Paradise Lost. Engaging in the way another storyteller has constructed a tale can sometimes be just what we need to unleash our own creativity, and often leads to unexpected results.
3. WATCH A FILM MADE BEFORE 1950
Many people go to the movies to escape. We as writers also occasionally need to escape to find ideas, characters, and stories that might not come to us otherwise. Taking ourselves out of the world of now and looking to a world we recognize, but that is a bit removed from us, can help. Watching a film that you’ve never seen before made before 1950 can function like a hard reboot for your writing.
Looking for themes, archetypes, and storylines that would morph into relevance today can be like a narrative treasure hunt. Mining old classics for timeless truths is an enjoyable way to take spare time and make it resourceful. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1929 film Blackmail originated many tropes common to crime thrillers in more recent times. Knowing what the writers who came before us have done successfully not only informs us of possibilities – it makes us better students of our craft.
4. DOWNLOAD A SCRIPT FROM LA SCREENWRITER
Becoming familiar with the other stories in the genre you want to write in is one of the best ways to prepare to construct your own script. Did you know that our site has a library of scripts from a wide array of genres that you can download for free? Academy Award winners, cult classics, and indie scripts you may have never heard of all await you. Click here to find feature scripts and here for television.
BONUS: SIGN UP FOR THE 30 DAY SCREENWRITING CHALLENGE
ISA and The Script Lab are putting on a free 30 Day Screenwriting Challenge, which starts tomorrow and which LA Screenwriter is co-sponsoring. Sign up today to get daily articles, reminders, and inspiration as you work on your story. The goal is to finish a draft of a new script in 30 days. As an added bonus, you might win some fun prizes along the way.
John Bucher is a writer, speaker, and story consultant based out of Los Angeles. He is the author of several books including The Inside Out Story and Master of the Cinematic Universe: The Secret Code to Writing in the New World of Media. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to U.S. Ambassadors. He teaches at The LA Film Studies Center and has conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his site, tellingabetterstory.com.