by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)
2018 has only a few weeks left, and many writers will be making resolutions around their work come January 1. That may include completing a new script in 2019. While this is a worthy goal, more than one writer will abandon their new story before January has come to an end, perhaps because they did no prep work.
If you are serious about beginning a new script in January, December is the perfect time to start preparing your story so that when the New Year does ring in, you can actually get down to the business of writing. Here are four ways to start seriously preparing to complete a new script in 2019.
How much do you know about the world you want to set your story in? Research is important for almost any project, but it’s especially important if your story is a period piece or takes place in a world that you have not lived in yourself. This may include another geographic culture; another lifestyle, such as the world of doctors who work in hospitals; or a subculture, such as the worlds of drugs or criminals. Even if you are setting your story in a world familiar to you, you should consider researching the occupation or leisure activities of key characters in your story. If your protagonist is an elementary school teacher and you have never held such a position, knowing the challenges and realities of someone in that job becomes important in making the story feel authentic. Your research may only need to be brief or it may require more extensive dedication, but making sure you truly understand the world your story takes place in as well as the people that inhabit that world is essential for making the writing process flow smoothly.
CHOOSE A PROTAGONIST
Granted not every story revolves around the journey of a single character, but most do, and even if your story will be the exception, it’s not a bad way to begin branching into the other characters in the narrative. Really getting to know your character before trying to tell a story about her will greatly assist you in the decisions you will later have to make on the character’s behalf.
One method of getting to know your protagonist is writing 3-5 pages of backstory about the character during your story preparation time. Even if little or none of the history you create for the character ever gets used in the script, knowing who that character is and why she makes those decisions not only makes plotting the story easier, but will also make the character feel more human when executed on the page.
Another helpful exercise can be writing a few pages about what your protagonist’s day was like the day before the story you are telling begins. Even the simple minutiae of the character’s life can make her feel more real as we begin taking her through a journey that will resonate with audiences.
CHOOSING AN EXTERNAL GOAL
Getting into a character’s internal journey is often the place many writers gravitate first. While this is an essential piece of the character, without an external goal, our character may quickly meander about and become boring to the audience. Internal journeys are hard for audiences to see unless they are revealed through external desires. Knowing what your character wants gives him or her purpose in the story. Revealing why they want it is important, as well, but may well come later in the writing process. Determining the visual elements of your story, such as the external goal, is a good way to give the narrative a skeleton that flesh can be put on throughout the rest of the writing process.
CREATING AN OUTLINE
Not every writer creates an outline before beginning the scripting process. However, far more writers should be creating an outline than actually do. The excitement of writing can motivate us to completely skip the less “sexy” parts of the process, even though outlining is completely for our own benefit. Outlining helps writers work through story problems and logic issues before trying to execute subtext and dialogue. Few writers ever regret taking the time to work their story completely through in an outline.
Remember, outlines don’t lock us in from creativity. They actually free us to be creative with other aspects of our story once the structure is in place. We don’t decorate our skeletons and organs, but our flesh is adorned with clothes, makeup, tattoos and even scars and bruises. This is only possible once we have the bones to hold up the flesh everyone will be looking at.
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 the upcoming Secrets of Short Visual Storytelling. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to International Ambassadors. He teaches in the Joseph Campbell Writers Room at Studio School LA and at The LA Film Studies Center. John has also conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his blog, welcometothesideshow.org.