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Right Brain - Left Brain Screenwriting

By Edited Jan 13, 2016 1 11

Right Brain - Left Brain

When it comes to using the right and left hemispheres of the brain, we humans are not unique.  Recent research has indicated that if New Caledonia crows had hands, the majority of them would be right handed. They were studied while making tools using their right eye and the right side of their beak.  Like the crows, 90 percent of us also invent from the right side of our brain even though we use both sides for different tasks.  

The topic of the right/left brain dominance does not simply impact entire screenwriting projects.  Both sides of the brain vie for control even when the task at hand is a simple three-line narrative.

Much has been written about the writer’s left-brain, the sanctuary where you analyze, edit and evaluate, and the right brain, the stage where your artistry, ingenuity, and creativity present itself.  While the left side, often called the Critic, is a governess in horn-rimmed glasses and white gloves, the right side, often called the Creator, is a hippie in bell-bottom pants and free flowing hair.  One is organized, completely logical and often negative.  This causes the two to be at odds during the writing process, usually when you’re hands are on the keyboard waiting for inspiration.

Although some writers work well from the left and right brain simultaneously, many find themselves caught between the two.  The screenwriting craft places great demands on the scripter.  They must create a compelling story, original characters, insightful dialogue, unexpected plot points, logical motivations, dynamic narrative and so much more.  And they must do this while trying to referee the struggle between the bean counter on their left and the hippie on their right.  Can you perform this balancing act while turning out a first draft, or even a paragraph of narrative?  If you can’t, you’re not alone.

Since both Creator and the Critic have much to contribute to your writing, producing abundant narrative requires one to step aside while the other exercises his/her unique strengths and abilities.  You should think of our Creator and Critic as fully dimensional people, your writing partners with whom you should draw up a writer’s collaboration agreement.

When watching a movie, we often need the all-important suspension of disbelief.  For movie writing we need something different - the suspension of judgment.  Your collaboration agreement should entail writing in layers, allowing the artistic side to create the first draft, then asking your logical brain to come in and clean up the mess.  Keeping the left brain at bay while the right brain goes to work can be challenging.  To do this successfully, you must fully trust that your creative side knows how to tell the story and your logical side knows how to organize it.

When working in layers, the first completed draft won’t result in the perfect words on the page, but you’ll see something more important, the intent beneath those words, an intent which could well be sabotaged if the left brain were allowed to do its thing during the creative process.

The first draft of a script as well as the first attempt at scene description should flow freely without attention to wording, punctuation, logic or even meaning.  It’s not about the final product at this point.  It’s about freeing your self enough to express your immediate ideas on the page.

Narrative or writer’s block is that moment in the creative process when the brain freezes up. You stare at the void on your computer screen waiting for something to reveal itself.  Nothing comes.  Some writers believe they are at a loss for inspiration because their idea bin is completely empty.  That’s seems incomprehensible.  Your knowledge and experiences are too vast to support such a notion.

A far more logical explanation for writer’s block is that the Creator and the Critic are doing battle and the virtual heap of intellectual material that should be available to you at any given moment is under quarantine. 

Narrative block doesn’t appear fully developed. It grows from a single moment where you can’t invent.  It is at this very unproductive moment that you need to take action. If you don’t, you’ll end up loosing valuable time.  This is when you’ll suddenly be pulled to do housework, organize your workspace, surf the net.  Maybe you’ll take a break from your story to clear your head, to reenergize.  Two days later, your head will be clear but you will still be looking at the block.  At this point, if you even dare to say the words “block” out loud, the seriousness of the situation escalates, leaving you paralyzed with self-doubt.  The only effective way to emerge victorious and dismantle the block is to feed the Creator.

If you’re wondering what to feed the architect of your most original thoughts, emotional stimulus is the answer.  Music is a good start.  Look up the word music in the Webster’s Unabridged dictionary and you’ll find the description - “Any art over which the Muses preside”.  Music is not only art but also communication, a powerful communication adept at arousing the intellect and emotion.  Feed your Creator music not only because it can liberate your imagination but because it will also nurture it as well. Play music that relaxes you or music appropriate to the genre of your writing. If you’re working on a romantic script, listen to love songs.  Allow your emotion to surface.  Music that fits the genre of your writing can unearth memories that have long been squirreled away in your creative cache.

If we were to put the Critic to work in the circus, he would be the one collecting the elephant droppings.   The Critic makes order of chaos, clarity of confusion, and in general, cleans things up.  Giving him full reign at the wrong time will allow him to possibly ruin your script.  If proper fuel for the Creator is emotional stimulation, proper fuel for the Critic is fact.  Give your Critic broad knowledge on which to base his decisions and he will lead you to more clear and effective writing.

While the Creator comes to work with a hunger that requires constant attention, the Critic arrives requiring only the proper tools.  As a screenwriter, it’s your job to provide both.

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Apr 12, 2011 9:55pm
Very interesting, Divaonline! Now I understand why I tend to get article ideas when listing to my iPod. Great article!
Apr 13, 2011 4:01pm
Thanks Introspective! Don't unplug your iPod!
Apr 13, 2011 2:55pm
unfortunately my hippie-dippie works in several directions, like an unruly child and desperately needs the critical left brain, which i think is missing, to referee; great article on right brain, left brain writing
Apr 13, 2011 4:02pm
Thanks Lucie. I've read your articles and I think you're right and left are getting along swell!
Apr 13, 2011 6:33pm
Another excellent article from a talented screenwriter.
Apr 13, 2011 7:21pm
Fascinating information about the right and left brain as it applies to writing ... and I love the image of the two halves of the brain as a critical beancounter and an impulsive hippy! I think I go back and forth between the two in real life, so I'm sure they both are a factor in my writing! Another well-done article that needs to be featured!
Apr 18, 2011 7:19pm
This is a wonderful article, and has really cleared up a lot of old thinking I had about rt/lt brain info. Very nice, thanks.
May 2, 2011 6:34pm
Awesome article. I agree that music can help feed and energizer the mind. I find if I'm listening to a fast beat I'll type faster,and do other tasks faster as well, than when my ear is tuned to a slower beat. With the slower beat my mind has too much time to wander off. Thanks for sharing.
May 3, 2011 4:41pm
Thanks for the input Lynsuz. Very interesting.
May 14, 2011 5:57am
another great thought provoking article. Yes music does help to relax and at the same time encourage thoughts.
May 15, 2011 11:47am
This was very informative.
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