At some point in creating a screenplay most writers will encounter writer’s block. It may not be serious or involved, certainly not the dramatic event portrayed by writers on the movie screen. You may not even call your problem writers block. Perhaps it’s just a speed bump, a short period in your writing when you can’t come up with a solution, a way to make something happen in your script that must happen in order for the story to play out the way you had planned.
Much has been written about solutions for writer’s block. Many of them include clearing your head, stepping away from the script, letting the subconscious work through the problem you’re trying to solve. I prefer a different approach that keeps you writing and involved with the story, but on a different level. This solution is one that will open you up to receiving new information you didn’t know about your characters and their motivations.
Let’s look at this example. Your story is about Jimmy, a scrawny, sweet kid who is afraid of Mitch, the bully he may have to deal with on the school bus today. In the scene you’re writing, something has to happen between these two boys. But what? You’re stuck because these are the only facts you have at the moment and you can’t figure out what comes next.
If you're writing on a computer, the first thing to do is change screens and open a blank page in your word processing program. This page is where you will begin a letter. You are Jimmy and you are writing to your mother, explaining your situation in this scene. Tell her your feelings. Don’t hold anything back and don’t critique your letter. Ignore typos. No one will see it so it doesn’t matter what the content is or how eloquent you are. Just let Jimmy vent.
Today I have to take the bus because your car is in the shop. If I had a new bike, I wouldn’t have to do this. I’m really nervous because that big kid Mitch might be there and he really scares me. I don’t want to fight with him. But I don’t want to look stupid in front of the other kids. When I was at computer camp there was a Mitch there too. Remember him? His name was Kevin. You told me to try to be friends with him but like most Moms you’re crazy. Kevin was seriously a head case. So is Mitch, so don’t tell me to make friends with him. Mitch will be sitting with his fake snake tattooed arm hanging over the seat, probably the last empty seat. I don’t know what I’m gonna do. If I don’t make it home, give my dvds to my brother.
Your letter obviously won’t be identical to the one above, but look at what can be learned in this kind of exercise. In writing this letter, surprising information surfaces about Jimmy’s feelings and his family life, even how he spent his summer, all information you didn’t have before. You won’t use it all. But when you finish your letter, you can use some of the details to build your scene.
Int. Bus - Day
The doors open for Jimmy but he’s frozen to the curb. The driver gives him a look of “Well?” Jimmy boards finding two empty seats. They are in the row in front of Mitch. His tattooed arm overhangs the seat and his oversized shoe obstructs Jimmy’s path.
Jimmy sweats, slinking toward the seat. He steps over the shoe, then trips. His books and papers splash across the aisle. Kids roar with laughter. Jimmy gives Mitch an evil stare.
Walk much, Doofus?
Jimmy can’t take his eyes off Mitch’s tattoo. He squeaks out two words.
Whadja say to me?
Do you like snakes?
Jimmy grabs one of his notebooks and opens it to show Mitch his sketch of a snake. Mitch’s steady stare turns slowly into an approving nod.
Where’d you get that?
I drew it. On the computer.
All the other kids whisper, awed by Jimmy’s talent.
He opens his notebook to reveal pages of drawings. Mitch sits in the empty seat next to Jimmy to look them over. He points to the floor.
You’re gonna kill yourself, kid.
Jimmy looks down to see the untied shoelace that caused his fall.
As you can see, the unexpected information about the character provided some interesting ideas for the scene. Once, when I did this exercise my character said something that took me so much by surprise, I actually gasped! This is what can happen when you become the character, immerse yourself in his world, and for a short while, forget about writing the script.