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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Friday, June 09, 2006

A New Exercise

One of the areas of my technique that I think can use some work is my characterization. I don't think it is terrible, but it is definitely something I've thought about, and want to improve. To wit, read my various Enneagram-characterization posts for one of the efforts I've made in improving that area of my craft.

I've recently decided to start another exercise. I thought about it via the confluence of two recent things in my life. The first was that I just wrote down a couple of snippet scene idea that popped into my head recently. These things come up all the time, when you think of some cute line or idea and say, "I've got to put that in a movie some time." But it seems to be happening slightly more frequently for me lately, so I've written a few down, in brief. Then I was reading an article from a screenwriter, talking about his project, and he mentioned how he typically starts from character and builds the story from there.

So my idea is that I will periodically write down brief character-related scenes. In regular screenplay format. But just random scenes. They will be unconnected, and not driving towards any specific story at all. Just something that will help give a window, albeit briefly, onto a specific character's life. They might entail some clever dialogue, or just action, but they will all be aimed at characterization alone.

Perhaps, in time, I might find that I begin repeating, and slowly developing a few specific characters, and if so, I might then try to build a screenplay around one or more of them. but if that happens, it will really just be gravy. My main focus will be to hone my craft at effectively portraying character, and building unique and interesting characters.

Anyone out there do anything similar to this? On a regular basis, or just sporadically? How has it worked out for you? Just curious.

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Anonymous Leif Smart said...

Sounds like an interesting aproach to writing. I can almost envision you building up a library of character scenes, that you could pick and choose from as you need. If you filed them into good categories, you could almost just type in a few character descriptions, like angry younger son, and come up with a few scenes that might be applicable to that sort of character.

Is this sort of what you are getting at?

9:59 AM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Interesting, Leif. No, I think that is too involved and labor intensive for me. The plan is more to just write the scenes, and then if I find that I'm using the same characters over and over or something, combine just those scenes and then build more.

But who knows? I'll play it by ear and see where it takes me. For now, the plan is just to try to write more character-driven or character-revelatory scenes.

2:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yep, I have a character notebook for observations of what I see in my travels, stories I am told about how people act, plus my fave, sit down and think back to all the wacky people I actually know and try to morph some of them together

3:05 PM  
Blogger Grumpy O. Selznick said...

Sounds lik Crash, actually. Or any other film where the characters, going about their own biz, meet up through some externally imposed set of circumstances. Problem with structure can be (and is in Crash, from my viewpoint) it seems forced. But since Crash (even its title) acknowledges that, perhaps that makes it OK. Dunno, Im a lowly producer.

4:47 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Grumpy --

I totally hear that. And in truth, that wasn't really my plan either (since I'm not a big fan of purely character driven films), though I undestand why it would seem that way. I just meant that if enough scenes come together for me to recognize that I've built some interesting characters, I might then start to examine what type of story might be interesting to tell using these characters. Make sense?

7:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Try finishing a screenplay. Or breaking story for a new one.

That's an even better screenwriting exercise.

8:34 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

I have anonymous, on more than one occasion. But thanks. Because you're right. This can easily become procrastinatory. Whether that was what you intended, or whether you merely aiming for snark, you are right.

8:41 PM  
Blogger oneslackmartian said...

"Anonymous said...
Try finishing a screenplay. Or breaking story for a new one.

That's an even better screenwriting exercise."

haha, good god, Anonymous, are you the Ghost of Screenwriting Future?

FJ, the snippets might be an interesting fit in any script. Pop them in at a semi-appropriate spot to reveal an interesting contradiction in your characters. Personally, I love those scenes, because you don’t see them coming.

1:37 AM  
Blogger mernitman said...

Sounds like you're just poking at a fresh way to approach your writing process, and that's great, and who cares where it fits in the larger schemes of things (finished screenplays, fodder for one later, whatever)? You're a WRITER. You're exploring something. This is GOOD.

For me, the point would be finding out: what's interesting about this character? why is he/she in my head? what part of me might they represent? what is it that I/they are trying to tell me about myself, or them, or people, period? what issue does this character have that maybe speaks to some issue I'm trying to resolve in my life? etc.

I'm just sayin'.

4:38 AM  
Blogger Loudlush said...

I can see where you're coming from, but it would be a little too passive for me if I was eyeballs deep in a project. Maybe that means I concentrate too much on the infrastructure and not enough on characterization! Will be really interested to hear what develops from this exercise (and if that development is a more finely honed skillset, that's a good outcome).

5:41 AM  
Anonymous Devin B. said...

Greetings Joel~

I like your idea of writing down unrelated scenes (kind of ‘free-form’) and formulating a story around them. That’s kind of the way I worked while writing my first spec. The grand concept hit me some ten years prior (1996), and I had no idea what to do with it until a couple years ago. As I built out the main concept, scenes would materialize in my mind’s eye and I grabbed onto them. Eventually, I piece milled together something I’m quite proud of.

It’s probably an unorthodox way of putting together a script, but I suppose to each screenwriter their own. No two of us are alike in style, form, or procedure. It’s a good idea to have a ‘grab bag’ of ideas at the ready though... thanks for the suggestion.

Best of luck to you and your writing!

4:57 PM  
Blogger Emily Blake said...

Whenever I overhear an interesting conversation or see some interesting event unfold I write it down on an index card and stick it in a pile in my desk drawer. Then, whenever I'm stumped for some character quirk or motivating event, I look through the index cards for ideas I can manipulate.

Most of the time, I can't pull the notes in as is, but several times they've gotten me through writer's block.

7:52 PM  
Blogger Twixter Scripter said...

A few months back I went to a lecture/forum featuring Bobby Moresco of Crash/Million Dollar Baby fame. He said that the Crash scripts had evolved from idea snippits that Paul Haggis had been collecting for years.

It took them two weeks to splice it all together into the first draft. Now that's a 14 Day Screenplay for ya.

9:25 PM  

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