Masters of their craft never stop working on it – whether that craft is screenwriting, songwriting, painting, or the high jump. To go from good to great, screenwriters must push their boundaries, and it must be a constant effort. There’s more to writing than just the physical act of doing it, though, so how do you practice screenwriting with a focus on improvement?
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Screenwriter Ricky Roxburgh writes almost every day, whether for his job as a story editor at Dreamworks or his personal projects at home. He makes time to get better, and his constant effort has landed him some pretty amazing writing jobs so far. He’s crafted stories for Disney Animation Television, including “Tangled: The Series” and the “Mickey Shorts,” and wrote the screenplay for the animated holiday feature “Saving Santa.” He also has several projects in production. He didn’t get those jobs by accident.
Roxburgh said he makes time to practice writing after he’s come home from work (where he also writes all day), has spent time with his family, and his family goes to sleep.
Practicing screenwriting every day will improve your writing skills and your storytelling spidey-sense, too.
You don’t need to work on a screenplay every day, but you should do something related to writing to stay current and engaged in your craft. So, we’ve put together some of our favorite writing exercises that you can use each week to keep your creative juices flowing. SoCreate Media Production Specialist Doug Slocum has collected these screenwriting exercises over the years from various screenwriting coaches, such as Cory Mandell, who coaches writers through professional screenwriting workshops, and Lauren Ludwig, a writing coach and former director of the American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women.
Screenwriting Practice Exercises
Stream of Consciousness Scene Writing
Time required: 1 hour
Tools required: Timer
Instructions: Set a timer for five minutes. Open a blank page on your computer, or find a blank piece of paper and pen. Close your eyes. Take the first image that comes to your head, and begin writing a scene based on that image. Write as fast as possible. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or if the words on the page make sense. The idea is to get a flow going inside your head and write with the stream of your consciousness.
When the timer goes off, stop writing. Reset the timer. Open a new blank page. When the first image comes into your mind, start writing and repeat the exercise. Do this 20 times for one hour.
Time required: Varies, once per week
Tools required: Script from a favorite television show or movie, or a favorite book, poem, or other writing you admire
Instructions: Find the screenplay of a movie or an episode of a television show that you like. On a blank page, transcribe the script word-for-word. Get a feel for the text, rhythm, and emotion of the writing. Try to do this with one script per week.
This exercise is equivalent to a painter trying to recreate the brush strokes of a famous painting or a musician who plays from sheet music. The exercise gets you inside the mind of the creator of the original work.
You can also complete this screenwriting exercise with any book, poem, or other writing you admire.
Time required: Varies
Tools required: Computer, or something to write with and a blank piece of paper; a story idea or work-in-progress screenplay
Instructions: Come up with a list of 20 questions that you would ask someone to get to know them better. Now, take a character you’re developing and ask them those questions. On a blank sheet of paper, write the answers to those questions from the point of view of your character. When you’ve answered those questions, write one scene based on every answer. Do this for every character in your story.
Time required: 1 hour
Tools required: Writing utensil and blank paper, or a computer
Instructions: Set a timer for 15 minutes. Take a character you’ve created. On a blank page, start writing a scene as if you’re following that character. Don’t worry about writing a story; you’re just following that character to get to know them better.
When the timer goes off, repeat the exercise with your character in a new location. Do this four times in one hour.
Time required: 10-20 minutes daily
Tools required: Notebook and writing utensil, or computer
Instructions: Keep a journal. Write in it every morning for 10-20 minutes about anything that’s on your mind. After a month, go back with three different color highlighters – one for story ideas, one for personal revelations, and one for things you want to do. Pull out the story ideas for future writing exercises!
These exercises will also help you develop a keen eye and ear for what makes a story compelling and uniquely you, which is just as important as developing your basic screenwriting skills. So much of the rigid formatting can be learned online or in books, but to truly take your writing from good to great, you need that indescribable something special that gives your work star power.
Use it or lose it,