The first thing new writers ask me is, “how long should it take to write a screenplay?”, I don’t answer right away as I know that the next sentence will be some form of explanation from their part of why they still haven’t finished their own masterpiece.
One of the biggest problems writers talk about it called “Writers Block”. Writers block is an inability to continue writing your story, or to start a new story. I have had this illness many times before. It normally strikes me at the end of act 2, as our characters need to develop into new ones, having learnt a great deal after their confrontations with the antagonist.
But I found a cure, or at least for one of my “blocked” screenplays. I believe writers block is caused by dilemma in story, not dilemma in life. Yes you are probably stuck because you don’t know your characters well enough, or you don’t understand the theme of your film.
Theme is the most important part of a story, be it a screenplay or a novel or a web series. Web series make this mistake regularly, they forget theme for punchlines. But a very successful use of theme and comedy was done in “Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog” by Joss Whedon. Go check it out.
If you struggle to continue writing you are probably struggling with theme or character. I was stuck on my screenplay for almost 10 months! Yes I had written 72 pages and just couldn’t end it off. Yes I had planned it on paper, cue cards, software but I was stuck.
So then one day I went back to the very small town in rural, South Africa where I had lived as a young child. It suddenly dawned on me! This was my story, I was telling it about the fear or returning to that small, backwater, scary, religious, conservative trap of a town. I couldn’t wait to get home. As soon as I got back from that trip my laptop was burning as I typed my fingers raw. I wrote 32 pages that night and it was done!
Ok, it wasn’t done, I then went back and redrafted the whole story with my new revised, focused theme. And everything improved so much with my focused theme. Characters had more depth, I knew what they would do next, I could see them alive and doing stuff in my fictional world. I no longer wondered about the next step, cause I knew the theme and the point I wanted to get across to my audience. Most importantly I knew what the character wanted and feared.
So writers say this a lot but “Write what you know”. I finally got what they meant. Yes you can write the next STAR WARS without having lived in space, but the themes and characters must have a real life basis or inspiration for it to feel real. Theme should push your writing forward, it should make you challenge your fictional characters into new situations that push them to develop as characters.
And this is where art imitates life. If I didn’t go back to that town to confront my fear of failure and desolation I would never have scene the theme of my story so clearly. I believe most directors tell one story over and over again as they deal with that issue in their life. Look at Steven Spielberg’s films. E.T. is about a boy that discovers something magical and out of this world, but needs to hide it to keep it. Jurassic Park, a scientist discovers his life work but must keep it secret or else greedy people will want to steel it. In “Hook” Robin Williams goes back to the magical world where you never age, but no one believes him, and if he tells the secret it will be lost forever. Similar themes are all over the Indiana Jones movies and even in Schindler’s List a man must hide people, in a way he hides innocence from evil. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is also about a man that discovers something amazing, but no one believes him at first, they make him out as a loony, but it the end they come to see their mistake. So this is my 5 cents, Spielberg deals in his stories with childhood fear of rejection, of being called a fool for believing in something different.
So find YOUR theme, your story, your dilemma in life, and write the living text out of it. As Spielberg has shown you can write about anything but still have the same underlying theme. It doesn’t have to be your main theme but make sure you work your dilemma in there, the audience will love you for it.
If you are a writer please leave comments about your thoughts on writers block below. Have an amazingly creative day!