Thursday, November 27, 2008

Five Great Ways To Keep Your Writing Fresh

The worst thing for a screenplay is the cliché. Heroes we’ve seen too often, entirely predictable arcs, scenes we know back to front, lines we can mime in sync, and so on.

The cliché is usually the first thing that comes to your mind, precisely because you’ve seen it so often. So here are some ways to get beyond the cliché into more interesting and original territory:

  1. Say no to the first thing that comes to mind. Linda Seger advocates a “list of ten” approach in her book Making a Good Writer Great. When you’re thinking about how to portray an emotion in action, or turn a scene, or reveal something about a character by means of appearance, or whatever it may be, list the first thing that comes to mind and then force yourself to come up with at least nine additional options.

  2. Write yourself into a corner. A method famously promoted by the Coen Brothers, but by others too. Make your character do something that in the normal run of things would stop the story dead in its tracks. Then see where salvation comes from (usually an unexpected and amusing direction).

  3. Turn things upside down. You’ll be surprised how often this one works like a dream, especially if your brain is as cross-wired and chaotic as mine is. Turn an accusation into an apology, a come-on into an insult, day into night, interior into exterior, etc.

  4. Change some physical aspect of your writing. Write somewhere you don’t usually write, whether that’s somewhere else in your home or a different location altogether (have you ever written on a train?). Use pen and paper if you usually work on a computer, or vice versa. Write standing up (the Hemingway method) or lying down (like Amy Holden-Jones). Write at a different time of day or night than you’re used to.

  5. Laugh at yourself. Visit some sites which poke fun at the worst movie clichés, such as PLOT-O-MATIC (a truly hilarious satire of the worst excesses of formulaic logline writing) and (which does what it says on the tin).

And in that vein, to conclude …

Seen from behind, Raving Dave steps calmly towards the door. With one hand on the door handle, he stops and turns back to make one last comment before he leaves:

....................RAVING DAVE

..........Of course, clichés are not all
..........bad news. In fact they’re the blood of great satire and
................(smiles wryly)
..........But more on that some other time.


Anonymous said...

would you say some of the greatest screenwriters and directors -- Tarantino, Copolla -- followed rule/point #1.

I'm not sure they did.

I could be wrong.


Anonymous said...

Read you post twice.
Wonderful. This is much better than a course.

Thanks for sharing.

Raving Dave Herman said...

Hi GR,

Interesting question!

Firstly: My suggestions are just that, suggestions. The only thing that counts is whether something works for you, not whether it works or worked for someone else.

Secondly: My guess is that the work of great artists in all fields seems deceptively effortless, whereas they have in fact spent years and years finding and honing their voice first.

But thirdly, and most importantly: Don't take my word for it. Give it a try. I'd love to hear what happens!