June 14


Kathryn from Devon, England asks:


I’m not known for being subtle so…………how the hell do you go about getting an idea for a story. I’ve been walking around with a note pad and pen for the last week or so and turned out with a few threads that have no link with each other. These threads are ‘life lessons’ I’ve picked up over the years.

This is perhaps the most personal of all screenwriting questions. I suggest each writer finds his or her own answer.

For me, creating ideas is a matter of training. I am always thinking about writing and always have my antennae up for an idea. Ideas come from anything I am exposed to – a news item, a fictional story I didn’t like (which often leads me to think of how the story should have been done, which then leads me to a different idea built on that idea), a comment from a friend, a billboard, and… random thoughts that pop into my head for no known reason.

I keep a running list of ideas going; I’ve done so for years. Currently, it has about eighty or so entries on it. Some of them are useless. Others are very exciting to me and I look forward to developing them. I keep it in a database and review the whole thing regularly, adding new thoughts to old ideas as they occur to me.

The kernel of an idea that initially gets jotted down is not much to go on. There is usually not enough there to know whether it could make a successful story or not. From that kernel, I play with it and develop it. Only after some effort and development do I have an idea of whether the idea is worth pursuing.

When under the gun, I have brainstormed for ideas. My writing partner and I have gone through hundreds of ideas before finding one that excites us. It has sometimes taken months of difficult and frustrating work. I do not like to develop ideas that way. I prefer to work from inspiration.

Here is a prior post on what, to me, makes a good idea. Here is another column, this one from Wordplayer.

In short, for me, I am always training myself to create good ideas, always looking, listening and thinking about the world. I do not mind jotting down many lesser ideas to find those few diamonds in the rough.

April 29


How do you plan to put your spec into the marketplace? I too just finished a comedy spec and am thinking of using InkTip.com. Have you used it before? If so, what were your results. Has anyone else tried it, or a concept similar to InkTip. And then there’s services like Scriptblaster. What are your thoughts about those services?
John (can’t get passed 4th place!) Hart

I have long been represented by a strong agency here in town (L.A.) and they handle initial marketing of my specs. I also have a great manager who does his share, too. Before I had an agent and a manager, I networked fairly aggressively and submitted scripts directly upon invitation. I have never sent a query letter to anyone and have never used a service like Inktip or Scriptblaster.

When I’ve been on the producing end of things looking for quality scripts, I did receive Inktip’s magazine which lists pitches. I don’t know how it happened to come to me since I never ordered it. I did not read it because I knew it was a pay-to-list service. Unlike agencies, which have some incentive to make sure the writing is marketable before they submit it, pay-to-list services do not. The material they list has had absolutely no professional eyes on it and no professional judgment. Ninety-nine percent of it is junk and neither I nor most producers have ever had the resources to review it to find the few diamonds.

Other services review your material for a fee, give you “coverage”, and claim that, if they like it, they will present it for you directly to industry professionals. These services claim to have sold some scripts. The services are very controversial for a number of reasons. Alex Epstein’s blog, Complications Ensue, has some material that presents both sides of the controversy – see it here.

A much sounder approach to your writing career is to share your writing through networking. As you network, you get real and continuous feedback on your scripts. It is a tough road because everyone has an opinion about your writing and most of the opinions can really shake your confidence. However, if you hang in and keep networking, you will develop a thick skin, learn how to channel input constructively, and improve your writing. The very process of working to make contacts for script submissions tends to help hone your craft.

While it is much easier to network from Los Angeles, you can do it from anywhere working through writing teachers, legitimate screenwriting contests, and other resources, honing your craft and getting your material submitted in ways that will get it noticed. It feels very hard to get noticed, but I can tell you from experience, once the writing really shines, it suddenly gets very easy to get noticed. Then begins the next level of hell – moving from getting noticed to making a first sale. But that’s a whole other topic.

Good luck with the spec.

July 3


(Ed. Note: Entry originally entitled “The Exploding Blogosphere”. Changed to “Scribosphere” courtesy of Craig Mazin. See below.)

BOMBNobody knows nothing. When I started The Thinking Writer about four years ago, I coded each page in HTML and recoded the home page every time I added an article. It was time consuming and it had no ability for reader comments. I had never heard of a blog. A few years later, I discovered blogging software. Poof – the new Thinking Writer was born. When I first put up this blog, I located only one other screenwriting blog, johnaugust.com. If there were more, they were pretty well hidden.

Flash-forward to today and the screenwriting blogosphere is exploding. From A-list writers (like the folks at Artful Writer) to a guy who read a hack book on how to write “Screenplays That Sell” and is about to start his first draft of his first idea (link omitted) to those in between (including me), everyone has something to say about screenwriting. It seems that it’s much easier to “be a screenwriter” on your blog than to actually make a living writing movies.

And everyone is offering advice….

Do these people (including me) know anything? Well, not really. Even at the A-lister level, they can’t agree on much. At least they’ve proven they can write and build a career. But they haven’t proven they can show you how to do it. Then there are those with a modicum of experience (like me) who sound like we know a lot. It’s just a writing trick, really. None of us has any magic answers. Then there are the complete amateurs who’ve never worked in Hollywood, never sold a script, sometimes never even really written a script. Still, they have a lot of advice to give, too. And they are more certain than any of us of the right answers.

So is any of this noise worth anything?

Well…sure it is. Listen to everything and everyone. Stay inside the conversation of screenwriting. Pick up ideas wherever you can. You never know when someone will say something that makes a difference. (I heard something from Craig Mazin just the other day that made a difference for me. He said that he considers the job to be writing movies, not writing screenplays. Nice distinction.)

But here’s the kicker. If you’re not writing, the advice means nothing because none of it translates directly into execution. You can’t tell a damn in the thinking about writing. It’s not like computer programming, where you learn a principle and simply use logic to apply it later. No, writing is like playing piano. You must do it to learn it. In the doing, you find out if the advice held any benefit.

So next time you read some great advice here or on any writing blog, just know, we don’t know. We only think we know. And we only think we know what works for us. The only way for you to know what works for you is to do. Look, learn, then do…and do and do and do….

Got it? Good. Now go write.

June 29


--casablanca gif--If you wanted to be a rock superstar, you would know a great deal about a great many musicians who preceded you – and their work would profoundly influence yours. If you wanted to be a top athlete – same thing. But when it comes to wanting to be an A-list screenwriter, many emerging writers have very little knowledge of our own important tradition. We stand on the shoulders of giants and knowing the work of these giants, inside and out, is an enormous advantage. Understanding their approaches and techniques gives you tools you might otherwise never develop.

So who are these giants?

The WGA has a list of the top 101 screenplays. Look at the writers of these screenplays. Get to know them.

AskMen.com has a top ten list of legendary screenwriters. The author (whom I initially mis-identified as the scriboshpere’s own Craig Mazin, but see below) includes background on each writer. See how many of them you never heard of.

The book Framework: A History of Screenwriting In The American Film is an excellent resource for learning about the giants.

Many of the screenplays of these giants are freely downloadable online. Download them; read them. Learn and enjoy….

November 23

Who Wrote The King’s Speech? (Classic Post)

King George VI
flikr|steve greer
The Jewish Journal has a fascinating article about screenwriter David Seidler, who escaped from Nazi’s, was almost torpedoed on his way to America, and grew up escaping into writing as a refuge from his own speech impediment, then later drew from these experiences to write the screenplay for The King’s Speech. It is worth a read.