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The Most Effective Screenwriting Exercises to Boost Creativity

by Stacey Wonder on March 27, 2019

Once you are tired of throwing papers into the trash, you know you have a writer’s block. This is not some sort of tropical disease, but it can cause significant troubles, and even make you question your talents.

Don’t let this happen! Save your energy with a few exercises that will help you to cope with blocks and insufficient ideas. 

1. In Other Words

What makes a difference between a good script and a bad script? In a movie with a good script, characters don’t have to talk about their feelings directly. 

The first exercise is all about constructing dialogue and scenes with a particular emotion or feeling without actually saying it out loud. Try it out with phrases like: "I'm exhausted," "I don't like you," "I'm embarrassed," or “I’m depressed.”

Write short action scenes for each of the situations. Try to convince the audience that a character feels so without directly saying these phrases.

This exercise can help writers to convey their ideas by action instead of putting words in a character's mouth.

Here's a look at how the scriptwriter of The Green Mile conveys his character's feelings:

          Klaus Detterick breaks the moment, lunging down the riverbank
           in a headlong rush. The others try to grab him, but he shrugs
           them off and throws himself on Coffey with a scream of
           inarticulate rage, kicking and punching, fists flying. Coffey
           barely seems to notice.

           The others caught up with Klaus and dragged him off. He falls to his
           knees on the riverbank, sobbing into his hands. Howie runs to
           him, throws himself into his father's arms. They hug each
           other tightly, overwhelmed with grief.”

Learn how to write great movie dialogue with this free guide.

2. An Ordinary Thing

This exercise is simple but powerful. It helps to think outside the box and hone your writing skills.

  1. Take the most ordinary object you can find at your home, like hand cream.
  2. Write down the most obvious thing about this object. This is a cheap hand cream in a tube.
  3. Specify details about the object. Example: The hand cream has a white cap and a flowery design on the package.
  4. Examine the object and write down unusual details one is not likely to notice. Example: The hand cream has a marking on the inside of the cap.
  5. Write one sentence story about your object. For example: This tube with a flowery design, white cap, and a strange, blurred marking was found in a hidden pocket of a victim - an architect stabbed next to the tiger cage in the zoo.

Try this exercise with different objects to train your imagination and skill of writing compelling and complete descriptions of specific elements and characteristics.

Jannet Collins, the Head Editor of EssayTigers says:

“Our experts have to write several academic texts daily. They spend much time analyzing other works and assembling texts based on those works. However, when it comes to creative writing, sometimes they struggle with creative blocks. This exercise helps to freshen up their minds and boost creativity.”

3. A Slight Change

This exercise is all about your comfort zone. It also teaches you how a story can write itself and how your characters may lead you instead of following your commands.

  1. Take a piece of your work - any screenplay or piece of unfinished writing will be good.
  2. Take the longest piece of dialogue.
  3. Place your characters in an extraordinary or dangerous situation - a boat in a storm, a broken car in the middle of nowhere, a zombie apocalypse.
  4. Rewrite some dialogue - paying attention to the way a character changes in a difficult situation.
  5. Watch how a slight change leads to a whole new plot twist, unrecognizable next to the initial version.

Let your characters make new decisions and change under the pressure, coming out from their usual disguises. Let the plot unravel itself.

4. Time to Read

In one of Aaron Sorkin’s masterclasses, he said the most effective way to learn the features and specifics of successful screenwriting is by reading the scripts for your favorite movies and analyzing plot twists.

Writing can’t exist without reading and vice versa. While you might think this is just too simple to be a real cure, reading someone else’s screenplays is one of the most effective ways to reboot your brain and find new sources of ideas.

For example, you could make a list of the best screenplays of all time - maybe a 100 or so of them. Read one screenplay a week in a random order to find the most effective methods writers use. Do you think it’s too much? Read even more. Because let’s be honest, one won’t finish this list, but will at least make a decision about which one they really want to read. 

The most useful thing you can do is read the first draft of the screenplay and the final version - comparing the various choices in them and why they were made. You can find almost any screenplay free on the Internet, on websites such as: The Script LabIMSDB, Simply Scripts, Script-o-Rama, etc.

5. Everything is Upside Down

We aren’t talking about reverse writing, but more like a fun exercise for every screenwriter - a newbie, or an experienced one. 

This exercise is about crafting your screenplay in reverse order. Typically, a script is written and then a movie is filmed. But in this exercise, you choose a scene from your favorite movie and then try to turn it into a script. 

Watching a scene on the screen and thinking of how it looked on the paper is an interesting and useful exercise. Try it and compare your results with the original scripts. 

6. Almost Innocent Theft

Taking someone’s script is a bit wrong, we know. But for the sake of learning, this rule can be broken, at least once.

This exercise is all about working with a big piece of someone’s work, instead of starting with your own. Remember, it’s just an exercise!

  1. Take an existing script of your movie of choice.
  2. Choose the scene - or scenes - you like, and try to rewrite any part of it. 
  3. Your aim is to create an alternative version of plot development. Try to adopt the author’s and the way they let the events evolve.

You can even try to draw your alternative scenario to the same end as the original screenplay. All in all, have fun. However, never use someone’s work for any other purpose but to practice. 

7. Bare Dialogue

Dialogue is one of the parts of screenwriting that is either loved or hated. Sometimes dialogue can ruin a movie, or be the very thing every viewer looks for.

This exercise is all about dialogue. Good and bad, doesn’t matter; writing them down is your sole aim.

  1. Start with a dialogue between two random people without names or jobs. Keep them faceless and anonymous. They can’t talk about family - they don’t have any. They can’t talk about their jobs - they don’t have any either. Then what can they talk about? 
  2. Think about topics that are torn away from the routine of everyday life - topics which can be discussed by two random strangers. What comes to mind?
  3. Write the whole scene in a spoken dialogue format only. Don’t use any descriptions or actions.

8. From Life to Paper

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

― Sylvia Plath

To become a successful writer, it’s essential to analyze and represent information that surrounds you daily. You think nothing interesting happens to you, so you have nothing to write about. But actually, that is not true. You just need to learn how to describe everyday life in a manner, like it’s some sort of adventurous movie trilogy. It’s hard but effective. 

For example, you’re sitting in a small cafeteria. Everyone is just having lunch and a man with a big umbrella walks in. But there is no rain outside. Maybe he has some sort of mental disease; maybe he has just arrived from the rainy country, or maybe he is an alien, who is pretty bad at disguising himself. See? One umbrella and a bunch of different options and plots to use. 

Wrapping Up

The only person who can get you out of your writer’s block is you. Moreover, only you can help yourself become a successful and experienced screenwriter. So, don’t miss a chance. Write about ordinary things around you, or let your imagination build whole new worlds with superheroes and monsters. Keep writing and you will see that an event that seems nothing but ordinary can become the beginning of an incredible story.

Writing and traveling – two things Stacey is passionate about. Today, she is a content creator and a freelance writer who works for EssayTigers. Stacey loves challenging and creative tasks which help improve skills and gain more experience in writing and editing. When Stacey is not busy with her projects, she creates science fiction stories.

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