“Write what you know” – have you ever been told that? Or read it in a book? When people say that I really feel like slapping them. It would be better to say “Know what you write.”
You can have a fantastic idea for a comedy about people working on nuclear reactors. You don’t have to have done it as a job. That’s where research comes in. Learn about what you want to write.
“Give me just enough information so that I can lie convincingly.” ― Stephen King
The only time it’s important to write what you know is internal conflict. Emotions are experienced, not learned. If you want to write a love story, you must have loved. If one of your characters is consumed with hate, you must have experienced hate.
In the writing process you will elevate these emotions beyond your own experience, but you need to have personal experience to draw on.
So, my advice is “Know what you write. Write what you feel.”
Too old, living in the wrong country, and lacking in any form of creative talent… is a perfectly accurate description of me.
I spend an awful lot of time writing very little.
Anything I say can be taken with a grain of salt (salt not included).
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Many people say that you should find the time of day that you are most creative.
This is terrible advice. For a start, most of us have other jobs and responsibilities which take a large portion of our time. We only have a few hours in our busy day to get any writing done. So you need to sit down and write.
Turn writing into a habit. Force yourself to sit down and knock out some quality work. Don’t feel that you have to get a certain number of pages done, just make sure you have done the best you can in the available time. It might a 10 pages, it might be 10 lines, get something on paper so that you feel you have achieved something.
I’ve used a few different software packages through the years. The main thing I’ve learned is that the software doesn’t make you a better writer. People have written some utter crap in Final Draft. Others have written works of genius using mechanical typewriters. Tarantino actually writes his scripts by hand.
I use Final Draft nowadays. That’s only because I thought that I had to use it. If you are working collaboratively in a writers room you might have to confirm to a standard piece of software. But most of the time you should use whatever you feel comfortable with.
For ages I used Celtx. It was free. It was simple. It did everything I needed.
I tried using Scrivener. I was told that it was great for planning your story. Maybe. I didn’t notice any surge in creativity. And I couldn’t get a flow happening.
Save the Cat software. I’m not a cat person. Even trying to use it as a basic tool for documenting my story elements caused me grief. I know some people swear by the STC system, but it’s not for me.
The best tool I’ve found is… Google Docs. Yep. I can use the documents to check together all my notes, and use the spreadsheets to plan out all my beats. I can access it at home or at my day job. I can gather all my thoughts and then use whatever software I need for the actual screenplay.
So, just use whatever you want. If you feel happy with it, if you’re comfortable using it, and it doesn’t impinge your creative flow… just go for it.
One quick note. Learn the keyboard shortcuts for the tool you use. Reaching for the mouse can break you flow.
I love doing research. That was probably what lead to me doing screenwriting. Everything I read would turn into a story in my head and make me want to learn more.
The problem is that I want to know absolutely everything about absolutely everything. When I start looking into a topic I don’t know when to stop.
“Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” – Mark Twain
Sometimes your pursuit for the details can get in the way of the story. I once had a really great story planned out. It was a light action comedy with a sci-fi element to it. So I called NASA and talked to a top guy there for a while. It brought up a few minor issues with a very minor plot point. It totally popped my bubble. I still haven’t had the courage to return to the story, even though the genre didn’t deserve 100% adherence to the truth.
“In all pointed sentences, some degree of accuracy must be sacrificed to conciseness.” – Samuel Johnson
Here are a few questions to help keep on track.
- How essential is the fact to the plot? If it’s the central point then you can go for your life. If it’s only mentioned once by a character, then you probably only need to a bit of the lingo, not the full detail.
- How much of the stuff you’re researching will end up in the final movie?
- Do you need all of the facts to complete the script?
- Do you know enough to make an educated guess?
So, remember that your main job is to tell the story. Keep focused. As you research stuff keep thinking how it applies to the story. If you stray into the irrelevant it may be time to drop it.