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Balls of Steel™: New Year, New You, New Script

In ScriptMag's Balls of Steel, Jeanne discusses how to take your personal writing goals and turn them into ways to improve your scripts and your characters.

This month at ScriptMag, we’re focusing on what you can do in the New Year to really improve yourself, both in craft and in your chances of success as a writer. Whether that means taking screenwriting classes, building your network, or learning how to meditate, everything you do has a potential to help you grow and evolve as a writer and a person.

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

I really don’t want to write yet another one of those “It’s New Year’s so let’s set some goals!” pieces. Gag me. I see so many people on Twitter and Facebook claiming to be “writers” yet years go by and they haven’t finished a single script. I don’t want that to be you. I want you to be one of the ones who types “FADE OUT” this year, hopefully more than once.

So let’s focus on how you can take your own goals and use them to improve yourself, your scripts, and your characters.

Think about it, every protagonist has to have a goal. If s/he doesn’t, we have nothing to root for. Make sure s/he has a clear goal. It’ll focus your story and help you come up with obstacles to throw in the way.

Why do people set goals? I can only speak for myself, but I set them in order to accomplish something, to give me a ticking clock and a sense of pressure, but I also set goals to broaden my outlook and skill set and to help make me a more interesting person.

Before you try to create the perfect protagonist, let me remind you, just because someone seems like they have their act together, doesn’t make them interesting or enlightening. Sometimes it just makes them boring. Every interesting person I know is full of flaws and layers of complexity.

Take a really good look at your protagonist. Would you find him fascinating to have dinner with? Or would he be the kind of person you wouldn’t even bother to try to eavesdrop on if you were at the next table?

For me, a great story is all about the characters. Sure, there’s a hook, but the characters that execute that hook are the reason you want (and need) to turn the page. Make me care. Make me want to see them succeed. Make me have to watch their next move because I can’t possibly predict what it’s going to be.

Just like I wouldn’t be a close friend with someone who bored me or had no charm or passion, I wouldn’t want to follow a bland character for two hours, no matter who is playing him. But the other truth is, no decent actor is going to want to play a one-note character either.

Examine your characters. If you find them a bit of a yawn, try imagining a goal they might set for themselves. Give them one, even something nutty like a long-awaited dream to learn how to skydive. Just imagining that might help you develop him into a person you’d want to not only spend two hours with, but also ride cross-country in an Amish wagon with.

Speaking of Amish, have you guys checked out Amish Mafia yet? Talk about characters you would not expect to find. Just sayin’.

Back to goals…

The number one rule of goal setting is to be realistic. Don’t set yourself up for failure. The same goes for your characters and your story. Don’t give them a goal that’s impossible for them to meet or a character flaw that’s way too complicated to create a believable evolution.

When it comes to setting a personal goal, you have to be realistic, not only about your ability to achieve it, but also about all the excuses you might make when you aren’t working toward that goal.

For example, a common goal is to write a little every single day. In order to achieve that, you’re going to have to learn how to say no to other requests and/or obligations. Be selective with your time. Guard it.

When you start making excuses as to why you aren’t writing. Stop. Breathe. Then imagine you are watching your best friend sabotage herself. What would you tell her? My guess is you’d slap her aside the head, give her some tough love, and remind her why her success is important.

Be your own best friend.

Write. Write because you love it. Write because you deserve it. Write because you are the only one who can write that story the way it is intended to be told. Do the same thing for your characters and their storyline. Give them the kind of story only they can make interesting. Honor them. Honor your logline. Honor that brilliant idea you came up with.

Don’t give up on your script. Don’t give up on yourself.

Just like you have to spend time writing each day, you also need to spend time keeping up with industry news. But be careful not to use this research as procrastination time. An hour a day will do it.

Bottom-line, you need to sit your ass in that chair and do the hard work. That script ain’t gonna write itself, and I’m not going to write it for you. It takes 28 days to develop a habit. Promise me you will put the effort in for the next 28 days to achieve the goals you have set for yourself.

In return, I will promise you one thing – every time you sit down in the chair, and get the words on the page, you will feel amazing. That thrill will carry you into the next day and the next day.

Love yourself enough to give your writing a chance.

To really put the pressure on, I want you to put your number one writing goal in the comment section below. Say it "out loud."

I’ll start. This year, I am going to write the first novel of my trilogy. Did I hear you gasp at the work “novel”? Yes, a screenwriter is writing a novel. Don’t worry, I’m going to adapt that sucker later, but I’m choosing to start the story as a novel because I want to be able to crawl into the character’s head in a way I can’t do in screenwriting. Besides, I need a new challenge. After all, that’s a part of why I set new goals… to keep myself from being predictable and boring.

So tell me… what are your goals and how can we all help you stay on track?

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