Despina Karintis was a closeted cinephile who channeled her obsession and took up the craft of screenwriting. Her adventures across the globe, including sliding down glaciers, skirmishing with sharks, and nearly drowning in a desert tinaja, inspired her scripts in the Action/Thriller and Comedy genres. Despina is Co-Founder of Story Broads and hopes to broaden the horizon of women in film for generations to come. Twitter: @Wonder_Writer
I have a confession to make: I'm a fucking idiot. I'm an idiot for many reasons, but one resounding reason is, when thinking of genius articles to write, I, quite incredulously, chose two topics I fail at miserably. One is about organizing the story in your head, which is the topic of this stellar piece of writing, and the other is about self doubt. More on that later.
Right now, in trying to organize this article in my head, I've decided any one of the following might be easier: scrubbing toilets at a concert (just.. no), train for a marathon (I am not a land mammal), learn to hack (I watch Mr. Robot so I'm semi-there), or do my kid's math homework (what even is Common Core). But why bother writing if it's so hard, right?
Because I love it. I love creating stories and worlds and characters. I love being a snarky, endearing asshole on paper. And because I'm completely deluded in thinking I could be the next Nora Ephron, Carrie Fisher, or Emma Thompson. (Please, bear with me in my delusion of grandeur.)
Writing is something I've always loved, but it's not something I've always been good at. I'm still not good at it, but I can't help myself... Anyway, sure I have millions of awesome ideas, but ideas are a dime a dozen – it's the execution that counts. <cue echo chamber> Execution. <gong> It's about getting that idea down on paper in a way that shocks and amazes (or fools) someone of note into wanting to see more of what you have to offer so you can get PAID. (Let's not be altruistic hippies right now... We want paid work.) And with a story idea, it's what's on the page that counts, not the unfettered synapses in your head (unless, of course, you're Sorkin and can pitch on a whim... but let's not get ahead of ourselves).
So how do you extract the completed work in your head and recreate it perfectly on the page? Honey babies, if I knew that I'd be sipping Mai Tais somewhere in the Polynesian archipelago while my golden egg hardback sold millions. Instead, I'm on a barcalounger eating stale chips trying to figure out the same thing every other writer is... How do I get that story out of my head and turn it into something tangible?
Remember when I said writing didn't always come easy? I wasn't kidding. I have a special affliction that's plagued me forever: I have a serious problem with focus. I'm sure there's a bit of lacking self-discipline in the mix, but I honestly think it's because I get overwhelmed with not knowing where or how to start and it makes me question my intent, my prospects, and my mental fortitude.
If you're in the same boat, I have a few suggestions that might help. It is important to note that these are not the cure to the clutter, they're simply tools I've used to help organize along the way.
1. THE VOMIT DRAFT
Free-write. Spew it out start to finish. Don't worry about structure, format, or grammar. Don't let any restraints or fear of imperfection stop the creativity – go ahead and accept that it will likely be shit in the beginning. Do allow time to write it through to a comfortable stopping point. Do allow a bit of meandering and wandering to explore and expound. Whether it's one sentence, a paragraph, or 10 pages, it's a start. This is one of my favorite ways to get the story out. It's messy, garbled, repetitive, lofty, or basic, but it's OUT of the brain. Now there's something tangible to go back to and work from.
2. THE OUTLINE
List. If there's not enough to write a vomit doc, list scenes or actions or bits of dialogue and build out from there. For me, the organization of bullet points and bylines on the page help me visualize the narrative in a way I can focus on key elements like character, plot, and theme. This is the most basic way I can translate what's in my head. I generally tend to breakdown my vomit docs into an outline for even more clarity and direction. #nerdalert or maybe #rookiealert?
3. THE NOTECARDS
This is great for non-linear storylines or multiple writers as it lets the ideas come together in movable parts. I've done this a variety of ways. One way, if there is space for it, is to card it on a straight timeline with key elements marked as a guide i.e.: Opening Scene, Inciting Incident, etc. (a linear Beat Sheet of sorts) and card individual scenes or dialogue below. This can take up a ton of space if you're not careful, but it's thorough. Another way is to map out by character arcs, story arcs, and theme i.e.: Character A's Journey, Character B's Journey, where and how they cross paths, etc. There are a million different ways to card, but, for me, it's a great way to see it on a bigger scale and leave it out in view for total immersion. One thing I learned with this, though...? Take pics before big moves in case you need to refer back. Trust me.
4. THE PAGE
For me, this starts as a mix between Outline and Vomit Draft because I slug the scene and write it out as loose action and dialogue – it sometimes helps get the ball rolling to see it on the page. I generally slug as follows: OPENING SCENE, INT./EXT. LOCATION, action (this tends to be long and heavy on the prose, but it's a start), dialogue, INCITING, ACT 1, and so on, with plenty of sub-slugs that eventually work into viable scenes. This won't be a pretty document, but it gets you on the page and writing which is the ultimate goal.
5. THE SHORT
Why not write a short screenplay borne of a single sequence? It's helped me define a character, build a story that wasn't complete, or work out a kink that doesn't quite jive with everything else. And if you don't have a complete idea, it's a good way to start small and flesh out. I've written scenes based on dialogue exchange I liked that didn't flow with the bigger story and turned it into a short just to get it out. Shorts are good for bouts of writer's block, too. Keeps you active and writing on a smaller scale. No pressure.
That's it! Nothing special. Nothing earth shattering in approach or sure-fire in strategy. But it should help get you started – they've helped me immensely in both focus and discipline. The self doubt that sometimes comes along with it, especially in the beginning (of career or story), is another thing entirely. So, excuse me while I go organize that article and stress over hating this one at the same time. Wheeee!
Get concrete tips for starting your screenplay with Tom Benedek's (COCOON) webinar
10 Steps to Bullet Proof Story Outline Before You Write Script Pages