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Characters, Ideas, & Story

I don’t want to say that I’m unconventional when it comes to writing, but I don’t follow the many steps that authors/screenwriters take when they write their stories/scripts.

Most of the time, I don’t plan out what I’m going to write. Sure, there’s the occasional I want this to happen and this is how it’s going to end, but other than that, I’m just free-writing. I start out with what people call “word vomit,” where I write everything that’s comes to mind in regards to the story.

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A random notebook I grabbed to write down my ideas.

Once I’ve finished, I go backwards:

  • I write out my characters and write their backstories. I use a lot of my “word vomit” to shape the characters, but I also add in things into their backstory. This helps me a lot with the rewrites because now I have a definitive character set and I can see how their story arcs will intertwine with each other.
  • I write out the main story arc and the three acts. I find what events from my “word vomit” will kickstart each act and place them in the outline.
  • I re-write my “word vomit” to look like a treatment.
  • Then I write my “second” draft.

This may seem like it’s more time-consuming and I should have already plotted things out before I even started writing, but I find this helpful. During this period of planning, I can research facts that I wrote in and I’m not sure if they’re correct. I can also have some sort of peace of mind, because I’m not having to hold this story idea in my head for a few days as I try to work out an outline. With everything out on paper, I’m able to work on smaller scenes than constantly having to remember how I want the story to go. There have been a few times where my ending changed by the time I reached my final draft.

CHARACTERS:

Here’s a look at my Character research for my novella:

Screen Shot 2018-01-11 at 10.13.08 AM
researching schizophrenia, á la wikipedia and other sources

When I research and plan out my characters, I take a look at everything in their lives. I figure out their history, family life, what their hobbies are and what they suck at doing. This might be too trivial, but just knowing the ins and outs of the character you’re writing will help guide you towards the choices they would make. I also research the diseases or illnesses that they might be plagued with; it helps me develop their personality more.

Another part of the research is race and ethnicity. I am beginning to write a more diverse set of characters. When I started out, I wrote with caucasian characters because I grew up in a predominantly white town. I only knew white people and viewed myself as white (I’m 3/4 Japanese, if you didn’t know). In college I was met with diversity and thrived. I learned more about different cultures and I even learned about my own. It was a great experience and I realized that me writing white characters was hurting the diversity in our storytelling. Especially in the United States when our country is made up on diversity.

IDEAS:

So call me crazy, but my ideas come from characters that magically appear to me. Sometimes I get a crazy dream sequence about this specific person and I’m like “What happened?” and “How did you get here?”. From there I write different scenarios that could have occurred and choose one that makes a story.

Other times, I’d be people watching and there’s a person that intrigues me, whether it be the way they speak or how they’re interacting with others around them.

Then, there are those times I write about what I know.

Ideas are fun when you don’t dwell on them. Sometimes another story comes out of an original idea and it’s entirely different from what you started out. I found that if I wanted to write about certain subject and I just focus solely on that, it affects my writing a lot. I don’t make writing a “job” or a “chore”, I make it fun and let it take me wherever it goes. When I’m too focused, I become agitated and frustrated that the story isn’t coming out right and then I end up scrapping the idea all together, even if it started out really great.

Here’s an idea I started writing seven years ago and never got back to, because I didn’t really connect with the story after trying to write it out:

Screen Shot 2018-01-11 at 11.52.36 AM
written by Emi Sano circa 2011

(If you have an idea to continue this story shoot me an email or write in the comments below. I’ve always wanted to try a RomCom, but I could never find the right story.)

A really great way to get the creative juices flowing is to listen to music. A lot of my scripts have come into fruition while listening to music. I love the idea of setting songs up like a soundtrack to the movie you’re writing. I’m not sure if you noticed in the movies, but sometimes they pick the BEST song for the scene and you can’t help but wonder if that’s what the writer was listening to when s/he wrote the scene.

STORY:

Naturally, story comes after you come up with characters and an idea, but it’s so much more. I find that when creating the story, you’re also looking at it from a birds-eye view. What’s happening in one part of the story affects what’s happening in another. If one character does something, then there’s a consequence (good or bad) that comes out of it.  Everything is joined together with care and craft to make the reader or viewer forget about what’s happening in their reality.

That’s what makes me love what I do. I love the feeling that books, movies, and television give me. It’s a moment’s escape. When I write, I keep that in the back of my mind. If I’m writing a true life drama, I add a little more drama to drive it home. If I’m working on a supernatural or a fantasy script, I create a universe that’s starkly different than where I’m living.

How I tell the story depends on the character. If I find the story to be visual based, then I write it in script form so it can be made into a movie. If the character won’t shut up and wants to be the narrator, then it’s written in first person point-of-view fiction. Lastly, if I’m writing about a character that has some secrets that I want the reader to figure out, then I write in third person subjective fiction (sometimes I try the objective, but I really like getting into the character’s heads). I hardly (well, I wouldn’t say never) use narration in scripts. I find voice over narration to be an extremely lazy way of storytelling in film because film is a visual medium and shouldn’t have to be explained in a play-by-play, UNLESS they are being used to distract the audience from the film’s reality, aka the unreliable narrator.

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Beginning of a script I wrote for my Scriptwriting I course @ RIT. Note: voice-over narration.

 

The funny thing is, I used to write scripts with narrators, a lot, until I got to college and the SHOW not TELL was drilled into my head. Afterwards, I realized that a lot of my narration was easier said in visuals than spoken aloud. So, thanks RIT for teaching me a couple things.

 

 

 


I hoped you enjoyed some of my insights on how I get my writing started or finished. Please leave a comment below if you have anything to add that works for you and would like me to try!

Also, don’t forget to read my short story excerpt here. If you like what you’re reading on my blog please consider becoming a patron on Patreon or supporting me through Ko-Fi. If you’re unfamiliar on what those two sites are, check out my blog post about them.

Thanks for reading!

-Emi

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