Screenwriters need to observe and be fully present…

January 25, 2012 § 1 Comment

As a writer you always need to be observing life and have your creative radar set to detect even subtle events in the real world.  You never know when you observe a person or an interaction that will spawn an idea for your project or maybe another one in the future.  When you’re out in the world listen to how people speak, observe how they act and constantly record your findings.  I collect my observations and write them into a small notebook that I call my “writing arsenal.”  I carry it in my briefcase with my laptop and I record various thoughts, ideas, and lines of dialogue that might end up in a screenplay some day.  My own life experiences also get logged into my writing arsenal.

Hemingway believed, “If a writer stops observing he is finished. But he does not have to observe consciously nor think how it will be useful. Perhaps that would be true at the beginning. But later everything he sees goes into the great reserve of things he knows or has seen. If it is any use to know it, I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows. Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg. It is the part that doesn’t show. If a writer omits something because he does not know it then there is a hole in the story.

The fun part of being a writer is that your research is an ongoing process of venturing out into the world and living your own life in an adventurous way.  You constantly need to have new and different experiences to make your writing more truthful and creative.  I don’t believe you can live in an ivory tower and write about life without ever really experiencing it from the gutter to the penthouse.  An example of a priceless experience is when my friend invited me to a shooting range.  I jumped at the chance because I had never fired a real gun before, but yet I wrote a few scripts where the characters fire guns — this without ever having known the experience myself.  I fired three different pistols and even put two bullets into the same hole in my paper target!  Here I was experiencing something I had only imagined and now the awesome firepower was in my hands with spent shells ejecting from my own 9 MM — BLAM!  BLAM!   BLAM!  Priceless.  The target part actually ended up in a comedy script that I had written.  The whole experience was a blast!  Now I can write from experience and not just from what I’ve seen in movies or television.  It makes your writing more truthful and will make your stories more believable, as they are now being written from your personal experiences.  It’s also a hell of a lot of fun too!

As a writer it’s your duty to be mindful of your own feelings and be able to tap into your emotional memory.  Your characters will then come from a real place throughout your script.  Be a sponge and soak up every experience and every person whom you meet.  Keep a wide-eyed curiosity about the world and continually expose yourself to all art — read novels, scripts, study paintings, watch movies and television, travel, explore and be an active participant in life.  Your own full life is an important part of your ongoing study of your craft. You should also do your best to live outside of your comfort zone and experience all that life has to give to put into your screenwriting.

The late Rod Serling believed: “The instinct of creativity must be followed by the physical act of putting it down.”  If you observe something that moves you—write it down quickly.  The clue to the writer is not to let your feeling or observation only linger as a memory.  Write it down.  Being observant and being open and present will allow you the necessary skills to recognize the events around us that lead to great stories.  This is why screenwriters need to observe and be full present in their lives.

“A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer.  But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar.” —  Stephen King

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