Character Autobiography

Written/Contributed by Hal Ackerman

Write the full name of your character down the left side of a page, one successive letter on each line. On each line, write a true statement about the character (or from his/her voice) beginning the first word of each line with each successive letter of the character?ǂÄôs name. So for a character named Holmeyer:

He lives with a rabbit
Open hearted
Loves bridges
Means well
Ebbs when he should flow
Yearns for love
Even tempered
Runs from life

Try it with all your main characters. (Try it with your own name)

From My Life

Use transformational moments in your life to explore screenwriting structure.

The Exercise

List three transformational moments in your life.
Pick one incident and answer these questions:
What was your life like before the transformation?
What took place during the transformation?
What were the obstacles to transforming (both internal and external)?
How did you face these obstacles?
Name the people involved in this transformation.
What were their roles in your transformation?
What happened to them because of this transformation?
What was the outcome for you?

Create an outline of the specific incidents that occurred before, during and after this transformational experience.
Visualize a movie with each of these specific incidents as a scene in your movie.

Journal

What do I think about my movie? What am I leaving out? What can I add to make it more powerful?

An Example of Place

Examining how others view and use place will give us a better idea of how we can use it to strengthen our stories.

The Exercise

Watch a movie set in a country that was made by someone who’s not from there.
Watch two movies set in the same country made by people who are from there.

Journal

How is place perceived and setup differently?

Rule Breaking

Written/Contributed by Hal Ackerman

In a series of one-line (or at most, two lines) impressions, make a litany of all the times you “broke the rules,” Lied, cheated, stole, set fire, pilfered, prevaricated, deceived. (eg: Poisoned my sister’s gold fish. Enjoyed it. Took joy rides in the family car at age 14 while parents were in hospital.

b. Extract the juiciest of all those incidents. Write it as a story, in prose. However long it takes — a page, 10 pages.

c. How would you adapt it to a screen story? Make a running order of the scenes. Would you need to invent other scenes to dramatize events that were mentioned in the prose version? How would a movie audience know who the characters were and what was important to them?

Sherlock Holmes And Moriarty

Written/Contributed by Hal Ackerman

Do this with a writing friend. Each of you separately concoct a perfect crime: Circumstances, motive, execution, getaway. Perpetrator. Victim. Write it out in some detail.

Then exchange papers. Create a character who will solve this crime. How will the hole in the plan be discovered? By what means of detection?

Character Descriptions

Here’s a test on creating effective character descriptions.

The Exercise

Pick ten characters you’ve seen in movies.
Write a 1-sentence description for each of them. Make it as accurate as possible.
Bring these descriptions to friends who have seen these movies. Can they guess who you’re referring to?

Random Acts of Weirdness

Relieve writer’s block by finding new stories to tell. If you’re not planning your own adventure, check out weird stories from around the world.

The Exercise

Navigate to an online search engine and query “weird news”.
Pick a site, then a story.
Imagine the actions and dialogue that make this story a reality.
Write a two-page scene.

Feedback: Out Loud

The first time I had my screenplay read out loud, I immediately knew many of the things that had to change. Try it! Your Task: Get hold of a finished screenplay. Get a group of people (at least 2 others). Assign parts to each person and read the screenplay out loud. Finished? Now, have each person do a 10-minute freewrite answering the following questions: What are my impressions of this work? What do I wish was in it? What am I glad that was included? Share.

Editing Practice

Editing our own scripts is sometimes wrought with our own defensiveness and inability to let go of what we originally put on the page. Practicing with other scripts can improve our skills and help us see that no matter how done we think a script is, it can always use a little more work. Your Task: Download and read someone else’s script. Answer these questions: What opportunities have the writers missed? What loose-ends have not been tied up? Does this seem important to the writer? Why or why not? How would you make this script better? Explain each element you would change in detail. To go even further, share your notes with someone who has read the script or seen the movie. What do they think of your comments?