What Does It Take?

What changes in your scenes when you reduce or expand them? Screenwriting books almost unanimously call for an economy of words — choosing your words wisely and using less to say more. Practice this. Your Task: Come up with a scene from a movie and write 3 versions of the same scene. Write the first one using a 1/2 page; the second one with 1 1/2 pages; and the third one using 3 pages.

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?

Take Someone Else's Word for It

It’s time to listen.

The Exercise

Poll a few people with the following questions:
What’s your favorite action movie?
What are two specific things you like about this movie?
What’s your favorite scene?
What’s your least favorite action movie?
What are two specific things you disliked about this movie?
What scene(s) made the movie bad?

Find and watch a couple of these movies. Pay close attention to the specific scenes mentioned.


What are your impressions of the movies you saw?
Do you share the opinions of the people you polled?
What have you learned about writing action?

Defense Against the Critics

Can you defend the choices you’ve made in your own writing? Try it. Your Task: Take a screenplay that you’ve written. Pick out the major plot points and defend your decisions for the way you’ve written them. Write a short essay detailing the decisions you’ve made for the plot of your story and defend these choices against potential criticism.

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.


How is place perceived and setup differently?

Being The Writer I Want To Be

What internal or external forces impede your ability to write? Our capacity to understand and permeate these forces can build our power as a writer.

The Exercise

List 10 things that stop you from being the writer you want to be.
Brainstorm three possible solutions for overcoming each obstacle on your list.
Plan a date on your calendar to work on one of these solutions.


Sometimes, seeing where other people have taken an idea can inspire us with new ways to develop our own. Your task: Make a list of five things you are passionate about. Identify as many movies you can think of that cover the first item on your list. Do a 5-minute free-write with the starting sentence, “Stories can be…”

In The Bedroom

Written/Contributed by Hal Ackerman

Two people are in bed. A siren or alarm is heard. Or the phone rings. Or a doorbell. WRITE THE SCENE.

You will have to ask yourself: Who are these people? Who are they to each other? What are the immediate circumstances? How does the alarm affect them? What do they do? Are they at cross-purposes? How so?

Place ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances or extraordinary people in ordinary circumstances.

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.


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