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?

Everything Changes

Here’s another practice exercise for creating a scene. Your Task: Think of an incident that happened in your life where you were unsatisfied with the end result. Now, write a scene that goes through this incident. Change the scene to reflect the way you’d rather have this incident turn out.

Letting It Get to Me

How do movies influence, change or effect us? How can 1 scene have so much staying power in our lives? I’ve seen it many times. Friends will refer to a specific scene from a movie to relate experiences in their lives. They’ll use scenes in movies to justify a decision. It goes on. Your Task: Watch your favorite scene of a movie. Freewrite for 20 minutes on anything that comes up.

Someone Else's Action

“In describing action, don’t let it take longer to read than it would to do it on screen.”
- Hal Ackerman (Screenwriter, Author and Professor)

The Exercise

Watch an action movie of your choice.
Pick one scene and write the action elements using as few words as possible.

Creative Instruction

Beyond storytelling, the screenplay is a map for actors and filmmakers. The screenwriter conveys creative instruction through action elements in the script.

The Exercise

You’ll need a partner.

Partner A is to instruct partner B how to put on a shoe (preferably one with laces). To do this, partner B must take off one of their shoes. They are also to pretend that they have never seen a shoe, don’t know what it is and don’t know what its various parts are or do.

Partner A needs to explain the process of putting on a shoe. Partner A should do this verbally and without pointing at the parts of the shoe. Every part of the explanation should try to be clear, verbal and effective enough to get partner B to get that shoe on.

Journal

How can language create and shape action?

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?

Can't Stand It

I was talking to a grocery store clerk about writing the other day, when he asked, “How do you write about characters that you can’t stand?” I responded with saying, “finding compassion for our characters gives us the ability to understand them more which helps when we write their lives.” Your task: Pick a person you dislike. Write a 1-page synopsis for a plot based on their life as a hero’s journey.

The 3-Act Structure

The three-act structure has been one of the most influential tools for screenplay development. An understanding of its history and applicability is essential to the burgeoning screenwriter.

The Exercise

Write a four-page essay on the three-act structure. Where did it come from? What is it and how is it used? What are some of the challenges against it? What are some of the movies that use it? Has it developed over time? How?

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?

creative screenwriting exercises (Get the book for all 101 exercises)