One of the Very Best Script Writing Tips.....
One of the very best script writing tips has to do with something that you have in great abundance. A carpenter has hammer and nails, a painter has brushes and canvas. Every professional has tools.
As a screenplay writer, one of your most basic writers tools is words.
And just as a mechanic has an assortment of sockets and wrenches, and a carpenter has drill bits of all different sizes, the larger and more varied your assortment of tools, the finer and more engaging your writing will be.
How do you acquire these tools? The best and easiest way is to read.
Yes, I know it’s a cliché, but read everything. Read novels and manuals, poetry and potato chip packages, newspapers, town hall notices, the obituary page—and most definitely, screenplays… but more on that later.
Reading is like a large tributary that feeds several different streams. It feeds your idea bank, depositing ideas like tiny trout being stocked into a lake. It feeds your image bank, building up your image pool and fortifying your “visual vocabulary.”
You will constantly be drawing on those images as a screenwriter. Lastly, it feeds your word bank. The more you read, the more words you collect in your word bank.
But in addition to reading, you, as a writer, should actively work to build up and enrich your word bank.
How do you do that? The deliberate and old-fashioned way. Buy a pack of 3x5 cards and use them to add at least 2-3 words a week to your word bank.
Now here’s the trick. In order for this to work, you can’t go at it like it’s an assignment from Mrs. Finkelstein, your ninth grade English teacher.
It’s more like … dating. It’s more like the guy or girl in ninth grade who made the palms of your hands sweat, who made your mouth fall agape when you’d see them walking down the hallway, who left your jaw disjointed when you tried to talk to them… oh well, enough of my own personal history.
It’s about a natural attraction. It’s about finding those words that turn you on, those words that are intriguing, mysterious, mesmerizing. Have I gone too far? Probably, but you get the picture.
Here’s an example. I don’t know anything about boats or boating, but I have a kind of fascination about it. I think it’s the whole man against the sea thing, man against nature, whatever.
Anyway, I was reading something recently, and it mentioned the mast of a boat. Now, you probably don’t believe me, but I know absolutely nothing about boats. Those of you who own boats and who are old sea dogs are probably laughing at me, but I didn’t know what a mast was, so I had to look it up.
According to Merriam Webster, a mast is “a long pole or spar rising from the keel of the deck of a ship and supporting the yards, booms and rigging.”
Well, in order to make sense of that, I had to look up “keel, yards, booms and rigging.” Still laughing? All I can say is that I know what I know and I know what I don’t know.
Anyway, what I’ve now done is create a word tree. Mast, keel, yards, booms and rigging are now a related group of words that I’m familiar with. By golly, now I feel like I’m ready to sail a one-man boat to China! You get the picture.
What you would then do is take each of your words and put them on an index card, along with the definition, a usage sentence, and maybe an etymological note or two about the history, root and source of the word.
You might also want to make a note reminding yourself of where you encountered the word (i.e. Moby Dick, pg 53). Then you would file the cards. Initially, every day, then weekly, then monthly you should review your words. Try to commit to memory the words, their spelling, definition, etc.
Taking notes on the roots and sources of words might not be mandatory, but doing research on how words come into being is such a rich source of human psychology and behavior that it’s also a rich source of story ideas. Did you know that the word “bedlam” comes from a sanitarium (an insane asylum) in London that actually was called Bethlehem? You can just hear the Brits condensing that word down to “bedlam.” You can also understand why the word is what it is.
You might question the usefulness of this kind of work, but once you start building your word bank and working with it regularly, you won’t question its usefulness anymore.
When your protagonist is trapped on the dock, and the only way to escape from her pursuer is to jump on a boat and pilot it out into the harbor, it will help to know what a mast, keel, yards, booms and rigging are.
In the words I use and the way I use them, I’ll be letting a reader know that I know what I’m talking about, that I have a working knowledge of the subject that I’m writing about. If a reader buys my credibility in this scene, maybe he or she will buy my credibility in other scenes and my overall credibility to write this screenplay.
The breadth of your “tools” buys you credibility. It also saves you research time because the more you know, the less you have to look up. But the most important and useful aspect of having a large word bank, is that it allows you to render your scenes in an authentic, vivid, emotionally compelling fashion.
… And if you ever see me down at the dock fumbling with a towrope, maybe you’ll come over and lend me a hand.
Assignment: Use this script writing tip and start your word bank today! If you put it off, you will continue to put it off. Get your index cards and filing box and start using this script writing tip now. Remember, it’s not a race. A word or two at a time, over time, is the key.
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