Screenwriting : Boxed In by Liam Lacy

Liam Lacy

Boxed In

When I've spent a fair amount of time developing a project (before writing the actual screenplay), I often find myself unable to come up with new ideas and new directions to take the story in. It's as if I become too boxed in by what I have done so far. My question is, can anyone relate to this, and does anyone have any tips to help 'break down the mental barriers' and formulate new ideas after spending a lot of time on a project?

Sarah Gabrielle Baron

Perhaps you'll find that just writing the script will take you in new directions. I have often found that after an idea is all mapped out, once I'm in the flow of writing, a character can take you to a place you hadn't foreseen. These character revelations and new scenes can change the whole make-up of the project! It's a curve ball for sure, and may screw up the final product and necessitate a re-write back to the original version; or, the new characters/story line can be a revelation, a gift from the divine, and the story will become so much more than you'd originally planned.

Rafael Pinero

I agree with Sarah, you can have everything mapped out, but writing the script can take you somewhere even better, so start writing and let it flow

Liam Lacy

Thanks guys! I'll try these approaches and see how I go.

Boomer Murrhee

I find this is a better problem to have at the outlining stage than when you have a written screenplay. It's harder to kill our babies once they are created.

Debbie Croysdale

Hi I agree with Sarah and Raphael, once I start writing the script the characters begin to lead their own pathway, showing me ideas i hadn't yet thought if, it's as though "their" thoughts and feelings forge how a particular scene pans out.

Debbie Croysdale

Hi I also see Boomers point of view, that once we have created "babies" it's hard to kill them off, but instead of obliterating them it's easier just to let them have their own way.

Elisabeth Meier

Hey, I agree with Sarah and Raphael, because outlining and planning the story too much, too detailed can kill the creativity. At the same time it is your red line which pulls you back if you become too creative. So, what to do? Write an outline or create something alike (make this a very creative act to give your soul the feeling anything is still possible) and then sit down and write as if the outline wouldn't exist. Check every day what you wrote, compare it to your "outline" and correct or continue with your script. Sometimes your free writing will be better than your outline and sometimes it's better to follow the outline. In other words: It's completely individual. It depends on you and as our colleagues already explained above to the characters of your story who tend to have an own life and begin to breathe ... which is great... follow your heart!

Geoff Webb

Take each problem you've had to solve and come up with 10 more solutions. Ignore the first solutions (plus the one you've used) and use one of the others. This may create an interesting ripple in your script.

Brian Walsh

I think this conversation opens up one of the classic traps. We create these characters and breathe life into them, but sometimes we have them do things that don't make sense (for them) in order to stay true to an outline or plotline we want. So do we change the plotline, or change the character. I agree that it's hard to kill them or change them once we've created them, so there is always the dilemma of what to do in order to satisfy the needs of the story, and still satisfy the needs of the character.

Elisabeth Meier

Geoff - that sounds really interesting. I would like to know more. You mean each time you stick you try to find 11 ways out? Do you really find 11 solutions for each problem? Doesn't this cost a lot of time?

Elisabeth Meier

Brian - but what if the freestyle plot line (which appears if you let your characters breathe more than you planned them to do) is also not bad? Do you then really go back to the plan you made? I don't. I usually let the idea flow and write it to the end. If the original plot line later still fascinates me I write a second version. Incase of my spec scripts this is easier of course. Incase of a contract with a director/producer I first write and deliver what they want, but also then have my own version.

Brian Walsh

I don't think there's a right answer to that Elisabeth. I think you have to go with your gut and make a call as to whether you'll allow the characters to change the story or change the characters themselves. Either decision can be good or bad depending on the execution. Those are the calls that we have to constantly make as writers.

Geoff Webb

Elisabeth - Imagine you are writing a romcom, the thing with a romcom is that everyone knows roughly what's going to happen, so the key is to make as many key moments as original as possible. With hundreds of writers producing hundreds of romcoms there is a high chance that the 'first idea' you have is going to be like the ideas of another large bunch of writers and you end up with a generic romcom that is ok but has nothing truly special about it The key is to come up with as many different ideas as possible for each of the key moments you've chosen. Come up with 30 ways for the couple to meet for the first time, 20 ways for his/her father to show his disapproval of the relationship and so on. Discard all the early ideas, fight and struggle to come up with as many ideas as you can. Yes this will take longer to develop your treatment but hopefully you will have a wonderful Eureka moment when you come up with something truly original and you can't wait to sit down to write it. I've read lots of screenplays that were competently written but the key stumbling block was originality.

Phil Richards

I often find that the process of writing the script will generate new ideas. If something pops into my mind, I'll stop and mentally play out the new idea to make sure I'm not going to paint myself into a corner down the road. If I still like it, I'll incorporate it into the story.

Fleurette M Van Gulden

I've been on my spec since May. Prepared, researched and played my scenes out before I begin to write. I'm seeing the end. Great transformation for my Main Character. However my middle went sidewalking. Just got it back on the right turf. Somewhere like a shout from a passing car, I heard follow the Protagonist, slow him down, disrupt his journey. Climb the cliff with him and create a rescue. You can do it. Imagine a road trip with all the stalling and breakdowns along the mile posts. Somehow the trip will end even if it's a turn around. Good luck

Elisabeth Meier

Geoff - Ah... now I see what you mean. I totally agree and even do this and collect my ideas for different "standard" situations when people meet, how, at which time etc. Going through this collection when needed is alway a wonderful inspiration for new solutions. Thanks for explaining.

KD Langford

Hey Liam, whenever this happens to me, I'll either read various newspapers to see if I can get any ideas. I've also been known to just free write. Another idea might be to watch a film or something online that relates to what you're writing about.

Zan Skolnick

Zan Skolnick. .Know where you want to take the end to. Let your characters show you the way. If they don't come live in your head they never will on the page, film or stage. Let them possess you, even though your subconscious is probably who they are, even if your doing historical drama.. Your imagination will give you all the tics you need to proceed. So go ahead even if your characters are not following your outline. An arabsque now and then can provide a welcome relief from the structural drone and expand your characters..

Gwendolyn Hulet

Hi Liam, thanks for the connection -- great to connect with another screenwriter and filmmaker, hope to follow your example and produce my own work --

Debbie Croysdale

Hi@Robert I had a "whole universe is against this script" moment of jinx the last 48 hrs. The notebook I write on froze and had to get it sorted by instore tech team, then my newly paid "whole year" subscription for anti virus flashed my trial was over, and I'm not secure. Bring back the typewriter. I'm carrying on with my script using an old fashioned pen and paper. @Boomer Get well soon. @All Fantastic coming weekend.

Jeffrey Walesa

All kinds of awesome ideas here! Reading everyone's post brings about several ideas we all can use for our characters and storylines. I've used a lot of these ideas and have learned some new ones when I'm stuck. So, Thanks to all of you for sharing and enjoy the ride!!

Kyle Barrows

I find that if I start working a new project after feeling kind of boxed in, as you described, I wouldn't ever go back to my original project. There are hundreds of half-finished screenplays floating around my notebooks for that very reason. What really seems to help me is to move away from the project AND media type entirely for a few whole days. So, for example, if I'm writing a horror screenplay I will go and read a comedy book or listen to some fun podcasts just to pull myself into the opposite spectrum and kind of “re-balance” my brain. It helps me to decompress or pull myself out of the box. Hope that helps!

Gwendolyn Hulet

What I do when I'm in a similar situation is let myself play at what I'm working on, instead of doubling down and hammering away at it. I carry a spiral notebook where I jot any kind of ideas that come to me throughout the day. I also take a look at my project first thing in the morning for only a few minutes -- if I get into the flow, I continue writing as long as I'm into it. David Mamet said something really helpful, a writer must spend 3 minutes a day on his writing, either actually writing or thinking about it. I love that statement because it really frees a person up. You don't need to spend an hour or two hours, etc. to be productive. See movies -- or don't, read anything that interests you, let your mind have the freedom to roam since you are 'boxed in'. When you open yourself up and become receptive you will get in the flow once again. There's a natural ebb and flow to the creative process, it can't all be flow... your mind is still taking things in and processing things at a deeper level while your conscious mind needs a rest -- those are my thoughts anyway! Let us know how it goes--

Sylvia Marie Llewellyn

Fantastic post Gwendolyn. Thank you. :-))

Gwendolyn Hulet

Thanks Sylvia! -- Writing is a tough but rewarding journey I find...

Sylvia Marie Llewellyn

That's for sure. I just binge- watched 10 episodes of 'Making a Murderer' and thought ... wow... that was a huge undertaking... with video, scripted and recordings... all put together.... amazing. Bummed out after watching it though. Yikes.

William Martell

You are only limited by your imagination. If I have written to a certain point and my outline says I need to get from point A to point B, that means there are 180 different possibilities to get there by moving forward and 180 different possibilities to get there by doubling back before heading forward. Then I just have to start brainstorming what all of this possible routes are. I seldom have to get to 180 before I find one that sparks me.

Zan Skolnick

If you don't know what your root action or its metaphor is before you start it's easy to get lost. I started a play strictly to follow the preservation of Lenin's body. He was already suspicious that Stalin the wrong person to succeed him, but a stroke put him in Stalin's power. So Lenin's fears, even though written, were concealed by Stalin, who purposely wanted to make Lenin into a God so that he could retain and increase his powers. That disgusted me. So I decided to turn the script into a Marx Brother's version of events (keeping them historically accurate) but showing how Lenin's soul reacted. Basically I created a second arc -- that of Lenin's soul infused by the feminine side of God --- realizing what Stalin was doing and ended with Lenin's spirit lamenting the realities he'd caused and ended the play by having Lenin quote Candide's line about helping people by building a small garden and sharing. So what's my metaphor? Be very careful to whom you grant power. I wrote it during George W. Bush's first term as unelected President..

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