Screenwriting : Getting Unstuck... by Keanna Sherri Prince

Keanna Sherri Prince

Getting Unstuck...

You finish act one of your new script and BOOM! You hit a wall. What are some of the ways you motivate yourself to move forward or ways that you stimulate your creatively to continue through act two?

Dan MaxXx

Act One is like 20 pages. If that happens to me, it means i didnt do a treatment, didnt do enough research, just writing blind. I write backwards from end to beginning. So if i am stuck, i d just take a break, work the plot beats again in my head, sketch a storyboard of major sequences and try to make sense of plot/character/theme/goal/believability. And if all that fails, f**k it, work on the next idea.

Jody Ellis

Push through, push through, push through. I am all about the shitty first draft. The meat of my story always comes in the revisions.

Valerie Burnham

Rework the beats/outline and write a terrible scene for your protagonist, maybe she get's in a car accident (something horrific) . . .and this is serious, get out of your head!

James Woodland

Know your entire freakin' script before you start writing your treatment!I Your outline is your script. I can't imagine getting stuck on pg. 48 and having to slog back through what I already have to fix one problem (which creates another, and another) when I can look at the problem on pg. 2 of my outline and go back to pg, 1 and fix it (and the several other problems it may create).

Andre Farquharson

For me, for the most part I find Act Two not as challenging, its just plot-point #2 before you head to the Act Three the most challenging.

Jody Ellis

Always know ending before you start. My endings almost never change, lots of changes for the rest when I start revisions. I don't really do outlines but do usually have the story solidified in my head before I start, and will make notes as I go if needed.

Jorge J Prieto

I second, Jody, know your beginning and your ending. What happens in between, your characters will speak to you, you have to listen. Good luck.

Anthony D Paul

I'd say have a pretty good outline.

Jody Ellis

@jorge I agree. One reason I don't really do outlines (in addition to being too impatient to mess with endless outlines) is I like to see where my characters will take me. I always have a strong beginning and ending, but the rest tends to be pretty fluid.

Jorge J Prieto

Jody: Totally agree with you. This is the magic of writing, to become an audience member as you write. Exiting when the characters take a life of their own and take you on their journey.

Jody Ellis

@Jorge, it's the best part! I just "discovered" that two of my characters are grifters in a new script I'm working on. Not a direction I anticipated at ALL

Deenur E Gill

Its your story telling you that you dont have enough plot. You may have a great idea thats not a full fledged script. Set is aside, OR dig deeper into characters and examine what they would do. I am assuming you have 2 or 3 big events and assumed you could develop that into a feature length piece. Its the small stuff that adds depth to the characters. Introduce a new complicated, minor character that conflicts with your main characters and see how it goes.

Fiona Faith Ross

Thanks for the reminder, JJ. I'd been meaning to buy it and now I've done it.

Jorge J Prieto

Jody: Strange how this happens, but it does. Don't forget we live and breathe with our characters for (in my case) at least 6 weeks and this is only on the first draft, which to me is it. The rest is proofreading, enhancements, if a really good idea pops in my head that improves my killer ending and finally off to at least two readers (not family or friends, mm, mm.) hopefully screenwriters or consultant for constructive feedback and if the two different entity feedback coincide, I'll consider making the changes. Thank you very much. Lol:)

Clayton Broomes Jr.

It might've been said here before but I only get stuck in the outline phase. I don't start scripting until the outline is mostly complete. So, when I run into a wall entering ACT II., I usually think about featuring things now in my character's life that wasn't there in the beginning. Like, I set up the world with my character and his/her problems that need fixing... The ordinary world. In ACT II, after the inciting incident or call to adventure, and everything that follows in ACT I, I establish the fixes for the character's problems that are a direct result of actions he/she took previously. Most of the physical problems, that is. The internal problem, the thing that changes for him/her in his/her character arc towards the end, that is what the character is working on throughout the story and it won't be fixed right away. Maybe you can also incorporate some tests for your character, to see if he/she is up for the journey ahead. The tests can be blocking your character from moving forward. It doesn't have to be literal, physical test. It can test the soul of your character and there should be more than one. Also, consider introducing new characters or a B story. If you're not writing a love story then maybe your B story can be a love story? And your new characters can be friend or foe. The things I'm suggesting are somewhat formulaic from my experience but when you run into road blocks, it doesn't hurt to refer to a map for direction. But I usually outline first no matter what. Outline, outline, outline.

Clayton Broomes Jr.

"I agree. One reason I don't really do outlines (in addition to being too impatient to mess with endless outlines) is I like to see where my characters will take me." -- Jody That actually happens for me when I'm outlining. So, I outline. And I might add, my outlines aren't the usual two sentences describing a scene, or an index card. My outlines are on a word doc. Each scene is written in square boxes I set up in word, almost resembling index cards. And each scene is detailed with page # in the top corner, if it is a scene in one location then a scene heading -- if not then a sequence, briefly share what the scene is about in one sentence, another sentence shows how my character(s) started the scene and now is the opposite of the way he/she started (because a scene is still an event and something NEEDS to happen), and the conflict between my character, what he/she wants and who is standing in his/her way. I go further to write in the smallest font the inner conflict, the personal conflict and the extra-personal conflicts, each in different colored fonts (red for inner, green for personal, and blue for extra-personal). When all three is happening to antagonize my character, that's when I know I have a great scene. It never fails.

Jody Ellis

@Clayton I'm glad that works for you, way too much for me though. I see heavy outlining as just another way to avoid the actual writing of the script. But that's just me, everyone does things differently! Just curious, how long does this process take and how long does it take you to write the script once you finish the outline? And how long to final(ish) draft of your script?

Clayton Broomes Jr.

" I see heavy outlining as just another way to avoid the actual writing of the script." -- Jody Not for me. I can easily write a script. But for me, if I'm taking a story seriously, I take my time with an outline with the hopes of covering everything I'm trying to say with this story. The story, at its best, presents a debate on a particular theme and I want the story to support all sides of the debate in question. So, an outline helps me to see all sides as well, all part of organizing the notes, thoughts, story. In fact, I need to outline because I tend to dive into things without any preparation. I'm not very patient when I get ready. I could probably turn out something good that way, with no preparation, but it could've been much better with some preparation.

Clayton Broomes Jr.

To answer your questions, Jody... 1. How long does it take you to write the script once you finish the outline? It depends on the story. But it takes me less than a month if all I'm doing is working on that one script, which is never the case for me. I have script writing and animation, and that's just my own projects. 2. And how long to final(ish) draft of your script? Again, it depends on the story I'm telling. My last finished spec, my first since my previous one was optioned, took a while but it is a crime saga as my mentor described and even though I had an outline, I found myself having to make changes towards the end. All of that coupled with me working on animation projects, hired writing projects and such. But that's the beauty of outlines. I can make the changes in my outline and it can easily be applied to the script. Or, I can just use what I have already written in script mode (first draft) and make changes there. In fact, that same spec I'm talking about, I didn't finish the outline because I wanted to see where the characters would take the ending, even though I knew where it was going kinda. So, it took me a little longer than usual for just a first draft. But with a fully fleshed out outline, it can take me less than a month for a first draft. Also, what I like to do is once I finish a first draft, put it aside, work on other things then come back a month later with fresh eyes. This is after I received notes from people like my mentor, who is an Oscar nominated screenwriter and one of the annual mentors at the Sundance Screenwriting lab. He made me really happy when we sat with this newest spec last month. He asked, "This is just a first draft?" "Yes," I replied. "Wow! It's really good." So, once I pick the script back up for another draft, after a month of doing other things, it takes me less than a week for the second draft? But I am also of the mindset that there is never a final draft. Things can change on set. That doesn't mean you cannot get your script to be production ready, and that should always be your goal. I'm sure people like Regina Lee knows what I'm talking about in regard to production ready scripts. Also, one final thing on outlines, it allows you to turn out the best first draft possible so rewrites are a cinch, at least for me.

Jody Ellis

Again, glad it works for you. Not my thing.

Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy

Keanna: I didn't take the time to read the whole thread but you've already received some sound advice. I use either 1. Two page story synopsis with beginning, middle, end, inciting incident, well defined protagonist and antagonist, obstacles and challenges etc. 2. A scene by scene treatment. 3. A list of possible scene ideas or outline.

Mariano Gemignani

Hi Keanna, I try not to think of "acts" as I've found that it limitates the structure of my stories to only one structure(aka The Paradigm by Syd Field). Whenever I'm stuck I remember of who my protagonist is, what he/she wants, where he/she is going and what happened in the previous scene. Inner/outer goal and objective also work. Ultimately, I'll resort to the character's backstory. Happy typing! M.

Dan MaxXx

Cheat! Use a Voice Over scene to explain everything and press on, finish the script!

Steven Harris Anzelowitz


Aray Brown

Go for a walk. get the blood flowing

Wesley S. Miles

Exercise, Eat, Ending. Depending what I'm working on I might just go for a walk, do a few pushups, jump around the apartment, just to get some juices flowing If I'm really stuck and frustrated that I just can't think, I'm probably heading to the cupboards for trail mix or making a sandwich. Then there's that writers block where you know what's going to happen later you just don't know how to get the story or your characters there. In that case I skip to the end and write what I already know. Outline, Vomit Draft, Redo Outline, Rewrite, Edit, Edit, Edit, Edit...

Jorge J Prieto

Wesley is right. Can't remember well I read it or heard it, but exercise is great for writers block. I think, Keanna, needs a break from all of us and ponder on which advice she feels will work for her. Any other concerns, girlfriend, you can PM me. I'm not a pro, but love helping people any way I can't. Cheers everyone!! Happy Memorial Day weekend. I have a nephew out there (can't say where) but let's never forget those who died on duty. Peace...

Keanna Sherri Prince

Thanks for all the amazing advice!! I'm feeling so much more creative! Wish me luck.

Mark Mccoy

I refer back to my black book. The notes I put in there. To continue the screenplay.

Todd Lowery

Couple of key things I do at that particular point is to revisit the major dramatic question I need to be answering, then apply this to what I hope to accomplish with the primary turning point, defined for me as the point in which the arc of the story usually takes a sudden and unexpected change in direction. If all I have is simple writer's block I go back to my Creative Writing early undergrad exercise called 'freewriting', which is to sit down and make myself write continuously for ten of fifteen minutes without stopping about absolutely anything/s without editing either. The point of the exercise is to just write, no rules, like grammar, continuity or even meanings or sense, the idea is to just get the creative juices flowing, and write. If all else fails, I call a friend and pitch a new script idea, that usually gets me back in the mood, but I might get trapped in an hours long conversation, be careful. If it still doesn't work, take a walk around a nice golf course, or the block. The fresh air, open skies and manicured landscapes are always inspirational.

Elisabeth Meier

In case I stuck I do sports and then write on. Pushing myself through it doesn't bring me any further, fresh air and biking or jogging through the wood does.

Shawn Speake

If our prewrite materials are proper this doesn't happen. What does your outline, or synopsis, look like?

Mark Mccoy

A late train ride to the city.

Keanna Sherri Prince

@Shawn...I'm writing an outline, but I'm stuck on how to create the conflict thats needed to progress the story. Since its just my first draft, I might get all my ideas out on the pages and decide what works best later. Thanks!

Patrick DelliGatti

Bear in mind : You can think and create, take a break and sleep on it. It just takes awhile longer but the thought will be created, with the mind resting.This was the challenge I faced with my first book publication for my publisher. Patrick Delligatti

Elisabeth Meier

Walk around with open eyes and ears! Often we find our inner problem mirrored in the outer world and so you probably will see conflicts en masse. Just be open, don't judge, just watch, listen and make notes. Maybe even you have a conflict with somebody at the moment. Then use this energy to write the conflict in your story - and don't judge while writing. The re-writing comes later. Good luck and all the best!

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