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From Idea to First Draft in 5 Days


Yeah yeah I didn't post for two weeks




things have been quite busy on the film i'm currently working on, which was officially announced a few days ago: BAD GUYS 2!


in one of my upcoming posts, i'll be interviewing some of the story artists about how to visualize action description, and what makes a scene translate well from page to screen! stay tuned!





but also things have been busy on the writing side of my life as well 💅


Some of you already know this (and some of you graciously read my work-in-progress pages and gave me amazing feedback as i raced to finish the first draft): last week i wrote a short film script in just 5 days.


All I had to start with was a title.


And believe it or not, I was NOT inspired at all when I decided to write the script. In fact, I was kinda dreading it.


So how did I get myself from idea to first draft in 5 days?






I wanted to share my process with you guys, so I documented what steps I took, and identified exactly what it was that got me to the finish line with a script I'm truly proud of in just 5 days!



 

STEP 1: CHALLENGE YOURSELF!

(DAY 1)


I had a title in mind that I thought was pretty silly:


MY BOSS IS A MANWHORE


for everyone who knows me, this script is not at all based on my life 😭


it came to me randomly before bed, as most of my ideas do, and it was so ridiculous i decided i had to just go with it, despite feeling NO desire to write.


Whenever I feel absolutely zero inspiration to be creative, I've found that challenging myself is the fastest way to get me to start or complete something.

if you're a fellow rebel who hates having to conform to rules, this approach works wonders for productivity





My challenge to myself was to subvert expectations one would make about my script based on its title.

To me, the tone / genre of my script would be too obvious, and the novelty of the idea would wear off quick.


So I started thinking: hey I've been pretty into sci-fi lately but have never written within that genre myself -- would it be possible to turn this idea into a sci-fi?


I thought, no way, there's no connection between manwhores and sci-fi.


but as soon as i start telling myself it might not be possible to do something, i'm already trying to prove myself wrong.


so i dove head-first into the next step:



STEP 2: IDEA GENERATION!

(DAY 1)





There are plenty of sites and reddit posts that list hundreds of writing prompts, and this is ALWAYS the first place I look when I'm stuck in the idea phase, an outline, or even a scene.


There's nothing wrong with having to step outside of your own head to spark some ideas. Inspiration doesn't just come around all the time, you have to MAKE yourself inspired. And looking at a list of potential starting points for a story is a great place to begin.


I know what you're thinking: most of those prompts are generic or vague! That's 10000% true, which is why the best use of these prompts is to get you THINKING. Which leads to inspiration!


Maybe you get lucky and one of the writing prompts works perfectly for what you want to write. Or something on the list could sound horrible at first, but it sparks an idea that just might work!


In my case, I had a very specific title that pretty much tells you what one of the core problems will be for the protagonist. What I needed help with was figuring out how to make the plot a sci-fi while still somewhat delivering on the premise and tone the title suggests. This is where these writing prompts came in handy!


Your story may come to you immediately, or it may take looking through hundreds of prompts and throwing out dozens of half-baked ideas to get there. But TRUST ME, if you have something to say (i know you do!!!) you will get there.


Once you decide on an idea, ask yourself how you decided on it.

  • What drew you to wanting to tell this particular story?

  • What interests you about the premise or characters?

  • What are you trying to say with this piece?


These answers will point you to what your THEME is. and you can't have a story without having a theme (which is, simply put, a REASON for telling the story).

This can morph and even change entirely as you go,

but you need to know the reason you want to tell a story in order to tell it effectively.


only when this is in place should you move on to:



STEP 3: OUTLINING / PLOTTING!

(DAY 1 - 2)


After looking through a few sci-fi and thriller prompts, I had the basics of my idea formulated in my head. I wrote out as much of an outline as i could muster while i was feeling inspired and having a billion ideas and dialogue beats hitting me at once.


this is what that "outline" looked like:



peep that "1/5" pages. no idea how i made something coherent out of 5 pages of this mess



It's literally only something I would understand (and others who read the script, although you'll see the idea evolved quite a bit from the brainstorm phase).

But this poorly written notes doc in my phone served as the guiding light throughout my writing process.


When writing an "outline," I tend to treat it as more of a structured brainstorm.... or, well, as structured as i can claim that notes doc is. looking at it now, it totally reads like:





But okay there is SOME legitimate structure to the madness.


I always start with writing the theme and overall concept at the top of the document to serve as a constant reminder of what story I'm trying to tell and why I'm trying to tell it.


Then I write what the first act (or first scene, if I REALLY have a vision) may look like. The first act sets up what will happen for the rest of your story, which is why it's crucial to either start here OR...


Figure out what the ending may look like, then go back to brainstorming what can happen in act 1 to get you there.

It isn't always perfectly clear how your plot should start or end when you first think of it, but it's good to have a general idea of what your story's beginning and end may look like before getting into the specifics of the plot.

and just like the theme of your story, this can change too when you start writing!


notice how i say think of what these things MAY look like, because your plot will almost certainly change from your first outline to your first draft, and beyond. it's the nature of the process!


Once I get the beginning and end out of the way, I start writing literally anything and everything that comes to mind for the stuff that can happen in-between!


At this point I'm not even thinking about story structure.


I'm thinking of things that will either:

  • get the protagonist closer to their goal (emotional arc)

  • get the story closer to the ending (physical plot)

  • speak to the theme (thematic resonance)

  • make me feel something (tension-builders)

  • make me laugh (tension-breakers)


I'll write as many of these out as I can before I run out of thoughts. When I get to that point, I take a look at everything I wrote and find a common thread. This common thread will serve as the foundation for the story's structure.


for more insight on story structure, check out this post!


Usually I'll end up only using a few of my initial ideas, because often there's not enough room in the plot, or they don't fit in with the common thread I identified.


But even if I use almost none of them, these initial brainstorm thoughts are always helpful as they tend to spark more ideas that can be implemented as I actually begin writing.



STEP 4: WRITING! REVISING! WRITING! REVISING!

(DAY 2 - 5)





The first draft is always scary. Even if you have a fully crafted outline handy.


I used to be so scared of the first draft, I wouldn't show my work to anyone until I had edited the hell out of it, to the point where I wasn't even sure if I liked it anymore.


Thankfully I've come to realize that no first draft, or final draft, will ever be perfect or even play out exactly how you want it to.

It can get pretty close, but I've never written something that was 100% what I had in mind. And I've never known any writer who would say their script turned out exactly as they hoped.


There are so many reasons for this. And no matter how clear your idea is in your head, you may face one or several of these as you write:


  • Your story may be more complex than you realized and it's taking longer to get between important beats. (this was the biggest hurdle I faced with my first venture into writing sci-fi! i probably should have expanded my script into a feature, but i was determined to prove to myself i could write a concise sci-fi short)

  • Your plot is too sparse, and your first draft has too much idle time / breathing room.

  • You know the story you wanted to tell, but the characters within it are harder to identify.

  • You have a great character but the plot you've established isn't directly challenging the protagonist in a way that will lead them to change.

  • You started writing before you outlined enough plot points to properly sustain the narrative because inspiration struck and you ran with it! (this may or may not be what i did at first hehe 🤗)


Whenever I'm facing one of these issues or otherwise feeling stuck in the nitty-gritty of my story, I force myself to stop reworking whatever line of action description I'm distracting myself with and pull up my outline.





Going back to the basics will help remind you where you're intending to go with your story.


You may realize you diverted massively from your original plan, or you're right on track but you're not really feeling it anymore.


This is when it's a good idea to refer to the "rules" of screenplay structure, identify where in this structure you're stuck, and read about what plot point comes next.

This helps you find proven ways to get your story where you want it to go.


I often defer to my outline, a structure guide, or even back to the writing prompts when I sense I'm heading into the dreaded writer's block. It almost always gets me back on track. Sometimes it takes a while, and singing along to Lady GaGa's entire discography to keep my spirits up, but we get there...


When these tools fail to get me thinking, or I've thought too hard and am no longer able to write another word, I move on to...



STEP 5: FEEDBACK!

(DAY 3 - 5)



This is THE most important step when you're trying to complete a script quickly.


As a general rule, I seek out feedback early and often.


if you're scared of receiving feedback, open this 👀


Ultimately, feedback is just insight into another perspective on your story. It's extremely beneficial to have this, since ideally millions of people will be seeing your movie, and you want them to enjoy it!


Getting feedback sooner rather than later will help you identify potential problem areas in your story before you write yourself into a hole. It can also spark new ideas that you never would've thought of originally!


In my case, I experienced both of these.


Problem areas

I had two of my former Stark classmates give me feedback on my first few sets of work-in-progress pages (which I sent to them while I was still writing and revising far beyond those pages!), and they both identified similar sticky points that would have turned into larger issues had I not addressed them before finishing the first draft.


New ideas

This one's a bit wild... but when I shared the script with my mom, she commented on how she liked the erotic nature of the relationship between the protagonist and her boss.

At first I laughed it off, because that wasn't my intention at all -- I shorthanded the "romance" between these two characters because I wasn't particularly interested in fleshing it out when it was really meant to be just a metaphor, and I had a whole entire sci-fi plot to execute.

But when I was almost finished with my first draft and wasn't liking how the ending was shaping out, I decided to lean into the erotic tone. This completely changed the narrative, and I couldn't be happier with that decision!




I've had nothing but positive experiences sharing my incomplete work with people whose opinions I trust.

It never hurts to hear where someone thinks your plot may be going, what characters they want to see more of, etc. It's especially helpful when you don't have all the answers yourself ;)

Which is why I now always get feedback on my work well before I'm close to finishing a first draft. And I think more writers should challenge themselves to do the same!


 

Well well well. You made it to the end of this post.


But will you make it to the end of your first draft in 5 days?!




Think about that one while you wait for next week's blog post 😏

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Me after reading this post



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Not the weenie hut juniors 😭

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