A disciplined writer needs a system for making the most of ideas, passing thoughts and creative connections. The difference between a working screenwriter and the person intending to write a screenplay someday is largely a difference in work habits. We can’t afford to be lazy with the care and storage of our stock and trade…ideas. Here are five tips for making the most of your ideas.
- Use the cloud.
Journaled ideas are of little use if you aren’t able to access them. Good ideas deserve to be safely stored and easily retrievable, so keep them centralized on all your devices by making use of the cloud. There’s no need to scramble through old journals or hard drives if you’ve tagged your ideas and saved them online. Evernote, Dropbox, Microsoft OneNote, and Apple Notes are all great programs for storing ideas. A water-soaked phone or stolen laptop won’t mean lost inspiration.
- Categorize your ideas.
Create subfolders and use tags as a matter of habit. In my case, I throw my ideas, (no matter how vague and undeveloped,) into folders marked Feature Ideas, Short Film Ideas, and TV Series Ideas. If I’m targeting a specific genre and medium for a contest entry or pitch opportunity, I can scan my files for ideas I would otherwise have forgotten about.
- Take photos of your scribbles.
Do you need the feeling of pen on paper to get your ideas out? Sometimes I do. I still carry a journal with me constantly. When I’ve made notes, sketches or brainstorms for a specific idea, I snap a photo with my phone, upload, and tag them. Evernote has a great scanning app and their software is able to recognize my photographed printing in a search. The other programs might have similar features. Even an iphoto folder would work in a pinch.
- Pause the show when something moves you.
Notes aren’t just for ideas. They can also be used for increasing your awareness of story architecture to help you craft your script with more skill and emotional power. Work to become aware of your own emotional temperature while watching movies and tv. If something moves you, scares you, or gives you a shudder of delight or anticipation…stop the show. Make a note. Note the show, scene, and even time code if you can. Think about how the emotion has been manipulated by the screenwriter. Pacing, stakes, subtext…how are the tools of the trade being used here? Flag it and come back to it for study. There’s no need to leave this magic completely to instinct and chance in your own work. Figure out how master craftspeople are actually crafting and try your hand at it. Practice until the tools you’re starting to notice (and note) feel natural.
- Start a “how’d they script that?” file.
Sometimes when I’m watching a show or film, I find myself wondering, “how’d they script that?” When I catch myself with one of these thoughts, I make a note on my running “script formatting” research list, then try to find the script online.
If you have any other strategies for harnessing your observations, curiosity, and ideas as a screenwriter, please share in the comments below!