So we all get stuck. We get stuck on character arcs. We get stuck on plot beats. We get stuck on the toilet when we realize that there's no more T.P. and you got poopy butt and only have 10 minutes to shower, get dressed and drive to work.
AnyWHO, here are some exercises to help you,
to get out of your rut and maybe see your fantastic story from a different angle/perspective.
Exercise 1: Wedding Photo
This exercise will most likely include the love-birds in your story, mostly because it's focus is geared towards sweet, sweet romance. The goal of this exercise is to help you tap into your leads' relationship by skipping to the end and reverse-engineering said relationship.
So, whatcha gotta do?
- Pick a wedding photo, either from your family or a super adorbs couple off the internet (in a non-stalker-y way) and place your characters in it. Then, ask yourself:
How would your characters look like?
What would they wear?
What time of the day would this picture be taken?
Are your characters so carefree and family-oriented that they invite their family to take the photo with them?!
What's the cake look like?
What kind of music is playing?
Who would be there on their special day?
What type of wedding would it be? Would it be the standard, Hollywood movie wedding, or do their cultures dictate their special day?
Where the heck is this wedding, even!?!
- I recommend doing this exercise in prose. Describe this moment in as much colorful detail as possible, using all five(plus) senses. Meaning, write it in prose first, then you can script-a-fy it for funsies! You could even go 'purple' (excessive/unnecessary detail) if you want! The idea is to have as much 'ammo' as possible for when you...
- Write it in script.
Prose gives you permission to experience the environment, and it's only after you've done that can you wedge in the precise action and trim the excess detail in script form.
For me, doing this exercise gets me feeling closer to my characters. I'll be the first to admit that I'm a sucker for romance. When I think about Ken and Eve, how beautiful and tragic their love really is, I get my ass a one-way ticket to sappy-town, slap on some baby-making music, maybe light a candle or two, and live that blissful moment they share...Shit gets emotional, famsters!
Exercise 2: Weekend Challenge
This exercise has very little rules; meaning, you'll have more than a fair opportunity to let your creativity run wild and freak flag fly!
- Two days means two pages of script.
- Your two characters are: The protagonist and antagonist.
- Start: The protag watches the antag arrive to stay for the weekend.
- Conflict: The antag wants something that the protag has, and will work to get it over the weekend. Whether the antag does or does not get it will depend on you; but, honestly, that's not the point. The point is to see how those two play, maneuver, even fight one another.
- The MacGuffin/'something' has to carry meaning to both of them. Think metaphor. So, the item has to possess value in meaning but also in aesthetic (read, visual).
- Optional Legendary Mode: Use only ONE dialogue line per character.
The point of this exercises is to see how your two most important characters will act/react to one another. With such low stakes (keeping/getting the something), hints of their values, standards and tactics will start to emerge as the story unfolds. You'll learn what each character does to unbalance the other, what their go-to tactics are and to what extremes they're willing to go.
You have a lot of freedom here.
Is your protag rich and live in a mansion? Does your antag have to Uber, or even walk, to your protag's house? Is this Black Friday weekend? Does the protag know that the antag wants this 'something'? And so on.
Exercise 3: Trauma Trip-up
This purpose of this exercise is to help you get a better understanding of your character's Wound (link).
- One page script.
- No dialogue.
- One character.
- Plot: Your character is in their house, going about their day, when they find something from their past that triggers an emotional reaction; whatever that may be.
Is your character a rape survivor and he finds news clippings about the event? Did she at one point miscarry and accidentally stumbles upon a hand-made blanket for the baby? Did he find his kid sister's goggles years after she drowned and he failed to save her?
It's heavy stuff, but, we grow when we face the dark reflections of ourselves.
Exercise 4: She Said, He Said
This is a dialogue exercise, my lovelies; and it has three stages.
Stage One is flat out having your characters say what they want and mean.
Stage Two, which is the meatiest part, is having them imply and use subtext to express what they want and mean.
Stage Three is where you consider their backgrounds, culture, education levels, and give them the language people in that particular demographic would use.
Stage One: "I want a divorce."
Stage Two: "They say absence makes the heart grow fonder but, when we're together, I just feel your absence. Apart? I feel nothing at all."
Stage Three: (Shakespearean) "My once dear beloved, they say-eth absence-eth make-eths the heart-eth grow fonder...eth...Just get your shit and get out, dude!"
Okay, here are some rules:
- Pick only two characters and explore their relationship.
- Inject conflict from the get-go.
- First Stage: State the conflict (be it an item, disagreement, event, etc...) flat out.
- Second Stage: Don't state their point of contention/conflict flat out. Instead, hint, imply and subtly parcel out the clues as to what they're arguing about. Are they ironic? Do they use jokes to subvert their point? Are they passive-aggressive? Is one of them a bad communicator/has a hard time articulating their point? This is where you go H.A.M. with all that brilliant creativity of yours!
- Third Stage: Based on your characters, how would they address one another? Would they have pet-names or use 'sir' or 'ma'am'? Do they have verbal tics ("you know," "like," "for sure," etc...)?
Alright, here are some scenarios you can put your characters in:
+ It's raining, your characters missed their bus and are stuck together for the next hour.
+ Character 1 asks Character 2 to share a horrifying experience, and, Character 2 uses metaphors (sports, music, dancing, cooking, etc...) to describe this experience.
+ Your characters are being watched and must resort to saying the opposite of what they mean to convey what they actually mean. Ex.: Stop humming, it makes me nervous = Keep humming, it calms me down.
Feel free to mess around with these and make them your own. Are working on a father/daughter relationship? Is it actually a train station and not a bus station? Are the characters in the third scenario out in public and watched by highly trained squirrel assassins?!
Exercise 5: Scene Copycat!
We're changing things up a little with this one.
Here, you will:
1. Pick a scene you love, love, love,
2. Watch it, then,
3. You write it!
Don't actually look at the scene in its respective script. Watch the movie, then write the scene as efficiently as you can. Meaning,
- simple action lines,
- 'better' dialogue, be it through removing or improving dialogue (I believe in you!), and all while you,
- maintain the emotional impact/beats of the scene.
As you write your fave scene, ask yourself:
- What's the point of this scene? Is it purely exposition? Does it build characters? Does it further the plot? All/none of the above?
- What's charging this scene with emotion? What's at the center of it? Is it a relationship? A tragedy? A joke?
- What are the elements of the environment that are most relevant? Do I really need to describe every bench in this park? Every letter on this keyboard? Every gosh-darn piece of silverware on that immaculately prepped table?
These exercises aren't meant to be rigid, just to help shake things loose in your head so you stop being so critical/a perfectionist!
"Morty, good music comes from people who are relaxed. Just hit a button, Morty!"
Hope that helps!
P.S. I really wanna thank Ashok Allu for being my very FIRST patron! Ashok, if you're reading this: you a real one! :D