Break Down Your Creative Process

21/08/2009 at 9:02 pm Leave a comment

I recently took stock of the creative process I use for scriptwriting. All in all it is an interesting excercise to examine such an ephemeral thing as ‘creativity’ in a methodical manner. The results are a reflection on the different stages of writing and I hope they may be helpful for other writers to develop their craft. I feel it has helped me organise my time better to give a more productive turnaround when taking on deadlines.

I divided my personal writing process into seven specific actions, which may happen in any order. One of these stages might take a whole day, or week, or I might do all seven in a day, it doesn’t matter. But taking on one of these steps I like to devote at least an hour to the task before moving on, so it can generate a specific result whenever possible.

1) Free Writing
This is very much a general blathering onto the page of whatever comes to mind, big or small. It’s a good way to fire up the imagination or rid yourself of any excess thoughts that are floating around before getting into the writing proper. As free writing excercises are stream-of-consciousness it can be liberating; to write without rules, free yourself from the self-editing process that can restrict creative flow. For every hundred pages of drafting there might be half a dozen good ideas, so don’t hold back!

Mostly I don’t go back and re-read any of this so I tend not to worry about punctuation or spelling, or even legibility! It’s more of an opportunity to let the mind wander– or as one writer put it to me once – ‘clear your throat on the page’.

2) Research & Development
This is a vital part of getting strong ideas into shape, when you have found that particular gem in the rough that’s ready to become a masterpiece – hit the bookstore, the library, the museum to find as much inspiration and knowledge about that topic as you can. This will feed into the idea as it ferments and transmogrifies, providing insight as you continue the drafting and composition stages.

Along with reading and taking notes I include developing character and backstory, as this will provide important depth to the ‘now’ when it comes time to compose your scenes. All characters have a past – some of which may be relevant to the exposition of narrative – but all of it is relevant to understanding your work as a whole. So it’s very much worthwhile digging into your story’s past – whether it has any bearing on the final story arc or not.

3) Coalescing Ideas

This is usually a subconscious process as you go about the day-to-day writing and research stages, through the diligence of drafting, researching and developing your work there will come that moment of clarity when a good idea will mutate into something far more inspirational. This may involve the bringing together of separate ideas or the alchemy of one thing into something of greater value. Although it is not usually a conscious process but one that occurs though trial, error, accident and experimentation.

4) Planning & Structure
After the moment of inspiration strikes I like to spend some time planning out key narrative beats, specific moments in the story and place them in context of traditional story structure. This is an important step for me as it allows me to arrange the character arcs in relation to the action and map the story as a whole. With this in mind it is easier to attack specific scenes knowing how each moment is leading into the next – and in particular the key action turning points and punchlines. It also allows me to see which scenes may be unnecessary in the overall narrative context, or perhaps rearrange the order of events if this may improve the journey. This work can take the form of a blow-by-blow treatment of events in written format, although I like to precede this with broader strokes or visual maps to show the overall story arc before adding detail.

5) Fragments
Often when creating structure maps it can help to draft up specific fragments of scene ideas to give a sense of how certain sections will unfold or feel on the page. Sometimes it is just a scrap of dialogue or joke I want to set up. They usually take just a few lines or a half a page and are rarely complete. These may or may not make it into the final edit but are a useful half-way step between drafting & composition.

6) Composing

When the story is broken down into specific events, beats I will add another layer of detail I call ‘breaths’ – these are minute breakdowns of key events which will eventually create the rhythm of the scene. When these are ready I am able to begin composing action and dialogue.

7) Editing
Once the draft is complete I allow myself to go back over and look at the text with an editor’s eye. I think it is important to separate the compositional and critical processes in order to allow ideas to mature fully.

Having these stages in place means I can plan out my time more efficiently and know that hour by hour I’m working towards a result. They won’t work for everyone but breaking your work cycle into specific tasks is an excellent way get things done to deadline.

Are these stages similar to your own?  How do you develop ideas into narrative or script form?

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VICTOR SANCZ vassanc [AT] gmail.com

since 2009

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