What is the screenwriter’s #1 writing tool?
...is it screenwriting software?
...a screenwriting book?
...pencil & paper?
It’s none of these.
The screenwriter’s #1 writing tool is his mind.
The mind is an amazing mechanism. Despite what many say, it is not like a computer. The fact is, a computer is a like a mind. The computer was designed, intentionally or not, to duplicate the mechanisms of the mind.
A computer has memory for quick access of information currently in use. A mind has short term memory which we fill with the ideas we are currently working on.
A computer has a hard drive for storage of vast amounts of information for later retrieval. The mind has a hard drive (somewhat softer) that stores vast amounts of information for later retrieval.
A computer has input devices such as a mouse, microphone and video camera. The mind has input devices such as fingers, ears and eyes.
A computer can generate images on a screen. The mind can generate images in the mind’s eye.
I hope what I am about to say is not a surprise to you, but you are not your mind. Your mind is a tool. And if you think of it that way it will work much better.
When you want a research question answered you go to Google. When you want a creative story question answered you go to your mind.
But just as the wording of a question alters the reply you get from Google, so the wording of a creative story question you ask your mind affects the answer you get.
When you are developing a screenplay treatment and have an important plot, character or thematic question, it’s not very effective to just randomly wonder about it. Wondering is like typing in vaguely related words into the Google search box. You might get some relevant responses, but most likely you will have to sift through countless irrelevancies.
When I am developing a screenplay treatment and have an important plot, character or thematic question, I ask myself (my mind) a very specific question. I take a moment and craft the question as specifically as I can. I don’t necessarily get an answer as fast as Google, but I ALWAYS get answers. And I get them much faster, and get much better answers, when I craft and write a precise and proper question.
For example, if my protagonist was going to call up his ex-wife and inquire where their daughter was, asking the question, “What would my protagonist say next?” will not get nearly as effective answers as “What would my protagonist say that will reveal something of his character, forward the theme and elicit the most emotional response from his wife?”
I could craft an even more specific question depending on what I know about the characters, theme and plot, but I think you can see the difference between the above two questions.
The amazing thing I have found is that if you ask your mind a precise question with the intention of getting a precise answer you will get more, faster and better answers.
I find it works even better when I write the questions down. It’s not just having it on paper or your screen so you can review it. There is something about the process of writing it down that solidifies it in the mind and penetrates deeper into the creative thought process.
Don’t just stare into the void and wait for an answer. Keep looking into the world you’ve created for your characters. Keep asking yourself the question. Keep refining the question if need be.
It’s not about having a little voice in your head give you verbal answers—though I imagine some people might get them—it’s about treating your mind as a mental computer and letting it do what it was designed to do.
You’ve got a fantastic writing tool between your ears. I strongly suggest you use it.
(And when you're not using it, it's okay to give it some Jack Daniels.)
©Jeffrey Scott, All Rights Reserved