David Alger, of the Pan Theater in Oakland, returns to share more tips for beginners in improv, which are super applicable for script-writers, too! (A quick update on Operation: Liberate Laughter, Animal Control says the space we were going to repurpose for our first show isn’t “safe”, and that the raccoons there have “mutated”, but you know what? I think what they meant is “isn’t safe for HUMOR”, and “mutated to develop FUNNY BONES”. Whoo, the show is back on!)
Yesterday’s tips are here.
5. Be Specific - Provide Details!
Details are the lifeblood of moving a scene forward. Each detail provides clues to what is important. Details help provide beat objectives and flesh out characters.
- Example One: You’re the best brain surgeon in all of West Valley, Mark. That’s why I chose you to operate on mom.
- You’re the best doctor in this town, which is why I chose you.
We recently spoke with David Alger, the producing director at Pan Theater in Oakland, in our ongoing efforts to pull together the OLL Comedy Troupe (tentatively known as Operation: Liberate Laughter. Staff has been generally unenthusiastic, and public interest is low, and the budget is nil, but none of that matters right now! Everything’s going to be awesome!). He generously provided these tips for improv beginners, which we think are fantastically relevant for script-writing, too. Read on!
Improv is an art. However, it is also a craft. A craft is something that is learned throgh practice, repetition, trial, error and hard work. Much like any other art (including writing!), skill in improv is acquired over time. The more time spent improv-ing the greater the improvement (pun intended).
That being said, there are rules which can, in general, make a scene better.
As with any art form, you can break all of the rules and still have quality scenes. However, those best able to break the rules are those who first learn and understand them.
So, let’s look at some of the basic rules of improv:
You’re trying to get your writer friend to try Screnzy with you this year, either as a writing partner or just for moral support. But… they’re resisting.
Here are some arguments you can lay on them:
- Script Frenzy is less total words then NaNoWriMo
- If you’re stuck in your NaNoWriMo novel, reworking it as a script might be just the thing to give you a breakthrough.
- There’s no need to be afraid of formatting.
And, lastly? Remind them that you can just sign up and take advantage of the write-ins and community and write something that isn’t even remotely a script such as the rest of your NaNoWriMo novel, poetry or your memoirs and that’s 100% fine by us. We call people who participate in Script Frenzy but don’t write a script Screnzy Rebels and they are just fine by us.
You should not be concerned with anyone else’s opinion of your ideas.
That’s important, so let’s get the chorus to sing it back:
CHORUS: You should not be concerned with anyone else’s opinion of your ideas.
Right now, you just need to write. You need to cross the finish line on your own screenplay. Your idea, frankly, can be utter garbage. It can be terrible. It can be a script to a fan-film that you’ll never sell. It could be Star Wars Episode 7. Doesn’t matter. No one else needs to like it other than you.
Worrying about what other people will think of your story at this point is like worrying that money may corrupt you if you suddenly won the lottery and you haven’t even bought a ticket.
You have one relationship that matters at this stage and it exists wholly in the space between you and the blank space of page 1. You need to teach it who’s boss, make it your friend, embrace the tough-love emotional whirlwind of mockery and discipline that it asks of you.
In addition to being an esteemed OLL board member, our own Elizabeth Gregg is also a graphic novelist—not only during Script Frenzy, but throughout the rest of the year. She’s currently scripting a full-length epic about 600-year-old assassins, which she hopes to finish in the near future. We asked Elizabeth for her favorite comic writing resources for beginners.
The first and most important piece of advice I have is: Read scripts. Read as many of them as you can get your hands on. The reason this is important is that, unlike a film script that tends to be very regimented structurally, comic scripts vary widely depending on the writer, the artist, and the publisher. You can use your favorite search engine to find specific scripts, but The Comic Book Script Archive is also a good resource to get you started.
Here are some other resources I’ve found helpful over the past two years I’ve been working on my comic. A lot of these discoveries have been the result of flailing about, just hoping to find ideas to help me unlock both the structure and freedoms of the comic form. I do not pretend to be an expert, just an enthusiastic amateur.
Scott McCloud – Understanding Comics, Making Comics, and Reinventing Comics: The books in this series do talk about storytelling, but focus a lot on the graphic aspects (which makes sense since he is also an impressive artist). I am not an artist, so I’ve used this as a means to ensure that I actually think about what can and cannot be conveyed in a static panel.
Mark Salisbury – Writers on Comic Scriptwriting: Part of the “Writers On” series, published in 1999. Features a whole scad of comic and graphic-novel authors including Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Frank Miller, Grant Morrison, and Neil Gaiman talking about their process in a Q&A format. This is a good resource for figuring out how these talented writers “translate” what’s in their head to the page so an artist can then realize the vision.
Dennis O’Neil – The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics: A good overview of “how” to write comics, which includes comparisons of scripts and the finished pages. Also explores some of the why behind why the comic form is a good form for storytelling. As the title says, focuses more on the writing vs. illustrating aspect of comics.
Making Comics: This site has great 101s, discussions with writers, and tutorials for the beginning writer and artist.
Superhero Nation: Another great resource with an emphasis on writing/creating within the superhero genre (though really, the tips and tutorials offered are universal). This site also offers review forums where the brave-hearted can post their work for public critiques.
Software (that I have tried):
Celtx: While Celtx is an amazing free and dynamic program for writing film and theater, their comics resources are fairly under-developed. I used Celtx exclusively for a time, but have now been converted to Scrivener. This is still a good place to start if you don’t want to pay for software.
Final Draft: Ultimately, this may be what your comic script (or any other script) gets polished in (it’s industry standard), but it doesn’t have all the nooks and crannies to stick your research and notes. Discounts are available for Script Frenzy participants with a percentage of the purchase price being donated to Script Frenzy.
Scrivener: So far this is the best software I have discovered for my process (which involves keeping track of a lot of notes, images, and random brain babies). This is a paid product but a discount is available for Script Frenzy participants. An additional benefit of Scrivener is that when you are ready to get all fancy with it, you are able to export to Final Draft.
Image from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics
It’s time to light the lights!
It’s time to write the scripts now ‘cause Screnzy’s in 9 nights!” —
It’s hard to deny the lure of the adaptation. Taking existing content that you already know works and adapting it as a script seems so much faster than writing something from scratch. An adaptation also makes your job that much easier when it comes to promotion. If your source material already has fans, they’ll seek out your content on the strength of the original name even if they’ve never heard of you. Sounds great, right?
Nearly all adaptations can be boiled down into two types:
- Format shifts: Taking a movie, short story, novel, life story, video game, comic book, etc… and converting it into a script. (“Based on the bestselling novel…”)
- Reboots: Taking an existing script and adding your own twist, such as modernization, style changes , etc. (“It’s Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet… but with zombies!”)
But writing an adaptation comes with its own host of writing challenges. Here are 5 things you should consider if you’re thinking of tackling an adaptation:
It’s nearly mid-March which can only mean two things: One, it’s almost time for Script Frenzy, and two, it’s almost time for The Hunger Games premiere. I’ve been a proud, self-proclaimed Hunger Games nerd since I read the series a few months ago. If you haven’t yet read it, I recommend it! It’s a quick read and well worth it. To add to my delight, they are adapting the book into a full-blown movie, which seems to be a reoccurring pattern nowadays.
In fact, it seems that these days publishers are strategically seeking out novels that can be made into movies. Precious, The Kite Runner, The Lovely Bones, The Virgin Suicides—there must be hundreds, if not thousands of top box-office movies that started as books. So this leaves me wondering whether or not I should adapt a good book into my Script Frenzy script.
The animated GIF that best expresses how I feel about the fact that Script Frenzy is only 10 days away is…
(Add yours below!)
Robert McKee just might be the most intimidating screenwriting guru on the planet. You cerainly don’t want to cross him when discussing character conflict or story arc—just view the famous scene in the film Adaptation where he dresses down Nicholas Cage with more than spit and vinegar.
His spitting aside, I love his take on the art of crafting a story. In print, he’s actually friendly, inspiring, and helpful—a wise father figure.
That’s why I often turn to his bible of screenwriting, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting
, whether I’m writing a script or a novel.
Here’s a handful of reasons why I’ll keep Story within arm’s reach during Script Frenzy:
I’m here to talk to you about that script. You know the one. That script you keep saying you’re going to write someday. I know, I know. You’ll write it later, when you have more time, after the kids graduate, when you retire, or whatever excuse you’re making this week.
Let’s be honest. At the rate you’re going, you’ll keep putting off writing that story for the rest of your life. Your script doesn’t deserve that. It’s a good idea! Heck, it’s a great idea, and you know that or you wouldn’t keep carrying a torch for it all this time. An idea that is good shouldn’t be hidden away in your head; it should be shared with the world!
Which is what I’m here to talk to you about. That script? It’s time to write it. Forget about your mythical someday. We’re setting a real, concrete deadline, which is exactly what you need to finally get your idea down on paper. You’re writing that script this April.
ellisanthonyandysuttonjr asked: How can I be sure that my dialogue is believable. I have been told that my dialogue is too formal and vapid and robotic and makes my characters sound as though they are reading straight out the dictionary. I have several ways to fix it. Use the slang I am familiar with; give people a scenario and have them improvise; listen to how people talk; research slang; and reading my words out loud. Do you have any other suggestions?
Dialogue elements in a screenplay are a grammar-free zone. People do not speak in grammatically-correct sentences and naturalistic dialogue tends to look…weird.
Consider this exchange:
“Hi Mark.”“Oh, hi Dawn.”In reality, that doesn’t happen. Instead, you get:
People don’t actually use each other’s names. They trail off into a verbal ellipsis. Verbs are optional. Before 9/11, I would spend a chunk of every day sitting in airport boarding lounges in seats adjacent to talkative couples, families, friends and groups and would transcribe their conversations as quickly as possible. These days, the coffee shop is probably a better locale, but less likely to have instant drama unfolding.
But when you’re writing, you have an obligation to bring craft to bear on your dialogue. This means subtext. Use dialogue to carry story forward without relying on exposition-heavy tropes like the convenient newscaster on the TV or radio that suddenly attracts the camera’s attention.
Let’s go back to your film-literacy question of a few weeks ago. Watch Pulp Fiction. Now watch any of the dozens of copycat “chatty criminals” movies that followed it. Now watch Pulp Fiction again. It’s the subtext to Tarantino’s dialogue that makes this a brilliant movie instead of a glorification of criminal foibles and hyperreal style.
Question I just got:
I love to write and really want to give Script Frenzy a try, but I have absolutely NO IDEA what to write about. I love to read plays and musicals but I feel like its all already been done. Writing novels and writing a play would be so different, right? Any suggestions as to where I may find inspiration or someone else in my shoes?
There’s a couple of ways to go if you really aren’t feeling inspired. You could adapt something from the public domain (such as a fairy tale or a classic like Jane Austen or Frankenstein) either faithfully or as a parody or mash-up (Pride, Prejudice and Zombies is a good example of what I mean). My play, The Love of Three Oranges, is actually an adaptation of a commedia dell arte scenario from 1761 so there’s lots of old material out there that can use a modern spin. There are a lot of obscure out fairy tales out there for which there hasn’t been a good version in years.
Another idea is to adapt something you’ve been working on in prose as a script. I took a novel that I’d been stuck on for years and made it a play last year and it actually ended up going much smoother.
But, if you just want to challenge yourself, I love the idea of writing something with the aim of entering it in this contest.
It gives you three general sort of ideas to start with, some guidelines to keep yourself on track and I think it personally helps to have a concrete goal in mind (ie, once I finish this, I will enter it into this contest) especially if you’re a first time script writer. And, because it calls for shorter scripts, it’s much less intimidating (I think, anyway) to write a couple of smaller scripts then to try for one massive one. And if you later decide not to enter, that’s fine, but it’s at least something to keep you on track.
We all get that feeling like every thing’s been done before but here’s the thing: It hasn’t been done… by you. You have your own unique spin, your own take on the world that no one else has and that will come through in anything you write.
I’ve turned on answers so you can all give your thoughts on this. Where did you get the idea for your current work in progress? Where do you find inspiration and story ideas when you’re stuck?