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Becoming a story writer

Saurabh Pillai
Ranch Hand

Joined: Sep 12, 2008
Posts: 524
Ok, so I have some story ideas which ( I think) potentially can be used to make a movie. And I have couple questions related to that.

1) What does it take to become a story writer? Is 2-3 pages long high level script enough to pitch an idea to a director? Or it needs to be written up to dialogue level?

Also, In the process, i may have to send the script to many directors.

2) How can I secure my intellectual property?

(Yup I am also going to ask Google.)
Jeanne Boyarsky
author & internet detective

Joined: May 26, 2003
Posts: 33119

2-3 pages is most definitely not enough. Just from watching TV, I know that people with full scripts and still have them rejected or extensively changed. I'm sure there are many other things that a bunch of software developers aren't going to be aware of.

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Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma

Joined: Jan 10, 2002
Posts: 63858

I am anxiously awaiting my call from Hollywood asking me to write the screenplay for Secrets of the JavaScript Ninja.

I see it as an anime OVA in the style of Samurai 7.

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Martin Vajsar

Joined: Aug 22, 2010
Posts: 3733

Bear Bibeault wrote:I am anxiously awaiting my call from Hollywood asking me to write the screenplay for Secrets of the JavaScript Ninja.

Given the Hollywood's famous accuracy in adapting the original story, you'll probably be better off if they don't ever call.
Maneesh Godbole
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Joined: Jul 26, 2007
Posts: 10825

Saurabh Pillai wrote:
1) What does it take to become a story writer?

Do you have the ability to lie convincingly? How many times did you manage to convince your teachers, that there was no possible way you could have done your homework.
Do you have wild imagination? Have you ever told your girlfriend how you will get her the moon and the stars and mad her believe it?
Do you have the ability to put your thoughts into words? Have you ever told any kids a story and had them hanging on to your ever word, with their mouths open?

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Steve Luke

Joined: Jan 28, 2003
Posts: 4181

Not to contradict Maneesh, but being a story teller (verbal) and a story teller (written) are very different things, and require different skillsets, in my opinion. I think to be a good writer requires more dedication and discipline than it does on-the-cuff thinking and charisma.

The best thing you can do to become a good writer is to dedicated to it. Practice and repeat. Write voraciously, every chance you get. You should be getting thousands of words down every day. At the end of the week, read what you wrote and criticize it - be mean (you can handle it!) at aggressive. Find everything wrong with what you wrote: grammar, story line, character development, character consistency, personalities, points of view, etc...[1] Then when you are done, re-write it, re-review it, rinse, repeat. When you can't find anything wrong with it, share it with someone else and tell them to be cruel.

If your goal is to make a particular story - do not start writing that story. Write an outline for it, figure out the characters, their likely interactions, and the major plot-points and world-defining events. Then take the characters and events and, as you develop your skills, write short stories about them: their preludes, why or how they got to where they did in the main story arc. Write about events that happen in parallel or after your main plot. Write about all your main characters, all your minor characters, and try to write about the characters that just make an appearance. When you first start to write, you will have a lot of 'throw-away' material, because you are honing your skill and defining your style. You don't want to make your main story line one of those throw-aways. So put it into reserve. By writing about the peripheral material you will develop the world, the environment and the characters. Each pass will make your world that much more believable, give that much more depth to the characters.

Treat each of these stories as the real thing. Write, criticize, rewrite. When happy, hand it to someone else.

When you have done a bunch of characters, go back to the earlier work, re-read and re-criticize them. If they aren't consistent with your latest stuff, re-write.

Keep tons of notes, so you know who is in what location, what they do, how they 'speak' etc... Revisit characters often so you can keep them fresh and consistent.

When you have enough depth and you are ready, begin working on your main storyline. Make sure you let the characters, which you have well developed now, make choices consistent with their characters and don't railroad them into the storyline because that is where you need the story to go. If a character needs convincing or would refuse to do something, let them refuse or convince them - it can lead to interesting and exciting twists or side-stories.

Don't write the story as a script. Write it in prose, and tell an immersive story. Let it be adapted to a script later if it gets picked up. People who know more about the movie business will help you/ do the script for you. In my opinion, you should start out as a novel, and get it published first - as proof to the studios what you have is good.

Writing is a skill, takes a lot of work, and iterative practice. You can't do a half-baked job and send it to the studios to get turned into a movie. Writing directly for a movie is possible, but only when you have built your credibility. There are a couple ways to build your credibility: work as a writer in a studio, doing smaller things (like commercials, television, documentaries, or a staff writing position that 'fills the scripts' according to pre-defined standards and strokes someone else has laid out), or having stories already successfully published and and a publisher and/or agent capable of delivering the story to the studios.

In either case, don't expect it to work out in the short-term, be tenacious and make it work in the long term. And don't get flustered if your first attempt is rejected (even if it is rejected by everyone). Ask why, ask for specifics, then address the problems (and address your process so you catch those problems earlier for the next time).

[1] Do it in multiple passes. Concentrate on grammar first, then a particular character, then another, then plot, etc... Only read for an hour, then take a short break and read for another hour. Collect a list of the mistakes you make or find, and turn them into a checklist so you can specifically look for them the next go around.

Kaustubh G Sharma
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Joined: May 13, 2010
Posts: 1283

Saurabh Pillai wrote:

1) What does it take to become a story writer? Is 2-3 pages long high level script enough to pitch an idea to a director?

Yeah it is enough if director casting Chuck Norris or Rajnikant :P...

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Ernest Friedman-Hill
author and iconoclast

Joined: Jul 08, 2003
Posts: 24199

Steve, you speak so convincingly on this topic that I am utterly convinced you have an excellent, perhaps half-finished, novel in your desk drawer. Tell us about it...

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I agree. Here's the link:
subject: Becoming a story writer
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