Monday, February 20, 2017

Zero Draft Thirty: Story Prep

Writers continue to step up to the Zero Draft Thirty 2017 Spring Challenge: In March, write a draft of an original movie or TV script. Some are jumping in to rewrite a screenplay. Others to generate story ideas.

Whatever you choose to do, the point is to use the period of March 1-March 31 as a concentrated creative effort (a la NANOWRIMO).

For those of you who are planning on writing a first draft of a script, let’s consider this: Story prep.

Longtime GITS readers know my thoughts on the value of breaking a story in prep:

  • You exponentially increase the odds you will actually get from FADE IN to FADE OUT.
  • You shorten the amount of time you have to spend page-writing.
  • By giving yourself the freedom to explore in prep, you discover tons about your story universe.
  • Knowing your story well enables you to enjoy the page-writing process more.

And there’s this: If you have any serious aspirations to become a professional Hollywood screenwriter or TV writer, you absolutely must have some sort of approach to story prep. Sure, if you only write on spec, maybe you can just type FADE IN and go off to find your story. Nothing wrong with that. However if you have a 10–12 week turnaround for a writing assignment, you need to use your time efficiently, and devoting at least a few of those weeks to breaking story does precisely that.

My embrace of the importance of story prep led me to create — to my knowledge — the first online workshop of its type — Prep: From Concept to Outline. That was seven years ago when I launched Screenwriting Master Class and it has proved to be one of the most popular courses I have ever offered. My next sessions begin June 5 and July 17.

If you are plunging headfirst into the Zero Draft Thirty challenge, my advice: Spend next week prepping your story. Here are come tips:

  • Character, Character, Character! Start with some basic questions: Who is my Protagonist? What do they want (Conscious Goal)? What do they need (Unconscious Goal)? Then go from there. Every character who emerges in your process, ask yourself: What do they have to do with the Protagonist’s journey? How do they impact the Protagonist’s psychological transformation? My mantra is this: Start with character. End with character. Find the story in between.
  • Brainstorm! This may be the single most important aspect to story prep: Giving free reign to your right-brain. It’s not only about free association, it’s also using direct engagement exercises with your characters, things like interviews, monologues, sit-downs. Create a Master Brainstorming List and put everything down. Don’t pre-judge anything. You never know when some moment, line of dialogue, theme, stray image can become important in your story-crafting process.
  • Plotting! What are the major plot points? Are there sets of scenes which tell a mini-story with their own Beginning, Middle, and End? If so, you can shape them into Sequences which you can connect one to the other to create a seamless narrative. Perhaps the most important plot point to know before typing FADE IN: What is the end of your story? And by that, I mean what I call the Final Struggle, the story’s Big Test which provides a resolution to the plot.
  • Metamorphosis! Joseph Campbell said the entire point of The Hero’s Journey is this: Transformation. So as you do story prep, be sure to dig deep into the Internal World, the psychological realm of your story universe. What is the Protagonist’s beginning Psyche State? What is the Protagonist’s ending Psych State? Those define the bookends of their metamorphosis. In a very real way, the plot services that journey. Focus on that arc and how the character changes.

This is precisely the type of content we get into in my Prep: From Concept to Outline workshop in a structured stage by stage process over a period of 6 weeks. But there’s no reason you can’t do some approximation of the same thing on your own. Use these several days on story prep to provide a strong foundation for your page-writing part of the process.

But again, the main thing: Engage your characters! It’s their story. No one knows it as well as they do. The more you spend time probing into each of their individual lives and backstories, thinking about their respective narrative functions — why each one is a participant in the story — the better off you will be as you pound out pages.

Which brings us back to the Zero Draft Thirty 2017 Spring Challenge.

March 1: You type FADE IN / Once upon a time.

March 31: You type FADE OUT / And they all lived happily ever after.

One month. A draft of an original screenplay.

Who’s with me?

For background on the original Zero Draft Thirty challenge back in November 2015, go here.

It’s cool! It’s crazy! It’s free!

NOTE: For those of you using Twitter, use the hashtag #ZD30SCRIPT. And don’t forget to join the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook Group.

Tomorrow: More thoughts on prepping yourself for the ZD30 Challenge!


Zero Draft Thirty: Story Prep was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story – Medium

Zero Draft Thirty: Story Prep

Blog Archive