How To Expand Setting – Screenwriting Tips

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How To Expand Setting

A current trend in screenwriting speaks directly to the need for writers to expand their thoughts on setting, specifically, how to expand setting itself. I’m talking about the appetite for “single location” scripts.

Anyone who has seen Ryan Reynolds in 2010’s “Buried” knows you don’t need an elaborate series of locations to tell a tough, heart racing thriller story. In the film (which famously cost $7,000 to produce, pointing to the reason why single location scripts are popular) Reynolds plays a civilian contractor in Iraq who has been buried alive and the entire 90-minute movie takes place inside of his coffin.

Claustrophobic? Then try Tom Hardy in 2014’s “Locke” where for a strong majority of the film we are stuck in the car with a man whose life is literally falling apart around him.

Maybe the most important factor in these films is that Reynolds and Hardy are terrific actors. They are the type of performers that can make this type of bare bones concept work.

There is something else at play though and that is a masterfully clever union of action and setting.

On the surface a coffin and a car are difficult locations to try and set an entire movie in. But, when considering how to expand setting, a closer look and careful planning expands that setting so that, while limited, it’s not going to choke off a good story.

Take Locke’s car for example. As a writer, setting an entire story in the car is a tough task. But look at the possible locations within the car to get the most out of it.

Front seat.

Floor.

Back seat.

Trunk.

If the car is parked in your script then you can make use of under the car, the hood and the roof, all while ostensibly limiting your script to the car.

The same thing can be said for that coffin.

In “Buried” the script, in the context of how to expand setting, confronts confinement head on with the obvious horrors. The story plays right into the viewer’s expectations. The writers move the character around inside of the confined space. They reveal new light and new darkness. If there are obvious phobias then go head on and show the audience or reader the desperation that the confined character feels.

Fear is, after all, one of the great motivators of action.

The success of “Buried” and “Locke” is in the bravura performances given by their actors but those performances are only possible in how deftly the writers (and directors) manipulated the space. Even if you’re not writing a single location project, look at all the ways to expand your locations to fit your needs.

The only truly limiting setting is one that isn’t adequately utilized by the writer.

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How to develop setting in your story

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How to develop setting in your story

In this post I want to give you some writing tips to develop setting in your writing. To get started, let’s take a look at one of the most popular television shows of all time – Star Trek.

“To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Star Trek offers an exciting premise, maybe the most exciting in television history. A universe of boundless possibility exists within that brief description. And for more than half a century the science-fiction property has delivered good on that promise over and over again.

How is that enduring quality possible? Setting.

Star Trek has benefited from a cast of memorable characters. Captain James T. Kirk. Spock. Data. Khan. Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Even science-fiction deniers will recognize those names.

The dynamics are rich too. Kirk and Spock work off of each other in fascinating ways. Their dynamic provides an endless pool of conflict from which the writers can draw. With Kirk passionately built on swashbuckling instincts and Spock grounded in that Vulcan logic, those two could do anything on-screen.

Without an inter-stellar setting however, even memorable characters like these would soon fall flat. Dynamics between Kirk and Spock could only carry the series so far into television lore.

But by setting these engaging heroes on board a moving spacecraft and giving them the mission of exploring whatever they find out there beyond the stars, the writers of Star Trek created a deep well of opportunity to present problems and broaden relationships.

Setting should open a door for your characters. Wait. That’s wrong. If you develop setting and execute it correctly, it should open many doors. In an episodic medium such as television, setting needs to open enough to develop character over many seasons.

What accounts for the success of hospital dramas like ER and Gray’s Anatomy? Like outer space, almost anything can happen in a hospital setting. Writers all too often merely scratch the surface in crafting a wide world and stop short of utilizing that world for all of its many promises.

If you’d like more help or ideas to develop setting in your manuscript, get in touch! Working with a ghostwriter is easier than you think and it could make the difference that turns your story into a masterpiece.

 

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Writing good dialogue – Ghostwriting Tips

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Tips For Writing Good Dialogue

Advice from a pro

Writing good dialogue, authentic dialog is tough. People talk in nuanced ways that aren’t always easy to capture on the page. They say you need an ear for it.

How does someone hone that ear though?

Playwright David Mamet’s advice on the subject is famously simple and abrupt. The great Mamet once advised a room full of eager creative writing graduates to eschew graduate school. Instead, he said, find a bar, preferably a pool hall without a television where they could sit down and listen.

Seems simple. Replace tuition with bar tab.

I have taken David Mamet’s advice to heart. I do not play pool (at least not well) but I do take frequent trips to a comfy stool at the quiet bar down the street and simply listen to what people say. It has proven to be the best means of achieving dialog that sounds like real people.

Writing good dialog comes from refinement.

Here are five truths and tips to refining your character dialog to achieve that authentic tone.

Read It Out Loud:

This may sound simplistic but a lot of writers that I know are afraid to do it. And why?

Because their dialog sounds hammy and on the nose.

If you want that real voice, read it out loud and avoid adding your inflection at all costs. This is a critical step, especially if you’re writing a screenplay, which is in large part a performance of your dialog.

Think In Negotiations:

All dialog is a negotiation. Think of what you say on a day to day basis at work or at home. Verbal communication is an expression of desire or purpose, all with the intent of affecting someone else.

This applies even when a character is talking to themselves. Self-talk is grooming for future interactions.

There is a very simple exercise to sharpen this sense. Put two characters in a room. One wants something that the other has but they cannot name or ask for it.

Write it and see all the ways allusion and suggestion enrich the conversation.

Negative Space:

Allow for negative space in your dialog. People don’t always say everything they are thinking. Omissions are as important as inclusions. If your character conversations begin with a hearty hello and end with their chosen means of good-bye, your dialog is probably overwritten.

A way to get this down is follow a simple rule: arrive late and leave early.

Conversations Are Rhythmic:

Straight line conversations simply do not exist. I cannot express this more emphatically. No one walks into a room, announces their purpose, gets what they want and walks out.

One of the ways I work on this is recording conversations. Get permission then record a normal conversation and you’ll see that it’s a rhythmic construct of all the above elements.

Introductions. Negotiations. Negative Space. Repeat.

Mamet Is Correct:

The core truth in Mamet’s statement applies. You cannot learn to hear real dialog a from TV or movie. Writers must find their story subjects in the world and listen to how they talk, interact, negotiate and feel.

An easy tip for writing good dialogue: Go out. Find that barstool. Sit. Listen.

If you’re having trouble writing good dialogue, or with any other area of your work, it may be beneficial to consider working with a professional ghostwriter. A ghostwriter works with you behind the scenes to take your writing to the next level. Considering it? Get in touch!

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Three ways to develop characters – Advice from a pro

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Three Ways To Develop Characters

Advice from a professional writer

As a ghostwriter, I get asked a lot by other writers for advice on different ways to develop characters. Human beings are dynamic creatures by nature. We get restless when things are the same for too long. Why then do most writers shy away from infusing their creations with an element of change?

When I read a manuscript or work on developing a story, I am frequently shocked at how writers refuse to shake their characters up. They stubbornly adhere to that first description. A character that looks the same at the end of the story as they did in the beginning probably did not endure much of transformation. They act the same and do the same things regardless of how much chaos the writer has crafted around them.

Here are three very simple ways to shake up your characters out of stasis and give them life.

APPEARANCE:

Perhaps the simplest of ways to develop characters that transform through the story is a change is in their appearance. Take a look at Walter White. Throughout the course of Breaking Bad, the writers alter his look in subtle ways and each one signals a massive shift in his character.

Goatee.

A rumpled fedora.

The shaved head goes from the result of chemotherapy to gangland persona.

After six seasons, White is physically different than the man who first got that awful diagnosis. Each subtle change effectively builds anticipation in the viewer, leaving them wondering what might come next.

All too often, writers put their character in an imaginary costume and leave them in one place. In some ways I can see how this tendency makes sense. A character takes time and energy to design. A dynamic and interesting character isn’t the promise of stasis though. They are the promise of change.

Signal that change to your reader. Show what’s happening on the inside with a change on the outside. Foreshadow. Does your character cut their hair an episode or chapter before their big announcement?

Little things like this keep readers reading and viewers viewing.

ROUTINE:

Routine is nice. We all have them. Get up at a certain hour. Eat lunch at a certain place. Most people I know break their routines in a routine way too. When they go out for a beer they hit the same bar.

Stories are not about the status quo. They are about people that challenge the assumption of same. “American Beauty” tells a story of little more than this, a man whose day to day strangled him.

Not every story about routine change features a Lester Burnham character. Your character can choose to walk instead of drive to work. They can steal a bike. A simple flat tire can put your character on the bus to work and the melting pot of a city bus can offer up new obstacles and opportunities.

Challenge their routine or your begging for their dismissal.

RESPONSE:

The last of the three ways to develop characters is a little more subtle but can be an equally effective of demonstrating character change. Say your downtrodden hero goes out to coffee every morning and the barista always seems to screw up the order, and every morning your character sucks it up, takes the wrong cup and walks away.

Maybe your story isn’t about the coffee, but showing your character standing up for themselves signals a bigger change to come. I like to use the little interactions in a story as a gateway. Maybe standing their ground and asking for the right cup of coffee sets in motion the main action that is asking out a cute boy.

These are three ways to develop characters that will keep your writing fresh and bring your characters to life. If you’ve got a good story, but just need little help to push it over the hump, let me help. As a professional ghostwriter, I solve these issues all the time and I know I can do the same for you.

 

 

Erick MertzThree ways to develop characters – Advice from a pro
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