Welcome to the latest and greatest installment in my Creative Screenwriting article series!
As always, this post is about optimizing your creativity through improving your writing process, and you’ll find practical tips intermixed with creativity studies when relevant.
1. Find Intrinsic Motivators
Creativity research indicates that finding stories you care about boosts your creative and inspirational capacity.
In the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Todd Thrash and Andrew Elliot of the University of Rochester conducted a study in 2002 called Inspiration as a Psychological Construct. In it, they described inspiration “as a general construct characterized by evocation, motivation, and transcendence.”
“…inspiration was found to correlate positively with the work mastery component of need for achievement but negatively with the competitiveness component, which reflects the typically mun- dane (nontranscendent) desire to outperform others. Similarly, inspiration was found to correlate positively with intrinsic motivation but negatively with extrinsic motivation”
(Elliot & Thrash, 2002)
So instead of trying to motivate yourself with reasons that correlate with external (extrinsic) motivators like “if I finish ten pages of my screenplay, I’ll treat myself to [reward]!” or “I need to finish this script so I can be rich and famous,” instead shift the focus to the interior.
The Exercise: Write down ten specific things that move you emotionally. The loss of a loved one, political injustice, LA traffic — anything that makes you feel something. By creating a story out of something personal, you now have a personal reason to be invested in this script. Your organic motivation to tell this story and share with others what moves you will aid your creativity and help you find inspiration at every turn.
2. Be Your Character
I just completed a script with my writing partner called “Love Letters from the Dance Floor,” and in the brainstorming phase I actually entered a ballroom dancing competition in order to get a feel for what it must be like for the characters.
Aside from really enjoying my newfound hobby, I also gained insight into details about what it meant to be a competitive ballroom dancer as I samba’d across the floor. (Yep. Samba’d. It’s that kind of morning.)
The Exercise: Spend a day and be the character you want to write about. Try out their passions, visit places they would go, and try and think like they would.
3. Create an Idea Board
If you’re a writer, you’ve probably used some variation of the notecard method to outline your screenplay, but what about brainstorming?
This is such a crucial technique for me that I built a feature in my Page 85 screenwriting program around the concept. When I’m exploring a concept, I find compelling images to help me visualize the direction my story is going. This inspires character backstories as well as plot points.
In my article The 5 Basics of Creativity, I talked about how divergent thinking (the creation of new ideas) can be improved through cognitive fluency exercises. The idea board is just that — it focuses on creating new ideas and finding your creative “flow.” It works like freewriting does, but instead you’re creating connections through photos instead of just your own writing.
The Exercise: Create an idea board for your newest story idea. Add photos of things your characters would save if their house was on fire, things they would like to keep secret, and important moments of their backstories.
When I have really vivid ideas for scenes, I like to do some storyboarding in order to capture what I’m seeing in my mind’s eye. Storyboarding is also really helpful when you don’t know what should happen next in a scene — somehow, sketching (and in my case, sketching badly) can really help free up a block in the inspiration process!
sketching badly is my kind of sketching
In a study entitled The Relationship Between Creativity, Drawing Ability and Visual/Spatial Intelligence conducted in Taiwan, third-grade children were tested for creative potential in conjunction with drawing ability.
The study found that “…positive relationships exist between a child’s creativity potential and self-image of artistic ability and local art educators’ observations of students’ artwork and classroom teachers’ observations of student’s art-related behaviors” (Liu 2007).
Thinking of yourself as an artist — not just with words, but with other mediums such as drawing — is positively correlated with creativity.
The Exercise: The next time you sit down and brainstorm, sketch out anything that comes to mind. Allow yourself to sketch badly, and just focus on exploring your ideas and seeing what comes next.