Posted by: steveonfilm | September 12, 2010

Brain Storming

I’ve been doing some brain storming the last few days. Working on ideas for the story. Trying to get a feel for the characters. Looking for hints at what the ending might be.

When I start a new screenplay, or even do a rewrite of an old screenplay, I usually start with a significant amount of brain storming. This takes the shape of a simple text file that reads as if I’m having a conversation with myself. I just write and put stuff down as I think through it.

It’s not exactly free writing, but it’s not exactly prose either. It’s some sort of mesh in between, but it’s served my as a valuable tool, so I thought I’d share a few examples of what my brain storming looks like.

Let’s think about these old guys for a minute… these are some new money corporate CEO types. These guys are old money. Establishment money. Guys who already have in the bank when they’re born as much as they’ll make their whole lives. I need old names… full names… names that scream establishment. Something like Christopher, or William, or Joseph… full names, nothing short. Long, full, old school English Catholic names.

I’m trying to feel out the antagonists here. Some rough ideas. Big picture things. Broad strokes. I’m throwing things out there and seeing what sort of clicks as I type it down.

Who is the woman? A name says a lot. What sort of name says tough, yet feminine? It can’t be spunky. Something that rolls off the tongue. What ethnicity is she? White? Black? Hispanic? Asian? I see some sort of Italian/Spanish background. Dark olive skin. Black hair. At least that’s what popping into my head. Sort of a cross between the beautify of Catherine Zeta Jones and the toughness of Michelle Rodriguez. Emiliana, which means “rival.” Gabriela, “warrior of God.” Jovita? Lupe, means “wolf.” Maricruz, “rebel-cross.” Renata?

Here I’m starting to feel out the protagonist a bit. As you probably figured from my last sample, and this sample, I put a lot of importance on names. Something as simple as a name can almost shape an entire character in my head. So I spend a lot of time thinking about them. Character names often help my feel out the background of a character. Ethnicity. Maybe where they’re from. Things that slowly help me flesh out the people who I’ll be writing about.

That can give her and the mom a connection. They’re both moms. Or are they? Maybe the older woman couldn’t conceive. Something to think about. But the mothering nurturing thing is there. Maybe the Evil Duo brought her in, thinking she could handle it, and she acted like she could the first time, but the second time was too much. She couldn’t let someone else die for the amusement of the Evil Duo.

Here are some thoughts on the background of a possible third antagonist, or at least some sort of wild card character. It’s someone connected to the two main antagonists I’m fleshing out. Threads like that help me put together the world these characters live in.

I find connections very important. I don’t need to know where someone went to high school, who their first crush was, or why they didn’t ask for a raise after landing that big sale. What I do need to know is how people know each other. What things have they been through. What they think of each other. Relationships. Because that’s what shapes my characters.

That was three years ago. Chickie is now 7 or 8. She knows of her father, which means there is at least some sort of relationship. Maybe he’s sober… has limited visitation rights. Maybe we start out with the two of them. At a park? Watching Chickie run around, play with the kids. You can tell there is still something there… hints at the romance that got them together. The attraction. The ease. But she doesn’t trust him anymore. And that’s felt too. And it stings when he hears it. Enough of a scene to show that under different circumstances their lives might have been different, better.

And a prime example of how relationships shape characters, you have some thoughts on my protagonist and her ex-husband. While none of this might make it into, or be pertinent to, the main story, it’s important information for me to know. The dynamic between my protagonist, her ex-husband, and their daughter is central to her motivation in the story. It’s this dynamic that dictates the life she’s developed for herself prior to the events of the screenplay playing out.

Anyway, this should give you a good idea of how I start constructing a story. Sometimes my notes can be as short as 1500 words. Sometimes it’s over 5000. A lot of times I cut and paste interesting tidbits I come across on the internet. Research. Important information. The thing to remember is that I’m not putting together the story, I’m coming up with pieces of the story. I’ll actually structure it when I start on my outline. But this step is just about thinking, gathering information, and coming up with an ending.

Until next time, keep writing!
-Steve

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