When there is a story problem you can’t solve, or there appears to be no way out for your characters, remember one thing: It’s not your job to solve it. Instead, get excited by the complication. The No. 1 rule in improvisation is to never negate. Always say “yes.” Allow yourself the freedom for playing on the page. We must approach the first draft the way a child makes up a story. A child is endlessly inventive. They tell their story with a spirit of playfulness. A child can be deadly serious, but they don’t take themselves seriously. When asked a question about their story, they always have an answer.
When you take the creative process too seriously, you tend to get bogged down by your idea of the story. It becomes intellectual.
Sometimes an idea occurs to you that may seem outlandish. Rather than saying, “My character would never do that,” just pause for a moment and explore reasons to support their choice. Anything is possible: murderers become saints, a bank robber saves a child’s life as they leave the scene of the crime, a solid marriage falls apart overnight. Human beings are endlessly surprising creatures. Your job is to explore and find ways to support the circumstances your subconscious has dreamed up.
Play with Conflict and Action
The screenplay is a visual medium. Your job is to find creative ways to show the internal life of a character through action and conflict. You cannot assume that the audience understands the meaning you have ascribed to a moment unless you make it playable. The challenge is to read the scene from the perspective of your audience. Ask yourself if they would understand precisely what you are expressing through your dialogue and description.
For example: let’s say that you want to show a pair of co-workers who do not like each other. Think of all the ways that you can dramatize this. Saying that they do not speak to each other is meaningless because it is not playable. We must see them in relationship to each other. This might be done by having one character want something from the other character. This creates tension.
The nature of any relationship in your screenplay can only be explored through conflict and action. The conflict is the problem. The action is the choice the character makes to solve that problem which leads inevitably to a new problem.
Learn more about marrying the wildness of your imagination to the rigor of structure in The 90-Day Novel, The 90-Day Memoir, or The 90-Day Screenplay workshops.