Caveat Emptore, Motherfuckers
Firstly, before I get into things, I want to talk a little about who I am and my motivation for sharing my writing process. When I first wrote this guide, I was a nobody five years into writing with no real success stories to speak of other than a lot of short script options that never seemed to manifest into production. I’m pleased to say that, since then, two years later, I have optioned a feature script to a production company in Vancouver and worked as a writer for hire for a studio in Los Angeles. I’m even more pleased to say, the latter project has had a green-light and I’ll soon be travelling from this run down old mining town in the middle of England to sunny California to be on set and meet some of my heroes. I get paid to write movies now, movies that get made – the dream has been realized and I love my new career dearly. It is quite frankly a fucking wonderful way to work and live. I believe this proves that my methodology works and has been working for me for a long time.
I am not trying to position myself as a guru nor sell any kind of screenwriting guidance. I want to share my process for one simple reason, I know the struggle, and I’m sick of how that struggle is continually preyed upon by opportunists, I’m tired of how that struggle is exacerbated by endless subjective debating that seemingly makes any commitment within the craft a crossroads between fame and fortune or pain and despair. Therefore, I offer this guidance in an open format for anybody to share, modify, adapt, or build-upon, in anyway they see fit, with no requirement for credit or interrogation from myself.
I’d also like to point out something that’s a little embarrassing for any writer to admit, I have a terrible time with spelling, grammar, and proofreading. I’m learning and practicing as hard as I can, and I apologize in advance or any glaring errors on my part.
I also accept there’s a chance that guidance I’m sharing may be wrong, or worse-so, damaging. While I sincerely don’t believe that’s the case, it does lead me to open with the best piece of advice I can ever give another screenwriter; never trust a single source of advice, read, watch, and listen to the information sources that are out there and reach a considered opinion of your own, preferably the one that brings out the best in you as a writer. And remember, you don’t always have to pay to learn or to be discovered. For more on that, check out my blog post over on Stage 32 – Ten Ways for Me the Best Things in Screenwriting Came for Free.
No Petty Rules, No Bullshit Formulas
As black and white as scripts may appear, we know that screenwriting is a very subjective medium. I care about good craft and feel that comes from positivity, motivation, building on strengths, and tackling weaknesses. I also appreciate that when we talk about screenwriting we are all too often narrowing the art form down to western highly commercial mainstream feature film writing. I’m not about to get into how many lines I believe an action paragraph should be nor start claiming I’ve unlocked some sort of secret Hollywood template. What I’m sharing here are my processes which I believe maximise my creativity. If you read through this and feel it boxes you in, then I’m sorry, but it’s you that lacks imagination needed to get the most from it.
So Seriously, What the Fuck Is Turn & Burn?
Well, it’s all about getting on with writing. It’s about asking ourselves the important questions which guide us while still encouraging us to put fingers to keyboard. It’s a range of tools, methods, and thinking that I’ve developed that I’ve genuinely found useful. It encapsulates the creation and development of story from theme and premise to structure and scene. The focus is on pre-writing to help brainstorm ideas efficiently and maximise entertainment factor without getting lost along the way. It’s also not too heavy as I don’t want to go over the wealth of information that’s already out there. It’s aimed at writers who’ve found themselves in the position I did, feeling they had a strong voice but struggling to get their head around the fundamentals of story mechanics. The intent is to use Turn & Burn as a set of training wheels until the active practice becomes subconscious second nature. If that doesn’t gel with you then okay, jog on.