Non-Linear Approach to Process

One of the evolving ideas here is a departure from the old view of writing. Screenwriting is challenging because, of course, we're in a visual medium. We have to show rather than tell. And in making the jump from the ideas that are in your head or in your heart and trying to get that on the page, it's crucial that you realize that you have to translate those ideas to a form that other people--readers, gatekeepers (the assistants to whom the executives delegate your scripts), the crew who are going to have to interpret (and hopefully not interpret too much) and eventually produce that material--can understand.

Screenwriting is a very conceptual process. The mentality of I'm-a-hard-working-person-and-can-write-120-pages doesn't quite work, because all content is derivative. Every story has been done before, at least in some way and to some degree. Even BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, an admirably original project, is based on the paradigm of switching bodies. There's just no such thing as a story that's totally unique. So, the approach that you take has to mitigate that problem. And in screenwriting that approach proves itself on the page through entertaining moments. Since the story moves through moments of interaction between people, your characters will ideally come across as people and not just props with feet. Hopefully, they're human beings at a significant stage of their lives, and that stage of life--that experience, that adventure--is going to change them forever.

We don't want to make this a formula. We don't want to say that every two-hour feature or TV movie, every hour-long TV series or sitcom has to be about all these things. But generally, we're dealing with a four-segment structure and a profound event for the main character. And then from that core perspective you can diverge, consciously and specifically to develop the potential of your material.

If you look at screenwriting as conventional writing, where you're doing things in order all the time, always starting from the beginning and cherishing the words on the page, your work will possibly miss its target.

If you’re watching TV or going to a theater, there's some social experience you desire. You're going to be entertained. As writers we often forget that. So, it's not what happens in a story that matters as much. Yes, the story needs to be plausible enough so you don't lose the audience. The science of the story has to be clear. The hows and whys--the who, what, when, where, why and how have to be clear. But it’s the WOW that’s most important, the impact on an audience. And too often, when we're writing we're trapped in that process and we're not acknowledging that other people need to feel something. Or are going to respond. And it's normal to lose that when you're in the process.

So what we’ve been coining lately is a non-linear approach. That word non-linear means so many different things.

Applications of the Term Non-Linear

1. Enter Anywhere:  Can you enter the process at almost any point with confidence?  Whether you’re developing an idea from the inspiration of a title, a character, an arena, a theme or an adventure, can you clone the arc of a story from any detail?  If you've got a hundred scenes in your horizontal, can you write just the fun or thrilling scenes first?  That keeps the energy flowing.  That gives you incentive to keep going.

2. Tools Rather than Formula:  The tools are designed to help you articulate your creative goals, not to strangle the life out of your story.  The tools help you to develop what you want instead of getting lost in the words and the plot.  Can you move fluidly through the levels of script development from the concise expression of concept to the increasing levels of detail, and skip comfortably to evaluate from level to level?

3. Avoid the Plot Problem:  Non-linear means not to be "plot-driven," not to be focused on simply the transportation of your characters through the story or about information.  To make sure that we're on a ride while we're watching those characters doing those things.

4. 2nd Act First:  Non-linear is also about "Second Act Emphasis."  Since 2nd and 3rd Act problems usually reveal 1st Act set-up issues, it’s an improbable task to know the 1st Act until you’ve orbited the entire journey.  (If you apply 4-segment structure to sitcoms or hour-long, all it means is the middle two segments, if there are four segments.)  Like in your life, if you could redo the past ten years, knowing what you know now, you'd probably be more effective and have more fun doing it.  Wouldn’t it be better process to be less rigid with the pages while you write them instead of clinging to writing chronologically, and then finally having that V-8 moment, like a slap to your head: "Hey, I can compress the first 60 pages down to 15!"

5. Character-Driven Story:  It's important to take a non-linear approach to realize that scenes need breadth.  A character inhabits a story, rather than being forced by the plot to do things.  That doesn’t mean that your scenes should serpentine or zig-zag, but linear feels very thin and straight and what you're looking for is sort of the "soul" and "juice" of what a character's experiencing and fleshing that out.

6. Crafting Moments, Not Words:  Non-linear also means that the script is not about words.  It's wonderful when a script can read lyrically and often in sitcom writing the turn of a phrase in dialogue makes a difference.  But it's more important to be crafting moments and creating a rhyming process throughout the whole story, throughout that journey, than to be focused so much on what words are going where.  It's what the words are conveying that matters.  The words are more like points in a pointillist vision.

7. Enhancing Dialogue:  Relating to dialogue, you can be more non-linear by realizing what the characters' agenda require and motivate rather than speaking in direct response to the words.  What are the emotions?  What's the state of mind?  What's the awareness?  What's the point of view of that character?  What’s at stake?  



29 Distinctions

  • Our alumni work at the highest levels of the industry.
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  • Though your commitment does not require quitting your day job or investing in school full-time, you need ten hours for writing outside of class, and we recommend that for at least 40 weeks out of the 52-week calendar year to scale the true learning curve and sustain a professional pace.
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Main Character Misbehavior

Misbehavior is a term used to get close to the essence of what makes movie and TV characters accessible. A descendant and enhancement of the industry term character arc--character change over the course of a story--misbehavior is a tool for activating characters and connecting action to the ground wire of thematic resonance.

We refer to Misbehavior applied to the Main Character, who represents the spine of the story, as Building Block Misbehavior because it operates as the cornerstone from which all thematic material is sourced. While a very unique, proprietary Writers Boot Camp invention and term, misbehavior will not only activate your characters but also help you fully develop them in relation to the context of the story.

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Project Conceits

Writers Boot Camp uses the term "conceit" to describe a specific approach to the content of your movie, television show or web series that distinguishes it from others, especially in the case of material or subject matter that may be similar. More advanced than a component or story decision, a conceit addresses and describes the audience experience of your story. It's a writing tool and also a tool for collaboration with the team of developers and filmmakers.

A conceit is an approach to a story component, or combination of components, rather than the component itself. In its broadest expression, it's a phrase or notion that points to a unique layer of material in the project. In more practical terms, a conceit is a statement, a single-sentence description of that unique approach that includes words and phrases to express the combination of components and ingredients that form the DNA of the project. A conceit statement is in effect a title of a list of setpieces that illustrates the script's entertainment concept, which in turn represents the primary layer of material that will ultimately attract an audience.

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Full Development Philosophy

Based on an expedient first-draft process, including emphasis on developing tools like the Unity Page, the 3-6-3, the Horizontal and brainstorming of setpieces, Writers Boot Camp estimates that a feature-length script can be readable by industry standards within six months, working at a part-time pace of ten hours per week.*

The ratio of tools work versus writing during the first-draft stage would be 80% tools and 20% writing. Once the tools have been established, then the subsequent rewriting stages would flip that ratio to 20% tools, primarily updating and brainstorming for particular issues, and 80% emphasis on writing pages. Of course, the rewriting stages are the primary portion of a Six-Month Full Development process, even with earnest tools development and preparation.
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