We spoke to Freddie Machin, playwright and feature film writer, about how to improve your writing skills.
I once asked a friend how she went about writing comedy. She told me that every morning she sits at her desk, tries to think of something funny, and then writes it down. It remains the best answer anyone has ever given me on the question of a creative process. Most writers – and most non-writers for that matter – will already have a strong sense of what makes a good story, so trust your instincts, and when you can’t see the wood for the trees ask a friend to read your work.
Below are a few words of advice, and failing that I would highly recommend Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (for comfort), and David Mamet’s Three Uses of the Knife (for tough love).
Establish A Motive
Identifying your main character and what they want is essential. But don’t forget to interrogate which perspective you want to tell the story from. You can tell the same tale in vastly different ways depending on whether you choose first or third person as your point of view. The same is true of dramatic writing – which scenes do we not get to see and why? Writing these moments might help clarify what is at the heart of your story. On screen, what does this particular sequence of shots tell us about the characters or the world? You are asking the audience to view a series of events in a very specific way, so make sure you know what it is you want them to feel as a result.
Strong & Distinct Trigger
One of the most common problems in the early drafts of any piece of creative writing is the absence of a strong structure. Even the most basic research into this area will reveal a few things you can apply to your next draft. The most effective stories have a strong and distinct trigger which sets the whole thing in motion. Is this moment clear enough in your story? Once your main character has accepted their challenge they will try and fail a number of times to achieve it. Is it crystal clear what your character is trying to achieve? And once they have put in all the effort of schlepping to California/the Emerald City/Mount Doom to get it, does the crisis point they face, present a strong enough question for them to answer? Asking yourself these questions will develop your writing skills.
Cause and Effect
Great stories are accumulative. Scene two can only happen as a result of scene one. Double check that each moment unfolds as a result of the previous moment – this is cause and effect. Perfecting these writing skills will help the development of your narrative.
Raise The Stakes
If none of this is working then there might not be enough at stake. Ask what happens to your character if they don’t succeed in their mission. If the consequences of failure are bearable then the stakes might not be high enough. Introducing a time pressure is sure to get your characters moving – heroes don’t stick around when the clock is ticking.