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Ten Writing Tips from Joss Whedon

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  • Ten Writing Tips from Joss Whedon

    I recently made a post and shared an article I found where Joss Whedon shared his top ten writing tips. The first five are here and the full list is on our blog! Great stuff!!!

    Joss Whedon is most famous for creating Buffy the Vampire Slayer, its spin-off Angel and the short-lived but much-loved Firefly series. But the writer and director has also worked unseen as a script doctor on movies ranging from Speed to Toy Story. Here, he shares his tips on the art of screenwriting.

    1. FINISH IT

    Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.


    Structure means knowing where you’re going ; making sure you don’t meander about. Some great films have been made by meandering people, like Terrence Malick and Robert Altman, but it’s not as well done today and I don’t recommend it. I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes ? The thrills ? The romance ? Who knows what, and when ? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around : the way you want your audience to feel. Charts, graphs, coloured pens, anything that means you don’t go in blind is useful.


    This really should be number one. Even if you’re writing a Die Hard rip-off, have something to say about Die Hard rip-offs. The number of movies that are not about what they purport to be about is staggering. It’s rare, especially in genres, to find a movie with an idea and not just, ‘This’ll lead to many fine set-pieces’. The Island evolves into a car-chase movie, and the moments of joy are when they have clone moments and you say, ‘What does it feel like to be those guys ?’


    Everybody has a perspective. Everybody in your scene, including the thug flanking your bad guy, has a reason. They have their own voice, their own identity, their own history. If anyone speaks in such a way that they’re just setting up the next person’s lines, then you don’t get dialogue : you get soundbites. Not everybody has to be funny ; not everybody has to be cute ; not everybody has to be delightful, and not everybody has to speak, but if you don’t know who everybody is and why they’re there, why they’re feeling what they’re feeling and why they’re doing what they’re doing, then you’re in trouble.


    Here’s one trick that I learned early on. If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favourite scene, or your very best idea or set-piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable. That thing may find its way back in, but cutting it is usually an enormously freeing exercise.

    Find the rest here.

    Wilson W, Jr

  • #2
    Cool, good find! Now if DC can just channel some Whedon on the JLA movie...
    So many ideas, so little time...


    • #3
      Very cool. Thank you for posting this.
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      • #4
        Thank for posting this, you sir, are a god!
        The biggest mistake people make in life is not trying to make a living at doing what they most enjoy.

        ---Malcolm Forbes

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        • #5
          Glad you guys like it! Woo Hoo!!!!


          • #6
            Let's keep our fingers crossed Chris!


            • #7
              Thanks for posting - fun read.
              Cheers, Alex


              • #8
                Thanks for posting. Very helpful indeed


                • #9
                  Thanks for sharing!
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                  • #10
                    Good advice. Not so sure about #5 though.
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                    • #11
                      Why not #5 Shaun. The fact that it's so hard to swallow is probably a lot of the reason for it being there.

                      You guys do know that there are another 5 right? Just follow the link!


                      • #12
                        True or the fact that it's hard to swallow might be because it's wrong.

                        I immediately thought of Luke Skywalker's attack run on the Death Star in A New Hope. Imagine an early draft where Luke doesn't use the force and just blows up the death star with the guidance system. If you knew something was missing and were struggling you might follow rule #5 and throw out the whole sequence. BUT Luke using the force was crucial for the whole story. Who knows what you might come up with in place of that scene but it's hard to believe it would be as satisfying.

                        Writer's block is a part of the process and you just have to work through it if you feel the scene itself is not flawed. But rule #5 seems to say throw the baby out with the bath water at the first signs of trouble. Unless I'm misreading it.

                        And I did read the other rules. All are excellent. So I agree with 9 out of 10 anyway.
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                        • #13
                          But I do agree that you shouldn't get married to an idea. So I guess it's just a matter of not executing rule 5 until you've taken enough time to think the scene through in every possible way.
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                          • #14
                            Shaun-I think your second point is what he was trying to say. I think it does depend on how you interpret it. For me, I know many people including myself, have had scenes that they love and they get stuck because they can't come up with anything beyond that. The scene becomes more important than the story. They are so set on keeping that one thing that it cripples them from being able to develop the plot further. In many instances getting divorced from that scene allows them to come up with something better. (Not always though) Sometimes getting rid of it allows them to get through it and if at the end they find a way to still integrate it or elements of it then they do.

                            The Luke Skywalker scene for me assumes that the end result was the first idea. It very well could have been the idea that came from dumping the ending that had originally been conceived. Who knows? (Well, I'm sure there are stories out there about how the story was conceived and executed.) I'm sure there were many ways that movie could have ended, but I think the primary purpose was to show Luke finally accepting and using the force. That could have been shown in any number of ways and in any number of potential storylines. Who knows how many GREAT ideas were dropped before finally arriving at what we saw on screen.


                            • #15
                              Yeah, I take your meaning. I would just hate people to throw out ideas as soon as they get stuck. Getting stuck is an occasional and unavoidable part of being a writer. And while no one should get married to any one scene I know for me personally some scenes just require more thought to make them work. And often times when I lose what I love most about an idea my interest in the entire project evaporates.

                              So I guess rule 5 is a "break glass in case of emergency" type situation
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