The scary blank page. Dun dun dun! We've all been there.
But it's better to write something, ANYTHING, than nothing at all.
You might throw it away or stop halfway thru as a better idea comes to you. That's totally fine! These screenwriting exercises are designed to get you thinking about compelling characters
and natural dialogue
. Just start typing (or put a pen to paper) and play around with them.
Most of these screenwriting exercises suggest using famous movie characters or scripts. Picking characters you know well can be helpful since you can pull from their existing voice and story to expand. However, you can absolutely do these exercises with your own characters, or even make up a character as you go.
Love & Hate
Pick 5-10 of your favorite movie or TV characters. Pick characters from different movie or TV genres, different genders, ages, time periods. Part of the fun of this is making the list, so dig deep and make your choices as different as possible.
This is the list I worked off when doing this exercise for the first time.
Rufio from Hook
Melanie from Gone with the Wind
Data from Star Trek:TNG
Claudia from Interview with the Vampire
Andy Dwyer from Parks and Recreation
Sebastian from The Little Mermaid
Olivia Pope from Scandal
Got your list? Great! Now, your exercise is to write two monologues for each of your characters. One where they proclaim their love to a significant other and a second where they declare an eternal hate to their greatest enemy. Make sure each one fits the voice and personality of each character.
Fill in the background for the situation. How did they meet? What inspired such intense emotion? How would the physicality of each of these characters add to the monologue? Where is this monologue taking place? Let your imagination take it from there!
Phone a Friend
Record (with permission) a friend or family member taking on the phone. You might need to do this a few times to get a conversation that will work. You're looking for something simple, without many long periods of your friend talking. Now it's your job to create the other side of the conversation.
The key to this exercise is to make the stakes high! Maybe it was the President on the line, or a lover's kidnapper, or even themselves from a different timeline!? How can you phrase your character's dialogue so that the phone call still makes sense?
Battle the Elements
Pick a familiar, two person, 1-2 minute scene from a movie or TV show that takes place inside. Transcribe it and then rewrite the scene but change the setting to...
in a snowstorm
in the blazing heat of a desert
bracing against the wind while working their way to safety
Your character walks naked into a room. Someone asks..."What happened?" Go!
Give your character a nice, hefty monologue so you can start building the world, and then pepper in dialogue with other characters as the scene progresses.
It's fun to put your naked character into the most bizarre location you can think of. Oh, and they don't have to be naked (though that's usually a nice, high-stakes place to start). They could walk into a boardroom meeting in a dripping wet scuba suit, or calmly into their kitchen with a gunshot wound in their head. Start high and see where the scene takes you.
The Superhero Effect
Pick your favorite superhero and write an everyday scene for them - IN COSTUME. Maybe they have to go to the dentist or the supermarket. Maybe they're appealing a parking ticket or attending a child's recital.
How is everyone around them reacting to them and what do they do about it?
While this exercise is fun with superheroes, if they're not your thing try it with a villain of whatever ilk floats your boat - think Kevin Spacey's character in Seven
or Freddie Krueger or Emperor Palpatine...
It's not very glamorous, but writing reviews of movies you love or hate gets you writing and, more importantly, gets you thinking about what worked or didn't and WHY.
Head back to your five paragraph essay days and stick to an intro, three major topics (one should be script/dialogue and the other two can be anything you like), and then a wrap-up conclusion.
Be critical and thoughtful. Now ask, how can I apply these lessons to my script?
This is a good exercise in subtlety. How does lying change a character's phraseology and word choice?
To get started take a simple scene between two characters. This can be your own, transcribed from a movie or TV show, or get something simple for free from a site like Free Drama
Now, pick one of the characters to be the liar and rewrite the scene giving that character new motivation and urgency. What are they hiding? Why? How does that change some of their lines and how would the other character react?
Next, start with the original scene again and this time make the other character the liar. What makes their choices different from the first character?