Writing What You Know | Print |
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Written by Jason Tomaric   

When it comes to developing a story, I find it always helps to write what you know.

The best piece of advice I ever received was to write what I’ve seen, what I have experienced, and what I’ve lived in life. Filmmaking is about truth, and writing scenes and moments that truthfully resonate with the audience can be a difficult task unless you are personally familiar with the material you’re exploring.
One way of doing this is to dedicate your life to experiencing a variety of situations, cultures, and people so when it comes time to write, you have a broad range of life experiences to draw from. Many legendary filmmakers are older men and women who have put their life experiences on film, resulting in real, engaging moments that ring true to the audience.
Ultimately, ideas are everywhere – just be open to finding one that resonates best with you.
•  Look at real-life moments for inspiration: childhood memories; interesting happenings at work; relationships with family, friends, and love interests. Think of family conflicts, your first job or your freshman year in high school, moving out on your own for the first time, and college experiences. Drawing on personal experiences leads to strong material because you’ve lived and experienced it.

•  Read the newspaper, listen to the radio, and watch news stories that may captivate your imagination. The old cliché says that truth is often stranger than fiction, and in many instances, it is!

•  Keep a journal of interesting things that happen every day; an engaging conversation, a funny moment, an unusual or interesting person you may have encountered in public. These moments can be the seeds of not only good ideas, but also engaging characters, moments, and lines of dialog in the movie.

•  Brainstorm and write down anything and everything that comes to mind. You’d be surprised what comes out. Listen to inspirational music, turn off the lights, let your mind roam free, and be ready to capture ideas as they strike.

•  Study political history and the lives of dictators, emperors, famous people, and serial killers. All these peoples’ lives involved extraordinary circumstances that are full of drama and conflict.

•  Be original and avoid copying concepts used in other forms of media, stories from movies or television shows, or major plot lines from popular books. Audiences want to see new, unique ideas, not rehashes of old ideas.

•  Be careful not to infringe on copyrighted work. Copyright infringement can be an expensive mistake if the original owner of the stolen property chooses to sue.

•  Surf the Internet. The knowledge of the world is at your fingertips and can provide outstanding ideas and motivation for a movie.

•  Try reading the yellow pages, magazines, and even advertisements for inspiration.

•  Get out of your house. Traveling to a new place, whether it’s going out of town or visiting a local coffee shop can help spur the imagination.

•  Take breaks and don’t force your imagination. A walk on the beach or through the woods can help clear your thoughts and open your mind to new ideas. I find that the less I think about my story, the more ideas pop into my mind.

•  Write stories you’re passionate about. Be excited and willing to explore the subject matter. Learn as much as you can about the world, people, and situations you’re writing about.

•  Ask “What If?”  Open-ended questions help your mind wander and you may stumble onto a sharp idea.

•  Visit classic literature; listen to operas and read books. Stories of mythology, ancient romances, and tales of adventure and heroism are the root of storytelling. If in doubt, go back to see how authors of old tackled an idea.

•  Research your idea by studying the time period, characters, customs, fashions, technologies, and values of the world you’re telling the story about. Learning more about the actual events or motivation behind your story will help develop ideas.

•  Learn from people who resemble, or can provide insight into, your character. If you’re writing a crime drama, contact a local police station and ask to shadow an officer for a week. Listen to how she talks, how she acts both casually and under pressure. Get a sense of the police environment so when it comes time to create it in a script, you can write a realistic and believable world.

Jason J. Tomaric is an Emmy-winning director and cinematographer in Los Angeles, and produces the online filmmaking resource, FilmSkills.com.  FilmSkills uses dozens of instructional videos from hundreds of working film industry experts to enhance students’ learning experience.



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