Fellowship Season Prep Part 3: Clarifying Voice... Continued
April 29, 2020
On our path to prepping for fellowship applications, we’ve covered exercises that mine your memories for stories as well as dipped our toe into exercises that can help you identify Your Voice. Here are a few more exercises to help you further understand and spot the multi-faceted elements that make up Your Voice.
As screenwriters, we’re often pressed to be economical with our words and keep page counts down. It’s a priority for a finished script, but it can be hazardous to helping you spot Your Voice if you’re a newer writer still figuring it out. This exercise is designed to help counter just that.
Take a pilot script you’ve written and look at the first scene. At the top of the scene, insert a description of the location. If you already describe the room, yard or office the scene occurs in, add another line. Describe something in the room that’s in tune with the tone of the scene. Horror, western, rom-com, sci-fi, drama… What is something in the room that doesn’t distract from the scene, but helps build the tone of what we’re seeing?
Is there an optimistic flower, yet clearly under-watered, that’s trying to bend closer toward the mostly closed blinds? Is a rat slowly dragging another, larger, dead rat across the floor while the characters argue over dinner? Is the wind whipping up dust and debris in the Los Angeles heat and hurtling it toward your protagonist?
See how many visual elements you can add to the location’s description before the action in the scene begins. Don’t worry. These additions aren’t meant to stay in the script. The goal here is to force yourself into the world of your writing so deeply that you get past noticing things that others might mention and start to spot the quirky, unusual and you elements of the world.
POP QUIZ: SHORT ANSWER EXERCISES
From the Inspiration Inventory and Page Decoration exercises mentioned in Clarifying Your Voice Part 1, and the Scene Insert exercise above, you should be developing a richer understanding of Your Voice. Using what you’ve gathered so far, here are a few final exercises that mirror some of the creative prompts used in past years’ fellowships, with added steps to help you dig into each one:
Make a list of fictional characters that you resonate with. Write out the characteristics of each one and highlight the traits that describe you best. Using those already popular and audience-adored characters as a jumping off point, write a “character intro” for yourself, the same way you might when introducing a protagonist in your script.
List the highlights of your autobiography. What would the title be? The cover? The tagline? What would your opening sentence be? Your closing paragraph? The title of five or more chapters?
IF I WERE A…
Often eye-rolled at as a cliché, tired party game, there’s some fun to be found in the, “If I were a tree, what kind of tree would I be?” question. It gets your brain out of its box and into the mud. Knowing what you now know about Your Voice, how would you describe your writing if it were a plant? Do you write dry, sarcastic dramas that will definitely bring tears? You’re a cactus. Do you write grungy thrillers that always end in a high body count? You might be a Venus Fly Trap.
A few more to get the ball rolling: How would you describe your writing if it were a meal? A drink? An article of clothing? A mode of transportation? A medicinal drug? A member of a heist team? Or a writing utensil?
Describe yourself in one tweet. Describe a few of your favorite writers in a tweet. Diablo Cody. Vince Gilligan. Mike Schur. Describe your best friend in a tweet.
Sometimes, it’s easier to gush and speak glowingly about others than it is to highlight our own strengths, but that’s what you’re here to do in fellowship essays! Heck, even if you’re not applying to fellowships, it’s always important as a writer to have a bio handy for your online presence or your next pitch. So, having knocked out a few tweets about your heroes, now rewrite your own, highlighting what makes you stand apart from or shine along with those you admire.
Once you’ve tackled the exercises above, skim through you answers and circle any that you think could have been written by someone other than you. Which answers would your friends gravitate toward if they had to identify the one that sounded most like you? And if you’re not sure, ask them! They may even spot elements in your writing you didn’t consider to be unique.
Hopefully you now have a better understanding of your writing and all the elements that make up Your Voice. The themes you dive into regularly, the style of your scene descriptions, word choices, dialogue variations, character traits, and narrative structure preferences all combined into a constellation that others can point to and say, “Ahh, yes. I know who wrote that!”
And now that you have a more clear sense of how Your Voice already presents in your work and in your personality, you can continue to heighten and hone it so that each following script you write will sound more and more like you, and nobody else.
Written by: Liz ThompsonLiz Thompson is a screenwriter and freelance development consultant. She has one show currently in development, is featured on The BitchList 2020, and won the 2019 Tracking Board Launch Pad Julian Silver mentorship. In between outlining and pitching she runs The Writer’s ARC group on Facebook, and can be found on Twitter at @howtoliz.