When you start writing, or right before you start writing, what do you know? What do you know about the story and characters before you start putting words on paper?
Although I don’t do it on every project, I’m a big fan of writing off-the-page, which means creating character bios, alternate scenes and sequence chronologies to help me figure out the story and the characters. For example, I’ll write out the whole story from the villain’s point of view, both to track that the logic works, and also to gain insight on why they’re doing what they’re doing.
You don’t have to stop doing this once you begin writing the screenplay, either. If I’m getting frustrated with the script, sometimes it’s much more helpful to write up related pieces than to bang out another scene I don’t think is working.
Just make sure this prep-work doesn’t keep you from actually starting your script. You don’t have to know everything about your story and characters before you begin. Discovery is the best part of the writing process.
(Originally posted September 10, 2003.)