Don’t Panic, Just Write

As a filmmaker I tell my stories visually. I have to get it out of my head and on paper first before it can be filmed and shown on screen. A functional script gets the important information across without being bogged down with details.

It is a dichotomy that I enjoy the challenge of, especially as a visual person. When I create my stories it starts out as a picture with lots of details; like the shade of green on the leaves or the way a river might be flowing in a particular scene.

Translating it to a script can be a problem for me. I like to give people the whole picture with words. The problem is those words are not useful. I want to describe the entire picture I see in my head, yet I know it’s not possible. So what to do? Here are a few things I try to remember.

What’s The Point?

I always have to ask myself what the point is of what I have written. Does it build on character, mood, and themes? Is it relevant to the central heart of the story? If not, it’s not important to the screenplay and I need to rethink if those particular details need to be there.

I tend to talk in circles, and that comes out in my writing as the ideas flow from me. It happens in everything I write, which is what editing is for. Editing and new drafts are our friends. We should learn to love them and not dread them.

Don’t Over Think It

Does what you wrote sound like it’s missing something? Possibly, however a bunch of unnecessary details is not going to help the story or you. You are just going to get distracted from your story and the heart of it by focusing on the little details.

They are not going to be what is missing from the story. I just keep writing and come back to that spot in my editing pass because further along you may find what you feel is missing; perhaps something you didn’t even know was coming.

Perfectionism Can Take a Vacation

What you see in your head is not going to translate to words as well as you would like. Getting that translation perfect is not possible, especially when other people come into play. No matter what you write people will not picture it the same way you do.

Since you’re not the only one reading the script it is best to have clear plot, characters, and themes. Too many details can cause the important things to get lost for yourself and other people. You will drive yourself crazy trying to remember them all as well.

The story will still be there.

Don’t Panic.

If you’re already bogged down, panic can easily happen. Especially if you’ve lost your train of thought and direction, what you were just about to write but have now forgotten. Panic and frustration are your worst enemies. They shut down creativity and make you doubt everything about your writing and story.

If you are starting to get bogged down and feeling tense, stop and walk away for a bit. Take a break. Make some tea (or coffee), walk to the park and back, feed the pets. You can come back to it. The story will still be there.

If you have a story to tell, tell it. The key is to know what is important to the story and what is not. Remember you only need on paper the parts that are central to the story; the rest is just extra baggage weighing your screenplay down. So relax, take a deep breath, and dive back in.


  • Hilary Dorst is a writer, director, and teacher living in British Columbia, Canada. When she’s not working on movies she is trying to get to the nearest beach and being crafty. She thinks life is about all the small stuff that people forget to look at and enjoy.


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