Back to the board

Another draft of Persephone put in the metaphorical drawer, and it’s time to start writing my second feature.

Same rules as before: two months to commit a first draft to paper and never mind the quality, feel the width. I’m facing off against William and Christine, who will keep me honest.

I highly recommend having a competition with someone, if you’re having problems getting motivated. Anyone that doesn’t complete their screenplay on time gets mercilessly teased. It’s just like going to a screenwriting class, only it doesn’t cost you any money.

As a change from tentacle-based Horror, I’ve decided to do a UK Heist Movie. Or possibly a Caper, it’s difficult to be sure at this point.

Basic concept down, it’s time to move to the corkboard.

I discovered the joys of the corkboard about three years ago. To those who haven’t experienced its awesome power, give it a try. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much easier it makes your life.

You will require:

– A large corkboard (one)
– 3″x5″ index cards (lots)
– A wall to hang the board on (one)
– Drawing pins (lots)

First, hang the corkboard on a wall in an area of your house where you pass by every day. I like to keep it out of my work area, say in the living room. That way it’s always in my periphery, churning away in the subconscious.

Got a scene, or a moment, or a fragment of dialogue? Scribble it down on an index card, and pin it to the board. It doesn’t matter where.

Every time you think of a scene, stick it on the board. The fact that you’re pinning it onto a board soon makes it a sequence. And that suggests other scenes, and other sequences.

The joy of the corkboard is that it’s easy to change. You’ve not committed anything to paper. Just a quick scribble on an index card – the work of a moment to replace. And because it’s easy to change, you’re not precious about it.

There’s no “I can’t lose that, I spent days working on it and it’s my favourite scene.” It can’t be. It’s just a scribble on a piece of card. Ten seconds to write a new one.


So the corkboard allows you to rapidly improve your work by trying things out and discarding them. If a sequence doesn’t work, you just pull the cards out and move them about. Scenes can move from the middle to the front to the end of the story at will, split into two or combine into one. Or be thrown away entirely – on my Enterprise spec I went through three completely different A-stories before I found one that worked.

You want to be moving cards around as much as possible. Try it different ways. You can always move the cards back.

How many cards do you need? Well if you’re working on a TV spec, get a hold of a couple of scripts for the show you’re speccing and count the scenes. Then just duplicate that.

For a film, somewhere between 40-60 scenes is about right. I tend to write short scenes, so I like to have around sixty cards on the board. For Persephone, sixty cards worked out at about a hundred and five pages.

When you’ve got the basics of the story worked out and inspiration is starting to run thin, you can set your left-brain to work.

Scribble a little A/B/C in the corner of each card, depending on whether the scene advances the A-story, B-story, and so on. Is there a chunk where only one story’s moving? Add some thematic tension or irony by introducing a scene from a different story to counterpoint. Add or discard subplots at will.

Get some coloured pencils or crayons, and assign a colour to each character. Now put a little square of colour in the corner of every card that character appears in.

Now you’ve got a visual cue to see what everyone’s doing when. Characters only appearing towards the end of the film. Characters who disappear half way through. If you need to cut away to a different scene, it’s easy to see who hasn’t been around lately.

What you can see, you can fix.

The corkboard makes the structure of your film easy to see.

And that makes it easy to fix.

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