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An Easy Way To Get Your New Story Started

By Marilyn Horowitz

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I recently finished a novel, and three of my private students completed scripts. Once we begin the process of selling our work, the challenge then becomes what to write next. As writers, we are much too driven not to want to keep writing, and it’s critically important to keep your momentum going even if a project is complete.  Often, you don’t always know what your next story is, and you are not sure of what comes next. This tip provides a series of three exercises that been effective for many of my students as well as myself in helping to find the seed of the next project.

Exercise #1:

Keep a handwritten journal with you at all times and write in it. We writers are always on the lookout for a phrase, an image, an overheard joke or a memory. Responding on the spot by writing things down will help you remember later and affirm that you are a writer. 

For example, I recently overheard someone talking into a cell phone. They said, “I am so irresponsible, I think they are going to come after me.” The person speaking didn’t seem that worried, but at the dance I attended last night a fellow arrived with a big suitcase on wheels. I thought what if he was the one I overheard on the cellphone, and now was planning to hide out at the dance studio! I didn’t follow the idea much further, but it got my brain going.

Here’s the exercise:

Once a day, set a timer for 10 minutes and make up a story about a line of dialogue, or image, combining it with a couple of the other notes you’ve made.

Exercise #2:

Read books that inspired you at different points of your life and ask yourself how the story would have been told if you had written it. This can feel a little sacrilegious. “H’mm – so how would I have rewritten The Godfather?” However, the process will open up your imagination. For example, you might decide that Michael doesn’t find love in Sicily, and that choice will take your thoughts in a different direction, and perhaps spark that new idea into existence.

Here’s the exercise:

Set a timer for 15 minutes and write a few paragraphs summarizing a book and how you might “improve” it.

Exercise #3:

Write up little character studies of people you meet that interest you, and extrapolate what they have told you into a story.

For example, a very interesting woman from Africa at a party told me how she had saved a man’s life by setting off the store alarm when she had worked as a late night cashier in a coffee shop. This experience had empowered her to become a doctor.

Here’s the exercise:

Set a timer for 5 minutes, and write a quick character sketch that includes the “5 W’s”:  Who. What. When. Where. Why?

The goal is to inspire yourself to make up lots of stories until you find just the right one. Remember that writers write, so just try to keep your momentum going until you find your next great idea.

Good luck and happy writing!

About Marilyn Horowitz

Marilyn Horowitz is an award-winning New York University professor, author, producer, and Manhattan-based writing consultant, who works with successful novelists, produced screenwriters, and award-winning filmmakers. She has a passion for helping novices get started. Since 1998 she has taught thousands of aspiring screenwriters to complete a feature length screenplay using her method. She is also a judge for the Fulbright Scholarship Program for film and media students. In 2004 she received the coveted New York University Award for Teaching Excellence.

Professor Horowitz has created a revolutionary system that yields a new, more effective way of writing. She is the author of six books that help the writer learn her trademarked writing system, including editions for college, high school, and middle school. The college version is a required text at New York University and the University of California, Long Beach.

Professor Horowitz has written several feature-length screenplays. Her production credits include the feature films And Then Came Love (2007). Her new novel, The Book of Zev is available on Amazon.

Screenwriting Article by Marilyn Horowitz

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