Screenwriting Tricks for Authors

Preptober: THE MASTER LIST (part 1)

It’s October and you know what that means….It’s Nanowrimo PREP month!

I always do a brainstorming and story structure review series in for Preptober, and continue throughout November with prompts and encouragement, based on my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks and workshops. If you really want to go for it, this year I’m also offering my new online workshop for half price.

After all, if you’re going to put a month aside to write 50,000 words, doesn’t it make a little more sense to have worked out the outline, or at least an overall road map, before November 1?

But in these pandemic days, where so many people are suffering from burnout, fatigue and PTSD, I don’t want anyone’s brain to lock down at the very thought of the magnitude of writing a book (or script!). That’s not what this is about. At the risk of being too California for words, we want to create a space for your book to come to you, a space that YOU will want to inhabit day after day, all through your writing process.

So here’s a way to start getting ready for your fall writing-  whether it’s #Preptober, #Nanowrimo, or at your own pace—by being easy and general.

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I always start my workshops and classes with the same assignment, that I call The Master List, which is one of the fastest ways I’ve ever taught to get writers instantly focused on the book or script they want to write.

And I really recommend that you do this exercise old school, with paper and pencil or pen, to access a different part of your creativity. Being on screens and keyboards all day can take some of the magic out of writing on a keyboad and screen! 

Get comfortable, do some breathing (admit it, sometimes you just forget, right?). And be easy about this. It’s not even October yet! You’re just “getting ready to be ready” – as spiritual teacher Esther Hicks always says.


And then make a list of ten of your favorite movies (more if you are inspired, but try for ten). Let yourself get excited. Remember how certain films electrified you and made you say – I want to do that. Movies that made you cry. Movies that scared the living – um, daylights – out of you. Movies that capture the feeling of being in love. Movies that make you want to be a better person. Movies that you watch over and over again.

Yes, you can list TV shows and books, but please try for at least five movies, because they are about a million times easier to work with.

 Maybe you won’t get to ten in your first brainstorming session. That’s okay! Ask the question and let the answers come. The answers might come to you in the shower, or while you’re driving, or in your social media feed. Maybe you’ll find one of them playing on TCM tonight! Don’t you love it when that happens?

You can keep adding to your list and changing it, as other films occur.



Now, if you are already working on your book, or have a strong idea of what you want to write, you can go on to make a list that is more specific to your own story idea.

Take a few moments to easily focus on the book or script you’re writing or want to write: the feel of it, the images you see, the seed idea that started you writing it to begin with. And sure, visualize accepting that Thriller Award or Oscar! 

Now make another list of ten movies that are in are in some way similar to your book or script. Same genre, same subgenre, similar protagonist, the mood and feel of what you’d like to capture…Get comfortable, do some breathing (admit it, sometimes you just forget, right?)

What it is about those movies that you’re going for in your own work?

Let yourself think about it. And watch how much more easily ideas for your own book will come to you in the next few days.

Post your lists in the Comments if you’d like some feedback!

– Alex