Turn & Burn: Build Better Screenplays Faster by CJ Walley | Script Revolution

Turn & Burn: Build Better Screenplays Faster by CJ Walley

Firstly, before I get into things, I want to talk a little about who I am and my motivation for sharing my writing process. When I first wrote this guide, I was a nobody five years into writing with no real success stories to speak of other than a lot of short script options that never seemed to manifest into production. I’m pleased to say that, since then, three years later, I have optioned a feature script to a production company in Vancouver and worked as a writer for hire for a studio in Los Angeles. I’m even more pleased to say that, after getting the green-light and travelling from the middle of England to sunny California to be on set and meet some of my heroes, I’m currently working on more LA based feature projects as both a writer and producer. I get paid to write movies now, movies that get made and get picked up by distributors – the dream has been realised and I love my new career dearly. It is quite frankly a wonderful way to work and live. I believe this proves that my methodology works and has been working for me for a long time.

I want you to have this experience for yourself because it is indeed life-changing and incredibly fulfilling even at an indie filmmaking level. But I need to you know this too; I tried to give up writing multiple times. I've laid awake night after night worrying things would never happen. I've been reduced to tears by cruel feedback which told me I didn't have what it takes. I've felt constantly tormented by the need to write while watching my finances run dry, my relationships wane, and my sanity deteriorating. We do not choose to write, writing chooses us and it's a heavy burden to carry in a world which has become reluctant to fund unknown artistic ambition. As a result, we have two paths we can take; to try and starve the beast or learn to tame it. The former, the choice to try and stop writing, will only lead to guilt and later regret. The latter, the choice to hone our craft, can only lead to finding our love for it and subsequently the audience we desire. We have to invest effort to see a reward but it's essential that effort is directed toward becoming better, more entertaining, more emotionally stimulating, more philosophically inspiring writers rather than simply exhausting ourselves with output. There is a creative genius inside you, that's why you're here and many of others aren't, but that genius must be humbled by learning before it becomes empowered with knowledge. To keep churning out material with the belief we have everything it takes and nothing more to discover within the craft, the art, or ourselves is the equivalent of clinging desperately onto the bull and believing it will tire before we do.

The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without the work - Emile Zola

I am not trying to position myself as a guru nor sell any kind of screenwriting guidance. I want to share my process for one simple reason; I know the struggle and I’m sick of how that struggle is continually preyed upon by opportunists. I’m tired of how that struggle is exacerbated by endless subjective debating that seemingly makes any commitment within the craft a crossroads between fame and fortune or pain and despair. For what it's worth, I actually come back to this guide and reference it often. What I'm sharing here with you is something I still get a lot of value from and something I'm adding to all the time.

In the few years this guide has been published online, I'm pleased to say that I've been contacted by many who've found it useful and some that even found it game-changing. That said, I accept there’s a chance that guidance I’m sharing may be wrong, or worse-so, damaging. While I sincerely don’t believe that’s the case, it does lead me to open with the best piece of advice I can ever give another screenwriter; never trust a single source of advice. Read, watch, and listen to the many information sources that are out there and reach a considered opinion of your own, preferably the one that brings out the best in you as a writer. And remember, you absolutely do not have to pay to learn or to be discovered - I should be proof of that at least.

No Petty Rules, No Silly Formulas

As black and white as scripts may appear, we know that screenwriting is a very subjective medium. I care about good craft and feel that comes from positivity, motivation, building on strengths, and tackling weaknesses. I also appreciate that when we talk about screenwriting we are all too often narrowing the art form down to western highly commercial mainstream feature film writing. I’m not about to get into how many lines I believe an action paragraph should be nor start claiming I’ve unlocked some sort of secret Hollywood template. What I’m sharing here are my processes which I believe maximise my creativity. If you read through this and feel it boxes you in, then I’m sorry, but it’s you that lacks imagination needed to get the most from it.

So Seriously, What the Hell Is Turn & Burn?

Well, it’s all about getting on with writing scripts as efficiently as possible. It’s about asking ourselves the important questions which guide us while still encouraging us to put fingers to keyboard. It’s a range of tools, methods, and thinking that I’ve developed that I’ve genuinely found useful. It encapsulates the creation and development of story from theme and premise to structure and scene. The focus is on pre-writing to help brainstorm ideas efficiently and maximise entertainment factor without getting lost along the way. It’s also not too heavy as I don’t want to go over the wealth of information that’s already out there. It’s aimed at writers who’ve found themselves in the position I did, feeling they had a strong voice but struggling to get their head around the fundamentals of story mechanics. The intent is to use Turn & Burn as a set of training wheels until the active practice becomes subconscious second nature.

What it isn't is a shortcut. There are no shortcuts. There are plenty of bad turns, circular paths, and dead ends though and Turn & Burn is written to help avoid the many pitfalls you can fall into due to being given bad advice or being sucked into bad group-think. This all said, please understand that finding your voice and honing your craft to the point of working within the film industry demands a tremendous amount of commitment in terms of time and energy. There is a further reading page at the end of this guide and I strongly suggest you check that out and take a look at those books.

This guide is presented in book format which you read through in sequence. Scroll to the bottom of the page to see the link to the next section and click up to go back a level. One some pages, you will find a grey worksheet box at the bottom which you can copy and paste into your development documents.

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