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The Toughest Part: Getting Started

By Ken Rotcop

"I'm gonna write a screenplay"

"Good!"

"I've got this great idea for a story. I'm really excited"

"Go for it."

"Except, I've got this problem."

"Oh?"

"I stare at my computer and all it does is stare back at me!"

"Have you tried using the keys on the keyboard?"

"I'm being serious. What's the secret for starting a screenplay? Do you have a secret?"

"As a matter of fact, I do."

"Is it writing down scenes on 4x5 cards first and then laying them all out so that you can see the beginning, middle, and end?"

"That's one way to do it."

"Is it writing out the last ten pages first so you know where the story is heading and can write to the climax?"

"I know a lot of mystery writers write that way. It works for them."

"Is it writing out one-page biographies of all your major characters so you completely understand them and know their motivation?"

"You can do that, if it works for you. I, personally, would rather get my plot points down first, then create characters that work within my plot points."

"Is it making long lists of everything I want to see and hear in my screenplay. Lists of scenes, of characters, of dialogue. Just get it all out and onto paper. Do lists work?"

"I'm sure they do for some writers. It doesn't work for me because I think that you lose your spontaneity."

"Do you just write FADE IN and just let your characters sweep you along on their journey? Is that what you mean by spontaneity?"
"A number of writers in my workshops claim they create the whole story in their head, have it all figured out in their mind, and can go right to FADE IN and write the whole first draft right off the top of their head. But I don't think I could do that."

"Then, for god sake, what IS your secret?"

"I write a letter."

"A letter?"

"I write a letter to someone who knows nothing about my story. I used to write it to my mom, but when she passed on I started to write to Kimberly, my daughter who lives in Berlin."

"Wait a minute. We're writing a screenplay not a letter, remember?"

"I write: 'Dear Kimberly, I want to tell you my latest story. It's a bout a woman who' and I proceed to write out the entire story as if Kimberly were in the room with me and I was personally telling her. Because she doesn't know my story. I leave out nothing. Sometimes my letters run 10 to 12 pages but when I'm done it's no longer just in my head but it's on paper: all the beats, all the shadings. Then I go back over the letter, smooth out the rough spots, clarify elements that are fuzzy, and mold the story to give me a definitive three-act structure."

"Then do you send the letter to your daughter?"

"Of course not! Because it's really not for her, it's for me. But by telling her the story I have worked out all the kinks and I'm ready to go to FADE IN. You see, for me, breaking the back of the story is the most difficult part. Once I've done that, and it's all down on paper, then, for me, just adding the dialogue is easy."

"So THAT'S your secret?"

"That's my secret."

"Can I use it? I mean, just write a letter?"

"Of course you can use it."

"So what's your daughter's name again?"

Meet the Author: Ken Rotcop

Ken Rotcop, the acknowledged Grand Master of Pitching, is the creator and owner of PitchMart— Hollywood’s biggest screenplay pitch event for writers and development executives. His screenwriting workshop was the subject of a feature-length documentary, Talk Fast, which has won various film festival awards. STARZ network produced a two-part series on Ken Rotcop, Pitching Guru

As a screenwriter, Rotcop’s most prestigious production (which he both wrote and produced) was For Us, the Living: The Story of Medger Evers which starred Laurence Fishburne. Among the honors the film received were the Writers Guild Award, ...