So you have an exciting new idea you want to develop.  You’ve been mulling over the basics of the story in your head and are eager to dive into it and get started.

But wait.  What exactly does that mean?  To start on page one and see what evolves as the pages accumulate? To let the characters emerge as you place them in the unfolding story and let them wander where they will?  With you holding your breath as you wait to see if the writing actually leads you somewhere exciting?

In my experience, that’s not the writing process that will consistently pay the best dividends.

Instead, what’s first needed is a careful assessment of who your central character is going to be, what his or her primary external want and internal need is, how this character might face serious obstacles represented by other major characters, where your central figure lands at the end, and how he or she is significantly changed by the journey they’ve experienced.

And then the baggage your main characters walk into the story carrying needs to be explored thoroughly.

Think of them as standing at a closed starting gate with filled backpacks strapped to them and holding duffel bags and suitcases loaded to the brim.  It’s your job to systematically open each of these pieces of luggage and examine every item inside.  This is the backstory stuff that these characters are going to walk into your story with once the gate is opened.  You’re kidding yourself if you think you don’t need to know what burdens they’re carrying with them as they enter your tale at the front end.

And this leads you to fertile ground for initial plot invention and the structuring of your story. 

So many writers I work with make the mistake of being way too impatient to get to the actual production of script pages.  And in most cases this leads to an inevitable floundering and ultimate abandonment of what started out as a great idea.

Instead, I suggest that you take a deep breath, tackle this essential pre-draft exploratory work thoroughly and have as your mantra “I am already writing my script.”

Because, of course, you are.

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I’m the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art.  Our last residency ran from January 5 to 14 and we’re currently  considering applications for starting the program at our June 2018 residency that runs from June 22 to July 1.  The application deadline for a June start is May 1.  If you’re interested in finding out more about our program, email me at and we can start a dialogue.

I’m also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter) a professional script consultant, and the author of The Playwright’s Process.  You can follow me on Twitter @eitherorfilms or @mfastagescreen.  I’m also on Facebook at buzzmclaughlinscriptconsulting.