There’s nothing worse than that passive, whiny person we all know (or can become from time to time). You know who I mean, the “poor me” victim who claims things just keep happening to them, boo hoo. Whether you’re aware of that or not, that whiny voice can slip into your writing as well. Here’s three ways to be sure you don’t let being passive get the best of you.
Beware of Gerunds: According to the dictionary, a gerund is, “a noun formed from a verb, describing an action, state or process. In English, it is formed from the verb’s -ing form.” In other words, running, driving, shooting, kissing are all gerunds. They are also very boring and take action out of your character’s hands. By definition they describe the action rather than show it and everyone knows that the first (and most misused) rule of screenwriting is show, don’t tell. For instance, “John runs down the hall” is more active and therefore more engaging than “John is running down the hall”. The first keeps you involved IN the story while the second example reminds you that you are being told a story. It seems like such a tiny thing but it keeps the reader firmly locked out of the world of your script and that’s the last thing you want. Go through your script and upgrade all those errant gerunds to their more active, powerful form.
Keep Your Character Active: What’s the first thing you ask your friends on Monday -- “What did you do this weekend?” It’s human nature to be interested in what people do, whether it’s over spring break, summer vacation or when confronted with some problem. If someone says “A rabid dog followed me home” the most common response would be “Oh my God, what did you do?” So give your characters some action to perform in the course of your story. They don’t have to be superheroes; some of the most engaging stories involve ordinary characters who are pushed into action by some string of events out of their control. The point is, somewhere in the story they realize what they must do and eventually do it. Or fail but try. Even if you’re writing a drama and the extent of the action is that they write a letter, the story needs to pivot on your main character DOING something. Think of your script as an overall whole picture and see if you can identify what the action is that your main character needs to take that changes the course of his or her life or story. If there isn’t one, if things just keep happening to them and they float along helplessly like flotsam in the stream of life then you should re-think your story.
Be Your Own Biggest Fan: I think the hardest thing for most writers is to get out there and network with people. Unfortunately, the bottom line is that no one cares as much as you do whether your script gets made into a movie or not. No agent, no producer, no actor, not even your best friend has as much invested in your script as you do both in terms of time and money. So why let fate decide if it gets made or not? Get out there and talk to people. I don’t mean join other groups of angry bitter writers and sit around bitching once a month about how hard it is to get you movie made. Join groups of people that can help you get your movie made. For instance, you could take a class or seminar from an instructor who works in the business and approach them for help. Go to networking breakfast groups – there are a number of them out there. You could also research who is on the board of directors for certain charities. If a producer who would be perfect for your movie is on the “Save the Malibu Ducks” committee then get out there and help save some ducks. The producer or someone who can get to them will come by sooner or later. This is the part where you have to sell your soul a little bit so I’d suggest keeping it to causes or groups that you really believe in. That way even if you never sell your script at least you’ll gain some good karma points, right?