Write From Your Life

To put excitement and passion into your screenplay, write about yourself. You don’t need to make your screenplay autobiographical. Just make it a fantasy with you as the star.

Richard Walter, author of “Essentials of Screenwriting,” has an interesting story. First, he wrote one of the early drafts for his buddy, George Lucas, for “American Graffiti.” More importantly, Richard Walter’s book offers an interesting bit of advice. Write your life story in a movie.

Richard Walter was a classmate of George Lucas and notes that George Lucas made himself the “star” of his movies. In “American Graffiti,” George Lucas was telling a story about growing up in Modesto, California. Essentially “American Graffiti” was George Lucas’s memories of growing up with cars, rock and roll, and girls.

George Lucas’s next movie is even more autobiographical in the sense that the main character, Luke in “Star Wars,” is so closely named for George Lucas. By imagining himself as the hero, George Lucas probably found writing the script for “Star Wars” much easier and enjoyable because he could essentially fantasize and daydream about his own life and how he would react to such wild space opera adventures.

In your own screenplay, you can’t avoid injecting your own personal thoughts and views into your story, so don’t bother fighting it. Identify yourself as one of the characters and ask yourself what you would do in similar circumstances.

Nobody needs to know that you based a particular character on yourself, but by doing so, you’ll have an intimate knowledge of that character’s thoughts and motives, and that can help create a fully formed character. People may not know why a character may seem so life-like, but it can be because you’re really writing about your own life like George Lucas did for “American Graffiti” and “Star Wars.”

Just as an aside, Universal Studios hated “American Graffiti” and thought it would bomb. It turned out to become one of the most profitable movies in history. Yet Universal Studios thought George Lucas had just gotten lucky, so they passed on his next script, which was “Star Wars.”

That just goes to show you that Hollywood is just guessing and not making very good guesses half the time anyway. So when writing your own screenplays, don’t get discouraged if you get rejected because you’ll be in good company with George Lucas and practically every major actor, director, and writer in Hollywood today.

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