If I had to pick the two most common pieces of advice given to writers, they are as follows:
- Write a lot
- Read a lot
There’s a damn fine reason they are so common. Ultimately, you won’t learn to write without writing. And it’s very hard to know what makes good writing good and bad writing bad if you aren’t consuming the work of others. For screenwriting, this means reading other scripts as well as watching movies.
However, I wanted to take some time to encourage you to explore some fields that are sometimes seen as boring or sometimes pitted against the artistic field. I want you expand your horizons when it comes to that “read a lot” piece of advice. It’s all interconnected and I want to explain why.
While I’ve only taken one formal philosophy class I’ve always been fascinated by it. Some basic knowledge of this field is how you make sure your stories actually mean something. Even if you’re not writing something as blatantly philosophical as The Good Place or My Dinner With Andre knowing those fundamental questions that humans have always struggled with means you can work them into your sci-fi piece or your romantic comedies. Philosophy is what separates writers who have something to say from writers who have mildly entertaining ideas.
2. Behavioral Sciences
So technically this is more than one field, but things like psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc. can definitely help improve your writing. What pushes people to become serial killers? How are different people affected by the way they were raised? What kinds of internal struggles do people struggle with? All of it can help make characters feel more real, especially if you want to write them into some extreme situations that you have no personal experience with.
History has SOME of the same advantages as Behavioral Sciences. Learning more about real life events can help you write parallel events that still feel real. However I also think a strong knowledge of history gives you SO MANY different backdrops to choose from when you’re trying to come up with ideas. So you want to make some political point in your writing? Would it be easier to make that point if your story was set during the Cold War or the French Revolution? Odds are that with any idea you can come up with, or at least any good idea, something semi-similar already happened at SOME point. Figuring out where those real-life parallels are and studying them is always a good idea.
4. Literally anything else
Study just about any other field that you think might be relevant to your particular story. If you want to write about space travel, study space travel. If you want to write about cults, study cults. If you want to write a medical drama, damn straight you better start studying medicine.
One of the biggest writing cliches of all is “write what you know.” While I think this is good advice, I think an even better piece of advice is “write what you know so learn a lot.” If it’s important to write what you know, it’s even more important to know a lot of things. So don’t shy away from all those school subjects that you always thought were “outside your field.”