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Writing Tips to Trick out your Script - Tip #5 Sublimation - Short Script Gods
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Writing Tips to Trick out your Script – Tip #5 Sublimation

By January 24, 2016Screenwriting IQ


Writing is a form of expression. That means, the function works best when you are expressing something. Not telling a story because it has a clever plot, because you thought of some awesome action scene, or because you want to make a shitload of money.

There is nothing wrong with any of these motivations. But if you find you’re writing to sell a million dollar screenplay and you haven’t touched said script in months because you’re just not “in the mood,” you may want to rethink your motivation.

Because the best of the best (Schrader, Tarantino, Vince Gilligan) use writing to express themselves. This may sound too abstract today. So, I’m going to narrow “expressing yourself” into something more specific.

Welcome to a writing tactic I use all the time and it works beautifully.



WTF is Sublimation?

It’s what Sigmund Freud termed the act of taking an anxiety and expressing it creatively. Does it work?

Remember John Hughes? He wrote Vacation, The Breakfast Club, Planes, Train and Automobiles and so on. Well, Hughes suffered from OCD and used to work that out through screenwriting. He managed to this to such a height, he sometimes wrote screenplays in four days. He thus sublimated his anxiety into one of the greatest screenwriting careers in Hollywood history.

So yes, it works. I’ve never written a good screenplay in four days, but I always SUBLIMATE. And I can’t imagine writing without it.

Still you ask, WTF is sublimation?

I’m going to narrow this down even more. Ever heard of COMPLAINING?


You do do that, don’t you? I sure do it. There’s something in the world that upsets you, whether its Republicans, Democrats, Christians, Atheists, children, adults, whatever. Something pisses you off and you always complain about it.

What if you could take that ugly energy and recycle into screenwriting? Well, you can. George Lucas hated living in Los Angeles so much that he designed the Death Star around the geography of LA. Notice the flat, impersonal buildings? Lucas did not love LA and so he obliterated it at the end of his movie.

Although Lucas has never been outspoken politically, he designed “Return of the Jedi” around the Vietnam War. The Ewoks are the Vietnamese. The Evil Empire is the US ransacking them in their own forest — and failing.


James Cameron doesn’t complain about how we destroy the Earth, but instead makes Avatar, about how an evil corporation wants to invade a perfectly good planet and cut down its trees and destroy its land.

Wes Craven named Fred Krueger after his high school bully. I once met Shane Black who told me he kept a gun under his pillow (not unlike his alter ego, Martin Riggs in “Lethal Weapon”).


1. SUBLIMATION works best if it’s something that pisses you off today. The health care system, gun owners, or the President who wants to take take away your guns, whatever. This also works if its something you haven’t gotten over, like Wes Craven’s trauma of dealing with his bully (whom he named after his greatest villain, “Fred Krueger”). Whatever it is, it must be something you are dealing with.

2. Your COMPLAINT doesn’t have to be a big deal. Usually what irks you the most may not be a big deal to everyone else in your life. Great.

The show “Seinfeld” was literally constructed around these banal whinings. The Soup Nazi, the agony of finding a good parking spot, the excessive amount of birthday parties at work. These were all based on one of the writer’s experiences. The staff was encouraged to do this to amplify the authenticity of the show.

3. It doesn’t have to be negative. James Cameron implemented his truck driving past into all his movies. The crew in “Aliens” and “The Abyss” are pretty much truck drivers. The beginning of the “The Terminator” films begin on the fender of a diesel truck.

Matt Groening named all “The Simpsons” after one of his family members. Adrian Lynne recalled the autistic children his mother used to teach fondly and put their idiosyncrasies on Glenn Close, the bad guy in “Fatal Attraction” (watch it again and see how she reacts when she starts to lose it… like she’s autistic).

You can take anything, any kind of experience, no matter how big or small and SUBLIMATE into your screenplay. It’s like putting great gasoline in your car.


BONUS: I emphasize our need to COMPLAIN because we do it far too much. For a writer, complaining is a big waste of great writing fuel; jabbering about what pisses you off to someone who doesn’t care. Why not write about it instead. That energy is powerful and can make your script great, like Paul Schrader (the greatest screenwriting SUBLIMATION may be “Taxi Driver”).

On top of that, if your movie gets made, millions will pay attention, no matter what you whine about, like in “Return of the Jedi,” “Avatar” and “Taxi Driver.”

Build an emotional bridge between your heart and your story and watch your screenplay grow like a mushroom cloud of intensity. And here is the great power of this tactic… you can’t wait to complain about whatever it is that burns you.

That means, once you find a way to insert that COMPLAINT into your screenplay, your desire to write will be feverish; you will WANT to WRITE above everything else. SUBLIMATE your script.

For more screenwriting tips and tricks, check out all 13 script tips in this series. X marks the spot.

Written by: Norith Soth

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