Learn to Write Like Woody Allen in 5 Steps


October 16, 2012 by chriszumtobel

I’ve been on a little Woody Allen kick lately (ok, let’s be honest, I’m on a never ending Woody kick) and last night, I came across these steps.  They are supposed to be the steps for How to Write Like Woody Allen, and I guess that is exactly what they are, except they seem like the steps for how to become a writing clone of Woody Allen.

Although he is amazing, I think that this is not what most of us are looking for.  If you are like me, then you want to learn from the way he does things and what makes him popular and then you want to become a unique writer in your own right.  With that  goal, I have taken the liberty to adapt the five guidelines to something which can be more useful to an aspiring writer.

1. Research Woody Allen films.

This is the must-do.  Or if you hate Woody Allen then stay away from his films and pick another film-maker you admire to watch.  But one thing I do recommend is to follow the film with the screenplay and read it as you watch (as I talked about in this post).  There are a bunch of Woody’s movies that are worth watching in this way, with superb writing and dialogue (Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters… too many to name) but my top pick is one of his most recent films, Midnight in Paris (you can find the script here).

2. Write down your initial impressions of the work.

I think this is key to any kind of observing if you want progress to come from it.  You are a writer, why quit writing when you are watching.  WikiHow is right on this one, “Try to record your first reactions. Determine what in the material inspired you to laugh, cry, think or be disturbed. Notice how your reactions are carefully crafted by Allen’s writing and story development.”  Woody’s films have a serious talent for evoking emotion and making you think, but that can be said of any well written film.  Pay attention to the film and keep track of what is the most emotional, but more importantly keep track of what led up to that feeling.

3. Find a sense of neuroses that is present in your life.

This has worked wonders for Woody.  He always has that character (usually played by himself) who is wildly neurotic, thinking about everything, struggling with everything and suffering from everything imaginable.  The neurotic thing has worked for him, so I’m not going to stop you from giving it a shot, but I think that the key word there is suffering.  It goes back to one of Vonnegut’s eight tips,

Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

Your character has got to have some issues or nobody will care about them, just make sure you don’t give them so many issues that nobody cares about them.

4. Write short stories to help you gain a sense of your own personal style.

Write write, write..write. Write! Don’t stop writing!  Find you style, find what you care about and eventually find what you care about that you can get readers to care about.  Practice writing different sorts of stories.  Tell yourself I want this to end sad or happy, I want it to stay humorous while involving many depressed characters… whatever it is, sit down with no idea what the story will be about besides the emotions it will evoke and force yourself to write it.  In the words of Woody himself, it’s not going to be fun…

“(Writing is) unpredictable and constant. There are times when I have to force myself. When I first started, I was a television writer, the shows were on at the end of the week, and you had to come in on Monday morning and write—you couldn’t just come in and wait for your muse to inspire you—you had to get in there and turn out something, because something had to be on the air. So I can still do that, I can get into a room and force myself. It’s no fun, let me tell you, but I can force myself.

5. Research philosophical models and convey your ideas in your work.

This is the real reason I love Woody, he has so many opinions and beliefs (most of which are quite pessimistic and hopeless) but he manages to intertwine them with his characters and his stories to well (mostly through humor) that he can keep his views from feeling bummed out by it.  People are looking to be entertained and so Woody entertains, but that doesn’t stop him from making introspective movies.  This is a balance that all writers need to find and Woody has mastered in a great many films.

Here is a funny example of how depressing of an outlook Woody Allen maintains on life.

I just love the irony of such a pessimist making so many films that bring so many people, myself included, so much enjoyment.

Thanks for reading!

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