The most striking feature I see in our classes so far are the collaborative exercises. They’re great seeds for ideas, as per Burkard’s post below, but I think they also contain invaluable (if fledgling) hints at a certain professional attitude of detachment. It’s important for all artists to avoid getting too emotionally attached to their ideas, as if they were jewels to be guarded and protected from the defiling hands of strangers. Because hands will touch them, and there’s nothing you can do about it: if it’s published, editors will introduce changes (sometimes even with your consent); if it’s produced, it will incorporate the contributions of a cast and crew of dozens of people, and deviate largely from elements only you can see on the page; even when a reader gets to read your manuscript as you finished it, before it got changed further down the line in the entertainment industry, he’ll make his own reading, and see things in his head that you did not. Speaking of collaboration, emotional detachment from your ideas is also necessary to make the most of a writing partnership, as happens so often with screenplays.
Other than that, I see great value in studying plot, action, motivation and conflict, and whatever else is in store for us concerning traditional drama language and structure. I think that kind of formulaic concern is hardly news for anyone with a remote interest in writing (who has never heard, for instance, of loglines – the “twenty words or less” summary of film ideas?), but it’s something worth learning in detail – and mastering to the point where you can use it comfortably and spontaneously, I daresay. Ionesco and Beckett are great, and no writer of any talent should discard a good idea upfront just because it clashes with any rules; but I find those traditional rules to be the most effective and practical help you can turn to when you don’t know what to write next.
I have no qualms about studying writing from a mechanic perspective, following recipes of success. I want to learn how to do that, as objectively and thoroughly as possible. I think that actually makes experimentation and innovation easier: when you’re familiar with what’s been done, you’ll know that whatever else you can think of is experimental and fresh. Revolution always comes more easily in the most inflexible regimes.