Wednesday 20 July 2011

I'm Writing it My Way

Everyone is an expert. Really. The moment you announce you’re a writer, for example, you’ll be recommended several must read books, you will be introduced to many different writing blogs, and everyone will have an opinion on how best to write a screenplay, even those who have yet to write one. You’ll end up confused, with a lot of conflicting information to sieve through. When it all gets a bit too much you’ll just slip away and form your own opinions of what style suits you best.

Photo by Taro Russell

Like me, you might decide there isn’t a right way or a wrong way, just your way and my way. My way of course, being the very complicated, long-winded way of doing things.

I did it my way.

I listened, I read and then I ignored it all. Well, I didn’t purposely ignore it all, I just didn’t understand why I needed so much preparation, I just wanted to write. I did not need a logline, an outline, a treatment or any preparation. The story was in my head, so why write it twice? Armed with a pen and paper, I sat down and wrote my first short. I put it aside and life happened. Ten years later, I re-read it and then I tore it. It was that bad. The story was still in my head but what I read on paper made absolutely no sense. There were so many flashbacks, and the story was so non-linear, I simply could not understand any of it. Thinking back, I think I was trying to make it Pulp Fiction-esque. Big Mistake. The dialogue wasn’t bad though; I’ll give myself that.

A year after that revealing moment, and a few scripts later, it’s incredible to look back and see how much I’ve changed my way and my beliefs. It’s gone from an all over the place unstructured mess to a more formulaic process in which I question the plot and characters in depth before jumping into the writing process. Although I have to admit, this really is a very recent development.

To err is human.

Going into anything for the first time we’re bound to get some things wrong, and it’s in an attempt to help prevent other writer’s from constantly going through the same mistakes, falling into the same traps, that there are so many experts out there. They all mean well, but who likes to be told what to do and how to do it? We are stubborn creatures, and learn best when we stumble and have to pick ourselves back up. I am of course generalising, when I say we, I just mean me – although, if it sounds like you too, then I mean we.

I’m sure that in a few years time I’ll be preaching to first timers about the rules of scriptwriting, and most of them will nod their head and then go learn for themselves. I’ve still got much to learn and one day will realise that I follow all the basic rules that I’ve steered away from, not for arrogance but ignorance – a need to learn for myself, whilst hopefully still remaining true to my voice, which I will have found by then. Repeat 100 times.

Had I maybe spent a little more time paying attention to those willing to share, rather than rushing into it, I would have a stronger selection of scripts to showcase my writing. As it stands though, I might just about have a couple.

It is all without regret though, as I am now more equipped and experienced to truly understand why certain aspects of the process, such as the preparation are so important. I am now happy that all the literature is out there, easier than ever to access.

In the words of Dr Seuss “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Thursday 7 July 2011

Write from the Heart

"No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader."
Robert Frost

When you write with your heart, allowing all your emotions to run free into your characters, it will show. I am an emotional person, have always been, but for some reason I have never been the type to display my real feelings. I don't do hugs, cries and passionate kisses in public.

From the day I conceived my 1st born, my senses seemed heightened. Everything I felt became tenfold. When I experience fear, it is scarier than ever; when I experience worry, it has me on edge; when I experience love it is unconditional. What a gift, to be able to experience all these emotions with such intensity. Yet I still have trouble allowing them to roam free. It is in my nature to control them, to hide them away like a shameful secret.

Reading back what I've written, reading the life I've created for my characters I came to realise that they carry the same shield I do. Their emotions just lightly touch the surface of their being, not allowing them to fully embrace their passions, desires, fears. So while I am fully aware that I should be writing from my heart, opening my soul to my work, I think that in better understanding who I am and my own emotions, I will be able to better translate them to the character.

I have recently read the script to Thelma & Louise. From the start we understand why Thelma has to get away, also understanding how hard it is for her. Every step of the way we see her vulnerability, na├»vety, but we also see her getting stronger, believing more in herself. Louise is almost the opposite; she is the strong one, the wise one and her defensive nature isn't quite clear at first. As the story unfolds though, she becomes more vulnerable as her mask starts to come off. That is in my humble opinion, why it's such a good story, the protagonists have such a strong emotional baggage. Neither of them is perfect, yet they are very likeable. Their fear of becoming trapped leads them to their own self-destruction, and the end is the only way to achieve the freedom they've been seeking for all along.

It is characters like Thelma & Louise that I aspire to write. Characters filled with flaws and compassion that makes them so real.

As an exercise to myself, I will attempt to re-create moments that have marked me throughout my life. I aim to write every emotion that I felt at key moments that have helped define me so far, from the little girl who was ashamed of being a foreigner, even in her own country, to the excitement and frustration of first loves, to the stress and confusion faced with in the job market.

Unfortunately, as is my nature, I am not yet ready to share those publicly, either out of shame or fear. Somethings should remain private, but my writing it out, accepting it, understanding those feelings. I'll be able to write stronger and more complex characters.

Just a thought.