How Listening To Your Inner Voice Can Help You Write A Better Screenplay
Yes, you may be a writer. You may even have a baseball cap and coffee mug that clearly states: “Screenwriter”, but whether you like it or not, you're also an artist. Wow, I just heard some of you squirm! Or maybe it was a sigh. Yeah, you actually like that notion and hadn't thought about yourself in that way before.
Don't worry, you don't have to hang out at trendy coffee shop galleries and wear flamboyant clothes.. just keep on doing what you're doing, writing from the heart and tapping into your endless imagination. But the next time you sit down in front of your computer and type FADE IN, please remember one of the most important factors that contribute to a great piece of art – accident.
A painter's accident is when you go to make a brush stroke one way and it turns out another. A good artist is someone who seizes upon that accident rather than ignoring it. Similarly, a good writer may start typing with the intention of discussing the ethics of the latest White House administration through the POV of a young intern, but a great writer is one who recognizes that writing is an organic process that needs direction and not necessarily restrictive boundaries.
With a strong vision for your piece or work you can sculpt your story into a final form that emulates or even imitates that original feeling and intention. But writing is more complicated than painting by numbers, it works on an intuitive level and simply cannot be explained in algebraic equations.. although I'm sure someone at M.I.T. would love to prove me wrong!
A strong vision is great to get you off the starting block, but a good writer needs to remain open throughout the entire creation process to their inner-self and outside influences, whether they be thoughts, friendly advice or even conversations you overhear from another table the next time you go out for dinner.
How many of you have heard of “automatic writing”? It's what spiritualists and devotees say happens when something else
tries to talk through you and controls your pen on the page. I don't personally subscribe to this line of thinking, but I do believe it's entirely possible that you can sometimes be in a state of creative flow with your fingers happily tapping away at the keyboard beyond your full control. Sometimes the output is trash. But other times, even if you ultimately re-work or discard your ramblings, what you write can give you a deeper insight into yourself and the subject matter you're dealing with.
This automatic writing
may simply be the only way that your subconscious can explain what it is truly feeling. Free-flowing communication without boundaries or restrictions. In fact, I believe it works much in the same way as solving problems. Some people pace up and down, others step away from the computer to make a coffee, and some go to bed telling themselves the problem they wish to solve in the hope that the next morning a miraculous solution will appear. And in my experience, all of these things work. Most times these “eureka” moments happen out of context.. like in the bath or in the middle of the night. But who says the answer to your structural dilemma or character arc contradiction has to be signalled to you by an alarm or bright flashing light?
It's much more plausible that if there are problems in your script, the solutions will present themselves subtly.. while you're writing. Don't expect a phone call from your script doctor with the answers you are seeking and whatever you do, don't hang around all day watching TV and waiting for a sign from God in the next infomercial. Just be aware of the inherent hidden messages within your writing that are basically saying.. “Hey, how about looking at it from this angle
When you write a story, you're not simply trying to create a new world full of colourful characters, even though you think that is what you're doing. There must be a reason why your mind directed you to choose that first location and occupation of the hero. Why did you set it in New York and not Kentucky? Why is your protagonist a teacher and not a cab driver? There's normally a reason beyond the arc of your story. Sure, it may be that you've always wanted to go to New York and be a teacher but the reason may also be linked to the glue that binds your screenplay – its theme.
I've read many scripts, and most of the time one of the central problems is the lack of a clear and coherent theme. Sure the scene to scene works fluidly, the dialogue is snappy and the characters appear well-rounded, but there is always a feeling that something is missing. And it's usually the theme. Or rather, the correct theme or at least an honest understanding of the theme you have chosen. Sometimes as writers we convince ourselves that the theme of our story is one thing when in reality it is the opposite. And sometimes we forget to think about the theme because we're so dead set on telling a specific story.
You may start typing thinking, “I know exactly what I want from this piece and what it's about
”, and you may well know the “surface” layer, it may be clear as day to you, but sometimes what you really
want to say and what your story is really
about is something that is only discovered during the process when you keep an open mind. And even then, after you've printed your script and sent it out to the world we still may not know some of the answers and it is ultimately left for others to interpret.
You may ask yourself, “How can left-field plot ideas and two-dimensional characters help my writing?
” Simple. Just acknowledge that these “accidents” are not necessarily errors from a novice writer that must be buried and never spoken about, but that they are in fact an important part of the script writing process. They are your mind's way of forcing your work into an exciting new direction which may ultimately end up at a dead end but will hopefully shed some light upon your story's true theme and character motivations along the way, and make you look deeper at what you've already written.
So does that mean you should never trash stale dialogue or cut fantastic set-pieces that do not fit in the genre of your story? Of course not. If they don't work, they have to go. But the point is, take a good hard look at what you write and the intention behind it. You never know, you may desperately be trying to tell yourself something, if only you would listen...
Article originally printed in Script Magazine. © 2009 Dan Bronzite