Thursday, May 24, 2007

I was Engaged to be Married Last Night

To some real Prince Charming too. There was some upset at the end though. I can't remember if we broke off the engagement because I was in love with someone else or I proved how much I was into him to his queen mum. Either way, I think the dream ended up happy. Wish I could remember it.

I didn't write yesterday, but that's ok because I was working on things from my 101 list. Making It is almost done, too, which is a little strange. I'm at 88 pages on a script I'm not even passionate about. Can I talk anymore about the importance of discipline?

When I was at Old School Land, I went to visit my old theatre professor. It's an amazing feeling to be able to sit on the most comfortable couch in the world and hold your own in a conversation with a very intelligent man that you used to ask advice from all the time, sitting on that very same couch. He's teaching a class on playwriting right now, so we discussed the industry and the writing process and ragged on prewriting a little.

Granted, I know prewriting actually works for some people. Maybe if I had done some prewriting for Making It it would be a salvageable story - or at least I would have recognized that I wouldn't like it before I started writing it. I've done some prewriting for my Script Frenzy screenplay, some notes on Acts I and II, but in general, I'm not a big prewriter. There are a couple of reasons why.

"Planning to write is not writing. Outlining...researching ...talking to people about what you're doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing." - E.L. Doctorow

Prewrite all you want, baby. Nothing's actually getting written until you're putting down the real stuff. We have an old joke in the writer's community about people, when they hear that we're writers, say "Oh, I have a fantastic novel idea." Prewriting is a form of not writing.

A lot of times it comes out contrived and irrelevant . When I sit down and try to write a backstory for Eileen Charles of Banesberry, Virginia, usually what I come up with is a lot of irrelevant history. At this point, I'm not really sure what my character needs, or if I do, it's stuff that's inherent in her character to move the plot along. For Grace in The 4:05, I just needed to know that she had been let down and disappointed by people her entire life. As I wrote the story, examples came out. I didn't have to write down the whole saga about how her ex boyfriend had run off with her best friend because I didn't need to make her untrusting and disillusioned. She already was that way when I thought up the story. Maybe I think backstory is a little irrelevant too because what you're writing is a story about now. If you're backstory is too interesting, maybe you're writing the wrong story. But for me, writing backstory just feels like throwing a bunch of random character traits and boring bits of history. Some backstory is good, for character motivations and such, but I think inherently the writer already knows that backstory. I just don't see the point of writing out your character's favourite color and how she gets to work.

Reason number three: it's boooo-ring. For us short attention span writers, the best way to kill a story is to obsess over it before the actual work or writing begins. It kills some of the joy in writing, at least for me, because of the next reason, I think.

"For me, writing is exploration; and most of the time, I'm surprised where the journey takes me." - Jack Dann

"I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear." - Joan Didion

I mean that's it for me, really. When I write I'm hoping to learn something, to discover a story, to reach an emotional level that prewriting, I find, constrains. I usually don't write around a plot. I write around an idea or a question. The 4:05 was about unconditional love and forgiveness. In Making It I tried to explore the coming of age of five teenagers and how they struggle with immaturity and maturity. In my Script Frenzy screenplay, I'm going to try to answer the question of what happens when people really love unselfishly. When I discover the answers to these questions, I get more invested in the story. And to be honest, I think that's why Making It hasn't worked. Not because I didn't do any prewriting on it, but because the themes were not ones that I could really get emotionally invested in.

Besides, when you write without a set plot/outline, you leave more room for the characters to take over. When I wrote The 4:05, I didn't have the ending nailed yet. Together or not together? And when I got to the last scene, I had a struggle because I didn't want them together but the story did. I tried to balk and say I was going to write two endings to see which I liked best, but when I started writing it, it just came out right. I didn't have to worry about an alternative ending because the journey in the story had been completed, the question had been answered, and the plot had been resolved.

Prewriting really works for some people. If there's one thing I've learned throughout my discussions with other writers, the books I've read, the blogs I've stalked, it's that there are as many different ways of writer as there are writers. And I realize that my lack of prewriting usually means more rewriting. I'd rather have it that way. And I'm not going to feel guilty if the whole of my prewriting notes is just a couple of sheets of paper.

Now, I have to go watch Lost. I came home in the middle of the season finale, and once I watch the tape I can release the whole family to finally discuss their theories. We always have great Lost theories.

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