Sunday, March 22, 2009

In the Ring

I went to my screenwriting prof on Friday and sat down in front of his desk with a world-weary expression.

"Let's talk about my screenplay," I said.

"Ok," he said. "Let's do it."

It sucks. It's exceptionally bad. It's confused. It's a totally different genre for me (that's a weak excuse). It's as awkward and clumsy as a pimply thirteen year old at a middle school dance. It's unemotional. It's uninspired (and I'm basing it off the Bible). Its characters are flat and they can't seem to decide which side of the theological issue they're on. It's supposed to be my breaking in script, and all it's doing is breaking my heart (I was not this dramatic with J).

I wanted to bang my head on his desk. I wanted to say, "Look, J, I know this is awful. Tell me the few things I'm doing right to bolster my spirits and give me something to aim for. Then tell me to fix the rest of the *$&*# thing."

"It's a first draft," he told me.

Not reassuring. Not ok. This is the first draft of my fifth script. You think I would have learned something by now.

Current Draft and I are butting heads. We're wrestling a little. It's like pulling teeth, if you could pull teeth from an idea. Or maybe the screenplay is pulling my teeth, and that's why I feel so uncomfortable with it.

What I'm hoping is this -- I'm hoping that my screenplay is not so terrible (though I know for a fact it is), and that my intense frustration comes instead from the fact that I'm becoming better and better at reading screenplays and recognizing what makes a good one. And that my first draft doesn't fulfill those requirements. But that's a good thing - to be able to self diagnosis your own screenplay. It takes pretty objective eyes to do so. I've had some help recently, from fellow bloggers Mystery Man and Billy Mernit. Their respective post on the Timid Screenwriter and Bad Writing Parts 1 and 2 articulated for me what I know my weaknesses with this script are and allowed me to break some well established rules in order to fix the problems.

Together they hit on one of my biggest struggles with Current Draft up to date. In my attempts to be the epitome of screenwriting conciseness, I think I've managed to cut all emotion out of my screenplay. Of course, emotion can be conveyed a lot of ways, through plot choices and dialog and smart writing, but it does require a certain amount of words to be conveyed. MM's Traits of the Timid Screenwriting #4 - Excessively pared-down dialog and action lines. Bingo. Will the dazed and daunted screenwriting student in the corner of the coffee shop please stand up? Followed by Billy's "break the rules! write bad(ly) to convey the emotion of your story!" post (it was more resigned than the way I just summarized it there), I felt a small glow of hope. I had been too concerned with writing professional than I had been with writing well. I hadn't fully explored the emotion of the story in order to figure out how to write it well. And while someday I will be able to write concise and follow "show, don't tell" strictly and still manage to convey the emotion of the story, it's not something I can do perfectly right now, or at least not in this draft. Because first you have to know what you're writing, before you can write it well.

As I stood up to leave J's office, he called after me, "Amy. It should be fun."

I rolled my eyes and grumbled something about how it had been fun when it was only an idea and wished him a good weekend.

But it's true. And Current Draft and I, we're taking things easy. We're trying to rediscover the balance between the story and the craft. It's a little sloppy, a little messy, but there's definitely a lot more fun in this relationship.

1 comment:

Brett said...

So write the fun parts first, and write them so that they are so much freakin' fun that you cannot stand them being orphaned and denied life, so that you wake up steadfast in your determination to bug god find enough story mortar to chink the gaps and cracks between these fun bits.

Make the magic happen, even if you have to cheat. Nobody will ever care about those stories we never get around to telling.