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Friday, December 31, 2010

Untamed Heart Versus Kill the Pimp: My Journey to the Big Screen Part 2

As I journey on the road to the big screen, knowledge and persistence will be my driving force. A writer can never stop reading, researching, learning, submitting (even when your rejection to acceptance ratio is 25 to 1 or 250 to 1), and most of all writing.

Today I'm going to discuss researching because that's the really fun part. How do you research screenplay writing? You watch movies. Preferably in the genre you plan to write. It's nice if you have the screenplay to follow, but I'm finding, even at this beginner stage, I'm able to interpret in each movie many of the concepts I'm learning, without the screenplay in hand. And I'm picking up on concepts that I haven't yet learned but I suspect exist.

Back to genre. Currently my screenwriting partner and I are planning a romantic drama/comedy screenplay, and I've been watching movies in those genres. It's fascinating what you learn when watching a movie through a writer's focus lens instead of just for enjoyment.

I do not know if screenplay writing, like fiction prose writing, has character-driven versus plot-driven concepts, but there appears to be a distinct difference in the movies I've watched. And I'm finding that my experience in prose writing can only enhance my potential at screenplay writing.

Here's the difference. Character-driven stories will provide the viewer/reader with a deeper connection to a character. This is, for example, the untamed heart sways the untouchable heart and invokes a major transformation. It's also Frankie and Johnny (one of my new favorite movies) and Beautiful Girls.

Plot-driven stories will provide the viewer/reader with a deeper connection to some goal. This ending goal can still be love and not be character-driven. The characters can be so driven toward the plot that you don't connect deeply with the characters. This is, for example, kill the pimp to save the girl. It's also The Proposal and Sweet Home Alabama - the goals here were love, but the characters were kept at a distance from the audience. It's easier to see this when you compare it to a character-driven movie like Frankie and Johnny.

It gets more complicated when you throw in things like psychic distance and plot points or mini plots, but I'll discuss these another time.

In the hands of a truly gifted writer, both character and plot can shine, but this is rare. Think of movies like Moonstruck or When Harry Met Sally. Movies in which you felt deeply connected to the characters and dedicated to seeing them achieve their goals. In Moonstruck, I was Loretta going to the opera with Ronny. I was in the seat next to him as he lifted my hand to his lips and tenderly kissed it. At the end I was in the kitchen as Ronny proposed with the ring Loretta had just returned to his brother Johnny - all in one seamless transition. It's a beautiful thing when a screenplay results in a movie that can evoke such an emotional connection while at the same time drive toward a well-developed plot.

I'm a beginner at this. I doubt my first screenplay will be a Moonstruck. But if I had to choose which way to drive my screenplay, I'm finding that I prefer strong characters. I don't need a bold, grand, heavy plot finale as long as I can connect with vibrant characters that grow or change in some way - preferably in a way I can relate to - in a way that tells me something about myself - in a way that makes me think - in a way that strokes a weakened emotion inside me. And I'm not an easily moved person, so I know if it moves me, it will likely move most anyone. That's what I want to write. That's what I want to see on the big screen - more Frankies and Johnnys.

And if, in the process, we create a killer plot - bonus!

Writers: Here's a fun exercise. If you think you'd like to try screenwriting, pick a scene from a favorite movie, and try to recreate it on paper. Pay close attention to setting and camera work, and of course action and dialogue. Don't worry about format - just try to get it written out. If you want to see examples of format, click here or Google "screenplay format".

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Why I Write

In my last creative writing session, one of the members of my writers' group brought in a simple prompt, but the results made us dig deep inside our writing minds to places many of us didn't even know existed.

We were asked to spend twenty minutes writing an essay entitled "Why I Write." I'm going to share mine with you, but before you read it, think about why you write. You may even want to take twenty minutes and complete your own essay. Don't think about it, just start writing - you may be surprised at what you come up with.

My mind immediately went to a line I'd used in the past. It was a dichotomy of why I write, and I think I shared it on Facebook or maybe here in an earlier blog. From there, my essay formed.

Why I Write

I write because it helps me remember, and I write because it helps me forget. I write because it soothes me, and I write because it inflames me. I write so I can sleep at night, and I write when I can't sleep at night. I write to show my crazy side, and I write to assure people I'm sane. I write to rise above the earth, and I write to walk among it. I write to hide what's going on inside, and I write to reveal it all. I write because I want to be rich, and I write because I don't mind being poor. I write because I'm scared, and I write because I'm secure. I write because God persuades me, and I write because the devil dissuades me.

The prompt made me realize there is a piece of me in everything I write. I'm not an open book kind of person, so through my writing, I hide myself in plain sight. I don't want to tell you I'm scared, so I write about a character being chased by a dark figure. I don't want to tell you I'm discontented, so I write about a character who is trapped in a sink hole. And I don't think I'm the only writer who hides herself in her stories.

Why do you write? Are pieces of you in your stories?

Monday, December 27, 2010

My Journey to the Big Screen - Part 1

Why is a writer discussing the big screen? Well, because every movie you see on the big screen existed first in the mind of a writer. And while writing a screenplay is a specialized field of writing, any writer who has mastered the art of the written word already has a head start to learning screenplay writing.

A screenplay is the script for a movie. It includes the story, set instructions, and camera work. In the end, if it sells, it is a visual representation of your written story on a really big screen that lots and lots, hopefully, of people will go see. Exciting, right?

It has become very exciting for me recently, because after the first of the year, a friend and I will be writing a screenplay together. Before you ask, no, I’m not trained at writing screenplays - yet. That would be my friend’s area of expertise. I had an introduction to screenplay writing, a few screenplay writing assignments, in my Christian Writers Guild training, but outside of that, I’ve just read a few. I have been screenplay crash coursing through a stack of screenplay media my friend gave me in hopes that I can at least use it to follow along from the theory and structure perspective.

My friend asked me to be her partner on this journey not for my screenplay experience but for my story-telling experience – the emotional impact I seem to have the ability to invoke through writing and the humor elements in some of my writing. Things that would write well into a script – dialogue, action – and connect an audience.

Writing a novel is a series of scenes. Writing a screenplay is a series of scenes. The biggest learning curve for me will be hammering and chiseling those scenes to make them fit into the formal and condensed structure of a screenplay. So I’m starting with baby steps. Scenes I know – I will start there.

See you at the movies some day, but until then, keep checking my blog to follow my screenwriting journey in 2011.

Here are some of the media I am using for my screenplay crash course:

Syd Field's Screenwriting Workshop DVD Learning Series

Screenwriter's Bible

Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need

How to Pitch and Sell Your Screenplay

Movie Magic Screenwriter Screenwriting Software Version 6