In this weeks post I’d like to talk about script-writing and the personal processes through which I go when writing a script and how I believe that those who study writing at pretty much any level often lose a sense of creativity within their writing which can lead to unoriginal and sub-standard media.
This opinion is one that many people will disagree with as there are countless successful writers who did study their craft in order to perfect and that’s fine; however although what they write may be decent and audiences respond to it on a large scale; the ideas are often not original and often rely on the re-working or combining of clichés or tricks which I often find too obvious.
I would like to start my argument by looking at the sheer volume of courses, books, blogs, seminars and so forth which claim to teach you ‘How to write a successful screenplay’ and yes some of these are written by professional writers who have valid opinions on what makes a good script it or not; but often they are written by people who aren’t talented enough to write/sell their screenplays so instead sell their advice which is bad advice due to their lack of talent, if you follow. It is a vicious circle that leads only to poor writing and the reason why so many formulaic films are made.
Now I am not untouched by the study of film writing – although if I could go back in time I would – I have a Film Production degree in which one module was based on script-writing. This module did have a few advantages in that it taught me useful things such as how to format a script properly, this is a skill that needs to be learned as if your script doesn’t match the formatting standards no-one is ever going to read it; but its easy to learn and software like Celtx is free and does most of the work for you.
The script-writing module mainly consisted of information that I didn’t want to know and regretted learning. For example it covered areas such as the ‘Three Act Structure’ – which can be applied to any film, if you study it hard enough. This structure as its title suggests splits the narrative of the film into ‘three acts’ forcing a writer to decide on key plot points and work their script so that these occur at certain points in the script. When I attempted to write with this in mind I found it extremely limiting as I found it to be tedious that the length of my exposition was dictated by some book; if you’re characters need extra time to become established let them have it, the book going to watch your film is it?
Now when people read the above they will probably think that I’m telling people they shouldn’t plan their screenplays but I’m not; everything I write is planned but the amount of planning I do depends on my mood and the ideas. You should remember that with computers nothing is permanent so if you’re inspired to write something at half 3 in the morning after drinking eleven pints, write it. You may find yourself presently surprised when you wake up in the morning (or most likely late afternoon) and if you don’t like what was written, or can’t make sense of the drunken mess then you can always delete it.
Instead of studying writing people should sit down and actually write; plan a story however you want be it by creating an extended breakdown of each scene or (as I’ve found works best for me) a simple hand-drawn flow-chart showing what’s going to happen. I often have only a vague idea when I begin a script and will go through at the end and re-write it so as the twist ending makes sense or the characters become more fully developed.
As I continue with this rant, I would like to point out that I am not an experienced writer in any way. Although I often write, I have only a mediocre YouTube sketch channel and a single short film to my accreditation and therefore have very little to back up my opinions with experience wise.
It’s just one thing that people seem to like about my scripts are there originality. Rather than re-hashing Twilight with zombies instead of vampires; I’d rather write about a headless man haunted by evil chickens (that is the actually the idea behind a short film I once wrote, however for obvious reasons it never got made). Obviously not all my ideas are good and many of my scripts don’t work for a variety of reasons; however when I do pull one off they are praised by others; with my most recent creation – a film about a guy whose transported into a bottle of wine – being made and reasonably successful with audiences responding to its weirdness.
The writing of this film ‘Pinot Rouge’ is actually a perfect example to showcase why I believe films should be written without study. For as long as I can remember I have been writing short stories and films, pretty much anything I wanted; however just when I was taking my scriptwriting module (for which I submitted one of the worst scripts I’ve ever written) I found that I couldn’t write anything decent. I would spend an entire night planning out a script in the way we where taught; writing a detailed synopsis, carrying out character studies for each character, deciding exactly where my plot-points would be etc. Then exhausted I would go to bed. When I awoke I would look at the notes I had made; notice that one aspect didn’t quite make sense (a character had no motivation for example) and discard the entire writing. This was because I just wasn’t passionate about the idea anymore; it seemed a long way before I could actually write something and as a writer that’s what I want to do. This process of planning and not writing went on for some time before eventually I wasn’t even inspired to plan.
Then one night I went to the pub, got drunk and came home. Sat at my computer I decided to write something, so I looked around my room spotted an empty bottle of wine and typed away for a few hours before falling asleep. Waking up the next day with a groggy head, I looked at what I had drunkenly typed and was actually happy. Sure it needed work to be a decent script but the basics where there; a narrative that mostly made sense and two characters who could easily be developed. This time I didn’t feel like discarding my work, why would I? I had a ten-minute film written! I took inspiration that the problems could be fixed and after several drafts I was happy with the results and ultimately happy with how the film looked when it was made.
After writing the Pinot Rouge was when I realised that I was over-thinking the writing process. I was letting advice written in a book lead to the way I wrote and becoming annoyed because the plans I had made didn’t stick to some formula that ‘could’ help my film become a success. So I decided to screw it and attempted to forget everything I had learnt about film writing and just write what I wanted to, unfortunately this cannot be done and I still often find myself annoyed when my writing doesn’t conform with the three-act structure, however never annoyed enough to change it.
So my advice to any person who wants to be or is a writer is just write whatever you want. You can always delete it or re-write it at a later date. If you like to plan, plan. Just don’t plan to a formula; decide on a beginning and an end and go from there.